Gen. James Baird Weaver:Boomer, Sooner, and Presidential Candidate
One of the things we are trying to do at the Oklahoma Territorial Museum is to show that the Boomer Movement and the Land Run are not just Oklahoma history but that they are episodes in a national narrative. The great panic of 1873 created a depression in Europe and North America that lasted to the end of the decade. This depression led to the formation of Third Party movements in American Politics. A leader of this movement, Gen. James Baird Weaver of Iowa played an instrumental role in the opening of Oklahoma to settlement.
James Baird Weaver was born in Dayton, Ohio, on June 12, 1833, to Abram Weaver and Susan Weaver. In 1842, the Weavers homesteaded on the newly opened Sac and Fox land in Iowa Territory. In 1858 he married Clara Vinson, the couple had eight children. He was an abolitionist and an early member of the newly formed Republican Party.
At the beginning of the Civil War Weaver enlisted in the 2nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry. Weaver fought at Fort Donelson in Tennessee and was wounded in the arm, the Battle of Shiloh, the Second Battle of Corinth, the Battle of Resaca, the Atlanta Campaign, and Sherman’s march to the sea. Weaver steadily advanced through the ranks and rose from First Lieutenant to Brevet Brigadier General.
Weaver returned to Iowa and started a newspaper, served as district attorney, appointed assessor of internal revenue. Weaver became interested in prohibition and state control of railroad rates, support for a larger money supply, an eight-hour work day, safety regulations in factories, and an end to child labor. In 1877 Weaver switched to the Greenback party and in 1878 he entered the House of Representatives as a Greenbacker. In 1880 the Party would nominate him for the Presidency of the United States. Republican James Garfield would win the election.
Here is where Weaver takes up the Boomer cause. After the Civil War, the Five Civilized Tribes ceded their western lands to the federal government as punishment for their participation on the side of the Confederacy. The lands were to be used for the removal of other friendly tribes. These removals ended in 1876 and in 1879 Elias C. Boudinot a Cherokee called for the lands to be opened to settlement and the Boomers set forth to settle a new land. Concurrently the Cattle industry took control of the lands of the Indian Territory.
Weaver introduced a bill in December 1885 to organize Indian Territory and the neighboring Neutral Strip into a new Oklahoma Territory but it got nowhere. Weaver reintroduced it in February 1886 and called for the Indian reservations to be broken up into tribal allotments and the surplus opened to white settlement. He introduced the bill every year until the lands opened in 1889.
Weaver would be in Oklahoma City with William Couch and at noon on April 22nd they would step off the Santa Fe Railroad right of way and claim land in downtown Oklahoma City. Weaver would lose the claim in a Sooner contest and return to Iowa.
In 1891 Weaver helped form the People’s Party or the Populist Party and in 1892 again run for President as a third party candidate. The Populists pulled enough votes away from the Republicans to help elect Grover Cleveland to a second non-sequential term. Weaver spent his career fighting for the little guys; slaves, factory workers, miners, union members, and the Oklahoma Boomers.