Cosmopolitan

Author: Hamilton S. Wicks  | Date: September, 1889

Show Summary
Hamilton S. Wicks "The Opening of Oklahoma," September, 1889 VII

Oklahoma: O.K.! April 22, 1889—"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!"

[1889]

I had been sojourning during the early part of April for a brief period in New York, when the Oklahoma question loomed up in the horizon of popular discussion. The proclamation of President Harrison had been issued, declaring that one million eight hundred and eighty-seven thousand seven hundred and five acres of the richest agricultural lands in the West, situated in the very centre of the Indian Territory, would be thrown open to settlement at twelve o’clock high noon, on April 22, 1889. In common with many others in every part of the land, I was seized with the Oklahoma fever. Consigning part of my effects to a friend, I packed in a single valise a couple of flannel shirts, some maps and charts of the new Eldorado, and I stepped on board the "Penn Limited" one bright April morning.

A foretaste of what I might expect was presented to me at Arkansas City. It was as though I had suddenly been interjected into a confused Fourth-of-July celebration, where the procession had resolved itself into a mob. The streets were thronged. Tents were pitched in every open space. There was no place to sleep, and around the extemporized eating places it became a veritable "straggle for existence." The congestion of people was greatest about the depot. I found five trains were made up on the adjacent tracks, and were in readiness to start southward into the Indian Territory. Hundreds and hundreds of people from Arkansas City and neighboring towns, and thousands from every part of the United States, surged in wildest confusion about the depot. Every man was armed like a walking arsenal, and many also constituted themselves walking commissaries. To my consternation, I found every one of the trains already filled, and I was unable to secure standing room even on an outside platform. Finally, I offered the brakeman a few coins, which acted like magic in opening a caboose attached to one of the trains, where I found comfortable quarters.

As our train slowly moved through the Cherokee Strip, a vast procession of "boomers" was seen moving across the plains to the Oklahoma lines, forming picturesque groups on the otherwise unbroken landscape. The wagon toad through the "strip," extemporized by the boomers, ran for long distances parallel with the railway, and the procession that extended the whole distance illustrated the characteristics of western American life. Here, for instance, would be a party consisting of a "prairie schooner" drawn by four scrawny rawbone horses, and filled with a tatterdemalion group, consisting of a shaggy-bearded man, a slatternly-looking woman, and several girls and boys, faithful images of their parents, in shabby attire, usually with a dog and coop of chickens. In striking contrast to this frontier picture, perhaps a couple of flashy real-estate men from Wichita would come jogging on a short distance behind, driving a spanking span of bays, with an equipage looking for all the world as though it had just come from a fashionable livery stable. Our train, whirling rapidly over the prairie, overtook many such contrasted pictures. There were single rigs and double rigs innumerable. There were six-mule teams and four-in-hands, with here and there parties on horseback, and not a few on foot, trudging along the wayside. The whole procession marched, rode, or drove, as on some gala occasion, with smiling faces and waving hands. Every out imagined that Eldorado was just ahead, and I dare say the possibility of failure or disappointment did not enter into the consideration of a single individual on that cool and delightful April day.

As our train neared the Oklahoma border the "procession" became more dense, and in some instances clogged the approaches to the fords of the small streams that crossed its pathway. When we finally slowed up at the dividing line the camps of the "boomers" could be seen extending in every direction, and a vast amount of stuck was strewn Over the green prairie.

And now the hour of twelve was at hand, and every one on the qui vive for the bugle blast that would dissolve the chain of enchantment hitherto girding about this coveted land. Many of the "boomers" were mounted on high-spirited and fleet-footed horses, and had ranged themselves along the territorial line, scarcely restrained even by the presence of the troops of cavalry from taking summary possession. The better class of wagons and carriages ranged themselves in line with the horsemen, and even here and there mule teams attached to canvas-covered vehicles stood in the flout ranks, with the reins and whip grasped by the "boomers’" wives. All was excitement and expectation. Every nerve was on tension and every muscle strained.

Suddenly the air was pierced with the blast of a bugle. Hundreds of throats echoed the sound with shouts of exultation. The quivering limbs of saddled steeds, no longer restrained by the hands that held their bridles, bounded forward simultaneously into the "beautiful land" of Oklahoma; and wagons and carriages and buggies and prairie schooners and a whole congregation of curious equipages joined in this unparalleled race, where every starter was bound to win a prize — the "Realization Stakes" of home and prosperity.

We, the spectators, witnessed the spectacle with most intense interest. Away dashed the thoroughbreds, the bronchos, the pintos, and the mustangs at a breakneck pace across the uneven surface of the prairie. It was amazing to witness the recklessness of those cowboy riders. They jumped obstacles. They leaped ditches. They cantered with no diminution of speed through waterpools; and when they came to a ravine too wide to leap, down they would go with a rush, and up the other side with a spurt of energy, to scurry once more like mad over the level plain.

The occupants of our train now became absorbed in their own fate . . . It was rather hard pulling for our engine until we reached the apex of the Cimarron Valley, spread out in picturesque beauty at our very feet. Our train now rushed along the downgrade with the speed of a limited express crossing the fine bridge that spans the Cimarron with a roar, and swinging around the hills that intervened between the river and the Guthrie town site with the rapidity of a swallow’s flight. All that there was of Guthrie, the now famous "magic city" on April 22, at 1:30 p.m., when the first train from the north drew up at the station and unloaded its first instalment of settlers, was a water-tank, a small station-house, a shanty for the Wells Fargo Express, and a Government Land Office.

I remember throwing my blankets out of the car window the instant the train stopped at the station. I remember tumbling after them through the stir-same window. Then I joined the wild scramble for a town lot up the sloping hillside at a pace discounting any "go-as-you-please" race. There were several thousand people converging on the same plot of ground, each eager for a town lot which was to be acquired without cost and without price, each solely dependent on his own efforts, and animated by a spirit of fair play and good humor. The race was not over when you reached the particular lot you were content to select for your possession. The contest still was who should drive their stakes first, who would erect their tents soonest, and then, who would quickest build a little wooden shanty. It reminded me of playing blind-man’s bluff. One did not know how far to go before stopping. It was hard to tell when it was best to stop; and it was a puzzle whether to turn to the right hand or the left.

I found myself, without exactly knowing why, about midway between the government building and depot. It occurred to me that a street would probably run past the depot. I accosted a man who looked like a deputy, with a piece of white card in his hands, and asked if this was to be a street along here.

"Yes," he replied. "We are laying off four corner lots right here for a lumber yard."

"Is this the corner where I stand?" I inquired.

"Yes," he responded, approaching me.

"Then I claim this corner lot!" I said with decision, as I jammed my location stick in the ground and hammered it securely home with my heel. "I propose to have one lot at all hazards on this town site, and you will have to limit yourself to three, in this location at least."

An angry altercation ensued, but I stoutly maintained my position and my rights. I proceeded at once to unstrap a small folding-cot I brought with me, and by standing it on its end it made a tolerable center-pole for a tent. I then threw a couple of my blankets over the pole, and staked them securely into the ground on either side. Thus I had a claim that was unjumpable because of substantial improvements.

As night approached I strolled up on the eminence near the land office, and surveyed the wonderful cyclorama spread out before me on all sides. Ten thousand people had "squatted" upon a square mile of virgin prairie that first afternoon, and as the myriad of white tents suddenly appeared upon the face of the country, it was as though a vast flock of huge whitewinged birds had just settled down upon the hillsides and in the valleys. Here indeed was a city laid out andpopulated in hall a day. Thousands of campfires sparkled upon the dark bosom of the prairie as far as the eye could reach.

I will never forget the first night of occupancy of this army. Unlike the hosts of the Assyrians that descended on the Israelites, their tents were not silent. On the contrary, there was a fusilade of shots on all sides from Winchesters, and Colts, and Remingtons, disturbing the stillness of the night, mingled with halloos, and shoutings, and the rebel yell, and the imitated warwhoop of the savage. I expected on the morrow to see the prairie strewn with gory corpses, but not a single corpse appeared, and I was not slow in making up my mind that nine-tenths of all the shots were fired in a mere wanton spirit of bravado to intimidate a few such nervous tenderfeet as myself.

I was witness of all this magical municipal development, and could scarcely realize the miracle that was unfolding before me. The wealth-creating force that was displayed in the building up of Guthrie can not be better illustrated than in the fact that lots which had no value prior to April 22 sold in the center of the business district as high as five hundred dollars within a week thereafter, and a number changed hands before the expiration of the first month for one thousand five hundred dollars each.

Download Options


Title: Cosmopolitan

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: Cosmopolitan

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Hamilton S. Wicks, Cosmopolitan, ed. Hamilton S. Wicks in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed July 5, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IG2D4XQSXC1S9QP.

MLA: Wicks, Hamilton S. Cosmopolitan, edited by Hamilton S. Wicks, Vol. VII, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 5 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IG2D4XQSXC1S9QP.

Harvard: Wicks, HS, Cosmopolitan, ed. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 5 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IG2D4XQSXC1S9QP.