NO MANS LAND, Oklahoma

No-Mans Land of early Oklahoma history became what is now known as the Panhandle and touches Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.   The eastern boundary was established at 100 degrees W longitude by the Adams Onis Treaty in 1819.  The southern boundary came from the annexation of Texas in 1845 and the compromoise of 1850, which took some land from Texas and set that boundary at 36 degrees 30  N latitude.  The western boundary at 103 W longitude evolved from the Mexican War Conquest, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 and the organization of New Mexico Territory in 1850.  Its northern boundary was established by the organization of Kansas Territory in 1854 with a southern boundary at 27 degrees N latitude.  Its history begins about 1850 when Texas relinquished claim to that territory in compromising over the slavery question. Little or no settlement had been made there then. The Santa Fe Trail traversed what is now Beaver County in 1822. An 1850 map shows it as merely part of the public lands neighboring on the Cherokee Outlet. It was already a haven for outlaws for Texas had paid little attention to the extreme northern part of her territory. The type of population in the panhandle are responsible for its high rank in many respects. There are practically no Negroes and very few Indians. Those Indians that are there have settled along the railroads and have come as enterprising individuals rather than tribes or bands which were forced to locate there as is true in the rest of the state. The few negroes who are there were not slaves to be released after the Civil War because it was north of 36 degrees and 30' and the latter fact makes the history of No-Mans Land what it is. The outlaws who drifted into that territory because it was so long unorganized and unprotected drifted out when the opposite condition began to prevail leaving the original settlers who had come, like the type already mentioned more as individuals than as groups, who had gradually filtered in from settlements in surrounding states and territories. Probably because there were no large groups led or driven into this territory statistics show they are more capable of individual self government than other peoples to be found in the state. The population for the whole panhandle rose slowly but steadily until 1900, sank between 1900 and 1910, and has risen very gradually since.   According to "The Panhandle History - Northwest Flats Heritage, 1890-1990", published in 1990, the panhandle is a little more than 34 miles wide and a fraction longer than 168 miles. It contains 5738 square miles and is larger than Connecticut and 4-1/2 times the size of Rhode Island. The Panhandle is bordered on the east by Oklahoma; the north by Kansas and Colorado; the west by New Mexico and the south by Texas. It was a part of the Texas territory until 1850, when Texas gave it up because everything north of the 36th parallel went with the Union and Texas permitted slavery. The south boundary line of the Kansas territory was established around 1854... The east and west lines established previously by land grants. The Act establishing the Kansas southline completely legislated the panhandle strip of land out of the Union and left "No Mans Land" to fend for itself. One of the agreements made in 1866 as a result of the Civil War was the right-of-way to railroads across the "Indian Country". One of these, the Santa Fe, followed the old Santa Fe Trail across Beaver County. In 1879 the Jones and Plummer Cattle Trail from Toscasco to Dodge City first crossed Beaver Creek, and at this crossing a fur trader built a sod store. Several years later this place became Beaver City. The name Beaver, first given to the creek, later to all No-Mans Land and finally to the present Beaver County was probably in honor of a chief of the Choctaw Indians. An 1880 map shows this country a 'Public Land" strip surrounded by states and territories. By 1885... The Supreme Court decision come out stating that this strip of land was NOT part of the Cherokee Outlet. The Secretary of Interior at that time stated it was "Public Domain" and subject to "Squatters Rights." In 1885 and 86 the general tide of immigration into southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado swarmed over into No-Mans Land. By 1887 the population had reached 6000 yet there was no way for the settlers to claim the land upon which they lived, no way to make marriages legal in the territory, no laws to govern tax foreclosures, the organization of corporations, etc. More than that the desperados and horse thieves who had come there because of this condition were not pleasant neighbors for the peaceful settlers who held their land merely by common consent and good faith. The main trouble was that during dry years these settlers often had to leave their holdings for a time in order to subsist and if someone "jumped their claim" while they were gone there was no way of forcing off the intruder. Under the circumstances there was nothing the people could do but organize their own government. The main hindrance to this was the constant rivalry and meddling of townsites and ambitious politicians. A meeting was held in Beaver City on 26 October 1886 which organized a "Claimants Board" to protect land claims. The inhabitants had only the "squatters rights" Federal law to work from. In November of the same year a meeting was held in the sod schoolhouse in Beaver City for the purpose of manufacturing "quit claim" deeds at which the foundation was built for the organization of a new territory known as the Cimarron Territory. At the same time a scheme was being worked on by those who wished to delay or prevent the settlement of the "Indian Country" by white people to make No-Mans Land a part of Kansas. The first election in the new Cimarron Territory was held 22 February 1887. The nine delegates chosen at this convention met in the same sod schoolhouse on March 4 and organized a first legislative body of the Cimarron Territory. This territory was divided into five counties - Benton, Beaver, Palo Duro, Optima, and Sunset. Laws were made governing land, marriages, taxes, foreclosures, etc. What public property there was at the time had been secured by private freewill contributions. The next three years were marked by the rivalry of political organizations divided over purely local issues. J. E. Dale and Orville G. Chase both reported in Washington, showed credentials, and asked to be recognized as the official delegate to Congress from an Organized Territory. Either would have been seated if it had not been for the opposition of the other. As it was Congress could not decide which to recognize and that more than anything else kept No-Mans Land from eventually becoming a separate State. Until 1891... The six-shooter was law of the land and the strip became a "No Mans Land." A haven for criminals and outlaws. May 2, 1890... And the Enabling Act signed by President Benjamin Harrison attached the strip to Oklahoma Territory. Then the farmers and the ranchers were at it because of the fence the farmers were building around their crops. Finally, "No Mans Land" found it's permanent home and was the last territory to be given final claims and ownership in Oklahoma. It was divided into three (3) counties -- Cimarron, Texas and Beaver.

Sources: vertical files for Texas County in the Oklahoma Historical Society's Genealogy Library; Oklahoma A History of Five Centuries, 2nd edition By Arrell Morgan Gibson page 178

Robber's Roost

This is a painting that is hanging in the State Senate located at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
A band of outlaws led by Captain William Coe made No Man's Land its headquarters in the late 1860's. They built a rock fortress-like building later known as "Robbers Roost" that was impenetrable, that was actually built in Cimarron County, Oklahoma.  The gang would make forays to Fort Union, New Mexico Territory, and Fort Lyons, Colorado Territory, to steal Army horses and mules. The Army brand, "US" on the right shoulder, were blotched or branded over, and most of the stock was taken to eastern Kansas and Missouri and sold to settlers. The outlaws are also thought to have preyed on freight caravans traveling the Santa Fe Trail 14 miles south of the hideout, and scattered ranches in the vicinity.  The building was strategically placed northeast of the later town of Kenton, on a ridge that jutted southwest from Robbers' Roost Mesa. It extended into the middle of the valley, enabling look-outs to view approaches from up and down the Cimarron Valley and north up Carrizo Valley. Five miles northwest of the hide-out, in a well hidden and well-watered canyon, the gang maintained a fully equipped blacksmith shop with tools stolen from Santa Fe caravans. The anvil was mounted on a block of walnut of a size and character making it seem probable that it came from the Missouri River country. In this shop, which was the outlaws' horse pasture, their mounts were shod and any other necessary iron work done. The canyon in later years was called Blacksmith Canyon and the name is still used. The leader of the outlaw gang, Coe, was a tall, well built man about 35 years old at the beginning of his operations in the area. His bank of followers was estimated to be from 30 to 50 in size, but seldom were all of them at the stronghold at any one time. raiding parties were kept in various locations most of the time, and after stealing livestock it was necessary to drive them to market in the opposite direction from where they were stolen. But when the men reported in at the roost, life was not dull. Coe had set up a bar, brought in a piano, and there were always girls on the premises. Coe is thought to have come to the area about 1864 and it may have been his presence as much as Indians in the vicinity that prompted the Army to establish Camp Nichols in 1865. The strip known as "No Man's Land" was a lawless territory about 35 miles from north to south and 168 miles east to west. When Texas became a slave state in 1836 they relinquished all land north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude ( the southern border of the strip). When the Territory of Kansas was created in 1854 and Territory of Colorado in 1961 their southern boundaries were set at the 37th parallel (north border of the present Panhandle of Oklahoma. The Cherokee Outlet was at the eastern end , and New Mexico Territory on the west. So this was No Man's Land , without law and without settlers for many years. Coe was a stonemason and carpenter and worked at these trades for a time at Fort Union, which was established in 1851. He was a southerner, but that is all the factual information known about him. There are several tales concerning his background. One story pictures him as a soldier who served the South loyally until the end of war. When he returned to his home he found it grown up in weeds and all his livestock gone. Bitter at the turn of events the captain opted for an "easy" life and headed into No Man's Land, where he organized his band of raiders. Another story says Coe come to the area with the Charlie Goodnight cattle drive, then drifted East into No Man's Land. Still another account pictures Coe as the black sheep of a fine southern family. He was a captain, but deserted the Army and came West for refuge. In February of 1867, several members of the Robber's Roost gang are said to have raided the sheep camp west of their headquarters of brothers Juan and Ramon Bernal and Juan and Vicente Baca from Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory. They attacked the herders, killing two of them, and drove 3,400 head of sheep toward Pueblo, Colorado Territory, then a small trading post. Following this outrage, the Bernals and Bacas and others in the area who had suffered from operations of the outlaws, sent a delegation to Fort Lyons, on the Arkansas. River near Las Animas, where troops under the command of Colonel William H. Penrose were asked to help in breaking up the gang. It is said that the Army brought in a cannon to fire on the fortress. The hideout took a direct hit and eleven of Coe’s men were captured and hung in the cottonwood trees on the nearby north Carrizo.  Coe escaped and traveled along the Cimarron River to Madison, New Mexico.  Mrs. Emory, wife of Madison Emory, fed Coe and gave him a place to sleep in the bunkhouse. While Coe slept, her 14 year-old son rode to catch up with the army and his stepfather. There is nothing in the Army records to indicated an assault by Penrose's men on the roost, but there is a record that a group of soldiers led by Penrose left Fort Lyons in late 1867 in an attempt to capture some renegade Indians. They followed them through Raton Pass, all the way to Palo Duro Canyon, and it 1868 before they returned to Fort Lyons. In an account written by Penrose, he described this area but said nothing about the Coe gang. The final downfall of Coe came through the efforts of a woman, Mrs. Madison Emory, and her young son, Bud Sumpter. He told his captors afterward: "I never figured to be outgeneraled by a woman, a pony and a boy." They had arrested Coe and brought him to Pueblo, Colorado. The prisoner was taken to jail at Pueblo and kept under guard of troops pending indictment and trial in the Third Judicial District of Colorado Territory. But vigilantes soon decided that either the risk of holding him was too great, or that justice for a criminal like Coe was too slow. The night of July 20, 1868, men came to the trooper on guard, saying it was necessary to change Coe's quarters. The vigilantes put him in a wagon, tied a rope around his neck and drove to a cottonwood on the bank of Fountain Creek. According to The Colorado Chieftain of July 23, he was found there the next morning, still handcuffed and in leg irons, knees touching the ground. The body was cut down and buried beneath the tree on which he had met his fate.
[Sources: The Tracks We Followed" by Norma Gene Young, Chronicles of Oklahoma (Beaver County)
Additional Source:  Permission granted by Kathy Weisner (owner)]