Saturday, June 29, 2013


Before getting off on our canoe trip, we made still more road trips to try to learn the truth about the history of the Plains. It all started with the Homestead Act of 1862. Over the next 40 years, along with the expansion west of the railroads, this country would be changed forever by the land rush. From the Dakotas to Texas, two-hundred and forty million acres of Indian land would be given over to white expansionism. It began with gradual encroachment as white settlers began using Indian lands for cattle grazing. The more they got used to using the Indian land, the more they felt a right of entitlement to it, and the more they urged the government to grant additional settlement rights to the land. Those pushing for rights to lands the tribes were forcibly relocated to, and already granted ownership to in exchange for lands they had already been forced to give up, were called Boomers.

The title of Land Rush gives an erroneous impression. There were actually five land rushes in the Indian Territory alone. The Creek and Seminole lands were taken in 1889.  The Iowa, Sac, Fox, Pottawatomie, and Shawnee lands were taken in 1891. The Cheyenne and Arapaho lands were taken in 1892. The Cherokee Outlet lands were taken in 1893. And, the Kickapoo lands were taken in 1895. For the first 1889 Land Rush alone, 50,000 settlers waited for the sound of a gun that would start the rush. For an $18 filing fee, a settler could rush west to claim 160 acres of his choice for himself and his family.

At the bottom of the hill on the left side is a clump of cedar trees,
which mark the location of the cemetery.  This, looking west,
is what confronted the settler.
As we tour the country, I can’t help imagining myself in their position. For many, it was indeed a dream come true, but for others it most obviously became a nightmare, and even the reason for their deaths. We were out in the middle of nowhere, (and that should be NOWHERE in all caps) when we saw a sign for a cemetery. I suggested that in such a remote location, it must obviously be a settler cemetery. Indeed, it was. The children seems to suffer most---five tiny graves in a line from just one family, having died within weeks to a couple years. Other tiny graves were scattered about. I stood in the middle of the road in front of the cemetery looking to the horizon in both directions, east and west. Actually, you would see the same thing looking in any direction. These settlers, in the hope of improving their lives, had spent months crossing over and leaving behind some of the most fertile and richest farming soils in the country, if not the world, to come to this land, all in the hope of getting land for free. Except for a better dirt road and an occasional fence, this land cannot have changed much since they first crossed it. As to why they would stop and try to make their living in such a god-forsaken place, I could not avoid the obvious thought.

A look behind him showed where he had already trod, and if he
changed his mind, land he'd have to cross again...all
the way to the eastern horizon.

At some point, a settler must have stopped where I stood, and thought, “The further we go, the worse it gets. There is no reason for going on any further, so we’re stopping here.” Looking around at the dead and browning brush, the lifeless dirt, I couldn’t imagine the frustration of trying to pry a living from such an unwilling land. Those that have crossed these lands generations before us have given so much for the lives we lead, no matter where we live. Still, in this spot, as far as I could see, there was only one single sign of life---a little wildflower at my feet, right in the middle of the road. I felt so struck by its impudence at managing to survive in such a place, I had to stop and take its picture.

The impudent henbit.


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