The Oklahoma Land Rush and the Homestead Experience

Oklahoma Land Rush
(Top) The Land Office line at Perry on September 23, 1893.  (Below)  Boomer Camp in Arkansas City, Kansas, waiting for the Kansas strip to open on March 1, 1893.  Photos courtesy NARA.
Boomer Camp, Arkansas City, Kansas

The scene played out across the prairie landscape as homestead families waited for the rush.  For those who have seen Far Away, the Ron Howard film of an Irish immigrant and his girlfriend, starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, it is an unmistakable image.  Covered wagons filled to the hilt with supplies, men on horseback waiting to race toward the best plot to stake their flat in one hundred and sixty acres of soil, formerly Indian lands, and claim their spot for the American dream.  Of course, for some it was more of a nightmare than a dream in the end, but for many it was just that, the dream of owning a parcel of land in the Oklahoma dust.  The above photo above right captures one such scene, as the first train and wagons leave the line in a mad dash on September 16, 1893, outside Perry, Oklahoma Territory.

The Homestead Act of 1862 had started the process across the western lands.  It would, along with expansion of the railroad into the territories over the next forty years, cause a wave of western settlement that would forever change the prairie from the Dakotas to Texas.  Two hundred and seventy million acres would be given over to the public from Federal lands, all for only an $18 filing fee.  In Oklahoma, white settlers who had been using some of the Indian lands for grazing continued to urge additional settlement rights on this land from the government.  These boomers, from C.C. Carpenter to David L. Payne to William C. Couch, finally won these rights when the government bought three million acres of land from the Creek and Seminole, and made one million nine hundred thousand of it open for settlement at noon on April 22, 1889.  Boomers waited on the border of the unassigned lands in Kansas border towns such as Arkansas City and Caldwell, at Purcell, Fort Reno, Guthrie, Edmond, Oklahoma City, Verbeck, and Norman.  When a pistol shot signalled the opening, fifty thousand people began a frantic race.  Some had jumped the gun, however, leading to the Oklahoma term, Sooner.  One month later, the Indian Territories had become the Territory of Oklahoma through a decree of Congress.  Four years later, on September 16, 1893, the largest land rush opening occurred on the Cherokee Outlet in north central Oklahoma and the Tonkawa and Pawnee reservations, with more than 50,000 people claiming six million five hundred thousand acres.

Dates of the Oklahoma Land Rush
April 22, 1889     Creek and Seminole Lands
September 22, 1891     Iowa, Sac, Fox, Pottawatomie, and Shanee Lands
April 19, 1892     Cheyenne and Arapaho Lands
September 16, 1893     Cherokee Outlet
May 3, 1895     Kickapoo Lands

Oklahoma City 1889, prior to Land Rush


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Things You Should Not Miss

1. The Oklahoma History Center.  This museum coves the breadth of Oklahoma history on eighteen acres, with an 215,000 square foot learning center.  It is located across from the Governor's mansion.  Ticket prices range from $5.00 (2008) for adults to $3.00 for Students.

2.  Fort Reno and the Canadian County Museum.  Fort Reno was established in 1874 to stem the Indian problems and played a role in the Land Rush proceedings by protecting the order of the rush.  Both the fort and museum contain a number of historic buildings and exhibits.

What is There Now

The Oklahoma History Center
Two thousand artifacts about Oklahoma's past.

Canadian County Museum and Fort Reno
Located at the confluence of the Chisholm Trail and Route 66, this land rush border town holds a number of interesting historic sites, including General Sheridan's Cabin, the first Red Cross Canteen in the nation, and Fort Reno.

Break O'Day Farm and Metcalfe Museum
Located in Durham, Oklahoma, this farm was the homestead of the Augusta Corson Metcalfe and the Metcalfe family in 1893.  An inductee of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, she was also a well regarded painter.   The farm is located near the thirty-one thousand acre Black Kettle National Grasslands.

Museum of the Western Prairie
Contains artifacts and exhibits on the history of southwest Oklahoma and Greer County.

Homestead National Monument of America
Although outside Oklahoma, the Homestead National Monument is a national park devoted to the subject of the Homestead Act of 1862 and the various methods that the lands of the west were settled, including the land rushes of the western states.  The Homestead Act transferred 10% of the United States, 270 million acres from Federal to private ownership.  The Homestead has a new Heritage Center, dedicated in 2007, and will premier its new film, Land of Dream Homesteading America in spring of 2008.  Admission is free.

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
This Nebraska living history experience in Grand Rapids includes a historic railroad town, Pawnee earth lodge, plus other exhibits on the Prairie and homestead lifestyles.  Admission (2008) is $8 for adults, $6 for youth, free for children 5 and under, and $7 for seniors during the summer.  Winter discounts apply. - Free Shipping on ALL orders

Oklahoma and Western History Links

Oklahoma History Center
Fort Reno

Metcalfe Museum
Homestead National Monument of America
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer

Nearby Attractions

Oklahoma Tourism Site
Black Kettle National Grasslands
Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Oklahoma Land Rush Then and Now

Registration Booths, Oklahoma Land Rush 1893

Oklahoma Land Rush Then

The two photos above give some indication of the scale involved in the various Oklahoma land rushes during this time period.

Oklahoma City
- Large photo above, reflects a view of Oklahoma City in the Indian territories in 1889.  By the end of the first day of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, it had grown to more than 10,000 people.

Orlando, Oklahoma Territory - Two years later, you can see the bustle reflected in the second photo when thirty-six thousand people registered for land at Orlando, Oklahoma Territory on September 15, 1893.  Photo courtesy NARA.

Additional lands were opened up in Oklahoma through the Homestead Act after the final land rush of 1895.  These lands were determined by lottery.  August 1, 1901, the Wichita-Caddo, Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache lands were the last large land opening in the state.


Oklahoma Land Rush Now

How it affected the Cities?  This was certainly a boom or bust time, for inidividuals looking for land to find their fortune, as well as for towns looking to become cities and wanting to make a name for themselves.  Some became well-known and prosperous such as Oklahoma City over the next hundred years; others hit their zenith on land rush day.

Oklahoma City
- Capitol of the state and home to almost 500,000 people.

- Around 200 people call Orlando home, a good deal fewer than the 36,000 that showed up on September 15, 1893.

Land Rush and Homestead History Sites Today -
There is not a single comprehensive site that tells the story of westward expansion, the Oklahoma Land Rush, or the Homestead Experience, but a myriad of historic sites dotting the landscape and trails of Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and beyond.

Oklahoma History Center,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Break O'Day Farm and Metcalfe Museum
Durham, Oklahoma

Canadian County Museum and Fort Reno
El Reno, Oklahoma

Museum of the Western Prairie
Altus, Oklahoma

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
Grand Island, Nebraska

Homestead National Monument of America
Beatrice, Nebraska

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Visitor Statistics

Homestead National Monument of America
67,396 visitors

#253 Most Visited National Park Unit

Park Size

Homestead National Monument of America
205 acres (Federal)
211 acres (Total)

Source: NPS, 2013 Visitor Statistics; Visitor Rank among 369 units.

Homestead National Monument of America Entrance Fees


Fees subject to change without notice.