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Another Oklahoma Anniversary

(Newspaper article dated - September 16, 1968)

In our 75th Year -- Founded September 16, 1893…
This article was published in The Alva Review-Courier , dated Monday, September 16, 1968, in Alva, Oklahoma. It was taken from an article that was written for the Redbook Edition, in April 1935 and written by Gen. Hugh S. Johnson about his father's (S. L. Johnson) experiences of the Great Race of '93. The excerpts of the 1935 article appeared in the local NW Oklahoma newspaper by way of Dr. Morton H. McKean, Sept. 16, 1968, on Oklahoma's 75th anniversary.

Our local newspaper in 1968 was known as one of Oklahoma's better small town daily newspapers serving a rich market and published each afternoon (Excepting Saturday) and Sunday morning at 616 Flynn Avenue, Second Class postage paid at Alva, Oklahoma.

Dr. Morton Harris McKean married Vella May McGill, daughter of Thomas David & Ida May Edwards McGill. Thomas David McGill was one of the older brothers of my grandfather (William J. McGill, the baseball player). Thomas and William were two of many siblings of William Pearson and Isabelle McClure Johnson McGill (my great grandparents). -- by - LK McGill-Wagner

Thoroughbreds, Broncos, Ostrich At Starting Line

At 12 Noon 75 Years Ago The Great Strip Race Was On - Today (Sept. 16, 1968) marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee Outlet to settlement. Known as the Cherokee Strip, the famed land rush was signalled (sic) by the U.S. Cavalry at 12 o'clock noon. Alva as a townsite had been previously designated.

Dr. M. H. McKean, executive secretary of the Northwestern State college Alumni Assn., has offered excerpts from an article written by the late Gen. Hugh S. Johnson, (reared in Alva as a child) for Redbook magazine's April, 1935 edition, in which he relates experiences of his father (S.L. Johnson), Alva's first postmaster, and the family in the early beginning of this community.

Gen. Johnson, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., became, after a vibrant military career, the first national director of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) appointed by president Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the 1930's national depression.

"Upon this occasion," Dr. McKean said, "these excerpts would be of special interest to the people of this community, which were taken from many historical items accumulated over the years."

Upon this anniversary of the "run" for homesteads in this area, the Cherokee Strip, the Review-Courier happily presents the first person presentation from Gen. Johnson's articles as follows:

"This (the boom and bust in southern Kansas prior to 1893) whole chain of events came to an abrupt end with the Oklahoma hegira. My father (S. L. Johnson) had been appointed Postmaster at the then non-existent but expectant town of Alva. He took my mother, my two baby brothers, the whole post-office paraphernalia, and some household goods ahead in a box-car, which switched to a siding, was for a week one of not more than twelve human-habitations in the place where that town was planned to be.

The Cherokee Outlet was an early "Polish Corridor" -- a strip sixty miles wide guaranteed to the Cherokees as a hunting path from their reservation to the western buffalo grounds. By 1893 all the buffaloes were gone. The Cherokees ranged no more. This strip of land had been returned to the public domain, and now Grover Cleveland had decided to throw it open for settlement to relieve the terrible depression of 1893.

The whole Outlet had been cleared by troops of all of its inhabitants. Only officials and employees of the Federal Government and of the railroads remained. Except for "sooners" hidden in canyons and coulees with their eyes on choice "Claims" -- the early chiselers of that great adventure -- the "Strip" was uninhabited and the troops ringed it with a cordon.

Woods county alone was sixty by fifty miles square, and Alva was its only townsite. On the north and south borders of the "Strip" were congregated the flotsam and jetsam of the great economic collapse of the early '90's.

Refugees from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Ccolorado, Nebraska, Arkansas and the south were packed in a solid rank around the whole Cherokee Outlet -- waiting for the salvo of artillery on Sept. 16 (1893) which would release the flood in four directions to race for homes and town lots. Every man was left to his fancy as to the quickest and most convenient conveyance. Thoroughbreds hitched to sulkies; broncos under stock-saddles; buckboards, buggies and prairie schooners -- one man had an ostrich.

No other boy ever thrilled as did I over the lot assigned to me. I didn't go with the boxcar. My father intended to buy a "claim" and farm. He had bought a team of mules and a wagon, and there was also the horse and surrey. Two rather elderly deacons of his church wanted to seek their fortunes in this new country. One had a light "runabout" and a pony. The other offered to drive my father's wagon. The first was a carpenter, and if the other was not a walrus, he looked like one, and as it turned out, acted not dissimilarly. I was to drive the surrey under their protection and care. Eight miles out of Wichita there is a little brook and a shady ford. Here -- the carpenter deacon being in the lead -- the little caravan rested. The carpenter (who took pride in his craft) pulled from under his seat a neat little oak chest nine inches square and as long as your arm, precisely mortised and tennoned, the lid screwed down. With exquisite care he removed eight bright screws and then the lid; there, nestled in oak sawdust, were four little brown crockery jugs in perfect alignment. With the same elegance of motion, he removed one, wiped it to scrupulous and shining cleanliness with a bandana, drew the cork, put his thumb through the handle, flipped it over his forearm, and in the good old way in such matters, threw back his head and gurgled like a rill.

Without a word (but with great decorum) he passed it to the walrus -- and those two old coots never drew another sober breath while I was with them. We should have made twenty miles a day to reach the Strip" in time for the Great Race; we made fifteen miles the first day, eight the next, and four the next.

The stock was not fed unless I fed them. The harnesses were "thrown on with a fork" and never taken off unless I took them off -- the prinicpal sport was baiting me. The walrus invented the aphorism, "If I had two boys like you, I'd give the devil one to take the other.' The carpenter used to chase me clumsily around the wagon with his buggy whip. On the afternoon of the fifteenth, while they were snoring, I sneaked the gray mare to the surrey, drove to the nearest town, left the rig at a livery stable and went and sat on the station platform waiting for a train without the least idea when it would come, but knowing that it could go only one place -- Kiowa, Kansas, 18 miles northeast of Alva on the Santa Fe, the edge of the "Strip" and the principal jumping-off place. The train came crowded to the guards; and without a cent in my pocket, I elbowed into a coach. I expected to be kicked off at the next station, but the conductor did not come for a long time. When he did we were only a few miles out of Kiowa, and I wheedled him into letting me stay.

I slept that night with other packed humanity on the station platform. As far as eye could see to east and west there were campfires, like a bivouac; the take-off was four hundred miles long, and all just like that. The air was full of dust and particles of buffalo grass pawed up by thousands of horses, mules, and presumably -- one ostrich. you could see the videttes of the cavalry along the border. People were yelling all kinds of nonsense and whoopee all night.

There was on of those senseless yells that seem spontaneously and for no reason to take human fancy, which somebody would let out every few minutes all along the South Kansas line: 'Oh, Bill here's your mile.'

The morning came with the crystal clearness of that high dry plain. The air smelled good of campfires, of burning 'buffalo chips' and cedar, of coffee and sizzling bacon, and pungently also of horse, mule and table generally. A man was cutting off slices of 'baloney' and cheese and munching crackers on a bedding roll beside me. Suddenly he saw that I had neither bed nor breakfast. He asked me about myself, laughed and fed me. I remember him for his tremendously large Adam's Apple, which traveled farther and more emphatically up and down than any I have ever seen -- and for his kindness. I never saw him again. Within an hour that crowd was stirring like a circus entrainment --packing up, greasing axles, striking tents, rubbing down horses, and finally hitching up and saddling.

I had intended to hop a ride but learned that the railroad was to run trains of flat cars at sixteen miles per hour -- a little faster than a gallop, or exactly what is called in the cavalry 'extended gallop' and that anybody could ride free. From one of those "Flats" I saw the great race into the Cherokee Strip.

High noon! Guns boomed. Cavalary pistols cracked. They were off to the greatest race in history. Some people ran a mile, 'stuck their stake' and then raced on to the land office in Alva to file. Others staked fifteen miles in and then raced there to file. There was no way to know exactly what quarter section you claimed or how many others had staked the same claim. It was a disorganized method, and of course a day of deadly sixshooter argument. In a few minutes you could see people -- or rather spurts of dust on the horizon in all directions like clouds in a mackerel sky.

I ran with the rest to the public square, where my father had opened his shack of one by twelve boards and was ready for business with his post office.

But my mother and her two babies were still in the box-car at the siding in the cool drip of the railroad water tank. I rushed back there and was tearfully welcomed, then back again toward town, found an overturned wagon which some thrifty Kansas farmer had filled with watermelons (many of them had broken), gorged myself and was very sick for days.

A tent village of seven thousand people rose like mushrooms overnight. It was a wide open town, saloons in every block; the capital of a county as big as some States -- yesterday vacant, today with a family or person on every 160 acres."