Sunday, October 31, 2004

Neil's grandmother joins the Oklahoma Land Rush

In the most recent draft of Neil Mabry's history and ancestry, is included a heart-wrenching tale of Barbara Weiser Holben's quest for a new life in Oklahoma as noted in a letter from Neil's sister, Loretta Mabry Barker.

After Edward Holben died in November 1892, his widow, Barbara, made a “run for the land” in Oklahoma on September 16, 1893. She had a number of relatives living there at the time, including her daughter Carrie (Holben) Alexander in Edmond, her sister Karlena (Caroline) Weiser Broker in Craigmont, and her nephew Otto Nicolas Weiser (son of her brother John).

Oklahoma Sooners

During the 1800s the federal government had forcibly relocated many Indian tribes from all over the country into an area called the Oklahoma Territory. In the middle of that territory there was a parcel of land that was not assigned to any tribe - this was called the Unassigned Lands. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation that opened up those lands to homesteaders.

At noon, on April 22nd 1889, a cannon sounded, and people rushed into the territory to stake a claim around the area that is now Oklahoma City. (People that snuck over the border early were called “Sooners”). The first (legal) settlers in Edmond arrived at 1:20 p.m. that day. It is possible that Barbara’s daughter Carrie Holben Alexander was among them.

“Last American Frontier”

In 1893 the “Cherokee Strip”, now the northern portion of Oklahoma , was opened to settlers. Organizers were hoping that the land rush would be more orderly than those from earlier years.

According to a contemporary report:
“On the day of the run, it was hot and dry. Dust, whipped by wind, and thousands of feet, made it unbearable. To add to the misery, soldiers were doing their best to keep order, and see that no one "jumped the gun." The run was to begin only when troopers shot their pistols at high noon. There were several reports of persons shooting a gun in the crowd.

Many homesteaders excitedly took off on hearing any gun shot. Such excitement could only lead to trouble for some. One fellow heard the wild shot at four minutes before noon, and took off. Troopers reportedly chased him for a quarter mile before shooting him dead. Finally, at noon September 16, 1893, a shot rang out and more than 100,000 determined settlers raced for 42,000 claims. By sunset, there would be tent cities, endless lines at federal land offices and more losers than winners. The Cherokee Strip Land Run was a tumultuous finale to what many have called the last American frontier.”

From “The Cherokee Strip”

Into this harsh environment, on September 16, Barbara took her two young daughters, Neil’s mother Gertie (age 12) and Ora (age 6). They lived in a tent on the undeveloped land, and Barbara caught pneumonia. She died on 23 September 1893 before she had occupied the land for 30 days, the time required for ownership. Her body was sent back to Edinburg, Illinois on the train. Her newly orphaned daughters sat on the box in the wagon on the way back. Both Barbara and her husband Edward are buried in Buckhart Cemetery in Edinburg.

After their return to Edinburg, Illinois, Gertie and Ora were raised in foster homes.

Gertie’s daughter, Loretta Barker, also remembers that Gertie wrote about a summer visit with her sister Carrie in Edmond a year after their mother died: She and her brother George (ages 13 and 19) rode a train and the conductor was to let them off in Edmond. “They took them to Oklahoma City and let them off there. Gertie and George walked the railroad tracks back to Edmond.” This was a distance of about 10 miles!

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