The Story of Cimarron Territory

The Story of Cimarron Territory

The area of Oklahoma know today as the Panhandle or No-Man's-Land was once informally known as Cimarron Territory. The Panhandle measures 167 miles east to west and 34 1/2 miles north to south. Cimarron Territory consisted of 5,738 square miles being larger than Connecticut and five times larger that Rhode Island.

The eastern border is the 100th meridian agreed to in the treaty with Spain. The western boundary is the 103rd meridian. The southern boundary is of note as it is located at 36 degrees 30 minutes North Latitude.

This was the line chosen by Congress in the Missouri Compromise when it was decided to draw the line for free states and slave states. As Texas was a slave state but claimed much land north of this latitude, it relinquished all claims north and this line in 1850 leaving the area that later became known as No Man's Land, Public Domain, Cimarron Territory or Old Beaver County.

The Beaver River (originally Rio Nutria) flows nearly the whole length of the panhandle. The highest point in Oklahoma is at Black Mesa (4,978 feet). About four miles east of the New Mexico line, Kit Carson established Ft. Nichols in 1865 near where the Cimarron River and the Santa Fe Trail met. No Man's Land had not been a part of any state or territory since 1850 and was now over run with outlaws. Ft. Nichols was established to provide an armed escort through this area of the Santa Fe Trail.

The founder of the Santa Fe Trail was William Becknell around 1811. He traveled from Missouri to the southwestern plains to trade with the Indians. In 1813 he decided to make a trade route directly to Santa Fe and begin trade with the Mexicans there. The first expedition was to follow the Cimarron River instead of the Arkansas as other traders had done and almost ended in disaster. There was little water or food for the horses and the area became known as the Cimarron Desert.

In May of 1823, Becknell made another attempt to cross the Cimarron by way of the "cut off" and made it this time to Santa Fe. He left Franklin Missouri with 81 men, 156 horses and mules, twenty-five wagons and $30,000 worth of trade goods. He returned to Franklin in September of that year with $130,000 in gold and silver and $10,000 in furs.

In 1825, Senator Benton of Missouri, who believed that this trade was vital to his home state, petitioned President Monroe to survey the Santa Fe Trail westward from Missouri. So began the Santa Fe Trail through the Cimarron Territory.

Various Indian tribes such as the Ute, Comanche and Kiowa hunted buffalo in the region. The Spanish sheepherders ran thousands of sheep in the area and such ranches as the 101, Anchor D and the CCC had headquarters here.

After the Santa Fe Railroad was built to Dodge City, a wagon road called the Jones and Plummer Trail was opened between Dodge City and Tascosa in the Texas Panhandle. In 1880, a freighter by the name of Jim Lane built a sod house on the banks of the Beaver River. He then opened a trading post and inn in the sod house. The territory was now growing with sheepherders, cattlemen, traders, farmers and freighters. Now the Cherokee Indians decided to tax the stockmen for grazing fees claiming that the panhandle was part of the Cherokee Outlet. Of course it was not as it lay west of the 100th meridian and that was the finding of the Secretary of Interior in 1882. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in 1885.

In 1883 a post office was established near Lane's house with the name of Beaver City. In 1886, the Commissioner of the U.S. Land Office declared that the Panhandle was "public land" and as such was subject to squatter's rights. In 1886, a Missouri Representative introduced an act into Congress that would make the Public Land "Cimarron Territory". The act never passed but it did stir up a lot of excitement. The property around Lane's store was surveyed for a new town site and settlers came flocking making a real town of Beaver City. It soon boasted of a saloon, church, drug, grocery, lumber yard and an opera house.

By the end of 1886, Beaver City had a population of 600 people and the panhandle had over 3,000 settlers. The cattle barons became angry at the influx of settlers as they saw their rangeland rapidly dwindling. There were the normal troubles between the two as there were in other parts of the west.

More troubles arrived with the absence of any law enforcement and the outlaws were taking over many of the small towns. Several influential members of the territory including Jim Lane held a meeting and proposed to form an organized territorial government. The committee formed the Claims Committee that was to try and stop a new kind of lawlessness. People known as "road trotters" would ride up to a sod house and tell the occupants that they had a prior claim to the land and if they did not pay them cash for the land they would have to move. Most of the settlers paid the road trotter never aware the trotter had no rights to the land.

Representatives were sent to Washington in an effort to formally organize the Territory of Cimarron in 1887. Senators and representatives were elected for the territorial legislature. Committee meetings were held to organize executive, legislative and judicial branches of the new government. The council then divided the territory into seven counties; Benton, Beaver, Shade, Springer, Turner, Kilgore and Sunset.

In December of 1888, the territorial committee met at Beaver City to draft an Organic Act for the formal organization of Cimarron Territory. A seal of the Territory of Cimarron was created and affixed to the document. Thomas Braidwood was serving as the last Secretary of Cimarron Territory and was the keeper of the seal.

In the fall of 1889 representatives were sent to Washington to convince Congress to recognize the territory. The movement failed but several new post offices were established as a result.

By April of 1889, two third of the population of 14,000 had abandoned their claims in the Neutral Strip and had moved near the Unassigned Lands to prepare for the land run of 1889.

On May 2nd of 1890, the President signed legislation that attached No-Man' s-Land to Oklahoma Territory. An election was held to name the new county and voters approved Beaver County. In 1907 the county was divided into three counties as they are today; Beaver, Texas and Cimarron.

For more reading on this subject please consult Vol. 35, pp 5-20; Chronicles of Oklahoma.

- Contributed by Dennis Muncrief - January, 2004.