Garfield County Assessor
“The Cherokee Strip”
By Betty Jo Scott
The 226-mile tract known as the Cherokee Strip is much more than a parcel of land. It was the setting
for the largest, most spectacular competitive event in history -- the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893.
Cities and towns grew from the dust of that great race, and today their amazing story can still be
heard across the Oklahoma plains.
Oklahoma's Cherokee Strip is one of the few places where the pioneer spirit that settled American is
still vibrant enough to experience. Feel it in the wind that sweeps through tallgrass prairies and fields
of wheat. See it in the faces of those who live and work on the land their ancestors dreamed of
owning when they mounted their horses, buggies and even bicycles and trains, to make the last great
race for land on that hot and dusty afternoon of September 16, 1893. This is a story of drama,
perseverance, hope and above all, dreams.
The Cherokee Strip extends 226 miles from east to west and 58 miles north to south -- larger than
the states of Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Thirteen northern counties and
9,400 miles make up Oklahoma's portion of the Cherokee Strip, historically designated as the
Cherokee Outlet. Looking across the vast horizon of the Cherokee Strip, it's easy to imagine the
thousands of buffalo that once roamed the open plains. It is a land as diverse as America itself, with
rolling Osage prairies in the east to gypsum sand dunes and the rugged Glass Mountains in the west.
American Indians in the Strip
Although the flags of many countries have flown symbolically over the untamed lands of the
Cherokee Strip, American Indians were its original owners. In 1828, the U.S. government gave the
land to the Cherokees, calling the area the Cherokee Outlet because the tribe could cross freely to
hunting grounds in the west. The Cherokees were assigned lands in northeastern Oklahoma (then
Indian Territory), and never lived in the Cherokee Strip.
In 1866, the United States asked the Cherokees to sell portions of the Strip to "friendly" Indians.
Tribes or parts of tribes, such as Osage, Pawnee, Kaw, Ponca, Tonkawa, Nez Perce, Otoe and
Missouria, settled in the region. When the Strip was opened to white settlement, tribes living there --
with the exception of the Nez Perce, who were previously moved to their Oregon homeland -- were
sold individual allotments not to exceed 80 acres, half of the allotment amount offered to settlers who
made the run. Museums and attractions throughout the Cherokee Strip tell the poignant story of
American Indians and how their cultures and spirituality have persevered during the last 100 years.
The Cattle Trails
After the Civil War, Texas had some six million head of longhorn cattle but virtually no market for the
beef. Demand for their product by hungry Easterners led Texas ranchers to drive their cattle through
the Cherokee Strip to railhead markets in Kansas and Missouri. Several cattle trails crossed the
Outlet, but the best known is the namesake of Jesse Chisholm, a Scotch and Cherokee trader.
Chisholm made his first trip up the trail in 1865, and millions of cattle thundered across the Strip over
the next 20 years, driven by men who had spurred a new occupation -- the cowboy. Remnants of the
famous Chisholm Trail can still be found across the Cherokee Strip. In 1993, at the commemoration
of the Centennial Anniversary of the opening of the Strip, this colorful era returned when many people
participated in cattle drives, wagon trains and trail rides that made their way through the region.
The Great Ranches
When it became obvious raising cattle on the lush grass of the Outlet was more profitable than
driving herds from Texas, sprawling ranches appeared in the Strip. In 1883 the Cherokee Strip
Livestock Association was formed and six million acres were leased from the Cherokees.
Seven years later, President Benjamin Harrison ordered the ranchers to remove all cattle from the
Strip. Plans were in place to open the expansive ranchlands for settlement by eager pioneers.
The Land Run of 1893
They came to the land that would be Oklahoma by train, horseback, wagon and on foot, from every
state and territory in the nation and abroad. Texas and Kansas had the most settlers represented.
Most had few material possessions but all came with a dream: to stake a claim and make a home on
the vast, virgin prairie known as the Cherokee Strip.
President Cleveland and Secretary of Interior H. R. Smith hoped they learned something from earlier
"stampedes" for land. They hoped that with better planning they could avoid the troubles and
confusion that accompanied the 1889 land rush.
Prior to opening the land they established county seats and opened four land offices at Enid, Perry,
Alva and Woodward. Homesteaders were to go to these offices and pay a filing fee ranging from
$1.00 to $2.50. Filing fees were based upon the quality of land.
However, the Strip was to be settled by the horse-race method. To eliminate "sooners," they set up
makeshift offices just inside the Cherokee Strip border. Homesteaders were to register and produce
filing fee affidavits to be eligible for the run.
On the day of the run, it was hot ad dry. Dust, whipped by wind, and thousands of feet, made it
unbearable. To add to the misery, soldiers were doing their best to keep order, and see that no one
"jumped the gun." The run was to begin only when troopers shot their pistols at high noon. There
were several reports of persons shooting a gun in the crowd. Many homesteaders excitedly took off
on hearing any gun shot. Such excitement could only lead to trouble for some. One fellow heard the
wild shot at four minutes before noon, and took off. Troopers reportedly chased him for a quarter mile
before shooting him dead.
Finally, at noon September 16, 1893, a shot rang out and more than 100,000 determined settlers
raced for 42,000 claims. By sunset, there would be tent cities, endless lines at federal land offices
and more losers than winners. The Cherokee Strip Land Run was a tumultuous finale to what many
have called the last American frontier.
Making the race and staking a claim must have seemed simple when compared to establishing a
home in the sometimes formidable Cherokee Strip. Many settlers carved sod homes and dugouts
from the prairie while others lived in their covered wagons. The first winters were harsh as the land
tested the endurance and character of its new inhabitants. Many of the settlers could not endure the
harsh conditions, and after weeks, or months, gave up their dream.
The hard times gave way to better days as crops flourished and communities, schools and churches
rose from the windswept plains. Over 100 years later, agriculture remains the strength of the
economy and way of life.
The stories of these brave homesteaders still echo through the Cherokee Strip. Walk through the only
remaining sod house, explore the many Cherokee Strip Museums, or visit with people whose
ancestors, through grit and determination, settled this untamed frontier.
With the first commercial oil well in 1897 came fortune seekers from around the world to strike it rich
in the teeming oil fields. Many found and lost their wealth in the Cherokee Strip, and left a legacy of
architecture, art and culture in towns like Bartlesville, Ponca City and Enid. Today, the Strip's
abundant oil reserves continue to make petroleum a dominant industry.
Towns, communities and schools throughout Oklahoma's Cherokee Strip celebrate the anniversary of
the Land Run on September 16 with festivals, parades, and reenactments of the Race for Land, lest
we forget why our ancestors traveled from far and away to stake a claim in history.
Ancestors from the CUTTER, GIBSON and PIPER families all contributed to the settlement of the
Cherokee Strip. Joseph P. Gibson and his brother-in-law, Simon Irey, husband of Ellen Cutter, made
the run together, Joe riding a sorrel mule, and staked their claims east of Douglas, OK. John Piper
and his family were here soon after the land was settled.
None of those original pioneers are living today, but many of their descendants still live in the
Cherokee Strip. Families whose members still live on the original claims are honored as "100 Year
Families. In 1997, Everett Ray Cutter, will qualify as one of those families. He lives on the land of his
Great-Grandmother, Caroline Fry Cutter. Winston Cutter also qualified in 1994 as one of those
This article and most images are from:
Garfield County Genealogists, Inc.
P.O. Box 1106, Enid, Oklahoma 73702
Copyright © 1996 - 2009 GCGI. All Rights Reserved.
114 W. Broadway Room 106 | Enid, Oklahoma 73701 | 580-237-0220 | Hours: 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM Monday - Friday
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