The Norman Transcript

Centennial

November 22, 2006

Whiskey towns flourished in Oklahoma territory

• Oklahoma Reflections series, part 2

The first lands attached to the new Oklahoma Territory under the Organic Act

came from the small reservations assigned the Iowa, Sac and Fox, and

‘Pottawatomie‘ tribes. In September of 1891, 20,000 ‘homeseekers‘ opted for

chances on just 7,000 homesteads. It was 1895 before the Kickapoo agreed to

divide roughly a tenth of their lands as individual allotments and make the

rest available to homesteaders.

Chronology and geography thereupon collaborated to make these some of the

roughest, rawest, and wildest regions in the new territory. No longer

subject to the strict anti-liquor laws that Washington applied to Indian

lands, these former reservations were governed “to the extent they were

governed at all” under statutes hastily adopted by the territory

Legislature.

Obsessed with claiming permanent government-subsidized booty for their

hometowns (things like a university for Norman, a land-grant college for

Stillwater, and a teacher-training school for Edmond), the untested

lawmakers waited until their session’s final day before approving (usually

without as much as reading) any substantive bills. In the case of alcohol’s

sale, a passing mark would have been generous. They ended up directing

county commissioners to grant retail liquor licenses to any who applied,

provided only that the applicant pay a $200 annual license fee and be a man

of respectable character. If the supply of investment money was greater than

that of respectable character there was a reason. All these lands lay within

a stone’s throw of continuing Indian reservations, where thirst could not be

quenched legally, but where no stone need be tossed far at all.

Lexington was almost perfectly situated for this purpose. One of several

so-called “instant cities,” it was no city at all. It did, however, rest on

the bank of South Canadian, directly across from Purcell; and Purcell was

second only to Ardmore as the largest city in the bone-dry Chickasaw Nation.

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