August 28, 2002
Territorial strippers making the news this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.
Hello, Iím Steven Knoche Kite.
In the mid-1880s settlers began illegally setting up homesteads in what is now the Oklahoma Panhandle. At that time the panhandle didn't belong to any state, and the squatters or "strippers," as they were called were hoping to form the Territory of Cimarron and eventually a separate state out of the thirty-four by 168 mile strip. These settlers were occupying land illegally and therefore could not use their land as collateral for loans. Hoping that if they set up an official territorial style government the national government would recognize them, the strippers set about building a governmental framework.
To say that these people were poor is an understatement, they chose to adopt Coloradoís judicial code but could not afford to buy a copy of the laws. They elected legislators and senators for the territory and met in a government house in the tiny settlement of Beaver, but unable to afford two separate rooms the house and senate met in one room separated by a curtain. It was in this week of August 1886 that the settlers of the panhandle held the first organizational meeting for the new Cimarron Territory. Meeting in a sod house, they carved seven counties out of the strip, elected judges, who having no set of laws, couldn't really do much, and elected a representative to send to the nations capital to lobby for the creation of their new land.
The Cimarron Territory representative found little help for his cause in Washington as professional politicians labeled the group "squatters," who by settling illegally on government land were committing a federal offense. Rather than getting support for creating a new territory the representative instead received threats of arrest and fines. The Cimarron Territory issue was immediately tabled and never brought up again in Washington. The hopes and dreams of over 12,000 settlers were dashed when the representative returned with the bad news. By 1888 a severe drought prompted some of the panhandle population to leave, and when the great land run of April 1889 occurred even more people left the once imagined Territory of Cimarron. Shortly after the land run of 1889 the panhandle was annexed to Oklahoma Territory as Beaver County, and settlers there were officially recognized by the US government.
Territorial dreams finally realized this week on the Almanac.
I'm Steven Knoche Kite.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.