Captain David Payne and his Boomers defied federal authorities to attempt settlement in the Unassigned Lands.
From the 1830s onward, most of present-day Oklahoma was reserved for Native Americans who had been forcibly relocated from their ancestral lands. Following the Union victory in the Civil War, the tribes who had sided with the Confederacy were forced to cede their lands in western Oklahoma, leaving a large area of Unassigned Lands in the middle.
Believing they had a legal right to settle on former Indian land, Boomers, led by Captain David L. Payne staged highly publicized settlement expeditions beginning in 1880. Each time, they were escorted back to Kansas by U.S. soldiers stationed at western forts.
Payne died suddenly in 1884, and was succeeded by Captain William L. Couch, who led additional Boomer incursions in 1884 and 1885. After 1885, Couch took his case to Washington, D.C., lobbying Congress to legalize settlement. On the day of the run, in 1889, Couch was on the payroll of the railroad at Oklahoma Station, ready with family members and other die-hard Boomers to realize his dream of settling the Promised Land.