Editor’s note: Sorry for the unintentional hiatus. Senior year is crazy, but history isn’t going to blog about itself!
As a student at a North Texas school, I know quite a few people who are going to be Oklahoma Sooners next year. But what, you may ask, are Sooners? It turns out that the University of Oklahoma’s mascot comes from a term dating back to the Land Run of 1889.
It all started in 1862, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, allowing people to claim up to 160 acres of public land; if the settler lived on the land and improved it for five years, then they could receive the title. Decades later, Illinois Representative William McKendree Springer wrote an amendment to the Indian Appropriations Bill in 1889 authorizing President Benjamin Harrison to proclaim the 2 million acre area known as the “Unassigned Lands” open for settlement.
The legal time of entry of these lands was set at noon on April 22, 1889. Thus, on this day in 1889, 50,000 people lined up just outside of the Unassigned Lands, loosely monitored by US troops. At noon, they made a mad dash to find and claim their land. As a result, around 11,000 homesteads were claimed, and cities, such as Oklahoma City and Guthrie, literally sprang up overnight. As you might guess, many people did not observe the “legal time of entry” and claimed their land early. These people are known as Sooners. So the Oklahoma Sooners are basically named after a bunch of dishonest settlers who thought they were above the law. How delightful!
Finally, if you have heard the University of Oklahoma’s fight song, “Boomer Sooner,” you should know that the term Boomer also comes from this time period. Boomers were simply the people who campaigned for the opening of the Unassigned Lands for settlement.
So now the next time a classmate tells me they are going to be a Sooner, I will just shake my head and tell them that they’re better than that.