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
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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