Homesteading Heroes: Graham family finds workaround to Oklahoma's rules on land ownership


Graham's Gamble: How One Family's Risk Paid Off in Oklahoma

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Oklahoma says: Don't claim it unless you plan to live on it

During the "Run of 1889" in Oklahoma, thousands of people wanted to claim free land. Any man or single woman who was 21 years old or older could try to claim a piece of land that was 160 acres big.

But there was one really important rule: if you claimed a piece of land, you had to live on it for at least 6 months of the year. If you broke the rule, you'd forfeit your land. And one man could only stake one claim. Just 160 acres.

That seems like plenty, right?

But some families wanted more. Maybe they were more ambitious. Perhaps they realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was too good to pass up. So one family decided to take advantage of the Oklahoma Land Run's rule about living on the property.

How one family was able to get more than their share

A man named R.M. Graham, who lived in Chickasaw, went to the Run with his 2 sons and a hired man. He had a plan to work around the rules, but it also included his daughter, who was just 4 months shy of the age requirement. That's where the hired man came into play.

Graham wanted to claim a whole section of land near Lexington, which is like a big puzzle piece made up of smaller pieces. But he didn't want to build 4 separate dwellings.

The four men claimed land pieces that joined together, and 4 months later, when Miss Graham turned 21, the hired man turned over his claim to her.

One house satisfies the letter of the law

R.M. then built a house at the point where all 4 of the claims met, with a bedroom for each person. This satisfied the technical aspect of building on each claimant's land, since each person had their own bedroom on their own piece of land, which was what the law required.

Pretty ingenious, right?

****If you enjoy reading about the history of Oklahoma, you might like A Desire for Revenge Ignited this Land Rush in Oklahoma

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?

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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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