"SOONER." Sooner is the name first applied about six months after
the Land Run of 1889 to people who entered the Oklahoma District (Unassigned
Lands) before the designated time. The term derived from a section in the Indian
Appropriation Act of March 2, 1889, which became known as the "sooner
clause." It stated that no person should be permitted to enter upon and
occupy the land before the time designated in the president's opening
proclamation and that anyone who violated the provision would be denied a right
to the land.
Illegal claimants were initially called "moonshiners," because they
entered the area "by the light of the moon." Sooners or moonshiners
hid out in brush or ravines, then suddenly appeared to stake a claim after the
run started, giving them clear advantage over law-abiding settlers who made the
run from the borders.
So-called "legal sooners" had permission to enter before the
designated time but nonetheless had the same unfair advantage. Legal sooners
included employees of the government (deputy marshals, revenue agents, mail
carriers, land officials) or railroad company (trackmen, section hands) or those
with special permits (Indian agents, teamsters, traders).
As might be expected, the clamor against sooners resulted in numerous
contests and appeals to the General Land Office and in unclear title to some
claims for many years. The United States Congress gave the Department of the
Interior the ultimate power to make final determination in the contests. The
complex case against sooners, legal or otherwise, was first elucidated in Townsite
of Kingfisher v. Wood and Fossett (1890) and later in Smith v. Townsend
The problems with sooners increased with each successive land run. In the
1895 opening of the Kickapoo Reserve, some officials estimated that sooners
filed on approximately 50 percent of the available tracts. The government
eventually overcame the problem of illegal entry by using methods such as a
lottery and sealed bids to open former Indian reservations.
As might be expected, the early legal settlers of Oklahoma Territory held a
very low opinion of sooners. That began to change by 1908 when the University of
Oklahoma adopted the name for its football team. By the 1920s, the term no
longer carried a negative connotation, and Oklahomans adopted the nickname as a
badge of pride and progressivism. Although apparently never officially
designated as such by statute or resolution, Oklahoma has since been known as
the Sooner State.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. David Baird and Danney Goble, The Story of Oklahoma
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994). Berlin B. Chapman, "The Legal
Sooners of 1889 in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 35
(Winter, 1957-58). J. Brent Clark, Sooner Century: 100 Glorious Years of
Oklahoma Football, 1895-1995 (Coal Valley, Ill.: Quality Sports
Publications, c. 1995). W. Richard Fossey, "'Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues': A
Study of Oklahoma's Cultural Identity during the Great Depression," The
Chronicles of Oklahoma 55 (Spring 1977). Arrell M. Gibson, Oklahoma: A
History of Five Centuries (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965).
Edwin C. McReynolds, Alice Marriott, and Estelle Faulconer, Oklahoma: The
Story of Its Past and Present (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961).
H. Wayne Morgan and Anne Hodges Morgan, Oklahoma: A History (1977;
reprint, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1984).
Mary Ann Blochowiak