Unassigned Lands

The distinctive T-shape outlined in the center of this map in red indicates the area of the “Unassigned Lands”

Department of Interior General Land Office Map, Drawn by Civil Engineer George Mayo, 1887.

Indian territory:
compiled from the official records of the records of the General Land Office
and other sources under supervision of Geo. U. Mayo.
 (From the papers of President Benjamin
Harrison, American Memory, Library of Congress, Reference: LC Many nations, 201).


“Unassigned Lands” was a term commonly used in the 1880s which refers to an area of 1,887,796 acres centrally located in the future state of Oklahoma. These lands were not “assigned” to a particular Indian tribe that been removed to the area. The Unassigned Lands were bounded by The Cherokee Outlet on the north, (established 1828), Potawatomie (1867), Shawnee (1867), Sac and Fox (1867),Pawnee (1881), and Iowa (1883) reservations on the east, Chickasaw Nation, (established in 1837) on the south and Cheyenne Arapaho reservation on the west, established in 1867. The Unassigned Lands were crossed by five rivers: the Canadian, the North Canadian, the Cimarron, the Deep Fork, and the Little, which geographically form some of its boundaries.

The term “Unassigned Lands” was first used in 1879 when mixed-blood Cherokee journalist Elias C. Boudinot wrote an article for the Chicago Times stating that the area should be opened to white settlement. That same year, David L. Payne and William Couch conducted controversial boomer raids, eluding cavalry units and attempting 16 different intrusions for settlement into the area, but were thwarted by officers who escorted them out of the territory. Payne’s claim of “this time we go to stay,” was an ambition shared by many.

Wishful eyes of a nation focused on the 2,950 square mile area which appealed to railroad promoters, town developers, homesteaders and mid-western congressmen, eager to settle the area. Two days before he left office, President Grover Cleveland put his signature to the Indian Appropriations Act, which included an amendment to pay the Creeks and Seminoles a modest amount to relinquish any enduring claims they had on the Unassigned Lands. Simultaneously, the Springer Amendment (H.R. 1874) pushed him to open the

Oklahoma District  for homesteading. Harrison’s incoming administration made the decision to open the land on April 22, 1889.


Oklahoma Encyclopedia of History & Culture, J.L. Crowder, Stanley Hoig