Ponca City Information
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The 226-mile tract known as the Cherokee Strip is much more than a parcel of land. It was the setting for the largest, most spectacular competitive event in history -- the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893. Cities and towns grew from the dust of that great race, and today their amazing story can still be heard across the Oklahoma plains.
Oklahoma's Cherokee Strip is one of the few places where the pioneer spirit that settled American is still vibrant enough to experience. Feel it in the wind that sweeps through tall-grass prairies and fields of wheat.
See it in the faces of those who live and work on the land their ancestors dreamed of owning when they mounted their horses, buggies and even bicycles and trains, to make the last great race for land on that hot and dusty afternoon of September 16, 1893. This is a story of drama, perseverance, hope and above all, dreams.
The Cherokee Strip extends 226 miles from east to west and 58 miles north to south -- larger than the states of Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Thirteen northern counties and 9,400 miles make up Oklahoma's portion of the Cherokee Strip, historically designated as the Cherokee Outlet. Looking across the vast horizon of the Cherokee Strip, it's easy to imagine the thousands of buffalo that once roamed the open plains. It is a land as diverse as America itself, with rolling Osage prairies in the east to gypsum sand dunes and the rugged Glass Mountains in the west.
American Indians In The Strip
Although the flags of many countries have flown symbolically over the untamed lands of the Cherokee Strip, American Indians were its original owners. In 1828, the U.S. government gave the land to the Cherokees, calling the area the Cherokee Outlet because the tribe could cross freely to hunting grounds in the west. The Cherokees were assigned lands in northeastern Oklahoma (then Indian Territory), and never lived in the Cherokee Strip.
In 1866, the United States asked the Cherokees to sell portions of the Strip to "friendly" Indians. Tribes or parts of tribes, such as Osage, Pawnee, Kaw, Ponca, Tonkawa, Nez Perce, Otoe and Missouria, settled in the region. When the Strip was opened to white settlement, tribes living there -- with the exception of the Nez Perce, who were previously moved to their Oregon homeland -- were sold individual allotments not to exceed 80 acres, half of the allotment amount offered to settlers who made the run. Museums and attractions throughout the Cherokee Strip tell the poignant story of American Indians and how their cultures and spirituality have persevered during the last 100 years.
The Cattle Trails
After the Civil War, Texas had some six million head of longhorn cattle but virtually no market for the beef. Demand for their product by hungry Easterners led Texas ranchers to drive their cattle through the Cherokee Strip to railhead markets in Kansas and Missouri. Several cattle trails crossed the Outlet, but the best known is the namesake of Jesse Chisholm, a Scotch and Cherokee trader. Chisholm made his first trip up the trail in 1865, and millions of cattle thundered across the Strip over the next 20 years, driven by men who had spurred a new occupation -- the cowboy. Remnants of the famous Chisholm Trail can still be found across the Cherokee Strip. In 1993, at the commemoration of the Centennial Anniversary of the opening of the Strip, this colorful era returned when many people participated in cattle drives, wagon trains and trail rides that made their way through the region.
The Great Ranches
When it became obvious raising cattle on the lush grass of the Outlet was more profitable than driving herds from Texas, sprawling ranches appeared in the Strip. In 1883 the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association was formed and six million acres were leased from the Cherokees. Seven years later, President Benjamin Harrison ordered the ranchers to remove all cattle from the Strip. Plans were in place to open the expansive ranchlands for settlement by eager pioneers.
They came to the land that would be Oklahoma by train, horseback, wagon and on foot, from every state and territory in the nation and abroad. Texas and Kansas had the most settlers represented. Most had few material possessions but all came with a dream: to stake a claim and make a home on the vast, virgin prairie known as the Cherokee Strip.
President Cleveland and Secretary of Interior H. R. Smith hoped they learned something from earlier "stampedes" for land. They hoped that with better planning they could avoid the troubles and confusion that accompanied the 1889 land rush. Prior to opening the land they established county seats and opened four land offices at Enid, Perry, Alva and Woodward. Homesteaders were to go to these offices and pay a filing fee ranging from $1.00 to $2.50. Filing fees were based upon the quality of land. However, the Strip was to be settled by the horse-race method. To eliminate "sooners," they set up makeshift offices just inside the Cherokee Strip border. Homesteaders were to register and produce filing fee affidavits to be eligible for the run.
On the day of the run, it was hot and dry. Dust, whipped by wind, and thousands of feet, made it unbearable.
To add to the misery, soldiers were doing their best to keep order, and see that no one "jumped the gun." The run was to begin only when troopers shot their pistols at high noon. There were several reports of persons shooting a gun in the crowd. Many homesteaders excitedly took off on hearing any gun shot. Such excitement could only lead to trouble for some. One fellow heard the wild shot at four minutes before noon, and took off. Troopers reportedly chased him for a quarter mile before shooting him dead.
Finally, at noon September 16, 1893, a shot rang out and more than 100,000 determined settlers raced for 42,000 claims. By sunset, there would be tent cities, endless lines at federal land offices and more losers than winners. The Cherokee Strip Land Run was a tumultuous finale to what many have called the last American frontier.
Making the race and staking a claim must have seemed simple when compared to establishing a home in the sometimes formidable Cherokee Strip. Many settlers carved sod homes and dugouts from the prairie while others lived in their covered wagons. The first winters were harsh as the land tested the endurance and character of its new inhabitants. Many of the settlers could not endure the harsh conditions, and after weeks, or months, gave up their dream.
The hard times gave way to better days as crops flourished and communities, schools and churches rose from the windswept plains. Over 100 years later, agriculture remains the strength of the economy and way of life. The stories of these brave homesteaders still echo through the Cherokee Strip. Walk through the only remaining sod house, explore the many Cherokee Strip Museums, or visit with people whose ancestors, through grit and determination, settled this untamed frontier.
With the first commercial oil well in 1897 came
fortune seekers from around the world to strike it rich
in the teeming oil fields. Many found and lost their
wealth in the Cherokee Strip, and left a legacy of
architecture, art and culture in towns like
Bartlesville, Ponca City and Enid. Today, the Strip's
abundant oil reserves continue to make petroleum a
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