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HISTORIAN LECTURE SERIES FROM 2008
Historian Todd Arrington talks about Presdient Abraham Lincoln and the Homestead Act, the Oklahoma Land Rush, and George Norris' impact on the nation and the creation of Homestead National Monument of America.
The Lincoln talk will be coming soon.
Senator George W. Norris
On March 16, 2008 Historian Todd Arrington gave a program about the life, political career, and accomplishments of Nebraska Senator George W. Norris. Norris represented Nebraska in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1903 to 1912 and in the U.S. Senate from 1913 to 1942.
Welcome to Homestead National Monument of America. I'm gonna be talking today obviously about the life and work of Senator George Norris.
My name is Todd Arrington. I’m the National Park Service Historian here at Homestead. I've been here going on 9 years now. So, I've been here awhile now, and this is the first time we've ever done a program on George Norris. But I think it's timely certainly for many reasons.
Norris was someone who was very important to the history of Nebraska, to the history of the country really but especially to the history of Nebraska and even to this to this area of Nebraska. He was very important to the creation of this park, Homestead National Monument of America.
Obviously when all of us get up in the morning and turn the lights on, he was very important in that respect as well. Because he was very deeply involved in creating the Rural Electrification Act. And we're gonna to talk a little bit about that. This is really just kind of an overview of Norris’ life, who he was and the kind of work he did primarily as a member of Congress.
Probably take 30-35 minutes or so to go through. And then at the end I'll be more than happy to answer any questions you have. So please just relax and enjoy the program. And again, if you do think of questions please try to remember those in your head and I'll be happy to try to answer those at the end of the program. And I'll turn the lights back on at the end too.
Norris was not native to Nebraska. He was actually born in Ohio in the 1861 and he was the 11th child to his parents. And I can't imagine- just can't imagine having a family that large.
As I was doing the research for the program, one of the references I found on Norris said that he “was the 11th child of uneducated, unchurched parents.” So, I don't- I guess that means they weren't overly religious people but anyway they still managed to have a very large family obviously.
This is an early picture of Norris with his mother [points at presentation] and it's actually a pretty good quality photo considering the age of the photo. And as you can see Norris’ father did die when Norris was just four.
Norris‘ uncle, who would have been his father's brother, was actually killed in the Civil War. And then the father, Norris’ father died just four years after George was born. So, he would have died in 1865. So that family obviously had its share of tragedy all there- really kind of, very close together.
Norris was a college graduate. He went to a school called Baldwin University. It's now called Baldwin Wallace College [University] and it's in Berea, Ohio. And he was a lawyer as well. He had a law degree from Valparaiso which is located in Indiana.
While he was going to law school he worked as a teacher. So, he was obviously very sensitive to the needs of educators and education. He worked as a teacher to support himself, also to pay his way through law school. Because he had uneducated, unchurched parents, I guess they didn't have enough money to send him to law school which is certainly understandable.
This is a great photo of Norris while he was a student Valparaiso. [points at presentation] And it's hard to see and I’m not very tall so I- it’s kind of hard for me to point to. But Norris is this guy who is kind of looking off to his left. They kind of have illuminated him a little bit in the photo there. And he looks like he's kind of- maybe looking at a pretty girl or something walking by, I don’t know.
But old photos are a lot of fun. And I mean you can just- looking at an old photo like this really can kind of tell you a lot about what was going on at the time. The clothes that people had on, what the fashions were. The fact that there are a lot of women in this photo. A lot of women apparently going to law school at this particular university is impressive. And the guy up here has a beard and this guy has kind of a big, sort of, almost handlebar mustache. It's really a lot of fun to look at old photos.
If you haven't been through this building yet, when you go downstairs, we do have an exhibit called Reading Photographs that talks about how much you can learn from old photos. And it's really neat. It's an interactive exhibit where you can actually- we've got some photos on there. And you can drag a big magnifying glass across and bring some things out in the photo that you might not normally see. They’re photos of homesteaders, obviously not of George Norris. But anyway, the point is that old photos are really a lot of fun and you can learn quite a bit from them.
As far as family life, he was married twice. His first wife who, he married in 1889, died in 1901. They had three daughters. And then he remarried another lady- another woman named Ellie Leonard in 1903. This is an old picture of Norris [points at presentation] not great quality here. I apologize for that, but this is with his daughter Hazel. And Hazel is the daughter that he seems to have been the closest to. A lot of letters between them survive. And they seem to have had a very close and very affectionate relationship.
He came to Nebraska in 1885 to a town called Beaver City which is in Furnas County out in the western part of the state. And this is where he first got interested in politics. He was he the county- served as the county attorney. And then in 1900 went McCook where he is- the town which he’s most famously associated with and that's where he really became active in politics.
As I was doing the research for this, I did see one reference, only one, to him having lived in Beatrice [Nebraska] at one point. So, I don't know if that is the case or not. Then there was a gentleman here when I did the talk at one o'clock who was from Cortland. And he had found a reference to a G. W. Norris owning a plot of land up in Cortland in 1885 and having been a schoolteacher there. So, I mean it's very possible that this is the same George Norris. I'm not sure about that. We may have to get the Gage County Historical Society on the case for us on that one, but it's very possible that he was, at least for a while, here in Gage County.
But Beaver City is where he first went. He became a county attorney and then in 1900 went to McCook and that's where he really got interested in political activity.
And 1902 as a Republican, he's elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Very good, old photo of Norris there [points at presentation] looking relat- rather young and dashing as he's about to make his way to Washington D.C. and change the world. So, he was a Republican and [clears throat] excuse me. He had been elected in 1902 to the House with a lot of support from railroad companies.
And of course, in 1902 railroading was still a HUGE business. Was still vastly important to the economy here in Nebraska and still very, very influential. As well railroads were-- had a lot of, a lot of pull in political activity. So, he then was supported by most of the railroad companies when he was elected in 1902.
But in 1906, he kind of broke with the railroads to support Theodore Roosevelt’s plan to regulate railroads. Roosevelt felt like railroads needed to be regulated to make sure shipping rates were fair. And that the railroads didn't acquire too much power in local and national- on the national scene. And so, Norris supported Roosevelt’s idea to regulate the railroads and you can imagine what that did to his support among- with the railroad companies. Pretty much dried up.
So, he also sort of made a name for himself in 1910 when he led something of a revolt against Joseph Cannon, who was the Speaker of the House. Cannon was from Illinois and up until very recently was the longest serving Republican Speaker of the House in American history. And Cannon seems to have had a very kind of heavy-handed sort of autocratic approach to being Speaker. He sort of- liked to- kind of a bully, is one way he was described on one of the things I was looking at. And he also, of course, controlled as the Speaker how leadership positions in the House of Representatives were given out. And basically, his people that he was the closest to and that were his supporters were the ones that got the leadership roles.
And Norris and a lot of the other Republicans felt like leadership roles should be given out based somewhat at least on seniority, who had been there the longest, who had the most experience. And so, Norris kind of became the leader of this group that sort of revolted against Cannon’s leadership. And did in fact, were able to change how House leadership positions were distributed.
They are to this day somewhat at least based on seniority, although obviously Speakers and majority leaders and people like that still have a lot of power with who gets in what position. But there is- seniority is something that still has to be considered when leadership positions in Congress are being distributed and part of that at least is thanks to George Norris.
In 1911, Norris cofounded what was known as the National Progressive Republican League. And was the vice president of that organization. In 1912, he actually supported Theodore Roosevelt for president and if you didn't know Roosevelt of course became president in 1901. McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt- McKinley when he was shot was at the very beginning of his second term, so Roosevelt served almost all of McKinley second term and then was elected in his own right in 1904. And then in 1908 really could have run again.
At this point there was no constitutional amendment about serving more than one term and since his first term had really been McKinley’s term, he really could have- he could have run as many times as he wanted to really. But of course, Roosevelt in 1908 had had enough and decided he was gonna- he was not gonna run for reelection. William Howard Taft was his sort of handpicked successor to the presidency. And so, Taft ran as the Republican candidate in 1908, was elected. And Theodore Roosevelt went off to Africa to go on safari and do all kinds of other things that were a lot more fun than being president.
By 1911 and ‘12 Roosevelt was pretty disgusted with Taft and felt like Taft had kind of gone away from the Republican policies that Roosevelt had put in place. And so, Roosevelt actually ran for president again as a third party candidate. He ran on the ticket of the Progressive Party which was more commonly known as the Bull Moose Party, in this election at least, because the saying was that Roosevelt was as stubborn as a bull moose and twice as tough and all this kind of stuff.
So, it's kind of a kind of a great old name for a party. Imagine somebody running today as a Bull Moose, that would be a lot of fun. So, Roosevelt comes back and runs is the progressive candidate and Norris supports Roosevelt. He does not support Taft who's the more conservative Republican. He supports Roosevelt who is the progressive candidate. And of course, what ends up happening is the- all the Republican votes are split between Roosevelt and Taft. Roosevelt actually did better than Taft in this election. Taft came in last, but those two Republican factions split the Republican vote and allowed Woodrow Wilson to be elected.
Wilson is the rather serious looking guy on the far right there [points at presentation]. And then we have two pictures here of Roosevelt: one of him speaking to a crowd there and then that one in the middle is just- it looks like somebody just told him a good joke or something. He looks pretty- like a pretty gregarious guy.
So, something else neat about Roosevelt is that he, I think, is the first president or one of the very first to have his voice recorded. So, you can actually- there are if you go online, I think you could probably find, you can actually hear Roosevelt’s voice. It's not great quality, but you can actually hear what he sounded like. And that's, for historians at least, that kind of stuff is really exciting. I mean imagine if we knew what Lincoln sounded like or George Washington or you know some of those folks.
But anyway, so Norris kind of angers the Republican mainstream by supporting Roosevelt in 1912 and not supporting Taft. And again, Wilson slides in very easily. It's kind of a gospel in politics that you can’t split your party in an election. All it does is guarantee that you're gonna lose. Just like in 1860, the northern Democrats and the southern Democrats split all the Democratic votes and allowed Abraham Lincoln to be elected. The same thing happened here in 1912.
As far as some of the issues that concerned Norris and that he was particularly passionate about, he supported the direct election of senators which eventually became the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. At this time, in the Constitution as it was originally written by the founding fathers, senators were not elected by the people. They were elected by the state legislatures. So- and a lot of people of course felt that that was undemocratic. And Norris was one of those people. And he fought very, very hard to get the 17th Amendment passed and ratified so that the people would directly elect their own senators. And so, that was that was an issue that was important for him.
Also, in 1912 he left the House of Representatives because he'd been elected to the U.S. Senate. So now he became one of two senators representing Nebraska in the U.S. Senate. And he also got on a rather serious crusade to make all 50 states, or not all 50 at this time. However many states there were around this time, 48 I think. To have unicameral legislatures and so Norris was actually very interested in unicamerals. He felt like that they reduced in fighting, they were much more effective, and of course you know how many states have a unicameral now. Right [laughs], just this one [Nebraska].
But obviously it works well for Nebraska and it's very unique to Nebraska as well. And so we have a nice shot of our capital there [on the presentation]. But it wasn't actually started in Nebraska until the 1930s. But Norris is the one that really was kind of pushing this idea, not only for Nebraska but for the rest of the country as well. He really thought this would be something that would be effective all over the country.
Gosh it must have been 1999 or 2000, I don't know. I moved here in ‘99 so I can't remember when exactly this was, but you guys remember- everybody remember Jesse “The Body” Ventura. You know he was the wrestler that became the Governor of Minnesota. I remember very distinctly not long after I moved here, he made a trip to Lincoln and was interested in the possibility of a unicameral in Minnesota. Nothing ever came of it I don't think because he didn't run for another term as governor up there, but the idea is still somewhat pervasive.
Other political issues, as World War One approached Norris was a pretty staunch isolationist. He didn't want to see the United States get involved in a European conflict. And he sort of felt like bankers and big business and industrialists were kind of angling to get the U.S. in the war. Because of course it would be profitable for them. And then in 1917 he was one of only six U.S. senators that voted against the U.S. going into World War One.
Woodrow Wilson of course was still present at this time. He's- I showed you his picture a minute ago. And Wilson actually for a while was sort of an isolationist too. He didn't want the U.S. to get involved in the war. In fact, he was reelected in 1916 on the campaign slogan “He Kept Us Out of the War.” So, he's reelected in 1916. He's inaugurated for a second term March 4th, 1917.
April 2nd, 1917, he goes to Congress and asks for a declaration of war against Germany. So, he didn’t keep us out of the war for very long in his second term. And of course, he had many reasons for thinking it was time for the U.S. to get involved. But- and there was immense pressure on all members of Congress to vote for the resolution for the U.S. to get into the war. And so, it took I think a lot of political courage whether it was wrong or right. It took a lot of courage to not bow to that pressure and Norris was one of just six senators that didn’t bow to that pressure.
On the House side, one- another person who voted against the resolution in the House of Representatives, was a lady named Jeanette Rankin from Montana. And she was the first woman ever elected to Congress. And she was from Montana. In fact, her parents were homesteaders in Montana, and we have, in the spring and summer, when we have our big homestead legacies banners up down at the Education Center building. She's on one of our banners and she was in Congress. She voted against the resolution to enter World War One. She was then, because of that- her vote, was defeated for reelection. So, she went back to Montana became well known for many other things.
Later in life, in the late 1930s went back into politics, got elected Congress again. This is Jeanette Rankin now. Went back to Congress, went back to the House and then was in Congress when World War Two started and when the vote came for America to go into World War Two, she voted against that. So, she's the only person that was in Congress and voted against entering both World War One and World War Two. So that has nothing to do with Norris. It’s just kind of an interesting story about someone else, but anyway she was famous for many other things as well.
And here we just see [points at presentation ] a World War- some- a tank and some troops in World War One and that's an old U.S. Navy World War One recruiting poster there “It's a Wonderful Opportunity.” Now “It's Not Just a Job It's an Adventure” then it was a wonderful opportunity.
After the war ended and of course, the allies were victorious, Woodrow Wilson had proposed something called the “Fourteen Points” which were basically 14 sort of planks for peace after the war that he wanted to see written into any treaty that ended the war. And Germany agreed to surrender based on the idea that the fourteen points were going to be the basis for the treaty.
And that treaty was the treaty of Versailles because it was hammered out and signed at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris which was originally built for Louis the 14th back in the 16- early 1700s. But the treaty negotiations kind of came to be dominated by what they called the big four and that's those four guys there in the photo [in the presentation] David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and then Wilson- Woodrow Wilson of U.S. there on the far right.
And there was a lot of opposition to this treaty in the United States because it- primarily because it created what they called the League of Nations. It was kind of the forerunner of what we now call the United Nations which was created after World War Two. But Wilson create- came up with this idea of a League of Nations. Basically, is an organization that as many countries as possible could join.
And would be- it was kind of like a- sort of like a compact between all these nations that they would help each other. They would defend one another, and they would come to another’s aid if they were attacked, anything like that. And there were a lot of people in Congress and the public that didn't like this idea. They didn't like the idea of the United States sort of being bound to get involved in any of these conflicts that might have nothing to do with the United States. And so, a lot of members of Congress, a lot of Republicans, not all Republicans, but a lot of Republicans didn't like the Treaty of Versailles at all.
Some of them were willing to vote for it if changes were made. Others were known as irreconcilables including George Norris. Which basically were people that were not going to vote for the treaty no matter how many- how much they changed it. They were not gonna ratify that treaty.
And in fact, the United States never actually ratified the Treaty of Versailles and never actually joined the League of Nations. So, and the League of Nations existed up until the late ‘30s. And then it was based in Europe and it was just one more thing that sort of crumbled as Europe started to disintegrate into World War Two. But Norris was one of the irreconcilables that was violently opposed to the Treaty of Versailles.
In the ‘20s as Norris began to gain some seniority in the Senate, he chaired some very important Senate committees including: Committees on Agriculture, Forestry, and the Judiciary. Chairman of the Judiciary Committee is a very, very powerful and important post. The Judiciary Committee is the committee that for example holds hearings on potential Supreme Court justices, reviews nominations for judges to appellate courts, and federal district courts. It's a very, very important and very powerful job so he was obviously a respected and important member of the Senate.
He advocated for labor rights. The issues between labor and management were very prevalent at this time. And so, he did advocate for labor rights which the Republican Party at that time did not always agree with.
He proposed abolishing the Electoral College. Boy where have we heard this one before? Anybody remember 2000? [chuckles] I remember that conversation quite a bit in 2000 and early 2001 regardless of who you voted for that was a very popular conversation. Of course, everybody knows we don't directly elect the president. We actually vote for electors who go and then the Electoral College is the body that actually chooses the president based on the Constitution.
And a lot of people today and a lot of people then felt that that was undemocratic. Just like it wasn't democratic they thought for the people not to directly elect their own senators. They didn't feel like it was Democratic for people to not directly elect their own president. And so, Norris was one voice that spoke out about abolishing the Electoral College. And again, that's a conversation that is still being had today. Though he was a Republican, he very often was at odds with Republican presidents during this time. Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and then Herbert Hoover, [points at presentation] there on the far end, were three Republican presidents in a row that Norris was- kind of ruffled their feathers quite a bit. Because he very often was opposed to their policies and to some of the bills that they sent to the Congress.
There's a great story about Calvin Coolidge which is completely unrelated to Norris. But it's such a funny story I just want to tell it. That Coolidge was very- was from Vermont and he was kind of seen at this very stern, quiet sort of, you know, Yankee. And he was; he was very quiet. He never said- he hardly said a word. Imagine a president now that that was that didn't have much to say. Of course, this is before massive television and no Internet and all this kind of stuff. But so, Coolidge was- had this reputation of being very, very quiet and never saying anything.
And there's this great story about him at a dinner party in Washington [D.C.]. And there's this young lady sitting next to him. And she starts talking to him and she says that she's bet her friend that she can get him to say three words to her in conversation. And Coolidge says, doesn't even look up from his plate and says, “you lose.” [chuckles and audience laughs] So, anyway I- again it has nothing to do with Norris. I just think it's a funny story. [chuckles]
So, but and then Hoover there on the end [of the presentation]. I almost kind of have to feel bad for Hoover, he was by far one of the most qualified people ever to be president. He'd been Secretary of Commerce and he'd been a member of Congress and he'd been an ambassador. He had just done so many different things. And he of course came into office right as the stock market was starting to crash and the Great Depression was coming. And he gets the blame for a lot of that and unfortunately that's- it wasn't all his fault. But anyway, Hoover was- Hoover is- these are three Republican presidents that Norris really had a lot of conflicts with.
In 1928 and ‘32 he broke, Norris broke with the Republican Party and supported Democrats for the presidency. Alfred Smith right here [pointing at presentation] with his- holding up his hat. And then of course in ‘32 Franklin Roosevelt. Smith is- has the distinction of having been the first Roman Catholic to be nominated by a major party for the presidency. Of course, he didn't win in 1928. That’s the year that Hoover was elected. [coughs] Excuse me. And then of course in ’32, 1932 Franklin Roosevelt ran as the Democratic candidate and obviously won. And served the next 12- served for 12- over 12 years.
And Norris at this time is like I said, ruffling a lot of feathers with Republican politicians. With the Republican mainstream there. And a lot of them now start to call him a son of a wild jack***. [chuckles] So, and probably a lot of things that are not appropriate for me to say [chuckles] with a nice family crowd like this. But that was the nicest one I could find that they said about Norris. [chuckles and audience laughs]
But anyway, he obviously was very much at odds with the mainstream of the Republican Party at that time. And you hear things like this today as well. About people that don't vote the party line, or they go outside the party line, or they crossed the aisle and work with people of the other party. They sometimes have some horrible things said about them as well.
So of course, when FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] comes into office, he starts to implement the- starts to send bills to Congress to implement the New Deal. And the New Deal of course is his massive array of programs designed to really spur the economy, put people back to work, try to bring the country out of the Great Depression.
And one of the New Deal programs was the Tennessee Valley Authority Act which was sponsored by none other than our friend George Norris. The Tennessee Valley, which is most of Tennessee, parts of Alabama, Mississippi, even up into a little bit of Georgia, up into even a little bit of the Carolinas, I think. Was an area that was- it was rural and had really, really been hit hard by the Great Depression. And so, by creating the Tennessee Valley Authority and damming these rivers, the idea was that it would create economic growth. It would create electricity. It would allow people to navigate the river which would be good for commerce.
And Norris was the sponsor for the Tennessee Valley Authority Act [TVA]. The picture on the left here [points at presentation] is Roosevelt, President Roosevelt signing the TVA act. And then we can- [clears throat] it’s not a great picture, but this is Norris right here [points at presentation] standing right behind the president's left shoulder there. And then Norris always kind of has that same kind of look on his face like he's- if he's- I don't know if he's trying to pose for the picture or if he's just surprised. I’m not sure, but he always has a very distinct look on his face and in these photos. And then to the right is the first dam that was built under the TVA act. And that is known as Norris Dam, so it was named for George Norris.
In 1936, Norris co-sponsored the Rural Electrification Act [REA], which is very, very important to rural America. Which- much of which was- had no electric service and no possibilities for electric service without this law. And there were some folks here in the one o'clock program that had very, very distinct memories of the first time that mom and dad flipped on the lights. And so, the Rural Electrification Act was very, very important to this area and to areas all over the rural West.
On the left here [points at presentation] is of course Roosevelt sitting and Norris with that same look on his face on the right. On the left here is John Rankin who was the co-sponsor of that bill. He was from Mississippi and so that's the three of them when Roosevelt actually signed the REA. On the right there of course is just a sort of an example of some of the work that the REA was doing, bringing electricity to rural America. And then in the middle there of course is the Norris Public Power building here in Beatrice, so, which of course is named for George Norris.
And Norris Public Power is a great partner to Homestead National Monument. They're- have been very deeply involved in a lot of the projects we do here. And they made a very, very large donation to our new film which is coming out in just a couple of weeks. And you're all invited to the public premier of that on April 5th at the Hevelone Center in Beatrice at the high school. So, Norris Public Power is really nice and an important partner for Homestead National Monument.
Here we just- [points at presentation] this is just a great photo of Norris about to flip the switch to start up a new hydro plant. And that's- I just like the photo. There's- I just thought it was a good picture of Norris. And since he's not looking directly at the camera, he's kind of- doesn't have that same look on his face like he always does and some of these photos. So, I like this photo; I think it's a good one.
Norris was also critical to the creation of this park, Homestead National Monument of America. Even before Daniel Freeman, who's the guy that homesteaded on this property, even before Freeman died, there was a lot of talk about. Because Freeman is considered to have been the very first person to get land under the Homestead Act. There was a lot of talk locally about some sort of monument or some sort of park being on this location to commemorate the Homestead Act. And especially after Freeman died 1908, the idea really sort of took hold.
And there was a lot of local and state interest in putting something on this site, but you know these things kind of ebb and flow. And after a while and it didn't happen, people kind of lost interest and moved on to other things. And then in the ‘30s, the early ‘30s the idea kind of got revived. And there was a lot of interest again locally in getting some kind of park or monument here and again it didn't go anywhere, it kind of stalled out until George Norris got involved. And Norris of course had the authority and had the power to kind of make sure that it happened.
And this is a photo [pointing at presentation] of Norris with President Roosevelt when- as Roosevelt is signing the act creating Homestead National Monument of America. And the guy to Norris’ left there is Henry Luckey. He was the Nebraska First Congressional District Representative at that time in the House of Representatives. So, he and Norris are there as Roosevelt is signing the bill creating this park. And that's actually a great photo for us to have. A lot of- I don't know any- too many other national parks that have pictures of presidents actually creating the park. That's kind of a unique thing for us to have.
In 1936, Norris finally decided it was time to leave the Republican Party. And he did so and was actually reelected to the Senate as an Independent. He did have a lot of support from Democrats because he often times voted with Democrats, he had supported Democrats for high office including the presidency. And he did get a lot of support from Democrats when he went back to the Senate as an Independent.
He did, as World War Two started to approach and even as it started in 1939. A lot of people think it started in 1941, it actually started in Europe in 1939. And some people even place it back earlier than that, to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, which was 1936, I think. But at any rate it didn't- the U.S. didn’t get into it until 1941. And he was an isolationist again, up until the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. And then after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor there weren't very many isolationists left. And Norris like many others got on board and voted for the United States to go into World War Two.
By 1942, he had sort of lost him support in the state. Obviously, Republicans didn't support him anymore. And so, even some of his Democratic support had dried up. And in 1942 he ran for reelection again as an Independent and this time he lost. He did not win reelection in 1942. So, his political career at that point was over.
And he went back to McCook and he looks much more relaxed there [points at picture in presentation] in his parlor in McCook than he did any of those other photos that we showed. Got his foot up on the radiator and everything. So- and he wrote an autobiography called “Fighting Liberal.” And he lived in McCook the rest of his life until 1944 when he died. And he's, I believe buried there in McCook and his house in McCook is now a state historic site. So, you can if you go to McCook you can actually visit the George Norris house.
Legacies of George Norris, there are many. And these are just a few. Two constitutional amendments that Norris was really behind and kind of pushed for. The 17th Amendment we already talked about the direct election of senators. The 20th Amendment- [coughs] Excuse me. The 20th Amendment was what they kind of called the lame duck amendment which basically changed when the president is inaugurated and when new congresses has come into power.
The old inauguration day under the constitution was March 4th. So, you have a president elected in early November and they don't take office until March 4th. Norris was one of the people that felt like that time needed to be short. And also, the time that- it was used to also be much, much later when new congresses would come in and take their seats that they've been elected to as well. And so, the lame duck amendment, the 20th Amendment, shortened those periods. So now the inauguration of the president is now always on January 20th. So, we have a much shorter time between the election in the inauguration and then the time for congresses was moved up as well.
The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 which had to do with labor unions. There were a lot of unions at this time, basically required that you would be a member of the union if you work somewhere. And the Norris-LaGuardia Act, even though Norris was a great supporter of unions and of labor, basically said that a union could not force you to join the union. And the LaGuardia in that act is Fiorello LaGuardia who was at one time a very, very famous mayor of New York City and so that was the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932.
Of course, our unicameral legislature here in Nebraska is one of Norris’ legacies as well. Had Norris had his way, all fif- all of the states would have had unicamerals. But as it is, we have it here in Nebraska and it works very well for us.
Of course, this park Homestead National Monument of America is something that Norris was deeply involved in the creation of. And we're thankful for that. Or at least I know I am, 'cause I like to have a place to come to work every day.
The Tennessee Valley Authority was again- was the act that created- that agency was sponsored by Norris. And of course, probably one of the biggest, the Rural Electrification Act which was absolutely critical to all parts of rural America.
In 1956, of course Norris had died in 1944, but in 1956 John F Kennedy, who was a senator from Massachusetts, published his book “Profiles in Courage.” Which was a- profiles of eight U.S. senators who at one time or another in American history had taken some rather courageous, sometimes unpopular stands that- about things- about issues they felt strongly about. And Norris was actually one of the eight senators profiled by Kennedy in the book and he was noted for several things actually.
For taking on Speaker Cannon that we talked about earlier. For speaking against the arming of merchant ships during World War One. There was a lot of people that wanted to put cannons on merchant ships so they could defend themselves in World War One. And Norris was one of the few people who spoke out against that saying it was- basically it was going to create more problems than it was gonna solve.
And then of course for supporting Al Smith's presidential campaign in 1928 which was an unsuccessful campaign. But that was the first time Norris really, on a national level, kind of broke with the Republican Party and supported a candidate that he thought was better qualified than the Republican.
And in 1961 Norris was the very first person inducted into the Nati- or the Nebraska, rather, Hall of Fame. And here we just have sort of a collection of neat old photos and stuff. [points at presentation] This one up here is Norris at one of the TVA, earliest TVA dams. And that’s Norris right there [points at photo on presentation] standing there with this- all these guys in their shirts and ties that- at a construction site. That looks like fun.
The clipping on top here [points] is just related to the Norris’ push for the unicameral legislatures all over the country. This is another [points] sort of more relaxed photo of when President Roosevelt signed the Rural- or the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. Everybody- must be after he signed because everybody's kind of laughing and clapping and everything. So, everybody looks a little more relaxed there.
And then this is just a great old political cartoon [points at presentation]. This is regarding the lame duck amendment and you can see this guy here [points] with his fancy shoes and his hat. The feather on the hat says, “House Machine.” So, it’s kind of the old school machine, politics. And then this [points] of course would be the lame- [noise] Oops, would be the lame duck. And then here comes Norris with his shotgun to take out the lame duck. So, that’s kind of a- political cartoons are great, you can really actually learn quite a bit about some of the issues of the day from those.
So that is kind of the 38 minute version of the life and work of George Norris.
[end of recording]
Remembering the Oklahoma Land Rush
On April 20, 2008 Historian Todd Arrington gave a presentation about the history of the Oklahoma Land Rushes. Topics include: the Louisiana Purchase, the Trail of Tears, the Dawes Act, border towns and surveying the land, firsthand accounts of the land rushes, and Hollywood depictions of the Oklahoma land rush.
Good afternoon folks! Thanks everybody for coming out today to Homestead National Monument of America.
My name is Todd Arrington. I'm the park service historian here at Homestead National Monument of America. And we're going to be talking today just for about 25 or 30 minutes about the Oklahoma Land Rush.
The reason that we decided to do this program now is that we’re actually coming up on the anniversary of the first Oklahoma Land Rush which was April 22nd of 1889. And we are-- so we're kind of coming up on that anniversary and it was a very convenient time to do this type of a program.
So the history of the Oklahoma Land Rush actually doesn't begin in 1889 it actually goes all the way back to 1803 which was the date of the Louisiana Purchase. And this of course was the famous purchase of the entire Louisiana Territory made by the Thomas Jefferson administration from Napoleon Bonaparte and the French government.
Jefferson had actually sent emissaries to Paris not to buy Louisiana, but really to buy just the city of New Orleans which of course we all know is sort of at the bottom of the modern state of Louisiana. And the city of New Orleans was important because it basically controlled commence on the Mississippi River.
And if Jefferson was going to expand the country and he was going to expand commercial opportunities for the United States he really needed to have American control of New Orleans. So he sent emissaries to Paris really to negotiate for the purchase of just the city of New Orleans. And he managed to get the Federalist nominated Congress to agree to spend up to 9 million dollars for the city of New Orleans.
Well when his--the dignitaries, the Americans, got to Paris Napoleon actually, sort of, counter offered with--for 15 million dollars he'd sell the entire Louisiana Territory. Not just the city of New Orleans, but the entire territory. About 820,000 square miles for 15 million dollars.
And so of course, 1803 being 1803 there wasn’t any opportunity to send Jefferson an email or call him on his cell phone or anything [chuckle] like that.
So these emissaries really were faced with a difficult decision which was: do we really have the authority to basically say yes we’ll give you an additional 6 million dollars over what we'd been authorized to spend.
But fortunately, they decided it was a good deal and they just agreed to it. And fortunately, Jefferson was pleased. And although I don’t think he relished the idea of going back to a Federalist Congress that really didn’t like him very much and asking for another 6 million dollars. But anyway, they did purchase Louisiana for 15 million dollars. It worked out to about 3 cents an acre. Which even in 1803 was not a bad price for real estate.
So out of that roughly 820,000 square miles of Louisiana Territory about 70,000 square miles is what we now call the state of Oklahoma which is right here [pointing to a map]. And so the entire--what we now think of as the state of Oklahoma was part of the Louisiana Purchase as was Kansas, and Missouri, and Arkansas, and Nebraska, and then South Dakota, Iowa, and lots of other areas that we're familiar with today. [clears throat]
So this is really where the history of the land rush really begins, not in 1889 but in 1803. Now there were five so-called “Civilized Tribes” that were directly affected by the Oklahoma Land Rush. In the 1820s and 30s these tribes of course lived on their traditional homelands which were primarily in the Southeastern United States: Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama those types of places.
And they were called civilized tribes, quote unquote, because they had actually by this time the 1820s and 30s, adopted a lot of sort of Euro-American traditions and customs. They basically had begun to try to assimilate into the mainstream of American society. A lot of them had written constitutions. They had legal systems. They had--some of them even had slaver which was obviously very, very common in the Southern United States at this time.
So they had sort of become known as civilized tribes because they were kind of basically like--trying to be like the Americans. But in 1830 Andrew Jackson was President and he signed an Indian Removal bill that basically kicked these tribes out of their--these traditional homelands because they lived on very good farmland.
And they were--a lot of these were agricultural tribes. But they lived on good farmland and all of the white farmers around them wanted that land. And they began to put pressure on their elected representatives to-- to stop wasting good land on Indians, basically is how some people put it.
And so Jackson of course was very forceful about his opinions about the superiority of the white man over the Indian and over the African American. And he very happily signed the Indian Removal bill in 1830 which took these tribes out of the Southeastern U.S. and then moved them out into a barren, desolate wasteland that they called Indian Territory and that we now call Oklahoma.
This is where we get the--sort of the famous Trail of Tears. Where these tribes were forcibly removed out of the Southeast and moved out to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. And certain tribes are--sort of have more well-known or more famous Trails of Tears. Really in reality all five of these tribes had their own kind of Trail of Tears because they all made these, sort of, long sojourns out of the Southeast to Oklahoma on foot or on horseback. A lot of them took place in the winter. And a lot of--some tribes lost up to 30 or 40 percent of their populations on these treks from their homes to the Indian Territory.
So the Trail of Tears is kind of spoken of as one sort of big, large event, but in reality it was many, many different events. And it is of course this is Andrew Jackson down here in the corner. [points at presentation]
So Jackson is really regarded in mostly--by most historians as a very effective President, as a good President. But this is of course one area of his record or his administration that his administration that perhaps is not seen quite as positively now as it once was.
The tribes as again--as I said were put out into this Indian Territory as it was called, what we know call Oklahoma. And they were told that the lands will be theirs as long as the stars shine and the rivers flow. So basically, the government was making a promise to them that they would be on this land forever. This was now their land. Sorry we had to kick you out of the other place, but you’re here now and you can stay here forever.
And of course, American Indians were very familiar with promises from the U.S. government [audience chuckles] that were not often honored. And sure enough by 1887 things began to change for--not only for these tribes, but for natives all over the country with the passage of the Dawes Act.
And so I kind of tongue in cheek here say ‘the stars stopped shining and the river stopped flowing.’ That actually is almost quoted from a gentleman that speaks in the new film. So if you want to see that afterwards we’ll be happy to show that again.
The Dawes Act and this is Henry Dawes up here in the corner [pointing at presentation]. He was a senator from Massachusetts. The Dawes Act basically was sort of thought to be an Indian Homestead Act. And the idea was that instead of massive sort of communally owned tribal reservations, each head of household and each head of each Indian household would be given 160 acres just like a homesteader.
And this would then sort of begin to encourage them to assimilate more quickly into American society. Basically, it was an effort to turn them into Christian farmers in, sort of, the American tradition of farming. A lot, as I said before, a lot of these tribes were agricultural even before they came to Oklahoma. But they farmed differently; their farming practices were different.
Certainly, their ideas of land ownership were very different than the U.S., than the mainstream of U.S. society. Most American Indian cultures didn’t really view land as something that could be owned by an individual person; it belonged to everybody. And so--but then of course then you have the complete opposite of that is the Homestead Act where people are specifically working to get their own 160 acres. Their own kind of little piece. And say--they can say, ‘this is mine and that’s yours.’ And that is certainly not the way that most American Indian cultures viewed land ownership.
So anyway, the Dawes Act was designed, and then again not just in--for Oklahoma, but for the entire country to basically hasten the civilization so to speak of American Indians. But of course, if you take each head of household on these reservations and you give them 160 acres at the end you’re going to have a lot of land left over that suddenly these Indians don’t need, right. Because we've taken so much land. You've--they’ve all got their 160 acres and now there's millions of acres of excess.
And what are you gonna do with that land? Well of course you’re going to open it up to farmers. Now in Oklahoma, the five tribes, the Five Civilized Tribes didn’t actually have to adhere to the Dawes Act until after the turn of the 20th century. But the writing was on the wall for them. And they kind of started to think that maybe they needed to start figuring out what they were going to do with their land because they knew that eventually they were gonna lose it if they didn’t do something.
So a lot of them began to think about selling land or ceding land to the U.S. government trying to get anything they could for it, basically. And you can see here [on the presentation] the Creeks and the Seminoles in fact sold nearly 200 million acres of their Okla--their lands in Oklahoma to the U.S. government. Some of the other tribes ceded land to the government. Some of them were involved in treaties with the government about how the land would be used and who would get acess to what land.
And again, treaties with the government, as far as American Indians are concerned, were not necessarily worth the paper they were printed on. So a lot of these lands that had been sold back to the government or had been ceded to the government were then designed to be opened up to settlement by white farmers, by homesteaders.
That’s something that a lot of people don’t realize when you talk about the Oklahoma land rush, is that these people, they were homesteaders. They were going after lands that would be opened up under the Homestead Act. [clears throat]
Now we see here, and I actually have a typo in the--in one of the statements here that these lands opened to settlement by Indian Appropriations bill signed on May--March 2, 1889. It actually was not signed that day it was actually passed by Congress that day. And this gentleman down here [points at presentation] Grover Cleveland, who was President of the United States on March 2, 1889. And on March 2, 1889 Grover Cleveland had exactly two days left in his administration because on March 4, 1889 this gentleman [points again] became President, Benjamin Harrison.
And basically, Harrison had this Indian Appropriations bill basically handed to him. It had already been passed by Congress. Cleveland had basically said he thought it was a good idea. And so it lands in Harrison’s lap and he signs it on March 23, 1889. And basically, it says that almost 2 million acres of land in Oklahoma is gonna be open to settlement because these tribes have turned these lands back over to the U.S. government. And they are now encouraging white settlers, white homesteaders to come and actually take land in Oklahoma.
April 22, 1889 was the day that bill set for the day that those lands would officially be opened. And they would be officially opened at noon. And so why they chose April 22nd, I don’t know. I know it was a Monday maybe they just wanted to start the week off right. I’m not sure. But at any rate April 22, 1889 was the day that was chosen as when these lands would become open.
It was a little different then for-- like sometimes when people come here to Homestead [National Monument of America] they think Daniel Freeman who homesteaded this property where the park is built. Did he have to make a land rush? And the answer is no. He was here. And on January 1, 1863 when homesteading actually went into effect there was just so much land. That there was nothing like this where everybody was lined up waiting for midnight. It was nothing like that. Because there was so much land and really so few people that were out here to take advantage of it.
Well by 1889 everybody knew about homesteading, everybody wanted land, everybody knew that all this land was gonna open up at noon on April 22nd. So you can image what happened. That all these people just made this mad dash for Kansas, and Texas, and Arkansas, states that border Oklahoma to get ready. To be there to get land on April 22, 1889. So it was a very different situation than what happened in most areas of country. And there really weren’t that many other cases, that I’ve read about at least, in other parts of the country where something like this happened. Where a very specific piece of ground was opened up on a very specific date, at a very specific time.
So this is kind of a--sort of an anomaly in homesteading history as far as I can tell. So a lot of these sort of border towns on--in these other states like Kansas and Arkansas and Texas really sort of ballooned in population. And because all these people sort of showed up out of nowhere to start getting ready for the land rush. Some of these little towns that had 50 or 100 residents suddenly had 20 or 30 thousand.
And so of course you can imagine what kinds of businesses were opening up. Saloons and that kind of stuff were opening up on every street corner to keep people occupied and to keep 'em busy until April 22nd.
One of the interesting things about Harrison’s proclamation was that he did specifically state in the proclamation that anyone that went into the land that was gonna be opened on April 22nd before the land was officially opened. Whether it was three weeks before or three minutes before would not, if they were caught of course, would be kicked out and would not be able to come back to take a homestead there.
And so they were trying to make sure that nobody got in there illegally. Basically to get land unfairly. And those are people that of course became known as the Sooners. Because they go in too soon. The people that were there in the saloons and all these other places waiting for the rush, that were all high on going into Oklahoma were Boomers.
They were Boomers for Oklahoma. But the people who went in too soon were the Sooners. So just to make this a little [laughs] make it a little--put it in a language everybody can relate to Oklahoma football has this whole thing about Boomer Sooner. Well this is where the Boomer Sooner comes from. The Boomers were the people that were gonna be taking land legally. And the Sooners were the ones that were gonna be taking it illegally. So anyway this is--my office mate is an Oklahoma grad so she was very happy to see me put this in the PowerPoint.
But the next time you're talking to Oklahoma fans let 'em know that their name-- their team's named after a bunch of cheaters. They’ll like that a lot. [chuckles]
They are pretty serious about football down there too. So anyway, so before the rush you have, like I said you have these massive--this massive influx of people coming into these towns. And lots of violence and lots of other sort of questionable things going on. Because it's just all these people crushed into these very small spaces.
The army is actually sent in. Some cavalry units from the U.S. Army are sent into the lands that are gonna be opened up. Not only to maintain--try to maintain law and order to try to keep out Sooners. But also, to help with surveys. One of the provisions of the Homestead Act was that you can only homestead on land that had been surveyed.
And that’s--the surveys were important because that is how the government kept track of who was where and what was available and what wasn’t available. So the land did have to be surveyed prior to someone taking a homestead on it.
But of course, how do you survey 2 million acres of land in five weeks? Well there's not that many surveyors in the U.S. government so they actually send the army in to help with the surveys. So you can imagine how some of those surveys looked like. [audience laughs] They probably were a little cattycorner because these guys are trained in cavalry tactics, they're not trained to be land surveyors. So there probably were some pretty interesting looking maps there.
This is just a photo here of kind of what a land office. [points to presentation] I don’t even know if it is from Oklahoma. It’s just to give you an idea of what land officers were and what they were all about. They built two--initially built two land offices at Guthrie and Kingfisher. Although really those areas barely existed. I mean they were just dots on a map. There may have been one building here and one building there. But they weren't--it’s not like there were big towns or anything in Oklahoma Terr-- in the Indian Territory. They would soon become big towns of course because of the rush. But those-- that’s where the first two initial land offices were built in the territory. To get ready to start taking in these massive numbers of homestead claims. Because when people made a homestead claim, whether it was in Oklahoma or anywhere else. Once they decided where they wanted to go, they had to go to that land office and fill out paperwork.
And so those land offices were going to be very important because for the homestead to be legal all of the paperwork had to be done. So those land offices in Guthrie and Kingfisher and other places later on would be very important.
As I said, the border towns kind of got crowded with all of the Boomers getting ready to make the land rush. Roughly 12,000 quarter sections or twelve thousand 160-acre plots of land were set to be available on April 22nd and there were approximately 50,000 people there vying for them. So I’m not-- wasn’t much of a math major, but you know it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that most people that are gonna be making the land rush are not gonna get land.
And so then some of these ruffians that were hanging out in the border towns waiting for the land rush were armed to the teeth with pistols and knifes and all this. And then 160 acres or six feet they didn't-- nobody cared. I don’t give a damn which. So it's they’re either gonna get land or they are gonna get killed. Either way they’re happy [chuckles] I guess.
The rush itself again by early morning on the 22nd people were starting to line up and then by 9 AM or so, somebody was saying the sound wasn't human at all, but like thousands of wild animals penned up. All the people, all the conversations, all the horses and you can just imagine. People were able to go into Oklahoma on horseback, on foot, in wagons.
And then they did something that I think is pretty interesting. They actually allowed a number of trains to go in as well because there was train track that had already been laid into Okla-- into the Indian Territory. And they determined that since not everybody had access to a horse or a wagon or something like that, they would allow trains to go in, but they could only go 15 miles an hour maximum because that's about the rate that the horse can run.
So there actually were people that were going into Oklahoma on trains. So that’s pretty interesting. And there's a photo here that I’ll show you later on that actually shows you some of the trains in the background. That’s really neat.
So anyway, at noon on-- they blew the-- they blew revelry on the bugle and the rush started. And these are just a couple photos here [on the presentation]. This one here on the left is actually right before the rush people just standing around. And then obviously the one on the right here is shortly thereafter. [chuckles] After the bugle had blown and people were actually, literally in the process of making the rush.
So there have been lots of movies that depict the land rush. And you know this is one-- this is one of those rare episodes in history where Hollywood has kind of gotten it right actually. Which doesn’t happen very often, but because they usually just portray it as this mad dash and it’s just noise and dust and violence. And I think that's really pretty much how it was based on everything that I can-- that I’ve done for this.
There was a movie, I don't know 15-16 years ago , Far and Away. Anybody remember that? Had Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. I’ve seen lots of pictures of homesteaders, none of them looked like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. [audience laughs] But anyway. [chuckles]
This whole movie was about these Irish immigrants coming to the United States and at the end of the movie-- the climax of the movie is they make the Oklahoma land rush. And of course, they get land.
And it's very violent. I mean there are people hitting each other, riding on horseback whacking each other with sticks. And you see people in the background getting shot. There's claim jumpers, this guy has made his claim and somebody else comes along and wants it so they just blow the guy away. It's very, very, very, very violent.
Couple of good quotes for you here about the rush. This is from Harper's Weekly just a few weeks after the land rush. This was from a someone-- a reporter that was actually there to see it.
"The sweet notes of a Calvary bugle rose and hung a moment upon the startled air. It was noon. The last barrier of savagery..." That being the Indians of course. "...in the United States was broken down. Moved by the same impulse each driver lashed his horses furiously. Each rider dug his spurs into his willing stead. And each man on foot caught his breath and darted forward. A cloud of dust rose when the home seekers-- where the home seekers had stood in line. And when it had drifted away before the gentle breeze, the horses, and wagons, and men were tearing across the open country like fiends. The horsemen had the best of it from the start. It was a fine race for a few minutes, but soon the riders began to spread out like a fan. And by the time they had reached the horizon they were scattered as far as the eye could see. Even the fleetest of the horsemen found upon reaching their chosen localities that men in wagons and men on foot were there before them. As it was clearly impossible for a man on foot to outrun a horseman the inference is plain that Oklahoma had been entered hours before the appointed time." There's your Sooners.
"Notwithstanding the assertions of the soldiers that every Boomer had been driven out of Oklahoma. The fact remains that the woods along the streams within Oklahoma were literally full of people Sunday night." Which was the night before. "Nine tenths of these people made settlement upon the land illegally. The other tenth would have done so had there been any desirable land left to settle upon."
So that's a good sort of description. Not only of the rush itself, but also the fact that a lot of those Sooners had not gotten caught and were there illegally.
Here's a-- let's see. Here's a good one about the trains. "There was a loud whistle from the engine answered by a shout from the train and we were in Oklahoma. As we crossed the line, squatters sprang out of the woods on every side and it was evident from the appearance of some of them that they had been in hiding for weeks. What happened when the train began to slacken at Guthrie beggars all description. Boys, middle-aged men, and old fellows threw themselves off the platform and commenced a wild rush. Some carrying their grips and others dropping everything in the eagerness of the chase. Each man as he found an unclaimed lot preceded to stake it out and hold it down. By the time the men on train number one had each selected his lot the townsite had extended away beyond the half-section reserved. And long before the majority had quit running, train number 2 pulled in quite as heavily loaded as its predecessor."
And then one last from the Manhattan Kansas National List, another newspaper. "Then people went out like flies out of a sugar casket. In five minutes, a square mile of the prairie was spotted with squatters looking like flies on a sticky paper. A large number of women were among the company and among these we noticed one who hobbled on a crutch. There was a continuous line of vehicles like the supply train of an army. The line was continuous for many miles and the dust rolled over them and all were of one color of grime. We passed populous towns built in an hour whose thousands must have had a distressful night on the bare earth. We had seen the sight of the century."
So, there's a few good quotes sort of about the madness and the chaos of the land rush. Just a few-- another good quote here. "Unlike Rome, the city of Guthrie was built in a day." [audience laughs] That's from Harper's Weekly right after the land rush.
And then really, almost literally by the night-- the end of the day on April 22nd all of these towns that are still in existence in Oklahoma were-- had been begun. Because so many people had just made this massive influx into Oklahoma all in one day. Oklahoma City and Norman and all these other areas that are still in existence. So that's pretty interesting.
There's another good story that I read in here too about this issue of the Sooners going in before they were allowed to be there. One guy talked about he was making-- he was legal. I mean, he had gone in at noon, and he got to a place and there was a guy already there who had already plowed a field. And already had onions coming up out of the ground. [audience laughs]
And so, the first-- the legal-- the Boomer, the legal guy says 'Well, what's this all about?' And the guy says 'Oh I've only been here fifteen minutes. The soil here is so good...' [audience laughs] 'That these onions have just come up. It's magic.' [chuckles] So anyway.
So that just-- obviously these quotes and these stories they really do kind of speak to a few different issues involved with homesteading. One is there was a good amount of fraud involved in homesteading. A lot of people did make claims, not only in Oklahoma, but in other places illegally.
And then the one quote here talks about that there were a good number of women. Women could be homesteaders. Single women, widows, divorcees, what they called deserted wives whose husbands had run off on them. They could all be homesteaders. A married couple couldn't have two homesteads, but women could be homesteaders. And that was pretty progressive for the 1860s and '70s and '80s. Long before women could even vote. That they could be homesteaders.
And so, we know based on this evidence that there were women making the Oklahoma land rush as well. I know-- I read another good one about a lady that ended up in one of these border towns before April 22nd. And she was a widow and she had children-- oh no, she met a guy who had-- who was a widower and had some children with him. And they made a deal that he was gonna make the rush if she agreed to stay there in Arkansas City or wherever it was, one of these border towns and watch his children. If he got land, he would come back and marry her. And sure enough, he came back and they got married. [audience laughs] So, go figure.
Necessity is the mother of invention they say. So he needed somebody to take care of the children and she needed a way to get some land in Oklahoma and it all worked out. Anyway, I'm not sure how many of those stories there are. Or how many of those cases there were, but it certainly did happen.
So after the rush, I mean obviously Oklahoma is established relatively quickly. Here you can see Oklahoma City talking about how much-- how many professionals they have here just shortly after the rush. 53 physicians, 97 lawyers, more lawyers than anything, go figure. 47 barbers, 28 surveyors, 29 real estate agents, and 11 dentists. So obviously they are cosmopolitan society with all of these professionals hanging around.
And they began to really-- they began to build up-- build the area up and by May 2nd of 1890 Oklahoma territory was officially established by the U.S. government.
The 1889 rush is the most famous because it was the first, but it was not the only Oklahoma land rush. In fact, there were five total there were four more after the 1889 rush. In 1891, 1893, 1901 and 1911 there were additional land rushes.
This photo here [points at presentation] is actually from the September 16, 1893 rush which was for the Cherokee Strip which was a strip of land up in-- sort of in northern Oklahoma near what we think of now is the Panhandle. That rush had over 100,000 people so actually that 1893 one was larger than the 1889 one. But the 1889 is the most famous because it was the first.
The first three, the 1889 the ‘91 and the ‘93 they used basically the same system they used in-- that we've been talking about where people just lined up and they just blew the bugle or the cannon and people just made a mad dash and got whatever they could.
By 1901 they had sort of gone to more of a lottery system. So if you’ve seen those old pictures like during World War One and World War Two when they're doing the draft. The military draft and the guy has the blindfold on and he's reaching into like fish bowl or something. They did something similar to that in the 1901 and 1911 rushes.
But they were giving away land in Oklahoma well into the 20th century because the government kept taking land from native tribes. So as long as there was more land that could be taken there was more land that could be given away to homesteaders.
This is the picture I was telling you I would show you [points at presentation]. This is from the 1893 rushing in the Cherokee Strip. I like this photo. You can see the guys in the front here with the wagons. But I like it really because of the train in the background and you can see the people just loaded up on top hanging out the windows.
I mean this is how-- I mean land hunger was a pretty insatiable disease at this point in American history. And there were a lot of people that wanted land and so you can see that. This is the ‘93 rush I just talked about that was-- had over 100,000 people.
But it's a pretty interesting chapter in American history. It's really important to the history that we talk about here at Homestead. Just because these people were homesteaders and-- so there's a lot of impacts on the natural environment. There's a lot of impacts on the people that were making the rush. There's a lot of impact on the native tribes that were on the land before the homesteaders.
So all of these things are things that we talk about thematically here at the monument. And so for that reason the Oklahoma land rush is something that's really important to the history that we deal with here every day.
If you go downstairs into our exhibits, you'll see a few things about Oklahoma. A few photos and such. And again, in the film here, there are some elements of that as well.
So in fact I was appalled that our Superintendent actually signed off on about a three second clip of the Boomer Sooner schooner wagon there in a Oklahoma game going into our film. Because we have footage, you know real footage, of the Oklahoma land rush and you can see these wagons just sort of tearing across the prairie.
And then it's flashed to modern day and there's the Boomer Sooner riding across the football field. So I was a little surprised that he agreed to that, but anyway it's in there. So anyway, anybody have any questions at all? I'd be happy to try to answer your questions if you have any.
Woman in Audience: You mention that movie, Far and Away, I'm just trying to think. I remember something about a stake or a flag on a stick. So how did they--? I know they claimed it. But how did they actually claim? Did they have to put a stake in or pull lit up and take it or how was that?
Todd: Basically, it was planting a flag just-- which basically just said somebody is here.
Woman in Audience: Okay
Todd: And then-- but then once the furor died down then each of those people would have to go to one of those land offices and actually go through the legal process. Fill out the paperwork, pay the little- the few dollars in administrative costs to the government.
The flag was really just to plant in the ground to say someone has claimed this.
Woman in Audience: Okay
Todd: Now obviously, it wouldn't be hard if you have left to go to the land office, for somebody else to come along and plunk your flag out of the ground and throw it in the bushes. And now it's their homestead. So that's why there really was a lot of violence. That's where we get the term claim jumpers.
People that were basically going in and living-- getting on to somebody else's claim and claiming it as their own. But the flag-- the idea of the flag was really just to plant it there so that everybody else knew that this land was taken.
Yeah and of course, that's very dramatic in the movie. It's all in slow motion and Tom Cruise has got his flag. And he's-- like there's any doubt that Tom Cruise isn’t gonna get what he wants, right? But including like the most beautiful homesteader on the prairie, Nicole Kidman.
So yeah, it's some-- but like I said this is one case where it seems like Hollywood kind of has gotten it right. I mean it was it-- 'cause it was just chaos. And so I think they're very good at showing that. The other interesting thing about Far and Away though [clears throat] is you see the violence. You see the guys, claim jumpers, shooting other people. You see the horses and the wagons and I don't remember if the trains are in there. It's been too long since I've seen it.
You see about three seconds of American Indians. There's one clip right-- is all. Right it’s right at the end of the movie. With-- the land rush is sort of the climactic scene in the movie. Right as they blow the bugle, and everybody takes off it's about three seconds of two natives standing there just kind of looking at each other going ‘What?’ And that's it. That's all you see.
Now granted that's not what the movie was about. But there's just really no acknowledgement there that that's what this is being built on. This land that was basically-- was promised to one set of people and was basically taken away from them to give to other people.
So anyway, but yeah you don't see that in the-- Far and Away. There's some other movie that came out a few years ago that dealt with the land rush which I've not seen that. I don't know if they deal with it either. But anyway, that is something in the Hollywood version that does often get left behind.
Because they're talking about the heroic story of the immigrants and they're not dealing with sort of the dark underbelly of the history. Hollywood certainly get better at that. But I mean as far as showing the-- sort of the chaos of the rush itself I think they've done a good job of that. So any other questions?
Man in Audience: Where were the Indians moved to?
Todd: They weren't necess-- they weren't really moved per say. And if I said that I probably should have found a better term. They just sort of were creatively boxed in. For example, like when the Creeks and the Seminoles sold two-- almost 2,000,000 acres back to the government. Well it's government land now. So you have to go find somewhere else to go.
So they would-- they'd go live in other areas that-- where they still had land. And then when the Dawes Act came about-- again they basically did away with reservations for a while. And made each person the head of a household. Gave them the 160 acres. And then in that case they would just-- all the land that was leftover after they've given everybody there 160 acres they just opened up the leftover land.
So it's not-- the government didn't necessarily-- although they did this at other times in other places. They didn't really go in with bayonets and say get out. Which they did do in 1830 in-- to these five tribes in the Southeast. They basically either took-- kind of tricked them into selling the land or ceding the land. Or they just-- they gave them all their 160 acres and then whatever was leftover that the Indians didn't have any right to anymore. They just open settlement on that.
So it was kind of tricky and I mean if treatment of American Indians is basically a black eye in this country's history. Just as it is treatment of African Americans, treatment of women for a long time.
We don't do dishonor to the past by talking about those things and getting them out there and talking. And you know there are some pretty ugly chapters and the way that the American Indians were treated was one of those. But we can learn from that and we can make sure that kind of stuff doesn't happen again.
But that is that is a big part of-- not just Oklahoma that's a big part of homesteading history really is-- that it was great for millions of people. But it had very bad impacts on other people as well. And we have to acknowledge both sides of that. So and again in the film I think that shows up very well as well. Any other questions?
Woman 2 in Audience: When they went in there. How did they know there are 160 acres of land?
Todd: The surveys had been done and there were corners--
Woman 2 in Audience: So they would map?
Todd: Yeah they would. Well, the areas that-- where the quarter sections were marked off were marked. They had been surveyed; there were cornerstones put out. And so they could say, this is-- here's 160 here, here's 160 there. And then of course they plant a flag just to show everybody that someone's here now. So move on. [chuckles]
But they had been surveyed. Now again those surveys were probably not the most professionally done surveys because they had to do a lot of surveys in a very short amount of time. And they had soldiers doing a lot of the-- who didn't know anything about surveying. But yeah, they were-- the areas were marked.
Woman 2 in Audience: So they started agriculture. What kind of agriculture was it?
Todd: What kind of what?
Woman 2 in Audience: Agriculture.
Todd: Oh agriculture. Gosh well obviously the one guy was growing onions. [audience laughs] Long before he was supposed to be there.
As far as what kind of crops they grow today. I couldn't tell you in Oklahoma. I don't really know. I think that they do some wheat and stuff like that down there. But other than that, I'm not real sure. That's a good question and I didn't even think about that. Obviously, they have an agricultural base because they do have a lot of homesteaders. There obviously was some-- there obviously were some crops that did very well there.
Thanks a lot.
[end of recording]
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