The "Sooner" State was the scene that became part of the legend of the American west. On April 22, 1889 (when it was still called "the Indian Territory") the U.S. Government arranged that at a particular early morning hour a shot was fired along the borders of the territory, and hundreds of settlers posed at those borders took off and rode horses, wagons, coaches, and even wheel barrows to set up land claims for homesteads throughout the territory. The incident has popped up in motion pictures going back to William S. Hart's TUMBLEWEEDS. And it retains it's fascination to this day. Ron Howard used it in the conclusion of a film about ten years ago.
The land rush was a symbol of a critical moment in America. In 1893 the historian Frederick Jackson Turner wrote an essay which is still noted among the most important in our history writing. In it he stated that the frontier that had existed since the founding of the 13 colonies was dead and gone forever. The reason was that all the settlements of European (and African - American) citizens were spread over both coasts and in most of the areas in between. There was no large empty gap (although some western states had large sections that were uninhabitable as they were deserts, or they were Indian reservations). The last free land had been Oklahoma - Indiana Territory. According to Turner, the American Frontier had been a "safety valve" for people who had not made it in the "civilized" portions of the country - they could pick up and go to a wilderness area to get a second chance at the American dream. And now it was gone!
It is not unusual to note that both Oklahoma Land Rush and the Turner thesis came out during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison (1889 - 1893). Harrison, while a U.S. Senator, was head of the Senate committee on territories. He had been behind the drive for getting the territories into the Union as states as quickly as possible. As a result, more states entered the Union while he was President (six: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota) than in any other administration, and all were western territories turned into states.
Turner was not fully correct (no historian ever is). He failed to take Alaska into account. But the significance of that last dash in 1889 seems best summarized by what Turner's thesis said.
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