On the morning of April 22nd, 1889, some 100,000 eager would-be settlers surrounded what was called the "Oklahoma District" on the southern Plains, preparing to storm in and stake their claims. Two million acres in the heart of Indian Territory were being opened for homesteading. All along the district's borders, soldiers held back the swarm of excited pioneers who were poised for the signal that the land rush could begin.
At precisely noon, the bugles blew and the huge crowd surged ahead. Many headed for towns about to be born: Oklahoma City, Stillwater, Kingfisher, Norman -- and Guthrie.
The last barrier of savagery in the United States was broken down. Moved by the same impulse each driver lashed his horses furiously... each man on foot caught his breath and started forward.
By the end of the day, all 1,920,000 acres in the Oklahoma District had been claimed. But the choicest lots had already been taken by settlers who had illegally slipped through the army lines the night before. They called themselves "Sooners."
Men who had expected to lay out the town-site were grievously disappointed at their first glimpse of their proposed scene of operations. The slope east of the railway at Guthrie station was already dotted white with tents and sprinkled thick with men running about in all directions.
By noon of the following day, the 15,000 new citizens of the brand-new town of Guthrie began choosing their mayor. It wasn't easy. There were two candidates and no ballots. Two lines were formed and each man's vote was tallied, but so many voters ran to the back of the line to vote again that the whole business had to be done over.
Lawyers went to work, filing land claims for a fee. Three men without a cent between them opened a bank. Deposits were kept in a pot-bellied stove until they could afford to buy a vault. A blacksmith soon saw the need for a dentist, declared himself one and advertised his skills by hanging the teeth he extracted on a string outside his tent.
Within five days, wood-frame buildings were being banged together along Main Street. And by the time Guthrie was only one month old, it had a hotel, general stores, three newspapers -- and fifty saloons.
In the years that followed, there would be more land rushes throughout the West, bringing in settlers and creating new towns in numbers never before imagined.
"I am a being of the West, I am an heir to the richest possible heritage that anybody could have. I think of those people who were ready to take on anything, and to do so with the commitment and the dedication that no matter, come hell or high water, they were going to succeed. I think I'm a part of that. And I love the notion of being somewhere in that lineage, and know that my children are too."
Program | People | Places
| Events | Resources | Lesson
Plans | Quiz|
© 2001 THE WEST FILM PROJECT and WETA