The Resignation and Shooting of Mayor William L. Couch

Date: November 1889 – April 22, 1890

Oklahoma City’s first provisional mayor, William L. Couch, led the Boomer movement before Congress approved non-Indian settlement. He led an incursion to Stillwater following David Payne’s death in 1884. After forced removal by soldiers, he spent four years in Washington, DC, lobbying for the opening of Oklahoma lands.

By the time of the April 22, 1889 opening date, Couch had become a trustee of the Seminole Town and Improvement Company, formed to establish a townsite at Oklahoma Station. He, his father, and five brothers worked for the railroad before the opening. At noon on April 22, Couch walked west from the depot to claim a town lot and a homestead -- 160 acres immediately west of the soon-to-be surveyed Seminole Company townsite.

At a mass meeting on April 27, called to reconcile surveys and establish governance, Couch was elected as temporary mayor. Articles of Confederation were adopted calling for an election on May 1 of a provisional mayor and city council. When election day arrived, Couch was confirmed in his position as mayor.

Competing land claims, lot jumping, and conflicts between the Seminole Company (referred to as “Seminoles”) and many of the later arriving legal settlers (known as “Kickapoos”) added to Couch’s personal challenges, as several settlers were contesting his claims. Anxious “to prove up” his claims and thwart his rivals, Couch resigned as mayor on November 11.

On April 4, 1890, Couch was shot in the knee by rival claimant John C. Adams, who was living on a portion of Couch’s homestead claim. The wound became gangrenous, and Couch died on April 21. A massive funeral was held the following day, the first anniversary of the Run of ‘89.

Adams was arrested, tried in federal court in Wichita, and served seven (?) years in prison. Couch’s land claim was eventually rejected, as were those of all his family members.


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