Historically, as the Westward Movement progressed after the Civil War, more and more territory of the Great Plains was opened for settlement. But the U.S. government knew that it would eventually have to find a permanent place for the displaced Native American tribes. As a result, the territory south of Kansas and north of Texas was designated Indian Territory. White settlers were not allowed. Inevitably, Indian Territory became a “no man’s land” where only the roughest of outlaws holed up. It was a land beyond the reach of the law. Jesse James, the Dalton gang, and Belle Starrwere just a few of the famous outlaws calling Indian Territory home. As Native American tribes were subdued, they were moved here, usually with great resistance.
   A reference in a Western to Indian Territory typically means that it is the place to escape to if the law is in pursuit. Films as diverse as True Grit (1969) and Hoppy Serves a Writ (1943) are based on this premise. Films sympathetic to Native Americans do not usually portray Indian Territory favorably. John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn (1964) shows the Cheyenne tribe desperately trying to escape its reservation in Indian Territory because of the unbearable climate, terrain, and resultant living conditions. The Apaches in Geronimo:An American Legend (1993) fight fiercely against General Crook, not because they may be forced to live on a reservation but because they will be forced to live in Indian Territory. They finally surrender when they are promised a reservation in central Florida. They no sooner settle in Florida than they are forced to move back to Indian Territory. Even Indian Territory could not remain unsettled by whites forever, and the last Western territory made available for settlement was Indian Territory. It was opened through a series of land runs, the most famous being the Land Run of 1889, depicted in numerous Westerns including Tumbleweeds (1925) and Cimarron (1960), in which thousands of settlers lined up at the boundary set by the U.S. cavalry, and at noon, after the starting shot was fired, they all rushed into the new territory. The footage of the land run in Tumbleweeds was used in numerous Westerns thereafter. In 1907 Indian Territory became the state of Oklahoma.
   See also INDIANS.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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