Kansas Collection books


covered wagon and team of horses

    When I was a youngster of seven or eight we used to visit Aunt Annie.  She was a widow lady whose husband had passed away several years before.  Grandma liked to play cards with her and we would spend the afternoon at her house, Grandma playing cards and visiting while I read some of Annie's interesting books.  Annie's husband had made the "run" into Oklahoma years before and secured a quarter section of land.  Some time later, oil was discovered on his land and he became a well-to-do farmer.  Still later, his health forced him to retire and after he passed away, Aunt Annie retired in our town.

    The discussion pertaining to the run into Oklahoma didn't make much of an impression on me then.  It wasn't until I moved to Oklahoma many years later that I became fully aware of the so-called Cherokee Strip.  Even then, details were somewhat fuzzy about the differences between the Cherokee Strip, the Cherokee Outlet, the Oklahoma Land Rush and the "running of the Strip."  Recently, interest began to build about these subjects as our community approached the year 1993.  This year is the 100th since those events took place. 

    Cowley County Community College held several classes to acquaint people like me with the facts, figures and the significance of the events.  Since I was a Johnny-come-lately (arriving on the scene in 1964), I found that I had a lot to learn about the opening of the Cherokee Strip.  Pioneers, who had visions of securing a parcel of land and perhaps a new home in the Territory of Oklahoma, flocked to the towns along the border.  Arkansas City was the principal city on the border, and literally thousands of hopefuls congregated that September morning in 1893 to await the signal opening the territory for settlement. 

    I had been under the impression that the Cherokee Strip was the home of the Cherokee Indians.  Well, I was wrong on two counts.  First of all, the land opened for settlement was the home of the Osage Indians, not the Cherokees.  Secondly, the "land rush" was into the Cherokee Outlet, not into the Cherokee Strip. 

    Archaeologists and historians indicate that the land that was known later as the Louisiana Purchase was occupied by prehistoric people as far back as 25,000 years.  The area now known as Oklahoma was the home of several different prehistoric, nomadic people who were primarily hunters and gatherers.  They followed the game herds from season to season, hunting and gathering food as they traveled.

    Evidence of later explorers in the Great Plains can be seen at the point where the old Santa Fe Trail crosses the Cimarron River in western Oklahoma.  Inscribed there are the words "Coronada, 1541," indicating that the Spanish explorer Coronado visited the place seventy years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.

    The Spanish dominated this area from about 1541 until the early 1800s.  France claimed it in 1803, when Napoleon sold the land, known as Louisiana, to the United States for $15,000,000.  The Louisiana Purchase included all of what is now Oklahoma, except the panhandle.  Critics in Congress were convinced that President Jefferson had bought a "pig in a poke".

    Very little was known about the vast territory.  Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore these western lands, and to search for a transcontinental route to the Pacific Ocean.  Later, traders established a wagon route from the river terminal of Westport, on the Missouri River, to the southwestern terminus at Santa Fe.  The Santa Fe Trail became a vital link to the southwest.

    Soon after the Louisiana Territory was purchased, the part that is now the state of Oklahoma was designated as "Indian Territory."  On March 26, 1804, a Congressional Act authorized the President to negotiate with the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi, to exchange their land there for land in the Indian Territory.  Between 1818 and 1835, nearly all of the present Oklahoma, except the panhandle, was ceded to the United States by the 0sages and Quapaws.  Some of these lands were vacated to make room for the displaced Indian Iribes from the eastern United States.  The slow and painful relocation of the tribes from the east became known as "The Trail of Tears"

    The Five Civilized Tribes --- Choctaw, Cherokee Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole --- were treated as independent nations when they first moved into the territory previously occupied by the Osage and Quapaw.  The new arrivals were highly civilized, with their own government, schools, churches and police forces.  These farmers and builders were settled in a strange land with strange environmental conditions.  The previous occupants had, for centuries, depended upon the wild game, primarily the buffalo, for subsistence.  The U.S. government, in all its wisdom, also granted to the Cherokee a clearly defined outlet to the western ranges of the buffalo herds, something the civilized tribes did not need or want.  It was referred to as the Cherokee Outlet.  This outlet was 226 miles long and 58 miles wide, encompassing 13,000,000 acres.  It is often mistakenly referred to as the Cherokee Strip.  It was into the Cheroke! ! e Outlet that thousands of eager pioneers rushed in search of land on September 16, 1893.

    There are several versions of the establishment of the boundaries of both the Cherokee Strip and the Cherokee Outlet.  One and one half miles south of Caldwell, Kansas, on highway 81, there is a memorial marker that tells about the "real" Cherokee Strip.  The story, on this and other such markers, tells of treaties made in 1828 and in 1833 with the Cherokee tribe of Indians, to exchange their homelands in the southeastern part of the United States for land in the present northeastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas.  Included in the treaty was a "perpetual outlet west" lying across what is now northern Oklahoma and the southern portion of Kansas.  Its purpose was to provide the Cherokee with access to the western prairie to hunt game, primarily the buffalo.

    In 1837, the federal government authorized a surveyor by the name of Isaac McCoy to survey the boundaries of the Osage and Cherokee lands.  The survey indicated that the northern boundary of the Cherokee lands coincided with the southern boundary of the Osage Reservation lands.  This border between the two Indian nations was 2.46 miles north of the 37th parallel.  The 2.46 mile strip of Cherokee land lying north of the 37th parallel became known as the Cherokee Strip.

    Following the Civil War, the federal government made another treaty with the Cherokee.  Under this treaty, the tribe ceded the 2.46 mile wide strip of land north of the 37th parallel to the United States, and it became a part of the state of Kansas.  The Strip was opened for sale and settlement in 1872.  Thus, the Cherokee Strip was settled years before the famous 1893 Oklahoma Land Rush into the Cherokee Outlet.

    Looking further into the records, I find evidence that the southern border was first decided to be the 36,30 parallel.  This would have placed the southern Kansas border 34 miles farther south into Cherokee territory.  The 36,30 line separated Virginia from North Carolina, Kentucky from Tennessee and Arkansas from Missouri.  It seemed only logical that this parallel should be extended to separate Kansas from the Oklahoma Territory.

    Senator Douglas from Illinois was the promoter of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.  To gain support in Congress from the southern contingent, he first agreed to the 36,30 line as the southern Kansas border.  However, it was soon discovered that the southern senators were planning a new state, supporting slavery, in that area.  If this were to happen, it would upset the balance of power between the pro-slavery and the anti-slavery factions in Congress.  So Douglas and his supporters changed the previously designated line from 36,30 line to the 37th parallel.

    Another version tells of a mistake by the original surveyors in locating the true 37th parallel and how some of the earlier surveyors disappeared into Oklahoma Territory, never to be seen again.

    The making of a state was a dicey affair when our country was young.

divider line of two flower

Go to previous story     Go to next story     Return
to Table of Contents