Payne, Couch, and the War Chief

Date: 1830-1889

Boomer leader David L. Payne founded the Oklahoma War Chief in 1883 to agitate for homesteading in the Oklahoma country. Initially published at Wichita, Kansas, the paper was moved to several towns along the southern border of Kansas before Payne set up shop at Rock Falls in the Cherokee Outlet, where he hoped to establish a colony. Circulation peaked at 2,000 in spite the secretary of the interior's order prohibiting newspaper printing in the Cherokee Outlet.

On August 7, 1884, the U.S. Army arrested the colonists and confiscated the press. Boomers responded by purchasing a new press and resuming publication at South Haven, Kansas. Captain Payne's death in November 1884, changes in the newspaper's ownership, and continuing relocations of the printing press failed to deter boomers in their quest to open the Oklahoma country to non-Indian settlement pursuant to the Homestead Act of 1862.

One of those Boomers was William L. Couch who, according to one ardent admirer, could "be trusted to carry out the plans of the dead, so nobly begun and nearly completed."

David Payne had been in his grave all of two weeks when Couch, destined to be elected as the first provisional mayor of Oklahoma City, led a procession of Boomers to the vicinity of modern-day Stillwater and set up camp, complete with cabins signaling their intention to stay. But soldiers were right on their heels. A pitched battle was avoided when the commander, Colonel Edward Hatch, wisely decided to withdraw his troops and wait for hunger to set in. Couch managed to contain the hotheads who were spoiling for a fight, but time was clearly not on his side. On January 30, 1885, the disappointed settlers loaded their wagons and headed back to Kansas, flanked on either side by cavalry.

Publication the Oklahoma War Chief was suspended on August 12, 1886. In their final issue, editors expressed optimism that the fight to extend homestead laws to the Indian Territory would be waged by a newspaper in another Kansas border town or "at the capitol of Oklahoma."

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