Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Breaking the Plains: Indians, Settlers, and Reformers in the Oklahoma Land Rush
by Brueck, Gregory James, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2012, 325; 3555272
Abstract (Summary)

The 1862 Homestead Act played a central role in the creation of the modern West, but historians are just beginning explore the law's significance beyond a narrow reading of its success or failure as a policy. Settlers who ran for homesteads in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, and in subsequent land runs in Oklahoma Territory, brought with them a "homesteading ideal," an elastic concept that celebrated the virtues of individual, small-scale landownership and promised the security of economic independence along with prosperity derived from market participation. Rarely precisely defined, the homesteading ideal proved flexible enough to unite Western settlers and Eastern reformers in a shared effort to subvert Indian claims to both land and distinct racial identities, despite their widely divergent interests in doing so. Oklahoma Indians lost a majority of their land in the decades between the Land Rush and the 1930s, but many of them also exploited the flexibility of the homesteading ideal to maintain distinct cultural identities, foiling the assimilationist goals of reformers. The homesteading ideal thus bound Indians, settlers, and reformers together in tense, reciprocal relationships even as each group tried to bend the ideal to serve their own interests.

This dissertation focuses first on the boomers and settlers who brought the homesteading ideal to Oklahoma and second on relations between Indians and whites on the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation in western Oklahoma, where the frenzy for homesteading was particularly intense. In the 1860s, Elias C. Boudinot, a mixed-blood Cherokee, became one of the first advocates for ending Indian sovereignty in Indian Territory, allotting land to individual Indians, and welcoming white homesteaders. Beginning in the 1880s, white settlers used the homesteading ideal to delegitimize Indian land claims, organize Oklahoma's government, and transform what had been reserved as Indian Territory into the nation's forty-sixth state. On the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation, Eastern reformers sponsored the efforts of John Seger, a career Indian Office field employee who established assimilation programs acceptable to many tribal members. Increasingly rigid application of land allotment policies, however, ultimately undid much of Seger's work and drove a wedge between Indians and whites.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Warren, Louis S.
Commitee: Kelman, Ari, Tsu, Cecilia
School: University of California, Davis
Department: History
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 74/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Native American studies
Keywords: Arapaho, Cheyenne, Homesteading, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Territory, Oklahoma land rush, Settlers
Publication Number: 3555272
ISBN: 978-1-267-96763-3
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