First Oklahoma Land Rush: April 22, 1889

Oklahoma land rush begins In March, President Benjamin Harrison had announced that land in Indian Territory called the Oklahoma District (land obtained from the Creek and Seminole that wasn’t currently assigned to a tribe) would shortly be opened up to non-Native American settlers. This move came after years of eager homesteaders known as “boomers” trying to illegally settle the land; they were repeatedly removed by federal troops, but eventually the pressure on Washington from boomers, western congressmen, and railroads proved strong enough for the government to agree to allow non-Native American settlers to stake claims in the Oklahoma District.

So on April 22, roughly 50,000 prospective settlers (though some estimates range as high as 100,000) gathered at the borders of the Oklahoma District, waiting for the signal—a gunshot in most places—to begin their race to claim land. At noon the signal was given, and the men (and a few women) moved on foot, on horseback, by wagon, and by train to try to get to the best spots of land first.

While some of these settlers staked out potential farms, others raced to the site of future towns to claim lots for businesses. The chaos led to some pieces of land being claimed by more than one person, or to claims that overlapped. The settlers were also frustrated to find that some of the best land and lots had already been claimed by “sooners,” people who had snuck in illegally beforehand to strike their claims early.

In a single day, almost 2 million acres of land were claimed. The city of Guthrie went from a population of zero to 15,000 on that day, and Oklahoma City similarly went from nonexistent to 10,000 inhabitants.

The land rush of 1889 was just the beginning of a series of land rushes that opened up most of Oklahoma to non-Native American settlement, with the largest occurring in 1893. Through the Dawes Act and other government actions during this time period, the Native American tribes in the region lost approximately two-thirds of the land the government had previously given them.

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62 thoughts on “First Oklahoma Land Rush: April 22, 1889

  1. Thanks for this article. I have been researching my grandfather’s start as an attorney with the opening of the Indian lands to white settlement. He was James B. Diggs, later an oil and gas attorney in Tulsa. But he went first to Guthrie with his cousin R.J. Edwards who was in real estate. He had learned that he could make good money if he educated himself about tribal law and was there to document the claims. He and his cousin set up a table at the starting line where they issued certified titles to the claims.

    1. Hi,
      My great grandfather, Andrew Smith went to El Reno as an attorney. My great grandmother went their as well with her family, that’s where they met and married. Their first born was the first baby to be baptized in the new catholic church. I am on the pioneer roles for El Reno, or that county. It’s been awhile since I put in my app for that. They weren’t there for the first land run, it was the second or third. Good luck with your research.

      1. My great grandparents came to El Reno for this land run and helped to build our town. Albert Fox Newell built the Rock Island Block building, still in use today, in El Reno. My great grandmother, his wife, had parents, William Andrew Smith and Harriet Maria (Lincoln) Smith.

    2. A lot of people don’t know this fact, but being born in Oklahoma we had to know our history. The original capitol of Oklahoma was Guthrie. The seal was later moved to Oklahoma City. At one time they were the same size but Oklahoma City was the most centrally located city so more people could access it from all over the state. It is hard when it is 69,000 square miles and your are in a wagon!

      1. Also, if you know about early silent stars, Tom Mix,(played a cowboy) used to be a bartender in Guthrie that used to be a house of ill repute. Love going to Guthrie when I am in OK and people don’t realize what a beautifu state OK is.
        Kathy Dorman

    3. Elizabeth, a lot of people don’t know it but Guthrie was the original capital of Oklahoma. The seal was moved later to Oklahoma City because it was more centrally located for everyone.

    4. seem proud of your relative…I am a PhD who is researching early Native literature and history and find that colonialism appauling. As for the colonials fighting for what they claimed as independence certainly was not for the Natives. This second land grabbing was proof that the Christians were going against their own god…’thou shalt not steal’ some tribes did sign treaties but it was under duress, manipulation and lies.

      1. As an Indian at that time I would have made sure I got the best land and staked it out illegally as the white man did!!!

        1. Native americans weren’t allowed to participate. The run was only for the non-native americans.

      2. Your welcome to give your land to any Native American anytime. Many christians wanted to live peacefully with the Indians. If it wasn’t for the “white man” this country would be a beautiful but undeveloped country living in teepees. I was born in Oklahoma & have Indian as well as German ancestry. I had an ancestor kid napped by Indians. Neither side did everything right and much wrong. Both sides did kind and good to things for each other. Historians focus only on the bad & never the good done. Just like the news media. There are many kind, giving people but those stories are rarely told. Human Nature loves to hear bad news. I challenge you to look for good in your research.

        1. you seeing the side where the Indians would have been the inferior and the whites would have followed. Fact is the Indians were equally intelligent meaning if the two were to share what is best for all then today there would be the technology the housing equality,,,but you wouldn’t have the pollution that is killing the earth …As for your second comment looking for the good in my research…I have yet to find it..Christianity, Capitalism, and a superior sense that was the white man were all destructive driving forces of colonialism.

        2. Good response! thank you for being truthful. too much divisiveness in this country nowadays. It was over for the Indians in 1492 when a stone age population was discovered by an iron age population with new diseases. Could have gone the other way and Europe could have been decimated by disease…but that is NOT what happened.

      3. Thank you Colleen. Being proud of their thieving relatives is pretty disgusting. Doubt they will ever educate themselves.

      4. The Indians did not have legal ownership to the land. They were squatters. Kings,Queens and later our government owned the land. So much for you trying to rewrite our history.

        1. And you think that somehow the “King, Queen or government” holds more sway over rights than “Chief or medicine man”.
          To the victor goes the spoils; that is and always has been the unwritten rule of “Kings, Queens, and governments”. There is no sudden ownership that occurs when someone with a title that squashed peasants to control them and take their land appears. What is legal on a planet is dictated by who kills the other off. Not some regal right or claim to deity like a pope from that era.

    5. My great grandparents were the people who were robbed of their land. They were Creeks as the Spaniards called them. However, the real name is Muskegon. Seminoles, Creeks, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokeee are all actually from the same tribe….the Muskegon.

      Now you have spoken to a Native person who was robbed of their land, which allowed your ancestors to prosper, while mine collapsed.

  2. How interesting. I’ve been doing family research and am wondering if there are any indexed lists of the names of the claim owners.

    1. Yes, I would be interested to see any indexed lists of names of the claim owners, also.

      1. I would too. My great great grandparents were part of this land rush and my great grandfather was actually born in “Indian Territory” as stated on his birth certificate. I’m very curious aND would love any additional information.


        1. Tammy, my grandfather was born in Indian Territory. It is now know as Red Oak, Latimer County, OK. I have had no luck in tracking down his birth certificate. How did you find one on your family? Any help will be appreciated!


          1. Patty,
            My mother was born in Tulsa, Indian Territory in 1905. She had no Birth Certificate. A sibling attested to her birth in order for her to obtain a passport in 1950.

      1. I grew up in Enid and was the county seat for Garfield County. It is in north central Oklahoma and not far from the Kansas state line. About one of the few places to register in a hurry.

      2. The list on the link you posted is for the 1893 Land Run; not the 1889 Land Run. Just so people don’t wonder why their ancestor is not on this list.

  3. My father told me that his father was in the rush, but didn’t mention his uncles. I found the three siblings on a list of Woods county residents.

  4. Another example of broken treaty promises by the Federal government, taking away land and pushing sovereign tribes to assimilate or disappear

    1. And it was the second removal for all of the tribes involved. The entire history of broken federal treaties never made it into any of my history books, even in college. Even with the Internet available now to fill in some of the gaps, I still feel some history has been stolen from me.

    2. I agree with you. And the U.S. gov’t was outraged when Saddam invaded Kuwait? Isn’t that what the White man did to the Indians?

    3. Hi Laura, I am also an Easley.,Did your family live in Oklahoma during this time? I would love to hear from you. My father was born in Oklahoma later. Any info you have would be great. Thanks.

  5. I, too, would like to know of a list for non-natives. My great grandfather and his children (incl. my grandfather) all received land allotments because they are listed as Creek Freedmen, but there are some questions about a mysterious “lie”.
    Thanks to anyone who can share a site for a list!

  6. My great grandfathe,r Joseph T. Gist, left Kansas and made the rush in 1893 to Enid where he settled land not far out of town. He was also an attorney handling the property claims, then opened J.T. Gist Feed and Coal, and then The Gist Music Company store, all in Enid.

    1. Enjoyed reading about Joseph T Gist. Gist is my great grand dad, J. Jarrett Gist. I try to add all the family to my tree.
      Charlene Sprueill Barker

      1. I am sad that Joseph T. Gist is not listed on the rolls for 1893, even though I have docs proving their settlement there. I have checked Ancestry for J. Jarrett Gist without luck. I would like to see where our families connect. Any more info?

        1. Doug Gist,
          J. Jarrett Gist b. 1811 son of Thomas Gist b. 1764 -d. 1837
          and Elizabeth Russell b. 1769 d. 1812 White co., Tenn
          There are some that say Jarrett’s first name was John. Has not been proven to me. He has a brother John.
          I worked on your Gist some, think they will connect.

  7. I ditto the reply by Laura J Easley. I can’t believe Pres Jackson would not sign the paper to stop the mandating of the Trail of Tears which 4,000 human beings died walking in the winter from Georgia to Oklahoma. He had all those deaths on his hands but guess he didn’t care.

    1. President Jackson was determined to rid the country of native Americans. He found them of no worth to our country. I find it amazing that those people were able to intermarry with whites. It is obvious that many non-native people found these hardy natives worthwhile, and of value as human beings. It is to their credit that they learned to survive as well as they did.

  8. They were called “Sooners”, not “Boomers”. My great grandmother participated in two of these. The first with her husband T.W. Pyle. The second by herself.

  9. Boomers=people who tried (some succeeded) in claiming and settling the Oklahoma Territory BEFORE the land rush became law( as far as 5 years before the land rush was announced).
    Sooners= people who snuck into the territory a week to a day before and of the actual start of the land rush.
    Per the Ohio State University History Dept.

  10. Porter and Mary Hamblem (Aunt maiden name Anderson) left Franklin, Indiana for Oklahoma and opened the first post office. Where could I get index information

    1. Try the US Postal service in Washington they have a list of almost all Postmen and women.

  11. I have letters from my Great-Grandfather who was selling tickets from the train depot to the “land seekers” in Chactow OK.

  12. Just one of a number of examples of European greed and disregard for the the native peoples of this country. A history of broken treaties, abuse, and acts of genocide. Donald Trump is no exception. Andrew Jackson would be proud of the racist S.O.B. as the pipeline goes thru their sacred land and eventually ruins the Missouri River.

    1. Why do you feel it necessary to throw your political opinions into an article about something that occurred 128 years ago?

      1. Thank you Patrica. I agree with your assessment of the blurring of history with such comments.

      2. Because it’s relevant. The hypocrisy is appalling and your ignorance is predictable. Educate yourself.

  13. The last paragraph of Trevor Hammond’s article barely explains the injustice perpetrated against America’s Native Peoples. There is no mention of the harshness, brutality and cruelty with which they were treated. These Native Peoples, who came from numerous autonomous tribal nations, were first subjected to forced removal from their ancestral homes in the Southeastern United States by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Despite prior treaties with the Federal Government guaranteeing self-contained boundaries and tribal governments across the states of the Southeast, the growing wealth of slave-based plantations along with the Georgia Gold Rush of 1828 made certain that the white man’s greed would strip the Native Peoples of their lands. Andrew Jackson, whose portrait has shamefully adorned our $20 bills for decades, was particularly vicious in expropriating lands and forcibly removing more than 46,000 people from their farms and towns to free up 25 million acres for white settlement.

    What would become the State of Oklahoma in 1907, was established originally as Indian Territory for the 30-some Native America nations that were forcibly removed from those states east of the Mississippi River. Imagine if you can the despair these people must have once again experienced, within two generations of being forced out of their ancestral homelands, when white settlers took precedence over them as a result of the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889.

    While many of us take great joy and pride in learning about the genealogical histories of our individual families, let us always remember to consider the context of the times in which our ancestors lived. They all had their struggles. And many, like the land grabbers in Oklahoma, were given huge advantages at extreme cost and suffering to others who were intentionally suppressed. We all stand on the shoulders of our forebears; many of us also stand on the broken lives our forebears left in their path to success.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful, response.
      I read these article to better understand my history, and I have people from Oklahoma on both sides of the situation. I honor both.

      1. I read the article to better understand history, but let’s face it; Native Americans are given short-shrift in even this reasonably balanced account. Everyone looking back with great pride at their settler forefathers– and with some justification, it took a fair amount of grit — also needs to understand their forefathers did it by stealing from and further subjugating Native Americans.

    2. the governments main goal was to make the natives disappear…I have an advertisement that was posted to bring in more land grabbers, in the newspaper in 1899, the title was ‘THE PROMISED LAND’ Problem with that is religion was used to manipulate the Christians to do as they did to the natives. Samson Occom and William Apess , both writers could not understand how the white settlers could justify committing the sin of stealing, murdering, abusing, committing horrific acts of racism and think that their god was okay with it and their reward for converting the natives was wealth through land.

  14. John Murrow, you are so right. Native Americans have been treated poorly. Stripped of almost everything they owned. The government cheated the American Natives badly and treated them terrible. I think it was selfish of the government (white people, mostly) my husband’s family are of Kaw & Osage.
    My husbands, great grandfather was born Dec.1854 in Kansas, the same day white men (squatters ) killed the father of this baby. The Aunt & Uncle of this baby & his little sister were raised by them. In 1870 they were made to leave Kansas & go to Oklahoma. Where they spent the rest of their life’s. I could go on and on, but only makes me more sad. When I hear of people bragging about the land rush (both of them),
    How sad it was for the American Indians. Of coarse they were looked down upon & could care less of them, only them selves.
    AS far as Andrew Jackson, My personal opinion, He is the worst president of all times.

    1. You may be right about Andrew Jackson, but only up until now. Trump has already surpassed the worst president by light years; and there will never be another more worse!!

  15. Donald Trump’s great grandfather was a “sooner”, no doubt at all!!

  16. We could talk about how the Mongol hordes attacked Asia and Europe. We could talk about the extermination of peoples in almost every country on earth. People will always try to improve themselves, and it invariably hurts someone else. My study of genealogy is not to applaud or rebuke, simply to try to understand what each group was facing, and how they responded to it. The Pilgrims persecuted “witches”. The people of Missouri persecuted the Mormons. The English persecuted the Catholics in Ireland, aided by the Presbyterian Scots. I have relatives on both sides of most of these groups. As Winston Churchill said, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” Let’s try to know and understand.

  17. They couldn’t stake out land and file it as a white man. Their skin colour – same as today – identified them…Everyone needs to know also that the Natives are still fighting for land that was ill gotten through bad treaties. As for any of the presidents in the 18th 19th 20th and 21st century – push comes to shove the Natives will more often than not loose their fight. Start researching Jackson from PhD academic papers and that behaviour exists today and will tomorrow.

  18. Wow. This is a group of crazy whiners and haters and a couple of reasonable thinkers. How about we spend our time working to improve the legacy that WE leave to the part of our world that we CAN have an impact upon? I too have ancestors native to this land as well as other lands, but it is preposterous for us to sit in our very comfortable spaces and judge Native Americans, Europeans, or any of our predecessors. It is very likely that they, like us, were doing their best- in their particular situations. Stop crying, do something without the hate, something to improve our world now and looking forward.

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