The land concerned was a 58 mile wide strip running for 225 miles between southern Kansas and Oklahoma territory, around 6 million acres. The Oklahoma territory had been opened for settlement in the 1880s but the strip remained the possession of the Cherokee. The strip, named the Cherokee Outlet, had been granted to them in 1828 as a route to the Indian Territories, other tribes took parts of the strip from the 1860s. After the Civil War a number of cattle trails, including the Chisholm Trail, were driven across the strip, linking Texas to the demanding eastern markets. In the 1880s the Strip itself was leased to a cattle farming association.
Widespread greed for the land led to a law banning cattle farming, the Cherokee then sold the land to the government, opening it up for homesteaders. The strip was divided into 42,000 claims, available to the first person, with a certificate, to put foot and stake a claim in them.
Building up to the 16th potential settlers began arriving on all four borders of the territory, especially the 165 mile-long Kansas border. Around 100,000 people had gathered, up to 30,000 of them around Arkansas City. Most of the people were on horseback although there were also wagons, carts and special train services.
The borders were guarded by US soldiers up to noon when the race was begun. Over the next few hours people raced recklessly across the land to secure the prime claims, crash or be disappointed.