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From 1854 to 1907 there was a territory reserved for American Indians (aptly named "Indian Territory") in what is now the state of Oklahoma.

How exclusive was this territory? Did non-Indians go there at all? Did they settle there? Did they travel through? Or did the US treat it as a no-go region where the various tribes held authority?

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When you downvote, it's good to leave a comment explaining why. This helps people ask better questions, and it's simply courteous. –  Joe May 12 '12 at 20:14
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First off, what is today the state of Oklahoma is the result of three "leftover" pieces of territory. The eastern part of the state was reserved for the "Civilized" (aka farming) tribes pushed out of the American Southeast. The western half was later divied up to other tribes (eg: the Osages) as they got pushed out of their territories. Generally they weren't force-marched into their territories by the army though, so the tribal element in the western reservations wasn't nearly as strong as in the east. The "panhandle" was part of Texas, but was too far North to fit in the slave state/free state compromise that allowed Texas to join the Union, and too far south to fit in a similar compromise that brought in Kansas.enter image description here

As for the Indian Territory (eastern half of Oklahoma) itself, it was originally supposed to be land set aside for the tribe's use. Each tribe had its own specific territory which it was supposed to govern. The problem was white folk didn't tend to respect tribal governments, so effectively the Indian areas became lawless areas; a haven for outlaws and squatters.

Eventually the USA government stepped in, made it a proper territory, and forced all the tribes to divvy up their reservations to their indivdual members. (As a result of this, Oklahoma technically has no "reservations", unlike a lot of states with significant Native American presence). Excess land at this point (aka: Unassigned Lands) was opened up to white settlement. Also, many of the individual tribe members didn't live very close to their assigned plots, weren't very well-versed in USA property law, and thus were easy prey for white speculators. So by the beginning of the 20'th century tribe members actually didn't own much land in "Indian Territory" at all.

Another thing to realize here is that traditional tribal culture viewed tribal and clan affiliation as voluntary, rather than hereditary. In other words, they didn't have the USA/European culture's obsession with "race" or "blood". People would move between tribes at will, and tribes and clans had little compunction about adopting white (or black) people who were serious about joining the tribe. Indeed many of the tribal leaders on the Trail of Tears were by our reckoning mostly White. For example, Cherokee Cheif John Ross was 1/8th Cherokee and 7/8ths Scots, and his first language was English. So when looked at with our modern White/Red/Black blinders on, who went where becomes very confusing.

So yes, there were certianly many "white" (and "black") Americans living in Indian Territory.

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As an aside, a wonderful book on the culture of the SE tribes in the early 1800's and how it interacted with the racial attitudes in USA culture is a work of alternative history titled 1812:The Rivers of War ericflint.wikia.com/wiki/1812:_The_Rivers_of_War . The sequel isn't as strong on this particular subject, but is one of my personal contenders for best work of fiction ever. –  T.E.D. May 11 '12 at 19:34
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Actually, the Indian territory was established in the 1830s and originally included almost all of the land between the current states of Arkansas and Missouri and on up into the current state of Nebraska. Almost immediately, white settlers began to move into the territory.

Because the fertile land was so desirable for the white settlers, the 1854 Kansas and Nebraska act resulted in the Indian Territory being split up into three different territories. The two northernmost territories becames the states of Kansas (1861) and Nebraska (1867). The Indian tribes that had lived there previously got pushed to the southern area which is now the state of Oklahoma.

This created some problems with the five civilized tribes that had already been relocated from Florida and Mississippi to this part of the Indian Territory. The influx of new Indian tribe along with the encroachment of white settlements that were starting to develop all around them caused a lot of unhappiness with the five civilized tribes. This resulted in many of them supporting the Confederates during the Civil War. Because of this, the US government took advantage of the opportunity to renegotiate the treaties, resulting in large sections of land being opened to white settlers.

By 1890 this area became known as the Oklahoma Territory, which had it's own governor. From there the residents began to work towards earning statehood, which was accomplished in 1907.

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A pretty good complete history of the territory. One thing I'd like mentioned here though is that in 1905 Indian Territory petitioned to becaome a state all its own ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_Sequoyah ), but was rejected. It was only after that when the entire modern state worked together to achive statehood. –  T.E.D. May 11 '12 at 19:57
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