All of Oklahoma except for its Panhandle was part of the Louisiana Purchase. After his expedition with Meriwether Lewis to explore the territory that doubled the size of the United States, William Clark became Superintendent of Indian Affairs. In that capacity he began the removal of Eastern tribes from their native homelands “to a country beyond”. That country was Oklahoma.
When the 1889 Indian Appropriations Bill became law, President Benjamin Harrison opened 2 million acres of Oklahoma for additional settlement. The resulting land run occurred at noon on April 22 of the same year. For Native Americans, this was “the final phase of a catastrophe long dreaded and steadfastly opposed”. I copied these bleak words into my notebook in the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in this state’s first capital, Guthrie.
The homesteaders had only one month’s notice about the 1889 run. “Oklahoma or bust!” became the general shout as folks in wagons and on horses raced toward free land. Most hailed from agricultural states and brought few personal belongings so their horses or oxen would not tire before they staked their claims.
This museum does an excellent, honest job of telling a dark story from American history. However, its presentation about an interesting subject was old-fashioned and its spaces were dimly lit. I took few photos during my wander through where I felt like I was listening to a boring teacher ramble on about a subject that could excite if presented differently. The Oklahoma Territorial Museum seriously needs a 21st century update. For those who don’t known the story of the Oklahoma Land Rush, this would probably be a 4 Compass museum experience. For me, it was a 3.
The 4 Compass part of this museum for me was on the second floor where I learned about some notorious Oklahoma outlaws like Elmer McCurdy and Cattle Annie in Ripley-believe-it-or-not-style displays before a door led me into the first Carnegie Library in Oklahoma. This state’s 1st Governor was inaugurated on its steps. This Library was built in 1902, and during its opening ceremony a mock wedding occurred between Miss Indian Territory and Mr. Oklahoma Territory. I’m not sorry I missed that. The building ceased to function as a library in 1972 and was attached to the Oklahoma Territorial Museum at some point. Vowing to create “ladders on which the aspiring can rise”, Carnegie devoted the last 18 years of his life to giving away his fortune by building libraries and endowing colleges and hospitals.