Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Column: Still Reason to Celebrate the 1889 Land Run


Still Reason to Celebrate the 1889 Land Run
By Tyler Williamson

In a telling example of the outrage mob, cancel culture, and the deep-seated need to get offended at everything, the 1889 Land Run has been canceled. You may remember the controversy surrounding Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) and its decision to remove a monument depicting the 1889 Land Run. The irony is that OCCC most likely would not exist were it not for the land run, but I digress.

I don’t have any special affinity for the monument. It was merely a small slab of concrete with a depiction more myth than reality. Interim President Thomas was at least partially correct when he said the monument wasn’t historically accurate. However, in a separate statement, the Vice President of OCCC stated that they removed the monument because it “celebrated cruelty and oppression.” Granted, the administration is within their rights to remove the monument for any reason, but it is unfortunate that they chose to paint the ‘89ers, and the 1889 Land Run in general, in such a light. In doing so, the administration went so far as to substitute a different myth for reality.

At the 1889 Institute, we celebrate the year 1889 as a pivotal year in the development of Oklahoma as a state, but even more, we celebrate the 1889 Land Run because we believe it “typifies the American ideal of opportunity – readily available to anyone with the personal initiative to take it, with no expectation of equal results.”

As a result, we have added a section to our website under the “About” page, with a concise history of the “Unassigned Land” and the events that led to the land run of April 22, 1889.

The “Unassigned Land” was not stolen. In reality, aside from a handful of cattle barons and cowboys, the occasional attempted Boomer settlement, and employees of the railroad, it was uninhabited. It was in the public domain. And yet – partly due to the influence of some tribal leaders and cattle barons – homesteaders were barred from entering and claiming land that legally should have been available to them under the Homestead Act of 1862.

Of course, the ‘89ers weren’t angels. Neither were the tribes, the cattle barons, or the U.S. Government. It is very hard to place individuals on sides or “teams” because each and every individual had a different motive.  Rather than painting the history of Oklahoma as either a history of racism and oppression or some romanticized version of the pioneer spirit, we should realize that history, and the people who make it, do not fit neatly into a box or ideology. Human beings are complex – rarely loyal to principle, ideology, or party, but mostly to their own perceived self-interest.

Tyler Williamson is a Research Associate at  1889 Institute and can be reached at twilliamson@1889institute.org.

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