Indian Territory

The Cherokees had substantial land in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. To protect their land they adopted a written constitution that proclaimed that the Cherokee nation had complete jurisdiction over its own territory. The state of Georgia responded by making it illegal for a Native American to bring a legal action against a white man.

The Seminole tribe had disputes with settlers in Florida. The Creeks were involved in several battles with the federal army in Alabama and Georgia. The Chickisaw and Choctaw tribes also had land disputes with emigrants who had settled in Mississippi.

Andrew Jackson argued that the solution to this problem was to move all these five tribes to Oklahoma. When Andrew Jackson gained power he encouraged Congress to pass the 1830 Indian Removal Act. He argued that the legislation would provide land for white invaders, improve security against foreign invaders and encourage the civilization of the Native Americans. In one speech he argued that the measure "will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the government and through the influences of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and christian community."

Jackson was re-elected with an overwhelming majority in 1832. He now pursued the policy of removing Native Americans from good farming land. He even refused to accept the decision of the Supreme Court to invalidate Georgia's plan to annex the territory of the Cherokee. This brought Jackson into conflict with Whig leaders such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.

The land given to the Native Americans in Oklahoma was known as the Indian Territory. The land was distributed in the following way: Choctaws (6,953,048 acres), Chickisaw (4,707,903 acres) and Cherokees (4,420,068). The tribes were also received money for their former lands: Cherokee ($2,716,979), Creek ($2,275,168), Seminole ($2,070,000), Chickisaw ($1,206,695) and Choctaw ($975,258). Some of these tribes used this money to buy land in Oklahoma and to support the building of schools.

In 1835 some leaders of the Cherokee tribe signed the Treaty of New Echota. This agreement ceded all rights to their traditional lands to the United States. In return the tribe was granted land in the Indian Territory. Although the majority of the Cherokees opposed this agreement they were forced to make the journey by General Winfield Scott and his soldiers. In October 1838 about 15,000 Cherokees began what was later to be known as the Trail of Tears. Most of the Cherokees travelled the 800 mile journey on foot. As a result of serious mistakes made by the Federal agents who guided them to their new land, they suffered from hunger and the cold weather and an estimated 4,000 people died on the journey.

Overall it is believed that about 70,000 Native Americans were forced to migrate from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida to Oklahoma. During the journey many died as a result of famine and disease.

Harper's Magazine (28th March, 1885)
Harper's Magazine (28th March, 1885)

Primary Sources

(1) Harper's Magazine (28th March, 1885)

The "Oklahoma boomer" has come to be a familiar name of late. At present there are one thousand or more Oklahoma boomers. They are encamped on Cheeota Creek, six miles form Arkansas City, on the southern border of Kansas. To the south of them lies the Indian Territory. Nearly in the centre of that Territory stretches the Oklahoma country, an exceedingly fertile and attractive area. The boomers wish to march upon it, to settle in it, and to possess it. The United States government says that they must not do this; that the land is pledged to the Indians. The boomers declare that they will do it. United States troops are posted opposite the camp of the boomers, on the opposite side of Cheeota Creek. They have orders not to permit the boomers to set foot in the Indian Territory. Other United States troops are posted in the Territory - in the Oklahoma country - to guard it against the boomers. From the accounts that come to us there is likely to be an outbreak and blood-shed at any moment.

In November last died Captain David L. Payne, known better as Oklahoma Payne. He was the originator and first leader of the Oklahoma boomers. He was a man of obstinate convictions. He contended that the Oklahoma lands were public property, upon which he and his followers had the right to settle. These lands, as has been said, are fertile and desirable. They lie a little to the east of the centre of the Indian Territory. They cover about eighteen hundred square miles. From north to south at their longest part they measure sixty miles, and they stretch forty miles at the point of their greatest breadth. They are bounded on the north by the Cherokee strip of land lying west of the Arkansas River; on the east by the reservations of the Pawnee, Iowa, Kickapoo, and Pottawattomie tribes of Indians; on the south by the Canadian River; and on the west by the reservation of the Cheyenne and Arrapahoe Indians. In these limits are included 1,887,800 acres, half a million acres more than are comprised in the State of Delaware. Colonel Boudinot, a Cherokee, gave the name of Oklahoma to the country. It is a word of the Cherokee language, and signifies "the home of the red man." The shortest way into the Oklahoma country from Kansas is form Caldwell, on the Kansas border, along a stage road and cattle trail that runs to Fort Reno, on the western border of Oklahoma.

(2) Nelson Miles, Personal Recollections and Observations (1896)

The original plan of setting apart the Indian Territory and congregating therein Indians from Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, and other States, was wise and judicious at the time our government inaugurated such a policy. At that time the Indian Territory was supposed to be so remote that the Indians there located would never be molested or disturbed by the white race, and to be so far removed that they would not be a disturbing element. Yet statesmen like Webster, Calhoun, and Clay could not anticipate the tide of western emigration or the effect of railway transportation. In 1885 the Indian Territory had become surrounded by States and settled communities, and was in the very heart of the American continent, without civil government. A change was imperatively demanded, for the good of the Indians as well as for the people of our country.

(3) Nelson Miles, report published as commander of the Department of Columbia (1885)

That Congress should authorize the President to appoint a commission of three experienced, competent men, empowered to treat with the different tribes; to consider all legal or just claims to titles; to grant to the Indian occupants of the Territory such tracts of land in severalty as might be required for their support, but not transferable for twenty years; that their title to the remainder be so far extinguished as that it might be held in trust or sold by the government, and that a sufficient amount of the proceeds should be granted them to indemnify them for any interest they might possess in the lands; that enough of said proceeds be provided to enable the Indians in the Territory to become self-sustaining; the land not required for Indian occupation to be thrown open for settlement under the same laws and rules as had been applied to the public domain.

(4) The Nation, Settlers Occupy Oklahoma (4th March, 1889)

There is probably nowhere else in the world such a curious collection of settlements as are now stretched along the border lines of the new Territory waiting for the 22nd of April to arrive. They have regular names, like Beaver City and Purcell, with hotels and stores. Some of them have a population of 1,500, and at one store the gross receipts in a single day are said to have reached $500. Yet there is scarcely a permanent building in any of them. One town is famous for having a plastered house in which the railway agent lives. For the most part the boomers are living in dug-outs, or sod houses, with some rough wooden shanties and many tents. Yet business is carried on regularly, and there is a scale of rentals ranging from $5 to $25 a year. Clothing is the most difficult thing to obtain, and the 10,000 boomers who are thus waiting on the threshold of the promised land are clad more like Indians than civilized people. In addition to these 10,000, there are said to be many thousands more in the regular towns and settlements near the border, and it is estimated that the new Territory may have a population of 100,000 a few months after it is thrown open for settlement. The rush is ominous for the remainder of the Indian Territory, for the same greedy eyes are upon that as have been fastened so eagerly upon the portion about to be gained.

"No matter what people tell you to the contrary, there is not a man in this town who would stay if he could get out." This was the pessimistic remark of a prominent Oklahoman to a stranger, made in a weary time of waiting for a Government appointment; but, fortunately for the growth of the Territory, there are those within its bounds who do not feel that way. They see in the new country a chance to make a fresh start, unhampered by the competition of crowded districts, and relieved of over-stimulation of haste.

Before the famous "Run" with which Oklahoma opened, the government cleared the decks for action. In the old days the district was supposed to be given over entirely to the Indians; but in reality it contained many white residents of unsettled habits of life and loose morals. Cattle men leased lands for grazing, and led the usual rough, exciting life of the cowboy; matched shrewdness against savagery for the sake of both profit and adventure. Those of this class now living seem to have left from the experience a residuum of romance which forms the foundation of engaging tales. The retired cowboy, now keeping a grocery store or a livery barn with demure respectability in a town's center, seems merely a humdrum, shiftless sort of citizen whose life has always been in crowded districts; but if his confidence be gained, his illiterate tales will be a veracious history of the most interesting period of the region.

Besides the cowboys there were outlaws who fled to the Indian Territory to escape the avenging justice of better-governed states. Once within the Indian borders, there was every facility for the evasion of justice. Here the celebrated James boys had an occasional "dug-out," to which they flew when respite from adventure was desired. The equally notorious Dalton boys, who were cousins to the Jameses, also found here a home so happy, and express trains so profitable, that they were very loath to leave, even after well-meaning folk had flooded the Territory as homesteaders. Immunity from punishment was secured through the absence of local law. Tribal laws prevailed among the Indians, but did not affect the refugees; and, provided a man kept from trouble with the Indians, there was so little difficulty in living that one wonders at the restless spirit which impelled him again into danger. When the land was bought from the Indians, surveyors were sent to mark the entire country off into squares. The plan was, no doubt, neatly drawn at Washington on the smooth surface of a pretty pink map in which topographical inequalities were not represented. The lines were surveyed to run a mile apart, north and south, east and west, each to denote a highway, and each square mile between them to represent a section. The intention was to give each settler a quarter-section of one hundred and sixty acres. The authorities at Washington, in looking at the plain surface of the map, forgot that the country they were thus geometrically dividing was frequently broken by deep ravines and gulches: ... as a consequence the traveller never deviates from the compass, but his horse toils up a hill, reaches the crest, sidles down the farther slope, crosses a rude bridge, and climbs another hill, to repeat the process indefinitely. The uplands are always bare of trees, but the gulches are thickly wooded; and if the roads could have been permitted to follow the line of trees, a grateful shade would have been secured from the relentless sun, and picturesque beauties would have beguiled the farm children on their way to distant schoolhouses.