Primary Source: Oklahoma Opened To-Day (New York Times - April 22, 1889)
Oklahoma Opened To-Day: Boomers Ready for the Great Inward Rush (New York Times - April 22, 1889) - The Turbulent Crowd Waiting on the Southern Border – Influence of the Oklahoma League
Purcell, I.T., April 21 – Final preparations were made to-day for the exodus into Oklahoma, which will begin to-morrow. Wagons were overhauled, supplies purchased, and guns and tools given careful inspection. The day was lovely, but there was no suggestion of Sunday in the street scenes. From the hill overlooking the beautiful valley of the Canadian a soft-toned bell called those religiously inclined to worship in the Catholic Mission of St. Augustine. In the town itself there are two insignificant church structures, but they are not centres of attractions to-day. The supreme moment is so near at hand that the thousands who have spent weary months in waiting can hardly contain themselves.
At 8 o’clock this morning the public square contained a large assemblage, and by 10 o’clock the throng had swelled to such an extent that passage was exceedingly difficult. Several prominent men were induced to mount improvised platforms and harangue the crowd on the great issue of the day. Judge Green of Kentucky, the only man in town who wears “store clothes” and a silk hat, spoke for a half hour. The people wanted light on the town site, school land, and other questions connected with the opening of Oklahoma, and he dispensed it with apparent knowledge of the situation.
The Judge is charged by many with being mixed up in town site schemes, and is not, therefore, deemed above giving advice which, if followed, would result to his personal advantage. He and others were surprised to discover this morning placards pasted about town, bearing this inscription regarding the late order made at the regular meeting of the Oklahoma legion:
Resolved, That we again pledge ourselves to protect our brother members in their long-respected rights on selected claims, and that all town-site sharks and claim jumpers shall be dealt with in a summary manner.
As the town is full of the gentry named in the notice, much uneasiness has been caused. There have been any number of attempts to discredit the existence of the Oklahoma Legion, but that it does exist and will wield a tremendous power in the near future, is conceded by many. One needs only to gain the confidence of boomers who have been here since the days of Oklahoma Payne, to ascertain that the league has a large membership, and that its purpose is to make good the claims of its members to the lands they have long since selected for occupancy.
A man whose connection with the organization cannot be doubted said this morning: “These doubting Thomases will learn to their sorrow, one of these days, that the Oklahoma Legion is alive and all-powerful. It owes its origin to the necessities of the hour, and is composed of men who are law-abiding and who propose to see fair play in the new territory. Every one of its members will locate on the claims they have already selected, and if he finds himself in danger because of his action he will be protected by his fellows, who are sworn to defend the rights of each.
“When one looks at the question carefully he will readily see that the organization of the league was the most natural thing in the world. Hundreds of men came to the borders of Oklahoma when the idea of opening the territory was first discussed and have remained there throughout the trying times which have followed. Each has had opportunity to become familiar with the country, and each made many acquaintances. When it became evident that the Springer bill was doomed, and that only a small part of the coveted lands would be opened this year, the boomers readily anticipated the very situation which now exists. They said to themselves: ‘We have endured much to get ourselves a home in Oklahoma, and now there is a prospect that, after all, we will see our hopes crushed and the lands occupied by people who have suffered none of the privations through which we have passed.’ With this possibility staring them in the face, the suggestion of a protective league was eagerly accepted and the Oklahoma Legion is the result. You can now judge for yourself whether the old-timers will come out second best in the coming fight for homes in the promised land.”
The morning trains to-day brought many more pilgrims from the South, and they mounted the steep mountains outside the town in a picturesque procession. A carload of spades came in from Fort Worth, and the owner caused them to be unloaded at the station, where a great crowd had congregated. Then he mounted a freight car and announced that the lot would be disposed of at cost. It is reasonable to suppose that he did not confine himself strictly to the truth in this remark, but, nevertheless, every spade was sold within thirty minutes and the dealer had the money in his pocket. Spades are spades in this country just at present.
Mounted on a pony which evidently appreciate the fact that he had a tenderfoot aboard and acted accordingly, THE TIMES’s correspondent made a tour of the outlying camps this afternoon. These begin at a point a mile west of the town and extend in a semicircle to the river bank. There are probably 1,000 wagons, with an average of five persons to each.
To one who has traversed the northern border of Oklahoma the difference in the make-up of the boomers is quickly apparent. Here the Southern type is all-prevailing, long-haired Texans, yellow as to complexion, lank as to form, and drawling as to speech, being in the majority. The outfits, while in the most part good, are not equal to those which will invade Oklahoma from the north. The man from Iowa, Kansas, or Illinois unquestionably is more thrifty than the Lone Star representative. He eats better food, too. Bacon and hominy constituted the noonday meal of the majority of Texans to-day, while many looked as if they were unable to afford these articles.
Suffering there is already, and how some of these people will manage to exist when they get across the river, is a question not easily answered. The case of the family found yesterday by the Deputy Marshals subsisting on crackers and cheese has many parallels. Probably the most pitiful case is that of a family of four discovered this afternoon in a little hollow near Walnut Creek. They inhabited a tent, wonderfully constructed of bits of canvas and oilcloth, which seemed destined to go to ruin with the first gale of wind. An ordinary wagon stood outside, and a mule, which had seen its best days, was tethered near. The head of the family, a hollow-eyed and emaciated man, lounged on a ragged quilt spread on the floor of the tent, and three ragged, unkempt children sat listlessly by him. The wife and mother, whose appearance was on a par with the surroundings, bent over a skillet in which was frying a mess of wild mustard greens. There was nothing else eatable in sight, not even the seasoning, without which mustard greens are considered by epicures to be unpalatable.
It was a scene which called to mind Daniel Webster’s experience with the family which, during the two days he remained with them, subsisted on grass fried in lard. There was evidently speedy need of charity and it was bestowed to-day, but of course the provision was only temporary. To-morrow, Providence permitting, this family will cross into the promised land, and if they do not starve to death in a week it will be because there are plenty of good people there.
There is only one regular ford here, and by daybreak the scenes recently witnessed at Arkansas City will be repeated on the road leading to the stream. There is great rivalry among the boomers for the honor of crossing first, and, as the road is narrow, it is not unlikely that many of the more adventurous home-seekers will seek to cross at other places where the stream seems fordable. The South Canadian is full of quicksand, and in the mad rush there may be some disasters. The Santa Fe crosses the river some distance below Purcell, and many of the boomers have prepared to pull their wagons over the bridge by hand and let their horses swim across. As there are many stock trains now running, the element of danger enters largely into this plan. From the great bluffs just north of Purcell a complete view of the exodus can be had.
This evening the current of street talk turned toward the town site speculators, and they were denounced by self-appointed orators, who are easily recognized as old-time boomers. There is an unmistakable hatred of the town-site men, and, although the law, as construed by Secretary Noble, renders them practically harmless, the rank and file are not yet fully posted and are disposed to push them to the wall. This feeling is almost sure to result in serious trouble next week.
The question of priority between squatter and filer is a vital one, and no two persons seem to be agreed as to the proper method of procedure. The non-mineral affidavit will be exacted from every applicant at the land offices. He must swear that he has been on his proposed claim, is familiar with it from actual observation, and that there exists no mineral or coal to his knowledge. This is a blow at the proxy system, and opens a wide gate for perjury.
The Santa Fe is arranging to run a number of trains into Oklahoma from this point in the morning to reach Guthrie at noon.
An order was issued last night to bar all commercial messages from the single wire between Purcell and Kansas City until next week. Another wire is being rapidly strung. Press messages from this town now go by way of Texas.
A detachment of the Fifth Cavalry arrived this evening, and went into camp four miles below the town. It will move up in the morning and guard the ford until noon.
Just at nightfall four Deputy Marshals came in with two horse thieves, whom they had captured, after a long chase, eight miles from Purcell. The streets were crowded, and as soon as the tidings spread, the Marshals and their prisoners were surrounded, and one loud-voiced cowboy implored his companions to lynch the thieves. “Hang them!” he shouted, and the crowd surged obediently forward. The Marshals kept cool and drew their revolvers, and the chief announced that the first man who attempted to harm the prisoners would be filled full of holes. He is known to be a man of his word, and the proceedings came to a sudden stop. The thieves were subsequently taken to the jail and placed under a strong guard.
To-night 300 town lots in Oklahoma City were sold at auction at a price ranging from $2 to $10 each. There are seventeen Oklahoma City town-site companies doing business here, and each is illegally disposing of lots. There will be music in Oklahoma City next week.
Kansas City, April 21 – To-night being the last chance for persons bound for Oklahoma to move in time to reach that country by noon to-morrow, the Union station was thronged with a motley crowd as ever assembled in it. The Santa Fe, in addition to its two regular trains, sent out a special of eleven coaches, which represented nearly every line entering the city. The Rock Island also sent out an immense train. Innumerable cases of pocket picking have occurred during the past week, both in the station and on the trains.
To-day it was ascertained that three or four sharpers have been working a very smooth game. They would board an Oklahoma train, gain the confidence of a carload of “boomers,” and finally suggest the organization of a colony. The sharpers would produce their pocketbooks and suggest a common fund and the actual settlers would follow suit. The common-fund idea invariably failed of consummation, however, but the pickpockets improved the opportunity by noting the size of each man’s purse and its place of concealment. The sharpers would ride out a hundred miles or more and by that time would have succeeded in reaping their harvest. No arrests have been made yet.
A Times Arkansas City special says that it is reported that Gen Merritt has issued orders to the troops to take possession of all guns and pistols carried by the “boomers.” They are not to be confiscated, but the idea is to hold them until the excitement is over as a precautionary measure against bloodshed. It is also said that liquor will be rigidly excluded.