The Cattle Trails & Cherokee Outlet

16 October 1997, Thursday

After the Civil War, the demand for beef by hungry Easterners led Texas ranchers to drive their six million head of longhorn cattle through the Cherokee Strip to railhead markets in Kansas and Missouri.

The most famous cattle trail (Chisholm Trail) that crossed the Outlet was named for the namesake of Jesse Chisholm (A Scotch and Cherokee trader). Chisholm made his first trip up the trail in 1865. Over the next 20 years millions of cattle thundered across the Strip driven by men who had spurred a new occupation -- the cowboy.

You can read more about the Chisholm Trail at Glen Seeber's Website locate at Glen lives around Duncan, Oklahoma and has done extensive research on The Chisholm Trail. It is worth taking a look-see! You won't be disappointed!

It became obvious that raising cattle on the lush grass of the Outlet was more profitable than driving herds from Texas. Soon numerous, sprawling ranches appeared in the Strip.

According to John Cable's research in the Birth of Freedom:

  • ". . . The cattle business was the paramount reason that white people came to the Freedom area, long before the US Government opened the Cherokee Outlet for the homesteading. As far back as the 1860s the Outlet, with its fine grass and good water, was most desired by the cattlemen. It was first used by the Texas cattlemen during their annual drives north to the markets and railheads in Kansas. They would start their drives as early as grazing permitted, then hold their cattle in the Outlet for a few weeks so they could be fattened on the lush grass. It is said that in 1866 as many as 600,000 cattle were driven across the Outlet. That same year Kansas ranchers were driving herds across the border to graze. It is told that neither the Texas nor Kansas cattlemen had any right to use the Outlet because it belonged to the Cherokee Nation."
  • John goes on to explain, ". . . The cattlemen organized what became known as the Cherokee Livestock Association under Kansas Law . . . In 1883, signed a five year lease with the Cherokees for $100,000. The Association surveyed and defined the boundaries of each range, leaving wide strips for cattle trails. The west branch of the Chisholm Trail passed very close to the Freedom community."

    Six million acres were leased from the Cherokees. Seven years later, President Benjamin Harrison ordered the ranchers to remove all cattle from the Strip. There were plans in place to open the expansive ranchlands for settlement by eager pioneers.

    According to John's research you will find that things went from bad to worse for the cattlemen. Those settlers seeking new homes and new opportunities came pouring across the border through the Outlet in April 1889 to join the race for homes in Oklahoma Territory.

    Pioneers who wanted the opportunity to settle on other lands (including the Outlet) were encouraged by the opening of the Outlet and the cry for pioneer settlements was taken up by the railroads, the border towns, wholesale centers and the press. The sale of the Indian lands to the government for settlement was becoming a final certainty and settlers were pouring onto the rangelands until there was no satisfaction in grazing cattle.

    During 1889, the bombardment of settlers across the border and the Associations failure to meet some of its lease payments, the Cherokees made numerous complaints to E. M. Hewins (president of the Association). Hewins replied, "The country was being overrun by Boomers and outlaws."

    It got to the point where ranchers could not depend on the protection from either the Cherokees or the government. As a result -- A large part of the grass had been burned, forcing ranchers to ship many of their herds to market prematurely. It caused the end of the great cattle herds to come to an end in 1891 and the government closed the lands to prepare for the opening of the Cherokee Outlet for settlement.

    Cherokee Outlet . . . (Cherokee Strip)

    Map of Cherokee OutletIn 1891 the US Government forbade any further grazing on Outlet lands, and ordered the ranchmen of the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association to remove all cattle by December 1. The Cherokee Outlet was preparing to be purchased from the Cherokee Indian Nation by the Government for $8.5 million (approximately $1.40 per acre.)

    The Cherokee Strip extended 226 miles from east to west and 58 miles north to south. It was larger than the states of Conneticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined. There were thirteen northern counties and 9,400 miles that made up the portion of the Cherokee Strip which was designated as the Cherokee Outlet.

    Try to imagine the thousands of buffalo that roamed the open plains as you glance out across the vast horizon of the Cherokee Strip. The land is as diverse as America is itself, with rolling osage prairies in the east to gypsum hills, sand dunes, flatlands and the rugged Glass Mountains in the west.

    In 1828 the Cherokee Outlet was given by the US government to the Cherokees so the tribe could cross freely to hunting grounds in the west. The Cherokees were assigned lands in northeastern Oklahoma and never lived in the Cherokee Strip.

    The Cherokees were asked by the US government in 1866 to sell portions of the Strip to "friendly" Indians (tribes or parts of tribes, such as Osage, Pawnee, Kaw, Ponca, Tonkawa, Nez Perce, Otoe and Missouri). These tribes (except for the Nez Perce) were sold indiviual allotments not to exceed 80 acres (half of the allotment amount offered to the settlers who made the run).

    Under the Land Grant Act

    Using the The Land Grant Act, Congress had the territory surveyed, and laid out in 160 acre homestead plots. Four homesteads comprised a section, or a square mile. A township contained 36 mile-square sections, or six square miles. The entire Cherokee Outlet was then divided into seven (7) counties, making the total in the Territory twenty-two (22). There were two sections in each township reserved as school land. Two other sections were reserved, one for higher education and one for public buildings. Provision was also made for town sites, for the military reserve at Fort Supply, and for certain salt-bearing areas.

    The 1893 Land Run

    Okla Run of 16 Sept 1893The greatest opening and the most spectacular land run of all time took place at high noon on 16 September 1893. It was estimated that at least 100,000 persons took part. Much of the western portion of the Outlet (western part of the present day Woods County) remained unoccupied until about 1900.

    The following quote is taken from information gathered off the Web concerning the Cherokee Strip History. President Cleveland and Secretary of Interior (H. R. Smith) wanted to avoid the earlier "stampedes" for land and avoid the troubles and confusion that accompanied the 1889 land rush.

  • So. . . Prior to opening the land they established county seats and opened four land offices at Enid, Perry, Alva and Woodward. Homesteaders were to go to these offices and pay a filing fee ranging from $1.00 to $2.50. Filing fees were based upon the quality of land. However, the Strip was to be settled by the horse-race method. To eliminate 'sooners,' they set up makeshift offices just inside the Cherokee Strip border. Homesteaders were to register and produce filing fee afficavits to be eligible for the run. "

    You can read more about the Cherokee Strip at To learn more about the brief history of the formation of the Oklahoma Territory you may read what was printed in The Indian Advocate, volume 14, issue number 1, January 1902.