The Showman Who Fought for Oklahoma's Future


Pawnee Bill: The Man Who Made Oklahoma Possible

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Bill's Wild West Show

Pawnee Bill, a renowned showman and pioneer, played a significant role in the Boomer movement.

When he was just 19, Bill developed a fascination for all things western and adopted a cowboy lifestyle, even though his father had owned and operated a flour mill. A few years later, he met May Manning, and courted her for 2 years, trying to convince his future in-laws that their petite, refined daughter could be trusted with this cowboy.

While he is better known for his Wild West Show, he was also involved in the effort to open up the Oklahoma lands for settlement.

He was highly respected and well-known throughout the country, which made him an ideal choice for the job. It was the Wichita Board of Trade that came up with the idea to bring him on board. Congress had been dragging its feet on the issue, and it seemed like the Oklahoma lands would never be settled.

Pawnee Bill organized a Boomer colony with the aim of forcing the opening of the lands.

The colony was moved to Arkansas City on January 28, 1889. However, word soon arrived that Congress had finally passed the Oklahoma bill.

Despite this, Pawnee Bill and the Boomer colony decided to continue with their plans. They intended to enter the Unassigned Lands in Oklahoma before the legal opening date.

Pawnee Bill led the Boomer colony into Oklahoma Territory on April 22, 1889.

Pawnee Bill and his reputation survive to this day

The group was met with resistance from the military, who had been ordered to keep settlers out until the official opening. The group eventually retreated, but Pawnee Bill's reputation helped bring attention to the cause, and his efforts contributed to the eventual opening of the Oklahoma lands for settlement.

Bill and May were married for a long time:

In 1936, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Taos, New Mexico. In September of that year they attended a local celebration in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While driving back to their ranch that night, Pawnee Bill lost control of their vehicle. May died as a result of her injuries, and Pawnee Bill never fully recovered. He died in his sleep on February 3, 1942, at the age of 81 in his home outside of Pawnee, Oklahoma.

****If you enjoy reading about the history of Oklahoma, you might like The Oklahoma rancher who played by his own rules


Hi, I'm Judy! I love bringing a magnifying glass to where psychology and history cross. What makes people do what they do? Why did they make that choice? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments and share this article on social media and with family and friends, if you'd like.

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Judy Derby has worked in the surrounding communities as a social worker and advocate. providing resources and information to help local families meet their basic needs. She's been writing about social issues and related topics for over 10 years.

Antlers, OK

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