Echoes From the Past
E.C. BOUDINOT…. BOOMER SOONER!
Oklahoma historians give considerable attention to Colonel E. C. Boudinot Jr. because
he is recognized as founder of Vinita and that he chose that name because of his infatuation
with Vinnie Ream, a Washington D.C. sculptress. While founding one of the oldest cities in
the state is undeniably an important achievement, his life included a series of
accomplishments and, well after Vinita, another event occurred that some Oklahomans
would agree was equally significant.
Elias Cornelius Boudinet Jr. was born August 1, 1835 the son of Harriet Gold a member
of a prominent Connecticut family and Buck Oowatie brother of Stand Watie. Buck had
changed his name to Elias Cornelius Boudinet in honor of a New Jersey benefactor. When
he was an infant, E.C. Jr. moved with the family from New Echota, Georgia to Honey
Creek in Indian Territory. His father had promoted and signed the treaty of New Echota
with the Federal Government calling for purchase of the tribes land and their removal.
This had resulted in extremely bitter feelings between two factions of the tribe. In 1839 at
the age of four he experienced tragedy when his father was assassinated by the opposition
on the family farm on Honey Creek. Following their father’s death the Boudinet children
were sent to Connecticut to be raised by the Gold family. E.C. grew to manhood there and
studied engineering in Vermont, then law where he was admitted to the bar in 1856.
Soon thereafter he relocated to Fayetteville, Arkansas where he practiced law, became a
civic leader and was active in Democratic politics. In 1861 prior to the beginning of the
Civil War and at the age of 30, E.C. was appointed secretary of the Arkansas Secession
Convention. After the convention voted for Arkansas to leave the Union and unite with the
Confederacy he joined his uncle Stand Watie and served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the
Cherokee Mounted Rifles. Later during the war he was appointed as an Arkansas delegate
to the Confederate Congress in Richmond, Virginia.
Following the war, in 1867 he returned living near Webber’s Falls working as an
attorney but also as a lobbyist in Washington. During his time at the capitol he became
involved in promoting railroad rights-of-way and white settlement in Indian Territory. He
further solidified his stand with Washington officials by opposing Chief John Ross’ efforts
to gain a more favorable treaty between the Cherokees and the Federal Government.
E.C.’s contention was that Indian Territory should be made an official territory of the
United States, not a separate entity. This placed him at odds with the tribes, but
ingratiated him to railroad barons. He caught the eye of Colonel Bob Stevens who
envisioned building a railroad, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway, from Junction
City, Kansas through Indian Territory to Texas. Their relationship and that successful
venture is a matter of history that includes the founding of Vinita in 1871.
E.C. had an even broader vision of the assimilation of Indian Territory that led him to
initiate a campaign for occupation of “unassigned lands,” 14 million acres in the central
and southwestern portion of today’s Oklahoma. It was his contention that those lands
should be open to white settlement under the Homestead Act of 1862. His theory became
widely publicized when in 1879 the Kansas City Times began promoting settlement in the
unassigned lands as a “land boom.” Almost immediately attempts were made to occupy
these lands by pioneers who became known as “boomers.” These first boomers were
quickly evicted by federal officials and troops, but their attempts were followed by more
organized groups for the next ten years. During those years Boudinet continued to publish
and promote his idea, finally Congress passed legislation allowing settlers to enter the
unassigned territory which triggering the land run of 1889.
However, human nature played a role in this process and some settlers reasoned that if
the land was going to be available soon why not claim it now? Anticipating that
probability, President Benjamin Harrison’s opening proclamation concerning the territory
clearly stated that those who entered prematurely would be denied rights to the land. This
section became known as the “sooner clause.” Never-the-less for some the risk was worth
taking and some “sooners’ were successful in filing claims although legal settlers had a very
low opinion of them.
From the late 1860’s until his death in 1890, E.C. had lobbied for Indian Territory to
become assimilated into the United States. It’s doubtful that he ever connected “Boomer”
with “Sooner” as we do today, but because of Boudinets conviction at least some
Oklahomans might consider the terms to be the most important part of his legacy.