I live in what once was called the “Unassigned Lands,” an area of central Oklahoma that, through surveying errors, was not assigned to any of the numerous Native American tribes forcibly removed to the future state of Oklahoma in the 19th century. To my knowledge, the phrase was coined by Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee, who published an article in 1879 in the Chicago Times, claiming that the Federal Government should make the “Unassigned Lands” available for settlement by Europeans.
|Southbound GP39-2 in the Cross Timbers South of Guthrie
One of the main proponents of settlement was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad, which first crossed this territory in 1886. Not only would the Santa Fe provide a major source of transportation for those participating in the “Run of ’89,” but the railroad would also be one of the key drivers of prosperity for the newly created communities.
This post provides a look at Santa Fe traffic through the Unassigned Lands in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, from the time I graduated from college through the beginning of my legal career, which has now stretched 38 years – as of the date of this post (March 2017).
|Southbound Manifest Approaching Edmond
Geography of the Unassigned Lands
The northern border of the Unassigned Lands was the Cherokee Outlet, created by treaty in 1828. To the south lay the Chickasaw Nation, established in 1837. On the west stood the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation, established in 1867. To the east were the Potawatomi (1867), Shawnee (1867), Sac and Fox (1867), Pawnee (1881), and Iowa (1883). In total, the Unassigned Lands covered 1,887,796.47 acres -- 2,950 square miles.
|Amtrak's Lone Star Rolls South Past the Oklahoma University Football Stadium in Norman -- 1976
The territory was crossed by five rivers: Canadian, North Canadian (now called the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City), Cimarron, Deep Fork and Little. Each river valley provided fertile soil for farming and grazing, as well as abundant timber. On the uplands, timber varied from the impenetrable Cross Timbers in the east to open savannah and grasslands in the west. This was the transition zone from the major deciduous forests of eastern North American to the grasslands and high plains sloping upward to the Rocky Mountains and Basin and Range country of the western continent.
|Southbound SD40-2 at Lawrie Passing Siding -- First Siding North of Guthrie
The change in geography when driving west out of the Cross Timbers today into the grasslands is stark and startling. One of the best roads to see the change is Interstate 240, a freeway running through south Oklahoma City. One moment, you are driving west through a hill country forest with undergrowth so thick that, where it has not been cleared or cultivated, only small mammals (rates and squirrels), armadillos and the like can traverse it. All at once, in about ten seconds, the road climbs upwards out of the forest and you are hurtling through relatively flat grassland that looks nothing like the forest to the east, as though you have been transported hundreds of miles westward. The transition is that abrupt.
|A Southbound Local (with a CF7 leading) at Seward Passing Siding -- First Siding South of Guthrie
|A southbound grain train (with U23B 6326 on the point) exits Seward Siding in 1975. The 80 MPH speed limit is for the Amtrak Lone Star, descendant of Santa Fe's Texas Chief, which was still running at that time.
The Cross Timbers are underlain by moderately dissected Pennsylvanian and Cretaceous sandstone, creating numerous hills and valleys, including some cuestas. When you drive out of the Cross Timbers, the sandstone disappears. Since sandstone is created when sand in placed under extreme pressure, the Cross Timbers must generally indicate a region that once, millions of years ago, was adrift in sand.
|Northbound (SD40-2) Trailers at Mulhall
In more recent times, when glaciers melted after the last ice age, large volumes of sand were washed down the flooding rivers from Colorado and deposited along the banks in strips hundreds of yards wide. Today, most of that sand has been stabilized by vegetation, though in some areas, small dunes are still visible.
|Autoracks at Seward
As discussed, the first railroad to cross the Unassigned Lands was the A.T.& S.F. in 1886. The railroad generally avoided the Cross Timbers, where construction was more difficult and expensive, favoring the open savannah. South of Guthrie, however, in Logan County, the tracks cut through a narrow edge of the forest before emerging again into the open prairie just north of Edmond, my hometown.
|Southbound U23B at Guthrie -- 1974
History of the Unassigned Lands
From 1879 to 1888, the Unassigned Lands were invaded by the so-called Boomers -- the name given to white settlers who entered the territory with the intent to establish farms and ranches, believing that the Unassigned Lands were public property and open to anyone for settlement, not just Native Americans. The belief was based on a clause in the Homestead Act of 1862, which stated that any settler could claim 160 acres of "public land." The leaders of the movement were David Payne and William Couch. After each raid, the Boomers were removed by federal troops. Today, Oklahoma State University is located in Payne County, while Couch Drive is a street in downtown Oklahoma City.
|"Kodachrome" (SF30C) in Oklahoma City -- Originally a U36C, Rebuilt in March 1986 as SF30C
The saga of the Boomers ended when President Grover Cleveland signed the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, opening the Unassigned Lands to white settlement, which led to the famous Land Run of April 22, 1889. In many parts of the country, you will hear this event referred to as the Land “Rush.” Trust me when I say that no one living in these parts calls it a Land “Rush.” The Gold “Rush” was in California. In the Unassigned Lands, it was a Land “Run.” Around here, everyone just calls it the “Run of ’89.”
It started at noon, when would-be settlers poured in from the north, west and south. Virtually no one came from the east, because the Cross Timbers prevented travel. The Santa Fe brought in people from Kansas and Texas. Most from the west came on horseback or wagon, though some were on foot. Old photographs show settlers sitting on the roofs of railroad passenger cars and dangling from the handrails.
|North of Guthrie
Settlers were required to stake their claims, then report them to the nearest land office. Often, one settler would stay on the claim to defend it from others, while his or her partner would head to the land office, which would settle, “on the spot,” disputes that had not been previously settled by argument or gunfire. The “court of last resort” for such disputed claims was the Department of the Interior.
|Southbound GP-7 Leads Assorted F-Units at Mulhall -- March 1973
The most serious decisions concerned whether a particular claimant had entered the Unassigned Lands prior to noon on April 22. Many people had snuck onto the land the night before and hidden in the woods. This was especially easy in the Cross Timbers. However, because the land was heavily wooded and underlain with sandstone, farming there was, and still is, a losing proposition. Thus, few disputes arose over claims in the future eastern portions of Oklahoma and Logan Counties.
Major disputes were primarily confined to the western reaches of the Unassigned Lands, where the ground, though red as sunset, was fertile and almost perfect for growing hard red winter wheat. It was more difficult to hide in the open prairie, so many of the miscreants were easily discovered. Those who jumped the gun were called “Sooners.”
|The southbound Lone Star runs around Santa Fe freight F units in Edmond -- February 1975. About two minutes after this image was taken, the snow stopped. Ten minutes later, the sun came out. Within 30 minutes, all the snow had melted.
As an aside, the nickname of Oklahoma University is the “Sooners,” and the school’s fight song is Boomer Sooner. Both the Boomers and the Sooners were outlaws. And the area of the Unassigned Lands that almost no one wanted is even today called “Shotgun Hills.” So this was and still is wild country.
|A Meet at Lawrie
During the Run of ’89, two large tent cities were created overnight: Guthrie and Oklahoma City, both with twenty-four hour populations of about 10,000. Guthrie was located in what became Logan County, on the bluffs above Cottonwood Creek. Oklahoma City was situated where the Santa Fe Railroad crossed the North Canadian River. When Oklahoma Territory was created in 1890, Guthrie was chosen at the territorial capital and remained so when Oklahoma attained statehood in 1907.
|F Units at Norman
Today (2017), Guthrie’s population is about 11,500, while Oklahoma City’s is approximately 630,000, with a metropolitan population of 1,300,000. Oklahoma City quickly supplanted Guthrie as the Territory’s commercial hub, served by four different railroads (Santa Fe, Frisco, Rock Island and Katy), with a new trolley system, large stockyards and several meatpacking plants. With a population of almost 70,000, Oklahoma City sought to become the state capital in 1910 and won a statewide popular vote.
|Southbound GP39-2 Approaching Edmond
|Southbound U33C South of Guthrie
Guthrie’s city leaders were not pleased with the vote and allegedly planned to challenge the election legally. Before any challenge could be filed, someone (never identified) stole the state seal from the capital in Guthrie in the middle of the night and carried it to Oklahoma City. No lawsuit was ever filed.
Eyewitness Accounts of the Run
Following is an eyewitness account of how the Run started on the western boundary of the Unassigned Lands at Kingfisher. You can find the full account (very interesting) at minerd.com.
Suddenly there is a “Flash,” “Boom” from the soldiers’ guns and with a mighty cheer the crowd is off and away in a cloud of dust, horse-backers, in buggies, wagons, and on foot. And in less time then it takes to tell it, the crowd was over the little rise of ground to the east of us and out of sight and the sounds grew fainter and fainter and soon died away in the distance.
|A GP-7 and a GP-9 Roll North With a Local at Waterloo Road on the Oklahoma County and Logan County Line
|Southbound Merchandise Freight in the Cross Timbers South of Guthrie, With a GP39-2 on the Point
The mule the girls were driving needed no whip for she became frightened at the noise and confusion and it was all the girls could do to hold her. As soon as they got stopped, Nellie sprang to the ground and drove her stake with her name on it, declaring this to be her farm. Then taking a hoe from the buggy, she dug up some weeds and grass. Then spread a wagon sheet on the ground and sat down on it.
Looking up she saw that a soldier had stopped and was watching her. He laughed and pointed up and down the line and to our dismay we saw no less than 6 men doing almost the same thing taking this same farm. But as the soldier rode on he said, “Stay with it and you’ll get it, they won’t contest a woman.” And she stayed with it and got the farm.
Overall, the field produced 113 million barrels of oil during the 1940s and the early 1950s. By the late ‘50’s, however, production dropped drastically, and most of its 700-plus wells were plugged. I remember riding in 1963 with my parents through the area of heaviest production – West Edmond Road between Pennsylvania and May Avenues. Some of the old oil field equipment was still in place, rusted by the weather, like a valley where things had gone to die. My father commented that you had to be crazy to invest in the oil and gas business, because you could “lose your shirt as fast as the weather can change.”
You may be astounded to learn than in the year of our Lord 2017, much Native American land is held in trust by the United States government, through the Bureau of Indian affairs. And land which is not held in trust but is directly owned by Native Americans who are descendants of the “rolls” created by the Dawes Commission – which divided communal land owned by various tribes – cannot be alienated (sold) without the express permission of the BIA. These laws were enacted to prevent Native Americans from being swindled out of their property by unscrupulous white men. Whether or not such laws are anachronistic today is beyond the scope of this post. However, under current law, casinos can be built on all “trust” and “rolls” land, and the various states cannot stop construction.
|A GP-9 and FB's at Seward
Here is another account from a gentleman who made the Run from the northwest, near Enid. I’ve taken this from a book titled Oklahoma Memories, edited by Morgan and Strickland, University of Oklahoma Press, 1981, page 87. I doubt that the book is still in print.
Just staking a claim did not hold it. We had to let many others, who claimed they had done the same thing, know we were the first ones on the claim. Hundreds of people were passing, and we kept busy riding like the devil seeing to it that the others did not stop on our claim.
The creek ran through the claim I took and men came from the west side of the creek and claimed they settled there. I stopped on the east side of the claim, which was all prairie; the west side was timber. It was necessary to out-talk the other man, and if we thought he was a sooner, we told him so, and stayed with it.
|Another GP-9 and FB's Passing Underneath Bridge at Waterloo Road
One old man, riding a big gray mule, came through the brush about five minutes after I settled on the claim, and I saw him driving a stake. I rode up and asked him what he was doing. He said, “Staking the claim.”
I jumped off my horse, pulled up the stake, and called Ranicky Bill, who was near. He came over and I gave him the stake. Ranicky Bill asked the man what country he was from, that he thought he could ride a damned old mule bareback and beat cowpunchers in a ten-mile race.
“Hell,” he said, “I bet you have to get a guide to find your way back to where your wagon is.”
|Southbound 5370 (EMD SD45u) Approaching Guthrie at Dusk
We told him to look some other place for a claim and he left. Just then another man came up to me and said he had seen me when I got off my horse and that he was on the claim as soon as I was. He said we would have to divide it up, he to take eighty acres and I to take eighty. I told him it was a hundred and sixty acres or six feet, and I did not give a damn which it was. One of the boys told the man that if he fooled with that kid he would get punctured, that I had a Winchester pump shotgun, and it was loaded with buck-shot. I also had a six-shooter. Everyone was armed. The man soon left.
|ATSF 6350 South -- GE B23-7 -- Leads a Manifest South of Edmond
The Conflict of Property Ownership
These eyewitness accounts, and the simple fact that a land run was held at all, demonstrate a fact rarely acknowledged in the 19th century dispute between Native Americans and European descendants. These two groups held diametrically opposed and ultimately irreconcilable views concerning real property. The Native Americans of eastern Northern America, such as the Five Civilized Tribes (Seminole, Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw – all forcibly removed to what later became Oklahoma) held their land in communal ownership; that is, all real property was owned by the tribe, by every member of the tribe. A family might live on ground for generations, but the family did not own the land. The community did.
In central North American, Native Americans were migratory, moving from season to season with the Bison. Various groups would make camp in whatever locations seemed appropriate. They might return to the same location in multiple winters, but they did not claim title to the property. The land was to be roamed – not possessed.
|ATSF 3612 (GP39-2) at North Edmond Siding
The European concept of private property was completely alien to Native Americans. Europeans, particularly the British, believed strongly that all land was owned by someone, and further that the owner was absolutely entitled to keep others from encroaching on his property.
|A GP-20 Leads an Empty Grain Train North at Seward -- June 1974
English common law concepts of trespass and nuisance did not exist in Native American cultures. I don’t think it would have ever occurred to a Native American to conduct a land run in which people “staked a claim” to 160 acres of private property, then fought off others trying to claim the same ground.
|F7 342 Leads Merchandise Freight South at Norman -- 1974
If property could be privately owned and protected from others, then both migration and communal ownership were impossible. In my opinion, this was the single greatest factor in the many disputes between Europeans and Native Americans. If the European settlers had been migratory in the central continent, and if they had held property in communal ownership in the east, I believe the two groups could have co-existed, though there would have been constant fighting, as there was among the various Native American tribes. But it would not have been necessary for one group to completely obliterate the other.
|ATSF 257 at Guthrie -- July 1972
West Edmond Oil Field
The town where I live (Edmond) was originally called Summit, because it was near the top of the grade at Waterloo Hill – the highest point in the Unassigned Lands – where northbound trains encountered about three miles of an approximately 0.75% grade. Though never a helper district, Waterloo Hill was, and still is, the most difficult stretch on the mainline south of Kansas City. Even today, loaded grain and merchandise freights crawl up the grade, to the immense frustration of motorists at the Coffee Creek and Sorghum Mill grade crossings.
|Amtrak's Texas Chief climbs Waterloo Hill at dawn in April 1973. Because of bad service, the Santa Fe forced Amtrak to stop using the name. Subsequently, the train became the Lone Star.
|Southbound Grainer Climbing Waterloo Hill Behind SF30C (Same Train as Above in Oklahoma City)
|Texas Chief Climbing Waterloo Hill -- May 1973
I am confident that the trains bringing settlers to the Run of '89 were moving so slowly up the hill that passengers could step off without fear of injury. I know that several did just that, because the great-grandfather of a close friend of mine jumped to the ground and began hiking southwest until he reached a level tract that he believed would be perfect for growing winter wheat. He staked his claim and began what he knew would be a hard life but hoped would also be a prosperous one.
Little did he know that 54 years later, in 1943, his descendants would become fabulously wealthy when oil was discovered on their property.
|The Lone Star rolls south of Guthrie behind SDP40F's in July 1975. These engines suffered numerous derailments and were quickly replaced by the F40PH. Amtrak sold a few SDP40F's to the Santa Fe, which overhauled them for freight service.
The West Edmond Oil Field was developed by "Ace" Gutowsky, who claimed he could locate oil with his "doodlebug," a modified divining rod. Trained petroleum geologists laughed at him. Gutowsky, however, found a financier in D. D. Borland of San Antonio, Texas. They spudded in on the Numbr One Wagner on January 2, 1943. The well came in on April 28 in the Huton limestone at 6,950 feet, with a twenty-four hours flow of 522 barrels. By the end of 1943, the West Edmond Field was crowded with drilling rigs; eleven large wells were producing. The field produced almost eight million barrels of oil in 1944 and contributed to a statewide increase of 15 million barrels in 1945.
|ATSF 30-7 8102 Rolls South Toward Edmond
|Alco RSD15 DL600B 9829 is headed north through an area of Edmond that today, over 40 years later, is completely urbanized. Alcos through central Oklahoma were very rare.
|Amtrak cancelled the Lone Star in 1979. This is the last southbound run -- October 8, 1979.
Years later, my father had shaken his head in sorrow as a good friend named Court Pappe (his last name rhymed with “happy”) had quit the practice of law to invest in oil and gas. “Court is a good man,” my dad said, “but he’s not very smart.”
Some years after that, for some strange reason that I no longer recall, I asked my father whatever had happened to Court Pappe.
“Oh,” my dad said matter-of-factly, “he hit it big in the oil business. He’s a millionaire now and lives in California.”
|Various F-Units in Oklahoma City -- June 1975
On May 2, 1890, Congress created Oklahoma Territory, which concluded the life of the area briefly and unofficially known as the Unassigned Lands. Today, I would estimate that about three quarters of the people living in Edmond, Oklahoma, were born and raised in other states and have no idea what the Unassigned Lands might have been. Every now and then, however, the subject will arise in conversation and someone will ask something like, “Well, how can I tell where the Unassigned Lands were? What can I look for today?”
The answer is simple. Just look for the casinos around Oklahoma City. Wherever you find a casino, you will be on the border of the Unassigned Lands.
|Death of the Santa Fe/Southern Pacific Merger -- Edmond, Oklahoma
|An A-B-A-B-B-B set of F-Units Crosses the North Canadian River in Oklahoma City -- February 1974
|Lone Star at Same Location-- April 1975
The explanation behind this phenomenon is complex legally, and I will not bore you with a bunch of jargon I learned in law school. Here are the basics. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the states did not have the authority to tax Native Americans living on reservations unless such authority was granted by federal statute. The state of Minnesota claimed that a specific federal statute did, in fact, grant such authority, but the Court, in a unanimous opinion, disagreed. The case specifically held that federal law did not confer "general state civil regulatory control over Indian reservations.”
|The Lone Star at Seward -- March 1975
|Another Day, Another Lone Star at Seward
A line of subsequent cases expanded this ruling to mean that states could not prohibit gaming casinos operated by Native Americans on “tribal lands.” There are no reservations in Oklahoma. There are, however, many “tribal lands,” which are defined by federal statute to mean: “any land or interests in land owned by a tribe or tribes, title to which is held in trust by the United States, or is subject to a restriction against alienation under the laws of the United States.”
|U25B 6614 Creeps North Through the Site of a Recent Derailment -- North of Edmond, June 1973
|CF-7 2599 North on the Passing Siding at Seward -- May 1977
|GP38 3502 Races South Through the Big Cut Between Guthrie and Edmond -- September 1978
Remember: the Unassigned Lands were never deeded to any Native America tribe but were surrounded on all sides by Native American property. And Native Americans have taken full advantage of current law to construct a bewildering number of gaming properties around Oklahoma City and environs.
Will Rogers once claimed that Oklahomans would continue to vote “dry” as long as they could “crawl to the poles.” I believe the same is true with gambling. Oklahomans love to gamble, though they won’t say so in church on Sunday.
|ATSF 3531 North Approaching Coffee Creek Road in 1974 (GP38)
|ATSF 5071 South (SD40-2) at Norman -- September 1977
|Southbound Texas Chief at Norman -- May 1973
Here is a list of currently operating casinos (that I am aware of) within an hour’s drive of downtown Oklahoma City:
1. Grand Casino
2. Kickapoo Casino
3. Newcastle Gaming Center
4. Riverwind Casino
5. Sac and Fox Casino
6. Salt Creek Casino
7. Seven Clans Casino
8. Thunderbird Wild Wild West Casino
9. Lucky Star Casino
These nine facilities surround the old Unassigned Lands like a naval blockade, daring all but the most focused to avoid their temptations. Personally, I am not a gambler, and I do not like Casinos because they are filled with cigarette smoke, which makes me nauseous.
I believe that life in the Unassigned Lands is unique, mostly because of the people who made the Run of ’89. They were independent, rough, plain-spoken, mostly broke and not above breaking the law. You see their descendants today – doctors, lawyers, professors, truck drivers, frame carpenters, electricians – and you know that just below the surface lies that same spirit of adventure, which may be why the casinos make so much money.
To see all my posts, go to waltersrail.com