1835 - 1893
The Cherokee Outlet, known generally today as the Cherokee Strip, was a part of lands exchanged by the Cherokees living in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia for lands in the West. The Treaty of New Echota, signed in 1835, defined it as a perpetual outlet west and gave them free and unmolested use of the buffalo hunting lands in the west.
But the Cherokees were not hunters. They had lived among the European settlers for 200 years and had adopted many of their ways. The real buffalo hunters were those tribes who lived on the plains and depended on the buffalo for their very life. The Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche recognized no boundaries or treaties, considering the lands in the Cherokee Outlet as their hunting preserve. They had no concept of land ownership any more than they thought they could own the air they breathed or the water in the rivers and streams. They were not friendly to the white men or to any Cherokees who might venture out on the plains to hunt.
The lands of the Cherokee Outlet lay relatively unused until after the Civil War. In other treaties, the government settled other tribes on parts of the Outlet which in effect cut the Cherokees off from their hunting land in the west.
Texas cattlemen driving their herds north to the railheads in Kansas crossed the Outlet stopping occasionally to graze their cattle and let them fatten a little before driving them the final miles to market. The unused grasslands were a tempting oasis along the dusty Chisholm Trail. Too tempting for some, who drove their tired herds out on the Indian lands for longer and longer stays.
The next step was grazing the herds in the Outlet throughout the grazing season. It was much easier to raise cattle near the railheads than to make the long trip north from Texas. Six million acres of free grass was in the Outlet for anyone who would take it.
Then, in 1880, the Cherokees decided they were being robbed again by white men. In the Cherokee Council that year they set a herd tax of $1 on all cattle being grazed on their land. The cattlemen protested and for at least part of the year, the tax was reduced to 40 cents a head.
Still the Cherokees were not satisfied with the system because they had to depend on the cattlemen for an accurate count. The cattlemen were not satisfied either, because they had no way governing the vast expanse of grass. In March, 1881, several of the cattlemen gathered at Caldwell, Kanses to talk over the situation. Nothing much came of the meeting except for an arrangement to register their brands. A second meeting the following year resulted in an agreement that all cattlemen in the Outlet must stand together. Some ranch owner names
At the third meeting, held in March 1883, the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association was organlzed. Major Andrew Drumm was elected president of the association and Charles Eldred secretary. Headquarters of the Organization would be in Caldwell.
The organization signed an agreement with the Cherokees to lease the entire Outlet for five years at $100,000 a year. Each year a wagon load of silver dollars was hauled from Caldwell to the Cherokee capitol at Tahlequah where it was counted, dollar by dollar, into the hands of the Indians.
Ranches were then leased by the livestock association to stockholders. Beef became the most profitable investment in the country. Investors included many congressmen, senators, industrial giants and in some cases, the crown heads of Europe. When the lease expired in i8a8, the Cherokees wanted a larger share of the profits. A new lease was signed paying the tribe $200,000 per year for use of the lands in the Cherokee Outlet.
But there was trouble brewing in the form of a river of immigrants coming to America from Europe. Some filled the need for cheap labor in the industrial areas but most were farmers who had been lured to America with the promise of free farmland in the west. It had been true during the decades of the westward exansion, but by the waning years of the 19th Century, America was running out of free land. Fearing large numbers of immigrants trapped in eastern states night become a political force, congressmen began looldng around for somewhere to send these new Americans. The Cherokee Outlet became an easy solution for their problem.
Within months of the completion of the second cattle lease, Congress appointed a commission to talk with the Cherokees about selling their lands in the Outlet. The conunission was authorized to offer the Indians $1.25 an acre for their land. Learning of this, the cattlemen made an offer of their own of $3 an acre.
When the commission failed to reach an agreement, Secretary of the Interior John Noble studied the treaty with the Cherokees and decided their title to the lands in the Cherokee Outlet was not absolute. In his opinion, the government had only given the Cherokees an easement. Since they didn't use it, Noble felt they should forfeit their rights to the Outlet lands.
The Commission of Indian Affairs disagreed with the Interior Department ruling, but the Attorney General sided with Noble and against the Indian claims. The argument raged for many more months until, in 1890, President Harrison ordered all cattle to be removed from the Outlet by the end of the year. Association members were ordered to remove every fence, every house, every improvement of any Iand. The Army was sent in to ensure the order was carried out.
No longer able to collect lease money from the cattlemen and faced with confiscation of the land by the government the Cherokees finally agreed in 1891 to sell the land back to the governent for $8.5 million. The agreement provided that if congress did not come up with the money by March 4, 1893, the treaty was void. On the day before the deadline, Congress appropriated $8.3 million. It was short of the agreed amount, but Cherokee leaders took it rather than risk of being stripped of all rights.
The title to the Outlet was cleared in May and on Sept. 16, 1893, in the greatest land run ever held, the vast grassland was opened for white settlement. For a few brief years, cattle had been king in the Cherokee Strip. Within a few more years, wheat would rule the economy of Northwest Oklahoma.
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