On a hot June afternoon in 1998 in Spokane, Wash., I raised my right hand and pledged my allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America.
Today, I have that pledge framed and hanging on my office wall. It reads in part:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic…
I felt a lot of emotions that day. I had become a citizen of the greatest Nation on Earth. Yet in some ways I didn’t feel much different, no doubt because of my paternal roots.
I remember leaving my small country school to attend the biggest high school in Calgary four decades ago. The kids teased me with words like “Yankee.” I never disputed what they thought were catcalls and proudly embraced the fact they believed I was an American.
I remember the dinnertime stories my father would tell about his father Amil and his grandfather, Gustov, a bearded German who spoke English with a harsh accent.
Amil was all of 9 and had just become a naturalized citizen a few weeks before he and his father embarked on one of the greatest American adventures ever: the Oklahoma land rush of 1889.
Those Unassigned Lands were considered some of the best unoccupied public land in the United States. The Indian Appropriations Act for 1890 was passed and signed into law with an amendment by Representative William Springer (D-Ill.). The Springer Amendment authorized the President to open Unassigned Lands for settlement. Because of the Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, legal settlers could claim lots up to 160 acres of surveyed, unclaimed public domain. If the settler lived on the land for five years, improved it and paid claim registration fees, he could receive the title to the land.
My American heritage is hardly blue-blooded; but as much as any group, the people of that time put down stakes for a Nation that would dominate the world in just 50 years.
Stubborn Men And Beasts
An estimated 50,000 people lined up for their share of the land. The race began at high noon on April 22, 1889, when starting signals were given at the points of entry.
Gustov and Amil Myers were among the settlers in a hastily built wagon box that was pulled by an aged gelding and a mean mule.
Everything they owned was in that wood-and-iron wagon, and everything they dreamed lay in front of them.
It was a dash the moment the gunshot echoed across the prairie. Gustov’s mixed-team raced the first half mile. The horse was breathing hard and the mule would not run any farther than she had to.
Those behind were on bicycles or on foot. My grandfather remembered one man carrying four wooden stakes tied to his belt loops, but no hammer. Those ahead were disappearing on the horizon; the richest land would be theirs.