Primary Source: Honest Settlers Duped... (The New York Times – April 26, 1889)
HONEST SETTLERS DUPED, SWINDLED BY OFFICIALS IN OKLAHOMA. AN INVESTIGATION BY THE LAND OFFICE NOW IN ORDER – ONE “BOOMER” DRIVEN CRAZY. (The New York Times, April 26, 1889) Slightly edited for classroom use.
OKLAHOMA CITY, Indian Territory, April 25.—Five men in their coffins and a maniac in irons were carried north from this infant city to-day. The dead men had died natural deaths. Thomas O’Neil of Marshall, Mo., was the first to die in the region just opened to settlement. He was 30 years old and unmarried. In Monday’s race for homes he took an important part, and his extraordinary exertions brought on a congestive chill which proved fatal. The others dies of various diseases.
The madman, John Evans, left his family in El Dorado, Kan., a few days ago, and was apparently in the best of health. He came to Oklahoma City on the first train Monday, and found the city in possession of United States Marshals and bushmen, and was unable to realize his expectations. A claim which he finally secured was jumped by professionals, and a revolver was flourished in his face when he remonstrated.
Evans had little money, and his subsequent trials robbed him of his reason. As he lay on the platform to-day waiting for the train, he talked incessantly of claims and town lots, and implored those near him not to rob him of his little piece of ground. The sight was a pitiful one. Evans was taken to Winfield and placed in a hospital for the insane.
Another man went crazy last night and was placed on a north-bound train. At Alfred he broke away and tried to assault Waite of the infantry company stationed there, but was overpowered. “I want a claim! I want a claim!” was his incessant cry. He was put aboard the train again, and will probably be treated in the Winfield hospital.
Both this town and Guthrie have been surveyed several times, and in both lots are staked out as far as the eye can reach in any direction. In Guthrie fully two thousand tents are in sight, and about a dozen small frame buildings are in process of erection. One has been completed, and bears the sign, “Commercial Bank.” It belongs to a Kansas City syndicate, which has put in a large safe, and will do a general banking and loan business. The rates of interest will, of course, be extortionate. Already there is a sharp demand for money on chattel mortgage, and it will reach heavy proportions before another month rolls around.
The feeling here against the United States Marshals Jones and Needles is very bitter, and is steadily increasing, and those officials may be called on soon to explain why they appointed four or five hundred land sharks and particular friends as Deputy Marshals, knowing that they would take advantage of their commissions to secure all the choice locations in both Guthrie and Oklahoma City in advance of the honest settlers.
The action of the War Department in the matter of the opening of the Territory is also being criticized. It is a notorious fact that thousands of men were within the prescribed limits long before the opening day. The official reports sent out last week tended to show that every boomer had been expelled. While this was not the case, it is undeniably true that boomers who were known as such were hustled out whenever caught sight of, while men who carried department permits were permitted to remain and select at leisure the finest lands to be found in Oklahoma. THE TIMES’s correspondent has seen a number of such permits within the last week, and an investigation would undoubtedly show that the Government officials sold out the honest men who took the Government at its word and remained on the border until high noon on April 22.
There are many who openly charge that the present chaotic state of affairs in Guthrie and Oklahoma City is due to a conspiracy hatched in Washington, and deliberately carried out with the aid of high officials. One man from New York State who came down here to see the invasion said this morning: “The long and short of this matter is that the Government has sold out the honest settlers, if not intentionally, then certainly through shiftlessness in the Executive Department and downright scheming on the part of other department officials. Every man who entered Oklahoma Monday on the train and saw the crowd already on the ground knows that there was gross violation of the provisions of the President’s proclamation. How did they get in? Through the carelessness of the War Department and by virtue of the commissions issued by the United States Marshals. It surely was known at Washington that Needles and Jones were at loggerheads on the subject of jurisdiction over Oklahoma. Needles advised the Attorney General of the clash a week ago and asked for a definition of his powers. In spite of this disagreement, both Needles and Jones were allowed to appoint all the deputies they saw fit, and they apparently commissioned one for each lot in both towns. Think of John B. Weaver sailing into Oklahoma as a Deputy United States Marshal! What better evidence of corruption could one ask?”
Scenes of destitution are by no means uncommon in these two cities of tents and red sand. Many of the residents came here with very little money, relying upon their abilities as “hustlers” to supply the deficiency. They found at least one-third of the population indulging the same hope, and, of course, hard times have already touched elbows with them. Sixty men employed as section hands on the Santa Fe deserted their posts on Monday and took up claims just outside of Guthrie. They had made no provision for the future, and are already sick of their bargain. These men will either desert their holdings or sell out for a song within a week.
ARKANSAS CITY, Kan., April 25.—A visit was to-day paid to Sergt. Morris, who is in command of the United States soldiers at Camp Price, eight miles south of here, in the Cherokee strip. This handful of men had been detailed to remain behind, when Capt. Hayes, with the balance of the troop, escorted the boomers across the strip. Sergt. Morris was ill at ease concerning the invasion of the Cherokee country, and an accident which happened last night places him in a worse state of uncertainty.
Messages from the War Department had reached Arkansas City for Capt. Hayes, and the Sergeant, hoping they would throw some light on his discretion in handling the invaders, at once sent Private Underwood as a messenger to fetch them. Placing the documents in his saddlebags, the private started on his return. His horse ran into a barbed-wire fence, threw his rider, breaking his leg, and then started off on his own hook. Up to a late hour to-night the wandering animal had not been found, and the contents of the dispatches are unknown.
Sergt. Morris has ordered several of the invading boomers to leave Cherokee Outlet, but in each case his orders were laughed at.
Capt. Hayes, at Ponca, received orders to-day to leave at once for Oklahoma City, where he will hold a conference with Gen. Merritt concerning the invasion of the strip. In the meantime a score or more of boomers entered the strip to-day from the north, and it is believed several hundred entered it from the south. If something is not done soon it will require the efforts of the whole United States Army to dislodge these people.
The trains to-day are still from five to eight hours behind time, and are loaded to the doors with passengers. The train due early this afternoon arrived at 8 o’clock to-night with ten coaches and a thousand passengers, 600 of whom are from Guthrie, and the remainder from Oklahoma City, Edmonds, and Purcell. At Guthrie there were a thousand people who wished to leave, and after over half their number had filled the cars the troops were called to drive the remainder away. Among the passengers were several women, and some of these were so weak from the want of food that they had to be lifted from the cars and almost carried to the station dining room.
The rush for this place was a sight. Long before the train stopped the people began dropping off and making a bee line for the restaurant, and in a short time its 200 seats were filled with a famished crowd. It was not long before everything was eaten up and the proprietor began to nail down the table cloths.
Ex-State Treasurer John R. Tanner of Illinois stopped over night here. He says he has been in the Oklahoma country by special permit since the Thursday before the opening day. He is looking around for homesteads for his old Illinois soldier friends, so he says. He has no faith whatever in the future of Guthrie, for the reason that the question of water will always be a vexed one. No well can be sunk that will not strike a brackish fluid. On the other hand, Oklahoma City, being on the North Canadian, will always have plenty of water, and Mr. Tanner added that he owned town lots in Oklahoma City. The town site middle may have to be adjusted by an act of Congress, but Mr. Tanner had his doubts if Congress would touch the matter, and the confusion would go on without end.
This afternoon a further step towards metropolitan perfection was taken in the appointment of a Police Justice and policemen.
WASHINGTON, April 25.—Immediately upon the receipt here of press reports that Government officials and others temporarily in Government employ in Oklahoma had used their authority as such officials to secure prior rights to lands in the Territory, in disregard of the rights of others, the President and Secretary Noble telegraphed the special agents of the department now in the Territory to make a thorough and prompt investigation of the facts in the case, and upon its completion to immediately notify the Secretary of their findings. A report is expected during this week.
In speaking of the matter to-day Secretary Noble said that not the least shadow of an injustice to settlers in Oklahoma would be tolerated for a moment, and that as soon as the facts in the case could be ascertained, if officials were found to have been implicated in any attempted injustice or wrongdoing, the action of the Government in the matter would be very prompt and decisive.