River Crossing Slows Hunt for Free Land

Participating in Cherokee Strip Land Run nets homesteaders s parcel of free land.

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My father went alone on his quest for free land during the Cherokee Strip Land Run into Oklahoma, but because of high water at a river crossing he was a day late. It was a bitter disappointment, but he was not a man to give up easily. He found a man who had made the run, but who already was sick of his bargain and willing to trade his claim for Father's team of horses. The trade was made, and Father soon was on his way back to Nebraska for our family of homesteaders.

We covered about 25 miles a day with our three covered wagons, five cows, nine horses and six children. I was 9 years old and rode my pony all the way as it was my job to drive the cattle.

When we arrived at the Cimarron River, it was running full and, of course, there were no bridges. Father rode my pony across to see how deep the water was before we started with the wagons. We were afraid, but we fastened the wagon beds down so they wouldn't float away, and the river crossing was made successfully.

When we came to Dover, the officers demanded our horses for the use of a posse formed to catch the bandits who had just robbed the train at Dover. It was three hours before our horses were returned to us. The bandits were not caught.

We spent the night in Kingfisher and got supplies and lumber for our new home. The next morning we started out across the prairie. We had only Indian trails to follow the 18 miles to our homestead. It was desolate country as we pulled onto our claim.

Before morning Mother was frantic because we could hear the tom-toms from an Indian camp in the distance, and nearby we could hear the howl of a coyote. Mother begged Father to turn back. It was no place to raise a family, she said. But we stayed. It was hard those first years, but eventually times improved and our homestead became a true home. Young folks of today will never have experiences like these to remember.

Roy Shaffer
Watonga, Oklahoma

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.