November 14, 1996
A recent Associated Press story quoted a University of Oklahoma professor as saying homesteaders who made the Oklahoma land runs were "bums and losers trying to get something for nothing.” Such statements pop up every now and then and they are usually left hanging with no verification or rebuttal, leading the uninformed to think that's the truth. I missed the story when it first appeared, but one of the recognized authorities on the early history of this area has very adequately responded.
Stillwater author/historian D. Earl Newsom has come to the defense of our pioneers with a challenge to the accuracy of the AP story, which was based on the reported statement of OU Professor William W. Savage.
Mr. Newsom is the author of six books, including three which deal in detail with the Oklahoma land runs. One of his books about the Cherokee Outlet opening was published in our centennial year, 1993, and it is available at the Cherokee Strip Museum gift shop on West Fir Avenue. He has this to say about the statement attributed to Professor Savage, according to a recent story in the Stillwater newspaper:
"Actually, the (Cherokee Strip) settlers came from all walks of life. They included doctors, lawyers (100 settled in Perry the first day), farmers, newspapermen and all sorts of business people. Many of the 100,000 or so who gathered for the Cherokee Strip run came as a result of the panic of 1893. Banks closed and unemployment was high. People from across the nation came hoping to find new lives.
"Otis Lorton, who later became a principal editorial writer for the Tulsa World, was in the throng at Arkansas City, Kan. His description of the home seekers was among the best: 'In the throng ... were men and women from all walks of life, artists, writers, lawyers, doctors, gamblers galore, down-and-outers... rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief -- but most of all the family man who wanted a home.'
"As soon as a run was over, a business district usually sprang up by the following morning. The Cherokee Strip was on a Saturday and nearly every new town held open air church services the next morning. In Stillwater, many of the '89ers were well-educated and took the lead in establishing the county seat and Oklahoma A&M College.
"Perkins founders were largely from agricultural backgrounds. They quickly laid out a townsite and within a short time established Perkins as the dominant agricultural center of the entire area.
"This, is not to say that life was entirely serene. Saloons opened in nearly all of the frontier towns. The Wichita Eagle said Perry had 73 in its 'Hell's Half Acre.' But law and order prevailed after a short time. Fred Stallard, who operated one of Stillwater's first saloons, later became mayor and led an effort to close down all saloons in town.
"Many descendants of those who made the early land runs are still in the Payne county (and Noble county) area and have for years been community leaders. Most would probably dispute Professor Savage's description of their ancestors as bums and losers,' and might question his preparedness to teach Oklahoma history."
Our friend Earl Newsom makes a good point as he sets the record straight on this occasion, and we thank him for that. His rejoinder should last until the next time some other equally ill-informed "historian" revives the same scandalous baloney about the good folks who made the Cherokee Strip land run on September 16, 1893.