1880s: Boomers & Sooners, Part Two (An Editorial, A Payne, and Some Booming)

Elias C. BoudinotIn 1879, Elias C. Boudinot made an argument that gave voice to the longings of desperate homesteaders across the west. It was officially put before Congress and printed in the editorial pages of major newspapers. That he was part “Indian” was especially validating – confirmation bias loves making outliers into proofs.

Elias C. Boudinot was the son of Elias “I Don’t Have A Middle Name” Boudinot, who’d helped to establish and edit the first Amerindian newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. Remember Sequoyah and his syllabary? Boudinot was the guy who turned it into movable type so it could be printed easily.

The senior Boudinot believed acculturation (assimilation into white culture) was the best hope for the survival and success of his people. He was assassinated in 1839 for his role in Indian Removal, having signed the Treaty of New Echota – convinced that a move to Indian Territory was inevitable and the Cherokee should at least secure the best terms possible.

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to have your father assassinated by members of your tribe for violating sacred beliefs, but it probably wouldn’t do much for your love of the people or their traditions and values. That’s mere speculation, of course, but sheesh.

The rest of Boudinot’s upbringing took place in Connecticut with his mother’s family – well-off folks of some status who supported Christian missionaries among the Cherokee. These weren’t the yelling and shaking types of missionaries, or the Spanish Priests variety who thought enslavement was good for the sinful savage. These were the sort who tried to make themselves legitimately useful among those to whom they were missioning, but who also hoped to eventually change a few key traditions and values – like, say… killing those who sign away tribal lands.

Boudinot’s eventual betrayal of his heritage, then, was not without ideological or historical foundations. Right or wrong, it was at least understandable.

The Editorial

Elias C. Boudinot became in many ways the worst version of his father’s progressive vision – a political figure who worked in both Indian Territory (I.T.) and Washington, D.C., often more in support of railroads and national expansion than anything traditionally Cherokee. And then, in 1879, he wrote the letter which created such a stir…

These unappropriated lands… amount to several millions of acres and are as valuable as any in the Territory. The soil is well adapted for the production of corn, wheat and other cereals. It is unsurpassed for grazing, and is well watered and timbered.

The United States have an absolute and unembarrassed title to every acre of the 14,000,000 acres… The Indian title has been extinguished… the lands {were} ceded “in compliance with the desire of the United States to locate other Indians and freedmen thereon.”

By the express terms of these treaties, the lands bought by the United States were not intended for the exclusive use of 'other Indians,' as has been so often asserted. They were bought as much for the negroes of the country as for Indians…

{The} public lands in the Territory… amount, as before stated, to about 14,000,000 million acres.

In other words, Boudinot is arguing that the U.S. has full right to do whatever they want with the “Unassigned Lands” in I.T. If they’d been intended for other uses at some point, they weren’t now. The situation had changed.

Whatever may have been the desire or intention of the United States Government in 1866 to located Indians and negroes upon these lands, it is certain that no such desire or intention exists in 1879. The negro since that date has become a citizen of the United States, and Congress has recently enacted laws which practically forbid the removal of any more Indians into the Territory… 

These laws practically leave several million acres of the richest lands on the continent free from Indian title or occupancy and an integral part of the public domain...

Elias Boudinot, 1879

Although the Massacre at Wounded Knee (which effectively ended Amerindian resistance on the Great Plains) was a decade away, Boudinot was correct that the vast majority of those who were to be “relocated” had already been moved. This “extra” land in Indian Territory was unlikely to be assigned anytime soon. If these lands were public domain, they were subject to the terms of the Homestead Act same as any other land in the west. 

And those were pretty easy terms. 

Charles C. Carpenter

Custer MovieEnter Charles C. Carpenter, a former Civil War… er, "participant" in various capacities, both official and not. Apparently a fan of the recently deceased George Armstrong Custer, Carpenter sported long golden curls and buckskins. A commanding officer wrote of him that “he adds great shrewdness to the reckless courage which he undoubtedly possesses.”

It's hard to say whether that’s a backhanded compliment or genuine praise. 

In any case, Carpenter built quite a resume for himself during and after the war – much of it rather difficult to document. Record-keeping was not always a high priority in days gone by, and things like titles or official functions were far more subject to personal interpretation than is typical today. Think Rooster Cogburn in True Grit – officially a U.S. Marshall, also kinda working privately for Mattie Ross; sometimes subject to the rules, other times…  not so much. But Carpenter had the reputation and had clearly done… something, probably. 

Add a dashing stare into the distance and some tussled hair blowing in the wind (slow motion, of course), and you have a pretty good idea of how Carpenter saw himself – or at least how he hoped others would see him. Like Custer or Cogburn, he simultaneously personified the best of the American West while still being a bit of a pompous faker-face irritating the bejeebies out of anyone with a little education or civilization. 

He was persuasive enough, though, to organize at least one big “boomer” push into Indian Territory, where the limits of the government’s determination would be tested by a few brave souls willing to rough it, even risking trouble with the law to grab their little piece of the American Dream. 

The actual “boomers,” that is. Carpenter didn’t go with them. He stayed in Kansas where it was safe. 

Troops from nearby Fort Reno were sent to eject these "boomers" and burn their humble settlement, and they were led back to Kansas in temporary defeat. Carpenter had promised they’d try as often as necessary to accomplish their goal, but he didn’t stay long enough to follow up on this first, rather anti-climactic effort. Apparently he’d received a visit from a government official familiar with enough of his background to promise him substantial difficulty should he persist in his settlement efforts, and Charles didn’t care to test the validity of those threats.

He bailed.

His place was taken by another Civil War veteran, this one a man who’d actually served in the army proper, and who held an advantage much more durable than charm, legal arguments, or high hopes. You see, David Payne believed.

Ejecting OK Boomer

Classroom Boomers (A Payne in the Class)

Every classroom teacher has experienced moments like this:

One of your darlings is off-task and taking others down with her. After a few verbal redirections, you tell her to move to a seat further from her audience – probably near your desk.

“No no no no no! I’ll stop! I’ll stop! Just one more chance! One more chance!”

“Those chances have passed, anonymous sample child – let’s go. Come on.” You motion firmly, but with style.

“Pleeeease?! Look – I’m working!” She waves a piece of paper around vigorously, believing this irrefutable evidence of focus and commitment (which is common, but so weird). 

You are firm, but not angry. “C’mon. NOW.” You tap the destination desk a few times for emphasis.

At the first sign of acquiescence, you continue whatever you were doing, and efficiently guide the class back on track. It may be several minutes before you notice she hasn’t actually moved.

“Child’s Name. Seriously. Over. Here.” Motion-motion-motion.

“I’m not talking anymore! I can’t see over there! I’m being good! Just one more chance and if I mess up, you can move me! Please?!?!?? Pleeeeaaaaassssseeeee??!?!?!!!???”

Because you are a master of classroom management, you overcome this distraction yet again, and this time you wait until she’s physically moving before you once again guide the rest of the room back into the edu-zone. Now the learning can happen!

A few moments later you realize she’s moved exactly one desk over. If you’re lucky, it’s at least a diagonal move, which you COULD count as two desks. 


At this point you have two choices. (1) Give up on having class in order to kill this child dead in front of God and everyone as a warning to others, or (2) pretend this was exactly what you intended all along, or at least an acceptable compromise. “OK. Good! Now stay put!” 

The issue is not bold defiance or teacher incompetence. It’s a calculated risk on the part of the student – who knows you. She’s betting you won’t go nuclear on her – no referrals, no yelling, no hurling heavy objects. She’s ready at any point to back down and comply – at least until your attention has shifted. She’s also sure you have things you’d rather be doing than power struggle with her, and that you don’t actually dislike her – even if she’s making you crazy at the moment. 

She ends up sitting pretty close to where she began. Even if she moves today – all the way to that desk next to yours – tomorrow she’ll be back where she started, waiting to see if you say anything, and begin the struggle anew if necessary. 

That’s the Boomer Movement. That’s David L. Payne.

David L. Payne – Let’s Boom 

David L. PayneLike many who make history, David L. Payne had the unwavering conviction that he was right.  That sort of bold confidence can be rather irritating, but it’s typical of those who inspire others to follow them. Or serial killers, supervillains, and certain varieties of the severely mentally ill. So it can go different of ways.  

In Payne’s case, the question wasn’t always who’d follow so much as who could keep up. A hunter, scout, politician, and businessman, he was certainly never at a loss for things to do. Then again, he rarely stayed in the same place for more than a few years at a time… so there’s that. 

He had a common-law wife and a son who was, by definition, “out-of-wedlock.” He volunteered to fight for the Union as soon as the war broke out, then stayed in the army to help “civilize” the Great Plains after. He fought under Custer and befriended Kit Carson and Wild Bill Hickok – suggesting he must have been something of a character himself, just to keep up. 

He had a reputation for “understanding the Indian character,” which could have meant any number of things. Whatever it meant, it was apparently in great demand in the decades following the Civil War. 

Oh – and he was tall. 6’4” or thereabouts. 

Why all the background? Because for all practical purposes, if you're an Okie, he’s your Daddy. Don’t be ashamed! Own your statehood! Come on – it’s not like you’re from Florida or something.

After Carpenter bailed on the young “boomer” movement, Payne stepped up in a big way. He sold theoretical claims to plots in the Unassigned Lands and talked up efforts to move in and truly settle the area. Unlike Carpenter, he actually accompanied most of the forays into I.T., taking on the same risks and hardships as those who followed him.

He was removed by the U.S. Army, but he went in again. He was removed again, then went in again. Removed, return, removed, return, removed, return, removed…

You may notice a pattern.

WICHITA, Kan., Nov. 20.—There was a gathering here to-day of all persons interested in Payne’s Oklahoma Colony. It was arranged that the colony should move in a body from the Kansas and Texas and Arkansas lines on Dec. 6, the day Congress meets. 

They have drawn up a letter addressed to the President and Congress asking that the Army be prevented from interfering with them. A committee, consisting of J.B. Sleeb, of Wichita; George M. Jackson, of St. Louis, and Dr. Robert Wilson, of Texas, was appointed to go to Washington and present the address.

“Payne’s Oklahoma Colony,” The New York Times, November 21, 1880

There was a notable lack of meaningful consequences for these repeated violations. Payne was threatened, and eventually fined (he didn’t pay it), but he wasn’t locked up. He wasn’t killed. He was just… removed.

And then he returned.

He KNEW the U.S. Army didn’t actually want to shoot anyone over this land. He was betting they wouldn’t even actually imprison him – or anyone else – for any length of time. Not for THIS.

CHICAGO, May 22.—In a letter dated April 29, the Secretary of the Interior says that he is informed by Mr. H. C. Hamby, of Parsons, Kan., that a settlement is being made in the Oklahoma district by the followers of Capt. Payne, and requests the Secretary of War to take steps for their removal… 

The intruders were arrested and sent out of the Indian Territory. A company of cavalry and a detachment of Indian scouts are stationed in the Oklahoma country, with orders to arrest and expel all unauthorized persons. That no one may be deceived by the representations of Capt. Payne, it is announced that the Government will not permit settlements on the Oklahoma lands. 

 “Intruders in the Oklahoma District,” The New York Times, May 23, 1882

What they WERE willing to do was march the “boomers” back home time and again, often by long, dry routes, on foot, with limited food or water. What they WERE willing to do was embarrass or frighten them.

Many of the most humiliating removals were handled by Buffalo Soldiers – black units organized in the west primarily as “Indian Fighters.” While typically more professional and better behaved than their white peers, the idea of hungry white homesteaders being escorted off of “red” land by Black soldiers was particularly odious to some.  

And then he returned.

Conviction, and Lack Thereof 

Payne had dealt with the law, the government, and the military before. At any given moment, he was willing to comply. They had the guns and the authority, but he had unlimited time and patience. And – this part is key – he believed he was entirely right. 

It wasn’t simply that he thought he could “get away with it,” although he did. It wasn’t just that the Boomers he inspired really truly needed this land, although in their minds that was a given. He believed without reservation that these lands were public lands, and should be opened to white settlement – enough to force the issue repeatedly. 

Payne wanted to be put on trial. He wanted the courts to rule on whether or not the Unassigned Lands were reserved for unspecified Indian use, or should be thrown open to white settlement on the same terms as other lands in the west. 

Payne believed.

He may have been wrong. Stubborn. Annoying. Tall. But whatever else he was, Payne acted with the firm conviction that if he WERE breaking the law, the law NEEDED to be broken in order for constitutional mechanics to engage and his actions to be vindicated – not only for himself and his subscribers, but for the greater American good.

This is what set the Boomers apart in an essential way from the Sooners with whom they are so unjustly joined in collegiate song. Whatever their errors or sins, they largely acted in accordance with their understanding of the nation’s foundational ideals and constitutional law. They believed they were in the RIGHT, and stood stubbornly by this until they won the day.

The Sooners, on the other hand… Hmph.

David L. Payne died at breakfast on November 28th, 1884. Nearly five years later, on April 22, 1889, the first of the infamous Oklahoma Land Runs began opening up the Unassigned Lands to white settlement. This time the settlers were allowed to stay.

CHICAGO, Nov. 28.—A Tribune special from Kansas City, Mo., states that Capt. David L. Payne, the famous leader of the Oklahoma Boomers, who is known throughout the land as “Oklahoma Payne,” died suddenly this morning while eating breakfast at the Hotel De Barnara, in Wellington, Kan. Last evening he addressed a mass meeting in Wellington, and was seemingly in the best of health and spirits. He was a fine specimen of hardy, robust manhood. He retired at a seasonable hour last night and arose about 8 o’clock this morning. He entered the breakfast room of the hotel smoking a cigar, and while partaking of the hearty meal he had ordered he was observed to lean forward as if from slight suffocation and then drop suddenly from his chair to the floor. Two of the waiters and several guests rushed to his assistance, but it was found that he had expired before he fell…

Payne’s death… will be a severe blow to the Oklahoma colonists. Dec. 20 was the day set for the last raid into the Oklahoma country. It is quite likely that the leadership of the colony will fall upon W. L. Couch. Payne was generous to a fault, brave as a lion, and a dead shot. On the border he was known as “Oxheart, the Scout of the Cimarron.” His sudden taking off created no little sensation in Wellington and profound sorrow among his coworkers and followers in attempting to settle in Indian Territory.

…he was, at the time of his death, preparing for still another raid… 

“Death of ‘Oklahoma Payne’: The Chief of the Oklahoma Boomers Expires While At Breakfast,” The New York Times, November 29, 1884

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