April 22, 1889, marked an important date in Oklahoma history when thousands of settlers staked their claim on the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma and created what we now call Oklahoma City. And since today marks the 125th anniversary of the Land Run, we think this is the perfect time to brush up on your Oklahoma history. Read on for some fast facts about the city that was built in a day – literally.
- In March 1889, Illinois Rep. William Springer amended the Indian Appropriations Bill to allow Pres. Benjamin Harrison to open the region for settlement.
- Under the Homestead Act of 1862, settlers could claim lots up to 160 acres in size – but they only received a title to the land if they worked and improved the land for five years.
- People waited at the boundary of the new territory for weeks before the Land Run even started, and soldiers were tasked with keeping the rowdy crowd in line. Some sneaky citizens slipped through, though, and crossed into Indian Territory before the sound of the gun. These people were labeled “Sooners,” which is the source of the Oklahoma’s nickname “The Sooner State.”
- Cannons and pistols fired at precisely high noon on April 22, giving the go-ahead for people to stake their claim on a tract of land. Those that participated in the mad dash were called “Boomers,” since they waited for the boom of the cannon to charge into the new territory.
- The term “Boomer” did not originate with the Land Run, however. The term first referred to participants in the “Boomer Movement,” in which settlers claimed that the Unassigned Lands were public property and should be open to anyone for settlement. Leaders of this movement included David L. Payne (namesake of Payne County) and William L. Couch (first mayor of Oklahoma City).
- An estimated 50,000 gathered to claim their own 160 acres of “free land.” By nightfall, 11,000 agricultural homesteads were claimed.
- Many settlers were forced to contest others who claimed the same farm or lot, and a few of these legal battles made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision of Smith v. Townsend in 1892 caused those who entered the territory illegally to lose their claim on valuable land.