The Canal

Stop 22: Coming following completion of Scissortail Park

Construction began in 1889 on a six mile canal intended to deliver water power to an industrial district in South Oklahoma. Ambitious but flawed, the project proved to be a financial disaster.

The largest commercial venture undertaken in the early years of the city was the Oklahoma City Ditch and Water Power Company's construction of a dam in the North Canadian River and a 6 mile canal to the site of a proposed mill and electric generation plant at the south edge of South Oklahoma.

Though some doubted the project's feasibility, the company raised $50,000 through the sale of bonds and a stock subscription widely supported by the Board of Trade and citizens of Oklahoma City. Former Mayor Couch threw the first dirt on December 9, 1889, and for the next year hundreds of men were employed building an elevated channel lined with timber to by-pass more than 15 miles of meandering river.

The canal was completed by Christmas Eve 1890, when 5,000 citizens turned out to watch a torrent of water pour from the outfall. The flour mill built by C.G. Jones and electric turbine owned by the canal company both turned for a few days then ground to a halt. The canal ". . . proved a failure," wrote pioneer journalist Fred L. Wenner, "the water disappearing in quick sands underlying its course and into gopher and ground hog holes in the banks as fast as it flowed in from the river." For six months efforts to contain the water in the channel came to naught. Nevertheless, the project became a legend of aspirational civic commitment for pioneers of the ambitious new city.

  • 1862
    The Homestead Act opens up settlement in the western U.S. by allowing any adult American to claim up to 160 acres of free federal land. 15,000 claims are made by the end of the Civil War.
  • 1866
    The Civilized Tribes are forced to cede large portions of their land, including the Unassigned Lands, to the U.S. Government for relocation of other Native American nations.
  • 1880
    Boomers begin attempts to settle in the Unassigned Lands. The U.S. military repeatedly forces them out.
  • 1887
    The Santa Fe Railroad from Kansas to Texas is completed. Multiple stops are opened in the Unassigned Lands.
  • January-March 1889
    Creek and Seminole Nations release claims to the Unassigned Lands, and Congress approves opening the land for settlement.
  • March-April 1889
    "Boomer camps" pop up along and inside the borders of the Unassigned Lands.
  • March 23, 1889
    President Harrison's Proclamation sets noon on April 22 as the time and date for the Land Run
  • April 19, 1889
    Prospective settlers are escorted from the Kansas and Texas borders to the perimeter of the Unassigned Lands. Those already inside are required to leave.
  • April 20, 1889
    Land east of the railroad tracks at Oklahoma Station is reserved for military use
  • April 22, 1889 at noon
    Oklahoma Land Run officially begins.


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