The Unassigned Lands and the Oklahoma "Colonies"

The Unassigned Lands and the Oklahoma "Colonies"

As the various tribes from Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado were assigned to reservations in the Indian Territory, all of the lands were thus set aside except a district in the central part of the Territory, which included the larger parts of the present counties of Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma and Payne. This tract, which embraced about 3,000,000 acres, was commonly called the Unassigned Lands or the Unassigned District. In 1876, several cattle ranches were extablished on these lands and the whole district was occupied by stock ranges within a year or two afterward.

Although the Atlantic & Pacific Railway Company had built its line only to Vinita, it had been projected and incorporated to build westward to new Mexico and California. Other railways which had been built westward to the Rocky Mountains had received generous grants of land from the Government. No such grant was made for the building of the proposed line across the Indian Territory, for the reason that the lands had nearly all been assigned as reservations for various tribes of Indians. Repeated efforts were made to induce Congress to make a grant of lands in the Indian Territory to this company but each time the movement met with defeat. Finally, early in 1879 some of the railway attorneys at Washington announced that they had discovered that the lands of the Unassigned District were government lands and were, therefore, subject to the homestead laws and open to settlement. Immediately there was a flurry of excitement and bands of men were organized at various points on the border of the Indian Territory for the purpose of making settlements in the Unassigned District. Many people entered the Territory but all were removed by detachments of the Regular Army which had been ordered to prevent such settlements.

Most of the intruders soon became discouraged and gave up hope of settling in the territory. Some of them believed that they had a perfect right to settle there, as the Government owned the land and had not assigned it to any Indian tribe. Other companies or bands of men, commonly called "colonies", were organized to settle on the forbidden lands, which from that time (1879) on, were always spoken of as the "Oklahoma counry". Within a few months Captain David L. Payne (see Biographies of Men Prominent in Oklahoma History) became recognized as the leader of the movement to force the opening of the Oklahoma country to settlement under the homestead laws, and he continued to lead the movement until his death, more than five years later. He was constantly engaged in organizing new "colonies" and leading them into the forbidden country. He was arrested and expelled repeatedly but each time he reorganized his followers and prepared to invade the Oklahoma country again. As fast as part of his followers became discouraged and quit the movement, others were induced to take their places and thus the movement was continued until, at the time of his death, in November, 1884, he was still organizing and preparing for another peaceful invasion of the forbidden country.

Within a few days after the death of Captain Payne, a bill was introduced into Congress for the purpose of authorizing the opening of the Oklahoma country to settlement under the homestead laws. Captain Payne had always believed that the influence of the cattle ranch interests was used against the proposed opening of the Oklahoma country to settlement. After his death, the leadership of the Oklahoma "boomers", as the followers of Payne were called, was assumed by William L. Couch , who had long been one of Payne's most devoted followers, but, after the year 1884, the struggle was largely transfered to the halls of Congress.

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This information has been compiled from various resources, and through much research. If you would like to add any information please contact me, Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK, at the address below.