The Agitator - Capt. David L. Payne - Opening of the Strip

(Information from the 1904 Souvenir Edition - of the Alva Pioneer, Friday, Jan. 1, 1904, Vol. 11, No. 16, by W. F. Hatfield, Alva, Woods Co., Okla. W. F. Hatfield, Publisher Daily and Weekly Pioneer editor, sold the Souvenir Edition in 1904 for 50-Cents. It was printed to celebrate Alva's tenth anniversary since the opening of 1893.)

As an intelligent, vigorous and progressive frontiersman he stands foremost in the history of Oklahoma. He was born in Grant County, Indiana, Dec. 30. 1836, came west to Doniphan County, Kansas, in 1858. In his hunting expeditions all over the west and southwest he became acquainted with the country generally and was employed by the government as a scout, and was intimately acquainted with Kit Carson, Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill, California Joe, General Custer, and other noted westerners.

When the civil war came, he enlisted in the 4th regment of Kansas volunteers, afterwards in the 3rd infantry and later the 10th regiment. He served three years, returned to Doniphan County, and in the fall of 1864 was elected to the legislature, serving in the sessions of 1864 and 1865. He again enlisted as a private in Co. G, 8th regiment of western volunteers in March, 1865 and served until March 1866. His third service in the army was in Oct. and Nov. 1867, and his last service was Oct., 1868, to Oct., 1869. He also served a term as postmaster of Levenworth, KS. He again resumed the occupation of hunting and scouting and was swidely known as the Cimarron Scout.

In 1870, Capt. Payne settled in Sedgwick County, KS., near Wichita, and the next year he was again elected to the legislature, and, as before, he served his people faithfully and satisfactorily. In 1879 he became interested in what is now known as old Oklahoma -- the tour counties of Logan, Oklahoma, Kingfisher and Canadian, -- a body of land of about 1,400,000 acres in the center of the Indian Territory which it was claimed the Indians had no title to from the government, and that the people were entitled to settle upon and make homes. He formed a large colony that early in Dec., 1880, assembled on the border near Arkansas City, KS., on the banks of Bitter Creek, and the government had a body of soldiers there to prevent the Boomers from entering the territory. But Capt. Payne and his 500 followers perfected an organization and moved 22 miles west to Hunnewell, Kansas, and on Sunday, Dec. 12th they held religious service, the U. S. troops attending. The opening song was America, the text of the sermon was from Exodus -- The Lord commandeth unto Moses to go forth and possess the promised land; appropriate hymns were sung and the service closed with singing the Star Spangled Banner.

Many were in favor of moving on into the territory, but the commanding officer of the troops told them that he would have to obey orders and arrest all who attempted such a move. Dec. 13th a meeting was held and Dr. Robert Wilson was sent to Washington, D.C., to consult the president about the situation, and the colony moved next day 15 miles west to Caldwell, KS., whose citizens gave them a warm welcome and endorsed their undertaking to settle in Oklahoma. The president and congress promised nothing, Capt. Payne was arrested and taken before U.S. court at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, and had a hearing March 7, 1881. He was required to give a bond of $1000 which he did and came home. He made four other attempts, with a large number of followers, to settle on the lands, but each time their property was destroyed and all were arrested by the soldiers and taken out of the territory, they each time demanding a trial before the courts.

Their last effort was made in the spring and summer of 1884, when there were 500 men and 250 wagons and teams entered the coveted territory, but all were forced to leave, and Capt. Payne and his officers were arrested and marched on foot (the object of the soldiers being to harass and wear them out) first to Texas and then back through the territory to Ft. Smith, Ark., where they were refused trial. They were then taken to Topeka, KS., and with the usual western spirit of insisting that something be done, and public sentiment strongly demanding it, were given a trial in U.S. court at the fall term 1884, which resulted in a decision that Capt. Payne was guilty of no crime; all were turned loose, and the excitement was intense among people all over the west and southwest who desired a homestead or business location in Oklahoma.

Capt. Payne and his original followers forthwith begun a reorganization of the colony and were nearly ready to again start when, on November 28, 1884, at the breakfast table in the Hotel DeBarnard in Wellington, KS., he fell dead, apparently without pain or struggle. His body was buried in the beautiful Wellington cemetery in the presence of the largest number of people that ever attended a burial in the southwest. Several efforts have been made to remove his body to Oklahoma, but so far unsuccessful. His mother was a cousin of the famous Davy Crockett after whom he was named.

Captain W. L. Couch, one of Payne's most trusted officers, succeeded to the command of the Boomers expedition, and, with H. H. Safford, secretary; G. F. Brown, treasurer, and E. S. Wilcox, generalissimo, Capt. Couch and 450 followers marched into the territory and camped about 15 miles southwest of the present city of Stillwater, near which was also at that time Butler & Martin's cattle ranch which firm was said to have 20,000 to 25,000 cattle on the range. A few miles farther west was the Fitzgerald cattle ranch, and there were numerous others all over the country. The homeseekers claimed that the cattlemen and many government officials had a very strong and rich organization to prevent any congressional act opening the country to settlement, and they had plenty of circumstantial evidence to prove it.

However, Gen. Hatch, in command of about 500 soldiers appeared at the 'Boomers' camp on Jan. 12, 1885, and demanded surrender. His demand was conciliatory and to a degree sympathetic, but he explained to the men that he was under orders from headquarters to remove them and he hoped they would not compel him and his soldiers to use force to carry out his orders. The weather was cold, Gen. Hatch confiscated all supplies on the road from Kansas to the colony, and the discouraged band broke camp and returned to the state, Capt. Couch and his officers being arrested and required to give bond for appearance in U.S. court. They appeared at Wichita, Feb. 10, 1885, but no witnesses appeared and they were discharged. Public sentiment was again aroused and everybody was demanding that congress do something -- drive the cattlemen out or permit the people to go in and take possession of it. And the agitation spread more rapidly than ever.

Photo was taken right after the start, at a point on the west line of the Chilocco Indian reservation, 5 miles south & 5 west of Arkansas City, KS. The wind was blowing a terrific gale from the south. The earth & grass were dry, a severe drouth having prevailed for nearly 3 months prior to that day. Five minutes after the start had made the air like a fog of dust and grass. Those who were behind the main push were nearly suffocated.

Wm. H. Osborn, at one time Capt. Payne's private secretary, prepared a petition to congress, circulated it all over the west and southwest and secured the signatures of thousands; men of every occupation wrote personal letters to members of congress, and influential men in every state, and requested their assistance. The newspapers discussed the matter and kept it constantly before the people. But the whole story is too long for our space and so we will close this chapter, and suffice to say that matters were adjusted with the Indians, congress passed the necessary laws, and the first opening occurred April 22, 1889, Logan, Kingfisher, Oklahoma and Canadian counties. Capt. Couch was killed a few months after the opening by a man named Adams, in a fight about a homestead near Oklahoma City, and thus fate prevented the two leaders from getting any benefit from the opening of this great and fertile country to settlement.

Then the Cheyenne and Arapahoe, Iowa, Pottawatomie, Sac and Fox Indian reservations opened April 19, 1892, now the counties of Blaine, Dewey, Day, Roger Mills, Custer, Washita, Pottawatomie, Payne, and Lincoln; and the Cherokee Strip opened September 16, 1893, setting the date of September 16th, for the opening of the Cherokee Strip, and of course everything was excitement in the west again. The arrangements of the Secretary of the Interior including a system of registration, by which officers of the government recorded names and issued to each prospective settler a certificate which he later presented to the officers of the U.S. land office when he went to file. Before one could get a certificate he had to subscribe to an oath that he was either the head of a family or over 21 years of age, a citizen of the United States, didn't own more than 160 acres of land in any state, and that he wanted land in the strip for a home and not for any company, corporation or syndicate; also that he had not completed a homestead entry elsewhere excepting in accordance with the commutation act, (which permitted one to pay for a homestead after a limited residence upon it.)

The scenes and tribulations experienced by the people while waiting for their turn to register at the booths located at Arkansas City, Caldwell, Cameron and Kiowa, Kansas, and at Orlando and Hennessey, Oklahoma, will be vividly remembered for life by every one of the thousands that assembled at those places.

For many days before and on the day of the opening soldiers were scattered all long the line 168 miles long, and on the eventful day they rode into the coveted country about 200 yards, and at precisely 12 o'clock fired guns in the air as a signal for the start.

Trains, half a dozen in line, and loaded with people from steps to top at every point where one could hang on, stood on the tracks of the Santa Fe at Arkansas City, Kiowa and Orlando, and on the Rock Island at Caldwell and Hennessey; and the conductors and engineers had orders not to run over fifteen miles per hour and to stop every five miles in order to give the persons on horseback and in all manner of conveyances an equal chance with those on the trains.

It was amusing to watch from the train the immense throng racing over the prairie; now we would see one stop his team, jump out of his vehicle, plant a stake in the ground on which was tied a flag or a rag, to signify that he had settled then and there; and again one's vehicle would break down or his horse would fall down and he would forthwith plant his stake and wave his hat good humoredly at those passing him. And it is a remarkable fact that there were only a few cases of persons being seriously injured. But the poor dumb beasts suffered. Men would ride their horses until they were tired out and leave them on the dry prairie to die of thirst. Anxious homeseekers were constantly jumping off the trains with their bundles of bedding and provisions, and starting east and west across the prairie. These brave and sturdy pioneers have astonished the world with their thriftiness and progress and made Oklahoma the brightest star in the constellation of states.

We have endeavored, in the foregoing early history, to briefly record in general the occurrences and their dates in the whole territory, that will likely prove of most value and interest to the young people of the present and future. The remainder of our book will be devoted almost exclusively to Alva, with a special reference at times to the county of Woods and the Territory at large.

Capt. F. R. Hardee and 50 men, of the Third U. S. Cavalry; and Company E. 13th Infantry, from Fort Supply, had charge of affairs in this part of the territory with headquarters at Kiowa until the day of the opening, then they moved to Alva, camped on the public square and remained several days. They were a splendid lot of fellows and were glad of the opportunity to get out of the fort for even a short time. They heartily enjoyed the scenes and incidents of the opening and our old timers even yet talk of their pleasant visits with the soldier boys during their stay in Alva.

Alva Pioneer 1904 Links
Agitator & Oklahoma Run
U. S. Land Office
Alva Tidbits of 1903
1904 - Early Recollections
1st Bridge & Frame Building
Oklahoma Broom Corn
Oklahoma Beats the World
Scott Cummins, Pilgrim Bard
Tenderfoot Girl in the West
In Oklahoma - Early 1900 poem
Woods Co. Schools - 1904
Alva Pioneer Staff
1st Newspaper
The Scramble for Land
Eagle Furniture Store & Undertaking
1904 Letter to Editor - John Culver
Summary - Annual Report 1903