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Racing to stake a claim

Celebrating the Land Run of 1893

ENID, Okla. — Today is a very special day for the history books. Sept. 16, 2018, marks exactly 125 years since the Land Run of 1893, which ended up being Oklahoma's largest land run.

"Pretty much all of the land in Oklahoma was opened by land run, land race, lottery, etcetera," said Robbin Davis, director of Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center. "And this particular land race, 1893 which opened Northwest Oklahoma, was the largest land run in American history, so that’s pretty significant." 

Northwest Oklahomans are celebrating the historic event in many ways this year, whether it be Saturday's parade here in Enid, lectures and presentations or exhibits and more. Saturday's celebrations in Enid also included western movies, music, the Walk of Fame, a festival and an "Old Western Gun Fight." 

At the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, A new exhibit, "The 1893 Land Race: A Legacy of Community," opened Sept. 4, and will run through Nov. 17. The exhibit was underwritten by James C and Teresa K Day Foundation. 

The center also had Sterling Evans from University of Oklahoma speak on the land run on Sept. 12, and the center's hosting a family fun day themed to the land run on Oct. 13. 

"The great thing about this particular exhibit, it focuses on the community that developed out of the land race. Enid literally sprang up out of the dirt, and was created by people who wanted to be prosperous," Davis said. "So if you go to each of the different areas of the exhibit, it talks about how people made a life, whether it was farming or building a business, or something along those lines. So we focus on the families, we focus on the businesses that were created, and then there’s some really awesome educational components in it."

Aaron Preston, archivist for the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, said the most fascinating part of the land run to him was the unique way in which it was settled. 

"It didn’t happen that way in the rest of the nation. It happened so suddenly. Oklahoma’s history in general, it’s sort of packed into a short time period, but a lot happened. You’re talking about the dust bowl, you’re talking about the land openings, you’re talking about the oil booms and busts and everything else," Preston said. 

He said many people don't know that you had to be a citizen to claim land, and that Native Americans weren't considered citizens at the time and weren't allowed to make the run. Women could, but they had to be the head of a household, which usually meant they were widows or something similar. 

"It was just interesting, the questions of either citizenry or who could make claims when," Preston said. 

'Buffalo chips'

Western Major County resident Paul Martin, 79, has a special connection to the Land Run of 1893 — his father Harry Harvey "Hal" Martin took part in the land run. 

Paul's father was 68 years old when Paul and his twin sister, Pauline Schoonmaker, were born. Their father died at the age of 83, when the twins were 15. Paul said at the time he didn't think much of his father taking part in the land run, but as time went on, he realized the significance and thought it was very unique his father was a part of history. 

Betty Martin, Paul's husband, said after doing some research she found Harry first came to the Orlando area from Fort Riley, Kansas, and didn't like the area, but then heard about the land run and decided to participate with his brother. 

She added that Harry's parents came to Oklahoma too, but instead of coming to participate in the land run, came to ensure their sons' safety, as Harry was only 21 at the time of the run.

Paul said he remembers his father and siblings claimed land southeast of Fairview, south of Isabella. Harry later sold the claim and moved out along the North Canadian River in the state so they could have better access to food and water. Paul isn't sure how long exactly his father lived on the land run claim.

"He said also, about the moving for wood and water, ‘you ever try to cook a meal on buffalo manure?’ He said that’s all there was on that plain at that time was buffalo manure, and he said buffalo chips don’t make your food taste very good," Paul said. 

Paul mentioned another story his father told him, where Harry and his brother were together at their sod house when an outlaw came by and threatened to take Harry's horse, but were able to shoo away the outlaw since Harry's brother had a gun aimed at him.

"I think it’s important that you’ve got two people left (Paul and his sister) that can say their daddy made that land run ... think it’s pretty unique my husband can say ‘my daddy made that land run,'" Betty said. 

She added that Harry and his kin must have been tough folk to make the run and live where they did. 

"If all you had to burn to keep warm by or to cook with was buffalo chips on the prairie, you had to be pretty tough. And then you didn’t know who was going to come by and try to steal what you had. I think it’s just pretty neat my husband got to get a chance to be part of history, that his daddy made that run," Betty said. "My people said years ago, that if you weren’t a good shot, you didn’t have much to eat, because there wasn’t no Walmart down the street."

Covered wagons, dugouts and land

An interview was conducted in September 1970 with Cora Nay, a woman who alive during the time period of the land runs in Oklahoma. The archived audio interview was made available by Preston and the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center. 

Nay said in the interview she came into the Oklahoma Territory with her sister and brother-in-law.

"We came in a covered wagon, and it took us 14 days to come," Nay said. "And we'd camped out overnight, but I would lay on the ground and make my bed on the ground. So (if) they would sleep on the ground, I'd go sleep in the covered wagon ... Daddy and mother came down on the train, and they met us at Enid, and we drove out then to the little town of Carrier. And we stayed in Carrier for I don't know how long it was, we lived at a dugout."

Nay met her husband, Arthur Nay, at the dugout before later moving closer to Enid, she said in the interview. She said her husband had participated in the land run. 

The two started in a one-roomed house before building a larger one. At one point, they sold 20 acres of land to Carrier, and then purchased 20 acres from Arthur's brother, Frank. It brought their land up to 180 acres. A school was built on the corner of the land, Nay said.

Back in the early 1900s, Nay said she and her husband would have to haul wheat by wagon up to Enid, which often took more than a day, and oftentimes she'd have to remain at the cabin, which she didn't like very much.

"We had an old dog and he was pretty good, lay on the doorstep and watch for the wagon coming," Nay said. "I'd know he was coming somewhere because they could hear the sound of that old wagon."

'Dry and dusty'

A written biography from P.M. Combs, written Sept. 16, 1943, depicted his experience with the Land Run of 1893. 

Combs and his father were camped at Cameron, Kansas, three days before the opening, which was later called Camchester and located just across the Oklahoma and Kansas line at Manchester, Oklahoma, according to the autobiography. He had come with his father and driven a four-horse team and led two saddle horses. 

"It was dry and dusty with so many camped waiting for the big day," Combs wrote. "Water was scarce and some had to buy drinking water." 

While still waiting there on one day, Combs wrote soldiers brought two men on horseback who had been caught in the Strip. Combs wrote they were called Sooners, and a guarded rope corral was made and the men put in it with their horses. 

"The 'Sooners' watched their chance and made a break, one going each way. The soldiers shot their rifles over the heads of the crowd by the 'Sooners' kept going. No doubt they got good claims," Combs wrote. 

Shortly before noon Sept. 16, 1893, Combs wrote the crowd lined up for three or four miles each and west along the Kansas border awaiting the signal. After the race began, Combs, a cousin and a friend decided to stake claims along the south bank of the Salt Fork River. His cousin ended up staking on school land and left, and Combs' friend staked west of him and lived on the claim until he died 20 years after the opening.

"A fellow rode in and staked near the river about and hour after we landed so I rode over and told him I was afraid he was on my claim," Combs wrote. "He said, 'well hell fellows, I don't think it's any good, so if I can just find my boy I'll be happy and you may have the whole damned country." 

To learn more about the Land Run of 1893, visit the new exhibit at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid, or visit http://www.csrhc.org/

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