Bobby Wintle found himself stuck in a hard situation last summer. Years ago in Oklahoma, he’d created one of the biggest gravel events in the world, naming it the Land Run 100. “I called it that because in my ignorance I just thought the roads here were built for settlement,” Wintle says. “Coming from Kansas, I didn’t really see the history of the Land Run for what it was.“ But after years of reading, talking, and learning with his small team of co-organizers, Wintle got to a point where he was hosting an event “and I really couldn’t even bring myself to say the name of the race.” He knew it was time to change.
The Land Run, as a historic event, was the opening of big swaths of indigenous land to European settlers (there were seven Land Runs in total). Indigenous people who had often been violently removed from their ancestral homelands further east under President Andrew Jackson were resettled in what was then Indian Territory. By the 1890s, the end of the Civil War and growth of the US population meant that there was a demand for more land to be allocated to European Settlers; much of “Indian Territory” was thereby reclassified as “unassigned land.”
President Harrison announced that on April 22, 1889, at noon, the unassigned land in Indian Territory would be open for settlement. With a cannon shot and a stampede of hooves, the Land Run, also known as the Land Rush, was on. Yet indigenous people who had been ethnically cleansed from their homelands were, once again, forced to leave their land at the point of a gun.
A year later the Oklahoma territory had been created and within it the town of Stillwater, the home of Wintle’s Land Run race. Well, formerly known as, anyway. He’s renamed it the Mid South 100.
Internal discussion had been getting louder and louder within the race team in recent years about the name of the event. Wintle said he found out later that one of the mechanics at his shop had stopped wearing event t-shirts. Things came to a head on a road trip. “We were on this 14-hour drive to Antelope Wells to collect a buddy who had just won the Tour Divide Single Speed race,” Wintle told me. “We didn’t really know how to approach the conversation, or what to do, but we’d been having conversations within our small crew for almost two years [about a name change]. At first I had this knee-jerk response to defend [the name] but after I shut up and started listening, I changed my mind.”
“None of this is about forgetting history,” said Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute) a keen cyclist who agreed to speak about the situation. “It’s about considering all affected by such things. It’s about making spaces equitable to all [and] being sensitive to these glaring issues of erasure and invisibility. And it’s not about eliminating things, it’s about making spaces reflect our worldview, which is always changing. In an effort to find equity in the outdoor industry and consideration for the past, present, and future, we need allies to come to understand these things because it’s all non-Natives running an industry that does not include us.”
Wintle and his crew had been moving toward this decision for years, trying to acknowledge the fact that they, like so many other Americans, didn’t consider that European Americans didn’t simply settle empty land, they violently removed the people already living there.
Wintle credits Indigenous artist Yatika Fields, who wrote about the Land Run on Instagram, as key. Fields was a customer of District Bicycles, Wintle’s shop, so Wintle called him and asked if there was any way to keep the name, Fields “said we had to change the name. So that was when we made the decision.”