Today in History - April 22
Unassigned Lands, Oklahoma District, 1889
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Guthrie and Oklahoma City sure were. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided for 160 acres of unoccupied lands to settlers in the west, but it wasn’t until after the battles of the Civil War and a later re-settlement of some Amerindian tribes that the lands of Oklahoma were opened up.
But! they weren’t uneventedly opened up with a trickle of people coming here and there, like the beginning of the settlements in Oregon. Before the ink had even dried on the Homestead Act amendment, people were gathering at the borders of the territory, with bikes, horses, and wagons, ready to rush in and stake their claim. A bugle call and cannon fire sounded the opening of the territories at meridian noon, and by sundown that same day, the towns of Guthrie and Oklahoma City had over 10,000 residents, and the beginnings of city governments had been seeded.
Though they may have only been a tent city the first few days of their existence, groundwork was finalized within days, schools opened up by the second week (with volunteer schoolteachers teaching classes of children outside, even before buildings were erected), and within a month, there were five banks and six newspapers in Oklahoma City alone.
Guthrie was known as the “most modern town in the West” for many years, and served as the original capital of Oklahoma Territory and State. It was also one of the most integrated - though African-Americans weren’t allowed to rush in with the first whites, both Northerners and freed slaves followed shortly after the initial settlement, and played an integral part in the growth of both Guthrie and Oklahoma. Since the early 1900s, he city has since been by Oklahoma City, which became the State capital in 1911.
But don’t write Guthrie off as just some has-been - the city has retained its original Victorian architecture downtown (which the faster-growing cities did not bother to do), and has one of the best Westward Expansion-focused museums in the country. Guided tours and self-tours of historical landmarks as well as a rich rodeo and Bluegrass culture, have led to Guthrie becoming one of the must-see cities of the United States for any history buff.
Top: “The Oklahoma Land Rush” by John Steuart Curry
Bottom Left: A more rural settlement, following additional land being opened up in 1893.
Bottom Right: Guthrie as a booming tent city, 1889.