A to Z Challenge: A Pistol Shot

A family with 9 children survives life on the Kansas prairie in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The experiences they have illustrate the joys, sorrows, hardships and everyday life of the Midwest pioneers. This faith filled series of stories is true. The eldest child was my great grandmother Alzina Pomeroy Boone.

A pistol shot at 12 noon on September 16th was the signal to start. The story, as told by Alzina Pomeroy Boone in her memoir “Me and Mine”

“In the autumn of 1893 the government acquired the western part of what had been Cherokee Indian Territory and opened it for settlement. A quarter section of land in rural sections, or a town lot in the cities that had been laid out by government surveyors was offered to the first person to drive a stake as a claim to that piece of land. A signal shot was given for starting.

Milford and a young man who had worked for my father each purposed to secure a quarter section farm in the “Cherokee strip”. Milford had traded a young three year old black horse for a fleet footed sorrel mare, which he drove hitched to a two-wheeled cart or buckboard.

I consented to this trade (the black horse was mine), but I was not very enthusiastic about the venture. We had lost on so many ventures on the farm, and I would have preferred his teaching school. Milford was not successful. He never liked to talk about it.

He and the other man went about September 1, as they wanted to explore the strip beforehand and get some idea of where they wanted to see land. They had to register at one of the booths which were set up along the borderline. Also, they needed to hold that place in line. The strip was 165 miles from east to west, and 58 miles from north to south. One could begin the race anywhere they could get in on one of the four borders. Many spent three days and nights or more holding their places. Some men spent three weeks on the line. Probably they were with covered wagon outfits and close to water. They must have gotten pretty tired of it.

In this race, said to be the “biggest horse race that ever had been”, the purse was the Cherokee Strip, larger than the state of Massachusetts. There were thousands of horses, and thousands of drivers and riders. Most of the horses were under saddle. The others were hitched to every kind of a rig – light buck boards like Milford’s, spring wagons, and sulkies, and covered wagons too. There were one thousand people in the run and they came in from all four directions.

At the pistol shot, Milford started from a point not far from the Sedan on the north border. The horseback riders took the lead, passed Milford and other drivers. When he had gone about 15 miles with the crowd, he turned to the east where he saw the top of a string of trees. That meant a stream, an asset of great value to a claim. After crossing two dry creek beds and mounting the rises, he saw the welcome sight of the trees he had seen when he first turned east.

He rode onto a draw while he followed the creek which was ten or twelve feet across, and was just about to drive his stake when a rider appeared over the bluff. The man was leading his horse from which he had removed his saddle and informed Milford that he had already staked his claim to that land. Milford rode with the man to higher ground and saw the flag and pup tent where the man had driven his stake, so he knew he had been beaten to the claim.

On some quarter sections there were as many as 300 claimants, and contests after contests for those who could afford law suits, and some who had won fair and square never got a thing. Milford had no money for a law suit and was too honest to deny this man’s right to the claim. He spent several hours driving around but did not secure a claim. He had left the farm in care of his brother Samuel before crops were harvested and didn’t return until December.

After a few days at home, he went to his boyhood home in Missouri on a business deal which was also a disappointment. I looked after the harvesting as best I could for Sam didn’t stay long, but had to depend much on my father. The oats got too ripe so that they fell to the ground and we didn’t get enough to pay for threshing. I got so hard up that I had to beg the two cent stamp for writing Milford, urging him to come home. He came on horseback within 24 hours after he got my letter, two days before Christmas. He never again left me in such need and was sensitive about any dependence on my folks.”

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