Oklahoma City 1890- Early 1900s
— The '89er Trail —
Most land claim disputes were resolved by settlement, or purchase and relinquishment. But some required lengthy litigation.
With territorial government authorized by Congress in May, 1890, a formal structure was established for resolving land disputes. Trustees of townsites were appointed by the Interior Secretary to approve surveys and confirm land ownership. A Land Office was opened in Oklahoma City, and the Register took testimony and ruled on town lots and homestead claims. Appeals could be made to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the Secretary of Interior, and county, territorial, and federal courts. Some cases made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. A few lingered on into the early 1900s.
Rival homestead claimants often lived on different parts of the same 160 acre homestead. One might try to farm the land and fence off others who were in the way, or sell off gravel, clay, or timber. A sooner whose claim looked risky might sell his relinquishment to another person who thought that he could eventually buy out rival claimants. In the city proper, a settlement payment from one claimant to another was often a pre-condition of investment in a business, or a building or home. These agreements or sometimes lengthy litigation decided who would remain in control of the land.
Until a land office was opened in Oklahoma City in 1890, all claims for homesteads (160 acres) and townsites (up to 320 acres) had to be filed at this land office in Guthrie.
Library of Congress
Right: John H. Burford was appointed the first Register of the Oklahoma City Land Office in 1890. Two years later he was appointed to the Oklahoma Territorial Supreme Court, where he served for 15 years, 10 of them as its Chief Justice. Research Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society