When the Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma was opened for white settlement on September 16, 1893, it drew people from all over the country. One of those was Arthur Howard Hopkins, age 21, from Indiana. Here is his story in his own words. Transcribed as written.1
I will begin with leaving the folks in Indiana early in the spring of 1893 and going to Illinois to go to Nebraska with an emigrant car to care for livestock enroute to Gibbon Neb. I hired out to farmer Frank Burt at $20 a month and keep. Having taken along enough money for my few expenses for the summer I worked five months without drawing a cent and had $100 coming at the end of the five months when I decided to go to the opening of the strip. Times were hard and Mr Burt could only raise 40 odd dollars. So I didnít have much to go on having spent most of the money I took to Neb. A fellow in the neighborhood had a team and covered wagon and wanted to go with me and offered to let me ride one of his horses in the race. He furnishing the transportation it was up to me to buy some camping equipment which I did and I furnished the grub on the way and he the horse feed (most of which he stold) lots of oats being in the shock at that time. We drove through Wichita Kans which was almost a ghost town at that time having gone through a boom a short time previous. There was almost mansions with windows broken out and doors hanging on one hinge. We were headed for Arkansas City and when we got there it was over run with a boisterous crowd which scared my partner and he wanted to go back. But not I. I got him to go on south to the strip only 4 miles and we drove west a few miles he becoming more dissatisfied all the time when a farmer came along wanting to hire a man for the eleven days until the opening. The wage was but 16 dollars a month and keep. But I thought I was lucky to get my keep until the opening. So I took it and let my partner go back alone. But I had no idea how I could make the race. The farmer I hired to lived on a farm he had recently sold on the Kansas side of the strip 4 miles south and 8 miles west of Ark City and 1Ĺ miles west of an Indian school on the strip side of the road which was on the state line. The father of the farmer I worked for had a farm adjoining the son on the west and the son was fixing to put out wheat on his fatherís farm and two days before the opening I was plowing with a sulky plow on the fatherís farm in a field adjoining the strip when some men came along with a herd of ponies and I hailed them and asked if they had a pony already broke for sale and they had but one. They showed me that he was well broken by getting on it without a strap of any kind on it and guiding it wherever he wanted it to go by putting a hand on one or the other side of its neck. Well I bought it for $25 and he gave me a piece of binger twine with which to lead it. So I led it behind the plow until quitting time which was not long. As it happened Mr. Holenback sent me to Ark City the next day with a load of wheat and I bought the cheapest saddle and bridle I could find and at noon the next day Sept. 16, 1893 [the day before his 22nd birthday] I was in line five minutes before the start. I just about had money enough left to file a claim. But nothing to live on for the month or two it might have taken before my turn came. So I only made the race to see what I could see. By the way I forgot to tell of my experience of registering for the race. The place of registration I went to was just south of Ark City and I was in line 24 hrs before my turn came. There was quite a lot of women registered and when a woman came to register she was passed right to the front and registered without delay. There was no one to register one at night. So we formed in companies of 10 and if one of the 10 stayed in line over night it held the place of the whole company. I held the place and they rented me a folding cot and Mrs Holinbeck had given me an old ragged comfort which I found desirable. But there was men without even a coat and about 3 AM I woke up to quite a racket and there was no more sleep to be had. They had gathered any thing that would burn and made bon fires and were raising cain generally. Well I have written more preliminaries than I can write abut the race itself. I will say right here that because of Mr Burt not paying all my wages and having so little money I didnít see how I could take a claim. I start the race right in front of Mr. Holinbecks house and for 5 or 6 miles it was somewhat broken country and I didnít see a claim staked until I got out to a more level country. But I understand it afterward had oil wells on it. Well I rode south against a hot wind that burned oneís flesh taking no food or water with me. I got to the Chicaspa river (donít know whether I spelled it right or not.) I was told it was 20 miles south of the Kans line and about 2 miles from where an old squaw man by the name of Blackwell had a townsite laid out. The banks of the river was almost straight up and down and 10 or 12 feet high. But I left the saddle and slid down the bank and spoke to the pony and he set all 4 feet and slid down after me. I mounted again and rode him out in 18 or 20 inches of very clear water and let him drink. I was so dry I had a notion to drink of the river water. But a man came along with an old civil war canteen. They were made of metal and covered with canvas and held 2 or 3 quarts and he offered me a drink. I asked him if he would not need it and he said no that he was going back as soon as his horse had rested and cooled off. I rested my pony about an hour before starting back. But within a few minutes a crowd of maybe 200 had gathered on the bank of the river and were going no farther though a lot had gone on. Well I got back to Holenbecks just at dusk and Mrs. Holenbeck and a niece 15 yers old were so glad to see me they could have kissed me for all their men folks had made the race too. They knew just where they were going. Had their claims spotted before the soldiers arrived. I didnít sleep in the house. I slept in an outhouse near so the women could have called me in case any one disturbed them. *** [After making the run,] I quit the Holinbecks and rode horseback back to Neb and husked Mr Burts corn. May be I would be well fixed financially if I had demanded and got my money and filed a claim on some of that more or less rough land. But I feel better not having caused distress to anyone to claim what was due me. Mr Burts oats made about 60 bushels to the acre but was only worth 15Ę per bu and I didnít want to force him to sell it for that. Well I will close. I hope it will amuse you if nothing more. It has helped me to pass some of my time away when there is so little to occupy my time.
This description is deceptively simple and modest. We have to remember what travel was like in those days. There were no roads to our present-day way of thinking, just wagon tracks if you were lucky. There were trains and boats if you had the money, but Grandpa made the trip from Nebraska to the Oklahoma border (a distance of nearly 400 miles) by wagon and on horseback, traveling across country, probably sleeping under the wagon or in a tent, and cooking over a campfire. Now we could make the trip in a day by car, but then it must have taken nearly a month. He speaks of the hot wind during the race into the strip, but the heat would have been just as bad coming down in the wagon, and the relief of resting under some shade trees out there on the plains would have been infrequent. This was not a simple jaunt; it was a real journey , and all just for the chance to ride in the opening of the Cherokee Strip. Arthur didnít have the money to file for the claim, even though the land would have been free except for the five years residence requirement. He doesnít say what the fee amounted to, but it was enough to deter him from filing the claim. Part of the trouble was that hard money was so scarce. He didnít get paid his full wages in Nebraska because the farmer didnít have the cash. He would have had to sell some of his crop at the bottom of the market to raise it. This was a common problem among farmers in the west, and was part of the reason there was so much bad feeling among them toward "Eastern Bankers" and other financial interests who controlled the money supply to their own benefit. The Homestead Act was supposed to make land more available to poorer people, but in practice it was hard to homestead land without the money for the fee, the transportation to the West, the equipment and livestock needed for farming, and the supplies to last until the first crop came in.
1. Undated letter (postmarked February 10, 1960) from Arthur Howard Hopkins to Arthur David Hopkins. Note that there is no period after Mr in the letter; this is still the practice in Britain, but our punctuation rules have changed.
*** A section of the original letter has been omitted for privacy reasons.
For more information about the Cherokee Strip Run, see the site of the Cherokee Strip Museum.
This file was last updated on 7/15/2004.