An Outlet to the Gulf: Sidney Clarke and the Opening of the Indian Territory
I have become intrigued by Sidney Clarke, He is another of those we have paid little or no attention. He may possibly be the most significant person in the creation of the state of Oklahoma. He used his role as a congressman to champion the interests of the railroad industry and westward expansion. Clarke saw a need for rail access to the Gulf of Mexico for the products of Kansas and other Great Plains states as vital to their success. The Indian Territory stood in the way of his idea of expansionist progress.
“My interest in the opening of Oklahoma to settlement and civilization commenced soon after my location to Kansas in the spring of 1859.”
Clarke, a Free-State Abolitionists from Southbridge, Massachusetts moved to Lawrence, Kansas Territory in 1859 to help bring Kansas into the union as a free state. In 1861 he was elected to the first state legislature.
During the Civil War, Clarke served as assistant adjutant general of Volunteers and assistant provost marshal general for Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Dakota. Clarke would be home in Lawrence when Quantrill’s Raiders burned the town and murdered 180–200 men and boys. He survived by hiding in a cornfield.
“…the treaties which provided that the country of the five civilized tribes should never be included in the limits of any territory or state were a serious barrier to the railroad outlet to the Gulf, but I was in no way discouraged…I realized then, with others, that the battle to break down the treaty system and supplant it with a more liberal policy would be hard and long…”
In 1864 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and would serve until 1870. In 1865, he along with other members of congress escorted President Abraham Lincoln’s body to Springfield, Illinois, for burial. One source states that he was at Ford’s Theater during the assassination, but we need further verification.
In the 41st Congress, Clarke chaired the Committee on Indian Affairs. His approval of a treaty between the United States and the Osage tribe in Kansas helped bring an end to his time in Congress. The treaty put ceded lands in the hands of the railroads and not settlers eager to claim the land. In 1878 he ran as an independent, and he won a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives and was named speaker of the house.
“…the time must soon come when the treaties that closed the door to the entry of white settlement in the Indian Territory would be modified, and that in the progress of future emigration they must give way to the necessities of the situation.”
Clarke joined David Payne and William Couch in the efforts to open the Unassigned Lands of present central Oklahoma to settlement. He served as the Boomers lobbyist in Washington and in 1889 assisted in drafting the Indian Appropriation Bill that accomplished their goal of settling Oklahoma Territory.
He was a partner in the Seminole Townsite Investment Company and settled in Oklahoma City after the Land Run of 1889. Clarke was elected to the Oklahoma City Council and later served as the second provisional mayor. He served in the Territorial Legislature in 1898 and 1900 and chaired the statehood committee. He lobbied Congress to admit Oklahoma as a state. On June 18, 1909, Sidney Clark died in Oklahoma City.