The great Oklahoman Will Rogers once said, “You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.” Rogers’ home state was founded by people who believed exactly that.
In settling the Oklahoma Territory, they were out on a limb grasping for the fruit we’ve come to know as the American dream.
The day of April 22, 1889 began with an empty plain in Oklahoma. By nightfall, homesteads stretched to the horizon, and Oklahoma City and Guthrie had suddenly sprung to life, each with an instant population of 10,000 people.
One of the questions that I imagine “Pappy’s Handkerchief” will inspire is “Is it true?”
The answer is yes. And no.
The history of Oklahoma is terribly complicated. Opening up the Oklahoma Territory for settlers meant, of course, taking the land away from Native Americans who endured unspeakable hardships. At the same time, it allowed others the chance at a new life. That included many African Americans, like the family in my story. When President Benjamin Harrison announced the first Land Run in 1889, word began to spread among black Americans, some believing that if enough African Americans made the westward journey to stake a claim, Oklahoma could become an all black state. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen. But the Land Runs created a unique opportunity for many African American families, and, at one time, Oklahoma had more all black towns than any other state.
While we talk about the Oklahoma Land Run, there were actually five different runs between 1889 and 1895. Pappy’s Handkerchief isn’t about any one family or even one land run. The family in my story is a medley of the struggles and experiences of thousands of families who journeyed west to live as pioneers on the prairie. They were way out on a limb, and the fruit they harvested is alive in the spirit of Oklahoma today.
(Enjoy a video/audio reading of the book by Devin in the video player above)
Devin’s book, “Pappy’s Handkerchief” is available wherever you buy books online.