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Pre-European Amerindian cultures and contact with Europeans

Oklahoma was inhabited by Native American tribes including the Kitikiti′sh (Wichita) Quapaw, Caddo and Osage. Descendants of these peoples still live in the state.

In the 16th century Spanish explorers became the first documented Europeans to visit the area (there is evidence to suggest that viking explorers passed through in the 6th century, but this has yet to be accepted widely by the scientific and historical community). Later, Oklahoma was part of the vast territorial swapping between European powers France and Spain.


Five Civilized Tribes

Oklahoma, as Indian Territory, served as the relocation area for the policy of Indian Removal started by Andrew Jackson in the 1830s; the end of the Cherokee Trail of Tears was Indian Territory. There were already many tribes living in the territory, along with whites and escaped slaves.

The Five Civilized Tribes, so named due to their early adaptations to Christianity and European clothing, technology, and trade, were not the only ones forced to Oklahoma. The Delaware, from the northeast U.S., Kiowa, Comanche, and other nations were forced to move to Oklahoma.

The name Oklahoma comes from the language of the Choctaw people, who were removed from Mississippi to Indian Territory by the United States Government in the early to mid-1800s. "Oklahoma" is a combination of two Choctaw words: okla, meaning ′people′ (as in the term Miliki okla, which means ′American people′), and homa (also spelled homma or humma) which means, among other things, ′red.′ The name was suggested by Allen Wright, Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation from 1866 to 1870.

The Five Civilized Tribes set up towns such as Tulsa, Tahlequah, and Muskogee, which became some of the larger towns in the state. They also brought their African slaves to Oklahoma, which added to African-American population in the region.

During the Civil War many tribes were internally split between the Confederates and the Union. However, in 1861 the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Quapaws, Senecas, Caddos, Wichitas, Osage Nation, and Shawnees all signed treaties of alliance with the Confederacy. Stand Watie fought several battles in Oklahoma.


Cowboys and Indians

After the Civil War, in 1866, the federal government forced the tribes into new treaties. Most of the land in central and western Indian Territory was ceded to the government. Some of the land was given to other tribes, but the central part, the so-called Unassigned Lands, remained with the government. Another concession allowed railroads to cross Indian lands.

Furthermore the practice of slavery was outlawed. Some nations were integrated racially and otherwise with their slaves, but other nations were extremely hostile to the former slaves and wanted them exiled from their territory.

In the 1870s a movement began by people wanting to settle the government lands in the Indian Territory under the Homestead Act of 1862. They referred to the Unassigned Lands as Oklahoma and to themselves as Boomers.

In the 1880s, early settlers of the state′s very sparsely populated Panhandle region tried to form the Cimarron Territory, but lost a lawsuit against the federal government, prompting a judge in Paris, Texas, to unintentionally create a moniker for the area. "That is land that can be owned by no man," the judge said, and after that the panhandle was referred to as No Man′s Land until statehood arrived decades later.

In 1884, in United States v. Payne, the United States District Court in Topeka, Kansas, ruled that settling on the lands ceded to the government by the Indians under the 1866 treaties was not a crime. The government at first resisted but the Congress soon enacted laws authorizing settlement.

Congress passed the Dawes Act, or General Allotment Act, in 1887 requiring the government to negotiate agreements with the tribes to divide Indian lands into individual holdings. Under the allotment system, tribal lands left over would be surveyed for settlement by non-Indians. Following settlement, many whites accused Republican officials of giving preferential treatment to ex-slaves in land disputes.


Land runs

On March 23, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation which opened up the two million acres (8,000 km²) of the Unassigned Lands for settlement on April 22nd of that year. It was to be the first of a number of land runs, but later land openings were conducted by means of a lottery due to widespread cheating - some of the settlers were called Sooners because they had already staked their land claims before the land was officially opened for settlement.

The Organic Act of 1890 created the Oklahoma Territory out of the Unassigned Lands and the area known as No Man′s Land.

In 1893 the government purchased the rights to settle the Cherokee Outlet, or Cherokee Strip, from the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Outlet was part of the lands ceded to the government in the 1866 treaty, but the Cherokees retained access to the area and had leased it to several Chicago meat-packing plants for huge cattle ranches. The Cherokee Strip was opened to settlement by land run in 1894. Also, in 1893, Congress set up the Dawes Commission to negotiate agreements with each of the Five Civilized Tribes for the allotment of tribal lands to individual Indians. Finally, the 1898 Curtis Act abolished tribal jurisdiction over all of Indian Territory.



On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma Territory combined with Indian Territory to become the 46th U.S. state. When it became a state, it had the longest constitution of any government in the world.

In the early 1900s the oil business began to get underway. Huge pools of underground oil were discovered in places like Glenpool near Tulsa. Many whites flooded into the state to make money. Many of the "old money" elite families of Oklahoma can date their rise to this time. The prosperity of the 1920s can be seen in the surviving architecture from the period, such as the Tulsa mansion which was converted into the Philbrook Museum of Art or the art deco architecture of downtown Tulsa.

For Oklahoma, the early 1900s were also somewhat turbulent politically. Many different groups had flooded into the state and were trying to figure out how to live. There were also "black towns", in which blacks tried to make a life of their own, separate from whites. The white towns were also segregated. Northern Tulsa was known as Black Wall Street because of the vibrant business, cultural, and religious community that had sprung up there.

The Oklahoma Socialist Party did achieve a fair degree of success in this era (the party had its highest per-capita membership in Oklahoma at this time with 12,000 dues paying members in 1914), including the publication of dozens of party newspapers and the election of several hundred local elected officials. Much of their success came from their willingness to reach out to Black and American Indian voters (they were the only party to continue to resist Jim Crow laws), and their willingness to alter traditional Marxist ideology when it made sense to do so (the biggest changes were the party′s support of widespread small-scale land ownership, and their willingness to use religion positively to preach the "Socialist gospel"). The state party also delivered Presidential candidate Eugene Debs some of his highest vote counts in the nation.

The party was later crushed into virtual non-existence during the "white terror" that followed the ultra-repressive environment following the Green Corn Rebellion and the World War I era paranoia against anyone who spoke against the war or capitalism.

The Industrial Workers of the World tried to gain headway during this period, but achieved little success. The Ku Klux Klan was also active, denouncing Blacks, Catholics, and Jews. There were several race riots, including the Tulsa Race Riot, one of the worst in American history.


Dust Bowl Era

During the height of the Great Depression, drought and non-ecologically-friendly agricultural practices led to the Dust Bowl, when massive dust storms blew away the soil from large tracts of arable land and deposited it on nearby farms and ranches, distant states, the Atlantic Ocean, and even occasionally Great Britain. The resulting crop failures forced many small farmers to flee the state altogether. Although the most persistent dust storms primarily affected the Panhandle, much of the state experienced occasional dusters, intermittent severe drought, and occasional searing heat. Towns as far-flung as Alva, Altus, and Poteau each recorded temperatures of 120 °F during the epic summer of 1936.

Advances in agro-mechanical technology simultaneously enabled less labor-intensive crop production. Many large landowners and planters had more labor than they needed with the new technology, and the federal Agricultural Adjustment Act paid them to reduce production. Plantation owners throughout the American South and much of eastern and southern Oklahoma released their sharecroppers of their debts and evicted them. With few or no local opportunities available for them, many emancipated but destitute blacks and whites fled to the relative prosperity of California to work as migrant farm workers and, after the onset of World War II, in factories.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, photographs by Dorothea Lange, and songs of Woody Guthrie tell tales of woe from the era. The negative images of the "Okie" as a sort of rootless migrant laborer living in a near-animal state of scrounging for food greatly offended many Oklahomans. These works often mix the experiences of former sharecroppers of the western American South with those of the exodusters fleeing the fierce dust storms of the High Plains. Although they primarily feature the extremely destitute, the vast majority of the people, both staying in and fleeing from Oklahoma, suffered great poverty in the Depression years. Some Oklahoma politicians denounced The Grapes of Wrath (often without reading it) as an attempt to impugn the morals and character of Oklahomans.

The term "Okie" in recent years has taken on a new meaning in the past few decades, with many Oklahomans (both former and present) wearing the label as a badge of honor (as a symbol of the Okie survivor attitude). Others (mostly alive during the Dust Bowl era) still see the term negatively because they see the "Okie" migrants as quitters and transplants to the West Coast.



Major trends in Oklahoma history after the Depression era included the rise again of tribal sovereignty (including the issuance of tribal automobile license plates, and the opening of tribal smoke shops, casinos, grocery stores, and other commercial enterprises), the building of Tinker Air Force Base, the rapid growth of suburban Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the drop in population in Western Oklahoma, the oil boom of the 1980s and the oil bust of the 1990s.


Alcoholic beverages

Oklahoma has some of the strictest liquor laws in the country. This began with the state′s constitution including total prohibition of alcoholic beverages. In 1959, voters repealed total prohibition and liquor-by-the-drink bars were not allowed until 1985.[1] Since 1985, liquor-by-the-drink is decided on a county-by-county basis, with approximately half allowing it. Currently, liquor stores are required to close on Sundays, may not be open past 9:00 PM, and may not refrigerate alcohol. (Warehouses and shipping companies are also prohibited from using refrigeration.) Some bars are also restricted from selling beverages in excess of 3.2% alcohol. Persons under twenty-one years of age are prohibited from being in a bar area of a restaurant. Some breweries, such as New Belgium Brewing Company, will not ship to Oklahoma because these laws degrade the quality of beer by the time it reaches the consumer.


Other History

In 1995 Oklahoma became the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing, in which a Gulf War veteran named Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people.

Oklahoma City has also been the home of Spiritual Walk for Peace, an ongoing series of peaceful peace demonstrations in downtown Oklahoma City conducted by members of the city′s religious/peace communities.


References on Oklahoma History

  • Baird, W. David and Danney Goble. Story of Oklahoma (1994)
  • Dale, Edward Everett and Morris L. Wardell. History of Oklahoma (1948)
  • Gibson, Arrell Morgan. Oklahoma: A History of Five Centuries (1981).
  • Goble, Danney. Progressive Oklahoma: The Making of a New Kind of State (1979)
  • Jones, Stephen. Oklahoma Politics in State and Nation Volume I: 1907-1962 (1974).
  • Morgan, David R. et al. Oklahoma Politics & Policies: Governing the Sooner State (1991)
  • Morgan, Anne Hodges and H. Wayne Morgan, eds., Oklahoma: New Views of the FortySixth State (1982), essays by scholars
  • Morris, John W. et al., Historical Atlas of Oklahoma 3d ed. (1986).
  • Wishart, David J. ed. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains (2004)

State symbols


  • State bird: Scissortail flycatcher
  • State tree: Eastern Redbud
  • State mammal: American Bison
  • State beverage: Milk
  • State game bird: Wild Turkey
  • State fish: Sandbass
  • State floral emblem: Mistletoe
  • State flower: Oklahoma Rose
  • State wildflower: Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchellum)
  • State grass: Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)
  • State fossil: Saurophaganax maximus[191]
  • State rock: Rose rock
  • State insect: Honeybee
  • State soil: Port Silt Loam
  • State reptile: Collared Lizard
  • State amphibian: Bullfrog
  • State meal: fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas.
  • State folk dance: Square Dance
  • State percussive instrument: drum
  • State waltz: Oklahoma Wind
  • State butterfly: Black Swallowtail
  • State song: "Oklahoma!"



Roger Mills
Le Flore