Six perspectives on the history of Oklahoma, the Land Run 100’s name change, and the future of inclusion in gravel cycling.
In 2011 Bobby and Crystal Wintle moved from Emporia, Kansas to Stillwater, OK. Following their dream they started a family and opened up a bicycle shop named District Bicycles. Bobby fell in love with the local dirt roads and started a grassroots movement that he called “Unlearn Pavement”. It was only natural that he’d also start a gravel bike race and it was only natural that he’d name it after the most famous event in Stillwater’s history: The Land Run of 1889. He didn’t know anything about it but the locals seemed awfully proud of their past, and the name itself had a resonance that just worked. The Land Run of 1889. The Land Run 100. It was a perfect connection between Stillwater’s history and, Bobby hoped, it’s future as a bicycling destination.
When the Oklahoma State University ROTC company offered a ceremonial cannon to start the race with, it was just as perfectly natural to accept their offer. What wasn’t there to like about starting a bike race with a cannon?
The little gravel race in Stillwater quickly became famous. People travelled from around the world to take part. With that additional exposure came questions about the Land Run name, the cannon and what they symbolized. For some, the Land Run was not something to be proud of and the cannon shot was an echo of a past filled with violence, racism and genocide. Hard questions started to be asked of Bobby, Crystal and event organizer Sally Turner by members of the Oklahoma Native American tribes as well as people in the cycling community. They did know the history of that name, didn’t they? They did know the Land Run of 1889 was started with a shot from an Army cannon? And that it was the beginning of the end for the tribes in Oklahoma?
To the joy of some and the consternation of others in late 2019 it was announced that the name of the race was being changed from the Land Run 100 to The Mid South. In doing so Bobby, Crystal and Sally started a conversation about not just how Oklahoma’s turbulent history still affects the events of today but also about the lengths we go in pursuit of inclusion. Were the Land Runs in the 1800’s that bad of a thing? Does the name of a bike race in the middle of Oklahoma matter? How far do we need to go to make people feel comfortable or welcomed? Why can’t people let go of the past and move on?
In order to try to make sense of it, I traveled to Oklahoma to talk to people from as many sides of the Land Run story as I could. Here’s what they have to say (click on each link below for their individual stories):
- Sister and brother Nancy Chipukites & Darrell Stiles, the co-owners of Cabin Creek Farm which was homesteaded in the Land Run of 1891 by their Great Grandfather.
- Choctaw tribal member Tyson Branyon who has ridden in every edition of the race, is a retired Assistant District Attorney and a Board Member of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services. Tyson was and still is against the changing of the name from Land Run 100.
- Fr. Aidan of St. Francis of the Woods, a small Episcopalian religious community who draw much of their beliefs from historical and current tribal connections that are restoring their land back to original Oklahoma prairie.
- Osage tribal member Yatika Fields, an artist and activist who was an integral part of the name change.
- Lindsay Beltchenko, Marketing Manager, Salsa Cycles. Salsa is the largest sponsor of the Mid South event and the longest running sponsor of gravel cycling as a whole.
- Bobby Wintle, co-owner of District Bicycles and founder of the Mid South gravel race.
What I discovered is that Oklahoma has a turbulent past of forced relocation, racism, conflict, war, hope, and opportunity. For tribal members in Oklahoma their history has two parts: Before Relocation and After Relocation. While it was still a territory Oklahoma was the end of the Trail of Tears, a place where over 30 Native American tribes were forced to relocate to after losing their homelands and way of life. Natural enemies were forced to live on reservations together. Nomads who followed the buffalo watched the herds get slaughtered and had their freedom to roam taken away forever. Tribal members would argue that the cultural and physical genocide of the 1800’s continues to this day.
But Oklahoma was also a land of opportunity and excitement. Black townships arose after the Civil War where newly freed slaves banded together to escape the rampant, blatant racism that was common in big cities. Homesteaders came for the chance to have land of their own. Poor immigrants, veterans of the Union Army, and those who were just caught up in the excitement of the Land Runs all arrived in the late 1800’s chasing their dreams. Nearly 60,000 settlers participated in the Land Run of 1889 alone. The Land Run of 1893 brought in another 100,000. By the time Oklahoma declared statehood in 1907 there were 1,400,000 residents. The vast majority of them were not Native Americans. Throughout the 19th century Oklahoma’s uneasy existence has continued. Osage artist Yatika Fields told me, “I always put things in Oklahoma into an analogy that it’s like a puzzle. The pieces are everywhere. We’re still trying to resolve it”