Oklahoma Land Rush, September 16, 1893, Eye-Witness account by Seth King Humphrey, later published in a book TEXT

At last the eventful morning broke, a day exactly like all the rest, hot and dry, a south wind rising with the sun dead ahead, and a hard proposition for bicyclists. We had stayed overnight in the little hotel of a town within a mile of the border, several of us in one room; but at least we two of the bicycle corps did not have to mix up with the jam of horses about the place. And we had another decided advantage in not having horses to look after in a hot prairie wilderness where there was not a well, scarcely a stream not gone to a dry bed, and only an occasional water tank on the one railroad running south to Texas. This water would be of service only to the comparative few who could locate near by.

A quarter to twelve. The line stiffened and became more quiet with the tension of waiting. Out in front a hundred yards and twice as far apart were soldiers, resting easily on their rifles, contemplating the line. I casually wondered how they would manage to dodge the onrush; perhaps they were wondering that too. The engine, a few hundred feet away, coughed gently at the starting line; its tender and the tops of its ten cattle cars trailing back into the state of Kansas, were alive with men. Inside the cars the boomers were packed standing, their arms sticking out where horns ought to be.

Five minutes. Three minutes. The soldiers now stood with rifles pointing upward, waiting for the first sound of firing to come along their line from the east. A cannon at its eastern end was to give the first signal; this the rifles were to take up and carryon as fast as sound could travel the length of the Cherokee Strip.

At one minute before twelve o'clock my brother and I, noticing that the soldier out in front was squinting upward along his rifle barrel and intent on the coming signal, slipped out fifty feet in front of the line, along the railroad embankment. It was the best possible place from which to view the start. It has been estimated that there were somewhere around one hundred thousand men in line on the Kansas border. Within the two-mile range of vision that we had from our point of vantage there were at least five thousand and probably nearly eight.

Viewed from out in front the waiting line was a breath-taking sight. We had seen it only from within the crowd or from the rear. The back of the line was ragged, incoherent; the front was even, smooth, solid. It looked like the line-up that it was. I thought I had sensed the immensity of the spectacle, but that one moment out in front gave me the unmatched thrill of an impending race with six thousand starters in sight.

First in the line was a solid bank of horses; some had riders, some were hitched to gigs, buckboards, carts, and wagons, but to the eye there were only the two miles of tossing heads, shiny chests, and restless front legs of horses.

While we stood, numb with looking, the rifles snapped and the line broke with a huge, crackling roar. That one thundering moment of horseflesh by the mile quivering in its first leap forward was a gift of the gods, and its like will never come again. The next instant we were in a crash of vehicles whizzing past us like a calamity . . .

The funniest of all the starters was the engine with its ten carloads of men. From our stand fifty feet directly in front of it I was contemplating it as the chief absurdity of the race when the rush began. The engine tooted incessantly and labored hard, but of course she could not get under way with anything like the quickness of the horses . . .

Of course everybody on the train was mad with excitement, particularly since they were packed in without a chance to vent their emotions in any but some noise-making way. With the first toots of the engine came revolver shots from the crowds all along the tops of the cars, and at least a few from those penned up inside. The fusillade, which kept up all the while the train was pulling out past us, had a most exhilarating effect; my old gun, I suddenly noticed, was barking with the rest of them . . .

A little before midnight, we woke to a distant clatter of hoofs, shouting, and shooting. “Number - section - township - range -. Keep off and get off!” Then crack! crack! went the rifles, after each call, from the pretty country we had been admiring at sundown . . .

After a hearty breakfast we pumped up our sorry tires and packed up to start south for the town sites. Ever since daybreak boomers had been straggling northward, bound for Kansas and all points east. One young fellow who stopped for a moment while we were eating breakfast was a fair sample of this crowd... He had staked a claim in our nice little valley, along with a half dozen others on the same tract; and of course, as in such cases all over the Strip, nobody under heaven could know who had arrived first. But for him the delicate question had been settled by the gay horsemen in the pitch darkness of the night before. By the time they were through with him he felt assured that he must have arrived about a week late.

“I wouldn't live here next to such neighbors, anyway,” he told us with considerable heat. At this safe distance and in the daylight his feelings had turned to indignation, but he was still trembling a little.