It was early April, 1889. Newspapers across the country had built the momentum for the great race that was to take place in Indian Territory that year. Articles and advertisements came out in local papers in neighboring states and as far away as New York. Men came by buggy, on horseback, bicycle, or "shank's mare"—anything that would get a person to a place of their choosing on this new land.
Billy sat upright on the stiff seat of the train, waiting for the gunshot and the beginning of the race. The train was full of men who intended to jump from the moving train once the starting gun was fired, claiming what land they could find once they jumped. Billy's heart was racing. Would he find some good land at last? Would he be able to bring his family to this yet unfound place? Would their dreams finally become reality?
Port Gower had decided to race in a buggy he had purchased after arriving at the area for the race. It was old and rickety but he would have a better chance to find something that he really wanted for land. "Billy, this is our chance of a lifetime. This is our chance to have the kind of farm we have always dreamed of. I want to find the farm that I will work and live on until I die!" Port thought a moment and then he said, "After Mattie's mother died, I thought my life was over. Then I found Sarah Catherine. She has stuck by me through so much. I want her to have a decent home." He told Billy not to worry about getting good land for himself. "If you don't find what you want, there will be other races and other choices for you and Mattie later on. Just do your best. I'll meet you back in Texas." He gave Billy a firm pat on the back and departed for his own quest for land.
The gunshot went off and the race was on! Pandemonium broke out across the line of racers. Men on horses lurched forward while horse-drawn buggies followed, with bicyclists and men running, brought up the rear. A huge cloud of dust boiled up from the milieu of people. The train began its slow chug, chug start and seemed to lag behind most of the racers until it got up a head of steam. Then, to Billy's relief, the train pulled ahead of most racers.
It raced along at some twenty-five miles an hour and the landscape rolled by Billy's window. He leaned against the window, looking ahead for rolling hills and green grass. It all looked good. Men were jumping from the train and rolling down the embankment of the train track. Billy watched as several men tumbled out of the train, recovered themselves from the fall and began running toward the land they wanted, carrying an armful of stakes. His heart beat faster. He had to jump or all the good land would be taken!
He darted from his seat and moved quickly toward the open door of the train. Several men were ahead of him, jumping one by one. Billy finally made his way to the front of the line, to the open door. His arms were full of the heavy stakes. He tossed them out of the train and stepped down to the last step outside the door. Holding on, waiting to the last minute, with one hand on the iron boarding handle, he heard men behind him shouting, "Go on! Jump! Jump! It's good land! Go on!"
Billy closed his eyes and stepped out into air, falling, tumbling head over heels down the embankment, rolling and twisting! When his body stopped, it was at the foot of the train embankment in a huge patch of what he later learned was called "goatheads"; little thorny stickers that stuck to his coat, trousers, hat, even his hands and face. He got up and gingerly began to pick the thorny little buggers from his clothes and body.
At last, rid of the goatheads, he walked back to where his stakes lay scattered along the train trestle and picked them up slowly. "I think I am going to be stiff and sore tonight," he thought. His right ankle throbbed from the fall. The only other man he saw was some half mile behind him so he decided he had a good chance to stake out the land that lay in front of him. He walked up a slight embankment and drove the first stake. He could see other men some quarter of a mile away, so he hurried to mark his claim.
The morning sun was getting higher in the sky as he worked. It was going to be a warm day. Quickly, he shed his heavy coat and continued marking his land. He spotted a little tree-lined creek and a patch of land up the hill from it that looked like it might be a good place for the farmhouse. He took a quick drink from the creek's water, washed his face and hands, and climbed the hill above the creek.
Walking around 160 acres was going to be a long walk, but he was happy as he surveyed a beautiful, hilly land, perfect for cattle grazing. As the day wore on, he seemed satisfied that he had found a pretty good place for his farm. He spotted an outcrop of rock and sat down on one to rest. His ankle was beginning to swell from the jump and he took off his shoe to rub it. He took off his hat and wiped out sweat from inside of it with his handkerchief. "This is going to be a nice place," he said to a bird chirping nearby.
He glanced across the landscape and imagined his cattle roaming the land, eating its abundant grass. A fairly stiff breeze stroked his face and the sun shone bright across what was to be his fields. Then, his first doubts began to surface. The train was long gone and he had no transportation except walking. It was a very long walk back to Texas . He stood up and winced from his swollen ankle. He dug down into his pockets and produced a silver dollar, not much for purchasing any kind of buggy or horse. "How am I going to get my family up here?" he asked the bird. It only chattered back at him.
He put on his shoe over his swollen foot and winced again. "I guess I'll think of something," and he picked up the last of the stakes and began walking toward one last place to drive a stake. His ankle was hurting now but he ignored the pain and continued driving the stake with a rock he found from his new land.
A high, piercing whistle reached his ears and he looked up to see a man driving a wagon and team of horses up to the outcrop of his rocks. There were no roads in the area so the man just drove across the most convenient contour of the hill. He pulled up close to Billy and said, "Howdy! Mind if I water my horses in your creek?" Billy tipped his hat, and said, "Go ahead!" The man turned his horses and wagon downhill to the creek where they began drinking.
Billy followed the man down to the creek, limping from his sprained ankle. The man crawled down from his wagon and stuck out his hand. "Bob Wilson". Billy returned the gesture and introduced himself. "You got a nice piece of land here," Bob said. Billy nodded in agreement. "Where you from?" Bob asked. " Texas," Billy returned. Bob pushed his hat back on his head, produced a handkerchief and began wiping his face.
Billy admired Bob's two horses hitched to the wagon, thinking he might try to trade him something for one of the horses. Then, he thought, "I don't have anything to trade." Bob stroked a horse's neck and continued looking at Billy's land. "I'se wonderin'. I've got a brand new wagon here; bought it last month. And these is two fine bays that work real well with the wagon. I got here too late to get in the race so I've been lookin' around here to see if anyone would like to trade their land for this team and wagon."
Billy looked the man in the eyes with a steady gaze, thinking that God must have sent him. He said nothing but slowly turned and looked inside each horse's mouth to see if their teeth were good. He was thinking hard. Should he take this trade and go get his family? Or should he figure out some other way to bring them back. He lifted one of the horse's legs and checked his hooves for rot or sores. He stroked the horse's flank and then turned to look inside the wagon. His ankle shot him a sharp pain and he winced.
Bob said, "I see you're limpin'. Did you fall?" Bill smiled at him. "I jumped off the train and sprained my ankle a bit this morning." After a thorough look at the wagon and horses, Bill faced Bob once more. "I gotta tell ya' that you have a fine wagon and good horses, but this here land is prime land for farmin' or grazin'." Bob nodded in agreement. "Yep. It is good land but they are going to be opening up a lot more land here in the near future and you can get all you want for nothin' but a strong back and a promise to work the land. I got to find somethin' today because my family is comin' down here on the train—and I gotta have a place for them."
Billy studied the scene a moment longer and thought about his problem of getting the family, and his aching ankle. "I'm going to sit down here and cool my sore ankle in this creek water, and think about this." Bob smiled and took off his hat. He bathed his face in the water and relaxed a bit. Soon they were chatting about their homes, their families, the war and the land.
"How about we shake if you give me the wagon, team, the supplies in the wagon and $25 to boot?" Bob now looked Billy in the eye. He turned away and scratched his head. He looked back at Billy and said, "You drive a hard bargain!" But Bob reached inside his coat pocket, pulled out a leather wallet, counted out $25 in paper money and laid it on the rock next to Billy. Billy could see that Bob had a lot more money in that wallet and he wished that he had asked for more.
"Deal!" Billy said, and stuck out his hand. The two men shook hands and Bob handed the reins to the horses to Billy. Billy picked up the money, his coat and climbed into the wagon. He pulled the papers to claim the land from his coat pocket and handed them to Bob. They shook hands once more and Billy turned the horses to climb the hill again.
As he drove away, he looked back at the green hills again and wondered if he was doing the right thing. It seemed like the right thing, what with his need for transportation, a bum ankle, and the future opportunity of acquiring land just for the asking. What Billy didn't know was that the land he just traded away would be worth millions in oil and wheat in the distant future.
[Author's Note] Family stories and a newspaper obituary confirm that William Samuel Mead participated in the first run in Oklahoma. The details of his participation were provided by his son, Owen Mitchell Mead. Elisha Gower was known to have settled in Paoli, Indian Territory. Family history confirms that Martha Jane Gower was part Cherokee and considered claiming headrights in Oklahoma but was advised by her father not to do that. As a result, her husband, William Samuel Mead probably leased land in Oklahoma since no record has been found of land claims by him. U.S. Census records confirm that William Samuel Mead and his wife and sons were living in the area of what was Paucanla, Indian Territory in 1900. A picture of the Paucanla School shows members of the Mead family.