There Will Be No Philosophers: French Reactions to the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889

by This Land


The following excerpts were originally published on 22 April 1889 by Le Figaro newspaper in Paris, France.

“Today, Monday, at exactly mid-day there will take place in the United States an event which could not possibly be imitated in old Europe in spite of her desire to imitate America: it is at that hour that President Harrison has set for the opening of the reservation of Oklahoma.


“Reservation? Oklahoma? Exactly, and here is what this reservation is. The Indians, driven continually towards the west by the insatiable American settlers, were located in immense territories to which were given the name of reservations. Little by little they were driven even from these reservations and it is the Reservation of Oklahoma which is being opened tomorrow to civilization, that is to say, to a species of civilization, to homeless people who desire to take possession of these rich and fertile lands.

“For some years white people have attempted to seize Oklahoma and for weeks bands of armed adventurers, foreseeing the intention of the American Government and being aware of the strength of claims of first occupants, have tried to enter the territory of Oklahoma, a territory which extends over 1,800,000 acres. It was scarcely a month ago, on the eighteenth of March, that the governor of Kansas was obliged to send cavalry to burn the camps of squatters who were taking possession of the biggest part of the reservation without any attention to legal processes. And in the presence of these facts the President on the twenty-seventh of March, fixed the twenty-second of April as the beginning of the run for land. In order to prevent any abuses, insofar as it was possible, he has stated that all individuals found in the territory of Oklahoma before the twenty-second of April, at midday, will lose the right of acquiring land.

“The settlers, therefore, are anxious to be there on time and to get as close to the boundary line as possible. Dispatches from Philadelphia are filled with details: all the country which borders on the reservation is flooded with caravans and processions of all kinds. More than twenty thousand people have come from the South, more than fifty thousand from the East, and all this crowd is armed to the teeth; a general fight is inevitable. Too, the Government intends later to open another reservation of some six million acres. Perhaps there will be room there for everyone.

“In all the picturesque things which have come out of America nothing is more striking than the statement that ‘there will be fights especially in those localities which appear suitable for the location of towns.’ Here we seem to have returned to the heroic age! There is also ‘A convoy of a hundred wagons filled with wooden coffins of various kinds’–a real American touch. Financiers are also not lacking. Two companies have been formed in New York City for the purpose of building the capital city of the new state: the one wished this to be Oklahoma City, the other ‘Reno City.’ There are railroad companies also which have their workers ready, pickaxe in hand, to enter the territory to commence work. But what appears to me most American is that in each group of immigrants one will find at least two lawyers who are entrusted with the task of defending all claims to land regardless of the means by which the land was obtained. One reads their advertisements in all the newspapers of Arkansas.

“One must not think that these farmers making the run intend to take up a permanent residence; they are not thinking of it. They want to take possession of a country where possession gives title and the right to sell to those who follow. When this run is finished there will still be more land to the west, there are still 23,000,000 acres to clear and resell. There is still enough left to keep busy for a long time these ‘pioneers of civilization’ who, in the opinions of Americans themselves, are an outrageous bad lot, capable of anything and afraid of nothing. There are some among them who at least have the merit of originality. These are those who want to cross the frontier in a balloon letting it fall at the location which seems to them to be the most desirable. These aeronauts are originally from Indiana. Correspondents have not thought it worth while to give their names, which is to be regretted. They really should be known.

“In any case that which comes after the great ‘battle’ of tomorrow will be singular indeed. Oklahoma will be able to develop very rapidly: it is already completely surrounded by civilized states. Railroad lines are established before farmers have put a plow in the fertile soil. We shall tomorrow witness the sudden appearance of a civilization. In one rapid move modern culture will be brought to this wilderness. It is impossible to foresee who will be killed, robbed, plundered, or murdered. And what imprecations will arise to the heavens from the ‘Leather-Stockings’ against these people who have chased them from their lands! That would be a fine subject for thought for a philosopher. But I strongly fear that among the 70,000 farmers tomorrow there will be no philosopher. If there is one—everything being possible—he will strike with only slightly less force than the others, for he will have read Darwin and will know the value of the fight for life. Like Daudet, he will find this a very interesting ‘struggle for existence’ to talk about.”