The Cherokee Outlet
1835 - 1893
The lands of the Cherokee Outlet lay relatively unused until after
the Civil War. Texas cattleman driving their herds north to the
railheads in Kansas crossed the Outlet stopping occasionally to
graze their cattle and let them fatten a little before driving them
the final miles to market. The unused grasslands were a tempting
oasis along the dusty Chisholm Trail.
The next step was grazing the herds in the Outlet throughout the
grazing season. It was much easier to raise cattle near the
railheads than to make the long trip north from Texas. Six million
acres of free grass was in the Outlet for anyone who would take it.
Then, in 1880, the Cherokees decided they were being robbed again by
white men. In the Cherokee Council that year they set a herd tax of
$1 on all cattle being grazed on their land. The cattlemen protested
and for at least part of the year, the tax was reduced to 40 cents a
Still the Cherokees were not satisfied with the system because they
had to depend on the cattlemen for an accurate count. The cattlemen
were not satisfied either, because they had no way governing the
vast expanse of grass. In March, 1881, several of the cattlemen
gathered at Caldwell, Kansas to talk over the situation. Nothing
much came of the meeting except for an arrangement to register their
brands. A second meeting the following year resulted in an agreement
that all cattlemen in the Outlet must stand together.
At the third meeting, held in March 1883, the Cherokee Strip
Livestock Association was organized. Major Andrew Drumm was elected
president of the association and Charles Eldred secretary.
Headquarters of the Organization would be in Caldwell.
The organization signed an agreement with the Cherokees to lease
the entire Outlet for five years at $100,000 a year. Each year a
wagon load of silver dollars was hauled from Caldwell to the
Cherokee capitol at Tahlequah where it was counted, dollar by
dollar, into the hands of the Indians.
Ranches were then leased by the livestock association to
stockholders. Beef became the most profitable investment in the
country. Investors included many congressmen, senators, industrial
giants and in some cases, the crown heads of Europe. When the lease
expired , the Cherokees wanted a larger share of the profits. A new
lease was signed paying the tribe $200,000 per year for use of the
lands in the Cherokee Outlet.
Within months of the completion of the second cattle lease, Congress
appointed a commission to talk with the Cherokees about selling
their lands in the Outlet. The commission was authorized to offer
the Indians $1.25 an acre for their land. Learning of this, the
cattlemen made an offer of their own of $3 an acre.
When the commission failed to reach an agreement, Secretary of the
Interior John Noble studied the treaty with the Cherokees and
decided their title to the lands in the Cherokee Outlet was not
absolute. In his opinion, the government had only given the
Cherokees an easement. Since they didn't use it, Noble felt they
should forfeit their rights to the Outlet lands.
The Commission of Indian Affairs disagreed with the Interior
Department ruling, but the Attorney General sided with Noble and
against the Indian claims. The argument raged for many more months
until, in 1890, President Harrison ordered all cattle to be removed
from the Outlet by the end of the year. Association members were
ordered to remove every fence, every house, every improvement of any
land. The Army was sent in to ensure the order was carried out.
No longer able to collect lease money from the cattlemen and faced
with confiscation of the land by the government the Cherokees
finally agreed in 1891 to sell the land back to the government for
$8.5 million. The agreement provided that if congress did not come
up with the money by March 4, 1893, the treaty was void. On the day
before the deadline, Congress appropriated $8.3 million. It was
short of the agreed amount, but Cherokee leaders took it rather than
risk of being stripped of all rights.
The title to the Outlet was cleared in May and on Sept. 16, 1893, in
the greatest land run ever held, the vast grassland was opened for
white settlement. For a few brief years, cattle had been king in the
Cherokee Strip. Within a few more years, wheat would rule the
economy of Northwest Oklahoma.