When the Cherokee people were moved from their ancestral lands to Indian Territory they were ceded a plot of land by the United States Government. This land was not intended for the Cherokees to live on, but as a 'no mans' land, a path for the Cherokees to travel along to reach hunting grounds in the Rocky Mountains. In trade for this land (called the Cherokee outlet at first) the tribe was to give up 8,000,000 of their acres in Georgia. The land extended along the Oklahoma-Kansas border for 226-miles and was about 60 miles in width. It's a beautiful diverse land, containing rolling prairies, rugged mountains, and great expanses of gypsum sand dunes. It was also the setting for the largest, most spectacular competitive event in history -- the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893.
The land, given to the Cherokees in 1835 as a "perpetual outlet west" didn't remain in their hands for long. 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. Even these tribes didn't get to stay on the strip long, however, as pressure on the government to open the land to white settlement grew.
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.
When it became obvious that 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, bowing to pressure to open the strip to homesteading, 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 plans were to open the Strip for settlement at high noon on September 16, 1893. Seeking to avoid the troubles that plagues the 1889 land rush, officials required homesteaders to go to land offices and pay a "filing fee" of between $1.00 and $2.50. To avoid sooners, makeshift offices were set up just inside the Strip, and soldiers patrolled the borders. Over 100,000 would be settlers lined the starting lines, competing for only 42,000 claims.
September 16 was hot and dry. The dust, stirred up by thousands of feet made an already explosive situation even more dangerous. Troopers did their best to keep order. To add to the confusion, the order had been given that the rush was not to begin until all the trooper shot their pistols at high noon. Of course, pistols were discharged among the crowd, and some eager homesteaders took off, only to be chased down by troopers and led back to the starting point. One fellow heard a wild shot at four minutes before noon, and took off. Troopers reportedly chased him for a quarter mile before shooting him dead.
Finally, the official shots were fired and the race was on to reach and claim the best spots. By the time the sun went down that evening, there were tent cities springing up everywhere, long lines at federal land offices, and more unsuccessful would-be homesteaders than successful ones.
The first winters were harsh and long for the homesteaders, and some of the land worthless for crops. Many people couldn't take the conditions or simply found themselves unable to live on their 160 acre allotments and abandoned their dreams to return East or push further West. Some people prospered, however, and communities, schools and churches rose from the windswept plains. When oil wells began to spring up in the area in the 1890s, the area entered another stage, with fortune seekers from around the world trying 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. Oil remains the dominant industry in the Cherokee Strip.