Oklahoma, state in the western area of the south central United States. It is bordered by Colorado and Kansas on the north and Missouri and Arkansas on the east. South and west of Oklahoma is Texas, and on the western edge of Oklahoma’s Panhandle lies New Mexico.
Oklahoma is a land of great diversity, a transitional state both physically and culturally. Topographically it varies from the wooded mountains of the more humid east to the sparse and dry country of the western plains. The changing landscape of Oklahoma is reflected in its economic activities, which range from the raising of wheat in western and central areas to the lumbering that is carried on in the Ouachita Mountains in the southeastern part of the state.
The name Oklahoma was derived by combining the Choctaw words for “red” and “people.” Part of the state’s area had been originally put aside for settlement of Native Americans and was known as Indian Territory. The other section of the state, Oklahoma Territory, was gradually opened for white settlement toward the end of the 19th century. Oklahoma earned its nickname, the Sooner State, from the fact that some land-hungry settlers, known as the Sooners, jumped the starting gun that was to open one section of the territory to settlers and rushed in to take land before they were legally entitled to do so.
Oklahoma was admitted to the Union on November 16, 1907, as the 46th state. Resulting from the combination of Indian and Oklahoma territories, the state retains marked features of its Native American heritage in the makeup of its population and the Indian place-names in the state. Oklahoma City is the state’s capital and largest city.
Oklahoma covers 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq mi), including 3,188 sq km (1,231 sq mi) of inland water, and it ranks 20th in size among the 50 states. Along its southern border, Oklahoma measures 507 km (315 mi). The Panhandle, which is 269 km (167 mi) long, brings Oklahoma’s northern border to 747 km (464 mi). From north to south the length ranges from 267 to 357 km (166 to 222 mi), except in the Panhandle, which measures only 55 km (34 mi). The mean elevation is 400 m (1,300 ft).
Oklahoma has mountainous lands as well as vast areas of level plains. Soils vary from rich black grassland soils to sterile blow sand, and vegetation ranges from sagebrush to grassland to dense forest. The climate varies from semiarid to humid.
Three of the natural regions, or physiographic provinces of the United States extend within Oklahoma’s territory. These are the Coastal Plain, the Interior Highlands, and the Interior Plains. Of these, the Interior Plains make up the greater part of the state, the Coastal Plain and Interior Highlands flanking these plains on the south and east. Elevations in Oklahoma range from under 90 m (about 300 ft) in the southeast corner to 1,500 m (5,000 ft) in the northwest edge of the Panhandle.
The Gulf Coastal Plain forms a narrow strip along the southeastern Texas-Oklahoma border. The Red River Plains, as it is known to some because it parallels that stream, are low, relatively flat, and sometimes swampy.
The topography changes dramatically in the Interior Highlands north of the Coastal Plains where peaks in the Ouachita Mountains reach as high as 800 m (2,600 ft). The Ouachita Mountains, a series of steeply folded ridges and valleys, resemble parts of the Appalachians farther to the east. Ouachita peaks such as Winding Stair, Kiamichi, Blackfoot, and Rich tower 460 m (1,500 ft) above their valleys.
North of the Ouachitas, set apart from them by the valley of the Arkansas River, is the Ozark Plateau, also part of the Interior Highlands. Broad, flat-topped hills are separated one from another by narrow, V-shaped river valleys. Elevations here range from 180 m (600 ft) to 365 m (1,200 ft). Cookson Hill and Boston Mountains are names sometimes attached to this region.
By far the greater part of the state is the Interior Plains province. From east to west the elevation in this region, reaching 600 m (2,000 ft), divides it into the Osage Plains on the east and the High Plains to the west. The Osage Plains are themselves divided into subregions: the central Red Bed Plains and the Prairie Plains (or Arkansas River valley); the hilly sections of the Sandstone and Gypsum hills; the folded limestones, shales, and other strata of the Arbuckle Mountains and the more rugged, chiefly granite Wichitas.
The High Plains, a part of the Great Plains, occupy northwestern Oklahoma and the Panhandle. Elevations on the plains in the western Panhandle exceed those of the mountains farther east. The highest point in the state is located here at Black Mesa (1,516 m/4,973 ft), the remnants of an ancient lava flow.
|B||Rivers and Lakes|
There are about 500 named creeks and rivers in Oklahoma; many are short, intermittent streams. Most rivers flow across the state from northwest to southeast. Two major tributaries of the Mississippi River drain the state—the Arkansas and Red rivers. The principal tributaries of the Arkansas River are the Cimarron and Canadian rivers from the west, the Verdigris, Grand, and Illinois rivers from the north and northeast, and the Poteau River from the south. As with most rivers that rise on the western plains and flow east, rivers such as the Cimarron and Canadian are characterized by broad, shallow, and sandy channels. In dry season there will be little surface flow, although much subsurface water will flow through the rivers’ sandy beds. The chief tributaries of the Red River are the North Fork, Washita, Blue, Boggy, and Kiamichi rivers. Waterways originating in the more humid eastern regions are characterized by their steep banks, swift current, and depth.
All of the larger lakes in the state are artificial and more than three-fourths of them are in the eastern portion of the state, where the rainfall is greater. These reservoirs were created for flood control, navigation, water supply, power generation, and recreation. The United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Grand River Dam Authority created the major reservoirs of the state, including Altus, Arbuckle, Canton, Eufaula, Fort Supply, Keystone, Oologah, Texoma, Thunderbird, and Wister. Some of these reservoirs are part of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System that connect Tulsa’s port of Catoosa to barge traffic on the Mississippi system.
Oklahoma’s geographic location and topography have a critical effect on the state’s climate. Like many plains states, Oklahoma is known for its changeable and varied weather patterns. During the winter it is common for the south and southeast regions to bask in springlike temperatures when as much as 300 mm (12 in) of snow falls in the Panhandle.
About four-fifths of Oklahoma outside of the Panhandle is categorized as humid subtropical, with very hot, long summers and moderate short winters. The western portion and the Panhandle are classified as a steppe, where precipitation, typically 250 to 500 mm (10 to 20 in), is the controlling characteristic.
January is usually the coldest month with an average of about 3°C (38°F) and extremes from -33°C (-27°F), the lowest ever recorded, to 33°C (92°F). Summer are long and hot with temperatures in the upper 30°s C (lower 100°s F) common from May until September across the state. The growing season varies from less than 180 days in the western Panhandle to more than 240 days in the southeastern Coastal Plain.
Oklahoma occupies a transitional precipitation zone, with a humid east and a semi-arid west. Rainfall averages from 1,270 mm (50 in) in the Ouachita Mountains to just 380 mm (15 in) in the far western Panhandle. Spring is generally the wettest, but in the west this advantage is offset by the high evaporation rate.
Two defining weather phenomena in Oklahoma are drought and tornadoes. Periodic droughts occur particularly in semiarid areas of western Oklahoma, the most famous of which occurred during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. The state averages dozens of tornadoes annually, especially during the months of April and May. These destructive storms are embedded in thunderstorms and move from southwest to northeast across the state.
Within its borders, Oklahoma has a number of different soils of varying fertility. The ultisols (red and yellow podzols) of the forested Ouachitas and Ozarks have been leached of much of their nutrients. Alfisols and mollisols (chernozems and chestnut soils) of the grassy prairies are known for their natural fertility although agricultural overuse and limited precipitation restrict their natural richness. Alluvial soils are found along the river valleys while loess, a wind-deposited soil, can be found on the uplands between the rivers.
Vegetation responds to variation in the water, temperature, elevation, slope, soil, drainage, and competition among native and introduced species. Three broad categories exist in the state—forest, woodland and savannas, and grasslands. The largest forested area can be found in eastern Oklahoma. Deciduous forest of oak, hickory and other species, mixed forests of pines and hardwoods, or pure stands of southern pine, are located here.
Woodlands and savanna cover the mid-section of the state with trees becoming less frequent moving westward. Tall grasses dominate the drier areas in this region. The largest woodland area was the “cross timbers” in the east central region, so called because the branches of the blackjack and post oak grew so close that their branches became intertwined, creating a barrier to passage.
Still farther west, the ground cover is dominated by short grasses, sagebrush, and eastern redcedar. The northwestern Panhandle has a piñon-juniper woodland like that of the Rocky Mountains. Here, too, though less dramatically than elsewhere in the state, the natural vegetation has been altered by cultivation and grazing.
Flowering trees found in Oklahoma include dogwood and redbud. Among the flowers found throughout the state are the sunflower, goldenrod, wild indigo, verbena, violet, primrose, anemone, and phlox.
Oklahoma’s animal population includes jackrabbits, cottontails, coyotes, prairie dogs, mink, squirrels, raccoons, and skunks. Some of the larger animals found in the state are pronghorns, white-tailed and mule deer, elk, red and gray fox, bobcat and beaver. Birds commonly found are the cardinal, English sparrow, swallow, robin, meadowlark, mockingbird, quail, wild turkey, prairie chicken, mourning dove, and pheasant.
Only a few small areas of land, usually in stream bottoms, were cultivated until the opening of the Unassigned Lands and western reservations after 1889. After that, however, many areas were overgrazed and the semiarid lands were plowed. The vegetation that held the soil in place and kept the water on the land was thus destroyed. Subsequently much farmland was ruined by sheet, gully, and wind erosion. In the dry years violent dust storms developed and blew the rich topsoils away. In the wet years great gullies were carved out of the furrows where the land was steep.
Since the Dust Bowl tragedy of the 1930s, farmers and ranchers have worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other government agencies to conserve the soil. They have terraced the hillsides, used contour plowing, and built dams to make ponds and reservoirs. The lands of the drier areas have been planted in grasses to prevent soil from blowing away. The first Soil Conservation District in the United States was developed in eastern Oklahoma, and today each county in the state has one or more such districts.
Water conservation is just as important as soil conservation to Oklahoma. When there is danger of flooding, water is stored by means of dams and reservoirs. The water is released into the rivers when their level is low. During dry spells, water is taken from some western lakes for irrigation. Flood prevention methods have kept river-bottom land under cultivation that otherwise would have been abandoned. The Sandstone Creek Project in Roger Mills County was the first upstream flood prevention project in the nation. So successful has this project been that even in drought years water has continued to flow in the streams. Even groundwater supplies have become a cause for concern. Groundwater supplies more than 70 percent of the irrigation water used in the state. Aquifers which filled over the millennia are being strained with growing agricultural usage. The Ogallala Aquifer in the Panhandle has thus far generated the most concern over the mining of this resource faster than it can be replaced.
In 2006 the state had 10 hazardous waste sites on a national priority list for cleanup due to their severity or proximity to people. Progress was being made in efforts to reduce pollution; in the period 1995–2000 the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into the environment was reduced by 26 percent.
The variety of physical factors in Oklahoma and its unusual historical development have permitted a wide variety of economic activities to develop. Agriculture and livestock raising, the mining and processing of many minerals, tourism, manufacturing, and service industries are all important sources of income in the state.
Oklahoma had a work force of 1,720,000 people in 2006. The largest number of them, 38 percent, were employed in services, which can include jobs such as dry cleaners or computer operators. Another 19 percent worked in wholesale or retail trade; 20 percent in federal, state, or local government, including those serving in the military; 12 percent in manufacturing; 3 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing; 17 percent in finances, insurance, or real estate; 18 percent in transportation or public utilities; 5 percent in construction; and 3 percent in mining. In 2005, 5 percent of Oklahoma’s workers were unionized.
The settlers of Oklahoma Territory were confused by the many differences they found in soils, temperature, rainfall, and native vegetation. The Texans who settled in the northern part of Oklahoma soon learned that they could not grow cotton successfully because of the short growing season. Kansans settling in the southeast, especially in the Coastal Plain, frequently found the wheat crop ruined by too much rain. The farmers from Missouri learned that western Oklahoma had insufficient moisture to produce satisfactory corn. Thus, the settlers in each area had to adjust to their environmental conditions. Farm size, crops planted, and environmental consequences have all been influenced over the years by changes in farming techniques and mechanization, government policies, educational programs, and new plant and animal varieties. Many former cotton farmers became growers of wheat, while wheat farmers planted cotton and corn farmers became ranchers instead of feeders of livestock. Many more have left agriculture completely.
In 2005 there were 83,000 farms in Oklahoma. Of these farms, 39 percent had annual sales of greater than $10,000. Many of the other farms were sidelines for operators who also held other jobs. Farmland occupied 13.6 million hectares (33.7 million acres), of which 44 percent was cropland. Most of the rest was rangeland.
|A1||Patterns of Farming|
More land in Oklahoma is planted in wheat than in any other crop. Covering one-third of the state’s total cropland, wheat grows best on the prairies of the Great Plains and in the western part of the Central Lowland. It also grows in Southwestern Oklahoma, but cotton is more important in that area. The wheat grown is winter wheat, which is planted in the fall. It is used as pasturage for beef cattle during the winter and early spring and harvested in early summer. Both planting and harvesting are done by machine, the latter frequently by migrating “custom combiners” who follow the harvest from Texas to the Dakotas. The principal feature of the landscape in western Oklahoma is the grain elevator. These tall buildings, most located on railroad sidings, are used for the storage and transfer of wheat from farm to market. They are found not only in the cities, towns, and hamlets, but also in the open country.
Crossing the northern part of Oklahoma is the 200-day growing season line, which is the northern limit for cotton production. The principal cotton-growing areas are in southwestern Oklahoma, along the Red River. Much cotton in the southwestern counties is grown on irrigated land. Ditches carry water for 40 to 50 km (25 to 30 mi) south of Altus Reservoir. In Harmon and Greer counties, water is pumped from deep wells. Most of the work from planting to harvesting is done with machines.
There are several areas of specialty crops in the state. Greenhouse and nursery products, grown in east central Oklahoma, are the state’s largest specialty crops. The Ozark Plateaus are noted for strawberries. The lower Arkansas Valley is important in the production of vegetables such as spinach, beans, and sweet corn. The western half of the state is a major producer of mung beans, used for bean sprouts and cattle feed. The Rush Springs area in south central Oklahoma grows watermelons and cantaloupes. Native pecans grow well in central and east central Oklahoma. Stratford is known for its peaches.
In all parts of Oklahoma, however, there has been a major increase in cattle raising in recent decades. The acreage in hay, both cultivated and native, has increased. The high volume of grain sorghum production in the state also reflects the emphasis on cattle raising. There are many herds of registered beef animals, including Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. Farmers and ranchers ship excellent breeding stock to all parts of the nation. The Ouachita Mountains, Osage Hills, Arbuckle Mountains, Antelope Hills, and western Cimarron County are all areas that derive most of their income from the sale of beef animals. Dairy herds are raised near the larger towns and cities. The state depends on livestock products for 77 percent of its agricultural sales.
The eastern part of the state, with its rugged topography but more reliable rainfall, has gradually become an area of fairly intensive land utilization. Farms are relatively small, often less than 120 hectares (300 acres). Even where grazing is dominant, the holdings are about the same size. To the west, farm sizes increase steadily. In the western third of the state, not including the Panhandle, farm sizes are typically 200 hectares (500 acres). In the Panhandle they are often twice that size. In the western part of Oklahoma, ranches of 10 sections or more (a section is 1 square mi or about 2.6 square kilometers) are not uncommon, and in the Panhandle there are many ranches that have more than 25 sections each. Wheat farms also increase in size toward the northwest, covering 3 or 4 sections.
Forests cover 17 percent of Oklahoma’s total land area. The principal forest areas are in the Ouachita Mountains and the Ozark Plateaus. In eastern Oklahoma 2.9 million hectares (7.3 million acres) of timberland exists. These areas are in the humid section of the state, where much of the local topography precludes agricultural uses other than grazing. Second-growth forests are increasing. About 95 percent of the forested land in the state is privately owned. The division of forestry aids in conservation and fire control.
Both coniferous and deciduous trees grow in the state. Pine, oak, and hickory are most common. Shortleaf pine is the chief wood of commercial importance. Pines dominate the slopes and ridges of the Ouachitas, while hardwoods are found chiefly on the lower slopes and in the valleys. In the swamps and river bottoms, which are subject to floods, the cypress is common. Large sawmills are located in Wright City, Broken Bow, Idabel, Stilwell, and Spavinaw. More than 200 mills were active in the state in the early 1990s, mostly in the eastern section. A large wallboard plant, which uses the chips and sawdust of the Wright City sawmill, is located near Broken Bow. About 810,000 hectares (2 million acres) of pine forests are used in commercial lumber and paper production. Outside the Ouachita and Ozark regions, lumbering is of local importance only.
Oklahoma has large reserves of coal, petroleum, and natural gas, the three chief mineral fuels. Oklahoma is in the Mid-Continent Petroleum Field and ranks fifth in the nation in the production of petroleum and third in production of natural gas. The state’s first commercial oil well was drilled near Bartlesville in 1891. Although in the 1990s production had declined from earlier levels, oil wells scattered throughout the state continued to produce, pumping 62.8 million barrels of oil in 2006. Petroleum and gas are found in almost every county, but the areas around Tulsa, Seminole, Oklahoma City, Healdton, Kingfisher, and Osage County have the best pools. The Hugoton gas field, which extends from Kansas across the Oklahoma Panhandle into Texas, is the leading area for natural gas in the United States. Oklahoma also produces helium, which is a by-product of natural gas.
Much of eastern Oklahoma adjacent to the Ozark and Ouachita regions is underlain with high-grade bituminous coal. Coal was first mined on a large scale near McAlester in 1872, and production increased until the 1920s, when petroleum began to assume importance as a fuel. Coal is mined by both the shaft and the strip methods.
Crushed stone, cement, sand and gravel, gypsum, clay, feldspar, iodine, lime, pumice, and tripoli, which is used as an abrasive, are all mined in Oklahoma. Springs and salt plains in Harmon and Woods counties yield salt for household use. Glass sand suitable for the making of all types of glassware except optics is mined from open pits near Mill Creek and Roff.
Zinc and lead, found in Ottawa County, were formerly the chief metallic minerals of Oklahoma. Production of these metals decreased greatly after reaching a high point in the early 1920s, finally ceasing in 1970. At one time more than one-half of the world’s zinc supply was mined in Oklahoma. A copper deposit in Jackson County was mined from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.
Oklahoma is more a producer of raw materials than of manufactured goods. Most crops and refined minerals are shipped to other states to be made into finished products, although manufacturing has grown steadily in importance. Factories in Oklahoma vary in size. Most are small, but some industries, such as aviation, electronics, tire manufacturing, and oil refining, may have 500 or more employees. Manufacturing of some type is found in every county, but only Oklahoma and Tulsa counties rank as nationally important centers.
Oklahoma’s leading industries are the production of electronics and electrical equipment, especially apparatus for communications; the manufacture of industrial machinery, such as equipment used in construction or oil extraction, internal combustion engines, and pumps; the fabrication of metal products, including creating parts for the oil industry such as pipes and valves; the production of transportation equipment, especially motor vehicles and automobile parts; food processing; and the manufacture of rubber goods, chiefly tires.
The largest factories in Oklahoma are connected with transportation. A major auto assembly plant is in Oklahoma City. Airplane assembly and repair work are done in plants at Midwest City, Bethany, Tulsa, and Broken Arrow.
Food-processing plants are common throughout the state. Flour mills are located in Blackwell, Shawnee, and Enid. Canneries for packing or freezing strawberries and vegetables are found in Stilwell, Muskogee, Okmulgee, Fort Gibson, and other eastern Oklahoma towns and cities. Creameries, ice cream plants, and bakeries are common in the metropolitan areas. Meatpacking is an important industry in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Ada, Durant, Enid, Clinton, and Lawton. Some small plants manufacture special products, such as peanut butter, potato chips, honey products, coffee, and spices.
Local industries process many products from Oklahoma’s crops. Brushes and brooms are made from broomcorn. Cottonseed-oil mills are located in Altus, Clinton, Chickasha, Anadarko, and other cities in the cotton-growing areas of the state. Feed mills and gristmills process barley, corn, and other grains into feed.
Petroleum refining was a major industry of Oklahoma in the 1990s, with operations in Tulsa, Ponca City, Ardmore, and Oklahoma City. Plants in Southard and Duke make wallboard from gypsum, and two large mills near Pryor make the paper for gypsum wallboard. Glass is manufactured in Edmond, Okmulgee, Henryetta, Tulsa, and Sapulpa. Pottery is made in factories in Noble, Oklahoma City, and Sapulpa. Cement plants are located in Tulsa, Pryor, and Muskogee.
A variety of new industries have come into Oklahoma in recent years. Rubber tires are made at Lawton, Ada, Muskogee, Ardmore, and Oklahoma City. Clothing factories have been established at Coalgate, Seminole, Ada, Checotah, Woodward, Hominy, Pawnee, Ardmore, Miami, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. Furniture is made in factories in Atoka, Guthrie, and other centers. Valliant, Jenks, Muskogee, and Pryor are sites of paper mills.
There are many large dams to utilize the water of the Arkansas and Red river systems as a source of energy for electricity. Among Oklahoma’s largest hydroelectric dams are Tenkiller Dam on the Illinois River, Denison Dam on the Red River, Keystone Dam on the Arkansas River, and Pensacola Dam on the Grand River. Most hydroelectric dams have been built since the 1940s.
In central and western Oklahoma, the drier parts of the state, most power is generated by steam plants using coal or gas. The water supply in the lakes is not dependable enough for the generation of hydroelectric power. The large western lakes serve as sources of water supply for cities, for irrigation, and for recreation.
In the state as a whole, 95 percent of electricity is generated in plants burning coal or natural gas, and the remainder comes from hydroelectric facilities.
Oklahoma had 5,195 km (3,228 mi) of railroad track in 2004. Clinton, El Reno, Enid, Oklahoma City, McAlester, Tulsa, Holdenville, Durant, and Muskogee are important railroad centers. The primary commodities originating in the state and transported by rail are nonmetallic minerals (50 percent of total freight), chemicals (11 percent), petroleum products (7 percent), and farm products (11 percent).
In 2005 Oklahoma was served by 181,756 km (112,938 mi) of highways. Of those, 1,502 km (933 mi) were part of the federal interstate highway system. Interstates 40 and 44 are the principal east-west routes; Interstate 35 bisects Oklahoma going north to south.
The state has 6 airports, most of which are privately owned. The two commercial airports handling the most passengers are at Oklahoma City and Tulsa, although neither are busy by national standards. Scheduled air service also goes into Lawton, Guymon, Muskogee, Ponca City, and Bartlesville.
The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was dedicated in 1971. The system connects Tulsa with the Mississippi River. Pipelines, used to transport petroleum and natural gas, crisscross the state underground. Cushing is a major pipeline center of the Southwest.
|IV||THE PEOPLE OF OKLAHOMA|
In 1910, shortly after Oklahoma became a state, its population was 1,657,155. The population increased each year until the 1930s, when it reached a total of 2,396,040 people. Between 1930 and 1950, however, the population decreased. Oklahoma was hit by both the national economic depression and the drought that created the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Many farmers, unable to make a living, left the state and became migrant workers. During World War II (1939-1945) many people left Oklahoma to work in war plants in other localities. A further drop in population occurred when production stabilized or even fell in some of the great oil fields. In Seminole County, for example, the population grew rapidly between 1920 and 1930, when its oil wells were being heavily exploited. By 1960 its population had fallen to a level little higher than that in 1920.
Since 1950, however, Oklahoma’s population has gradually increased, and by 2007 it had reached 3,617,316. This figure represents an increase of 9.7 percent over 1990. Population densities generally decline from east to west across the state, and the highest densities are found in the metropolitan areas. The average population density for the state in 2006 was 20 persons per sq km (52 per sq mi).
Urbanization was rapid in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1940 the urban share of the population stood at just 38 percent. In 1950 the urban population had grown slightly larger than the rural population. By 1960 the urban share of the population had jumped to 63 percent. During the last half of the 20th century, the share of urban dwellers remained fairly stable, and in 2000 some 65 percent of Oklahoma’s people lived in cities or towns. The increased use of machinery on farms and in mining, and the replacement of croplands by pastureland, influenced the migration of people from rural to urban areas. Manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing, and service industries helped to absorb workers.
In 1990 approximately 98 percent of the people living in Oklahoma were born in the United States. Of the total population in 2000, whites constitute 76.2 percent, Native Americans 7.9 percent, blacks 7.6 percent, Asians 1.4 percent, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 0.1 percent, and those of mixed heritage or not reporting race 6.9 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, were 5.2 percent of the population.
According to the 2000 census, there were 273,200 Native Americans in Oklahoma. This is a relatively large Native American community, trailing only Alaska, New Mexico, and South Dakota as a percentage of total population. Most Native Americans live in the Ouachita and Ozark regions of eastern Oklahoma in what was originally Indian Territory. The Plains peoples live in small groups in the western part of the state. Most Native Americans live in rural areas.
There were 261,000 blacks in Oklahoma in 2000. The largest number live in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and in southern and eastern Oklahoma, especially in the Coastal Plain and the Sandstone Hills part of the Central Lowland.
Oklahoma City, with a population of 531,324 in 2005, has the largest population of any city in the state. With an area of 1,608 sq km (621 sq mi), it is also one of the largest cities geographically in the United States. Oklahoma City is the capital and principal retail and wholesale center of Oklahoma. Tinker Air Force Base, one of the largest air matériel centers in the nation, is located in the southeastern part of the city. Edmond (76,644) is a nearby residential community.
Tulsa is the second largest city of the state, with a population of 382,872, and is often referred to as the oil capital of the world. Tulsa is also an important manufacturing center. Petroleum refining and airplane manufacturing are leading industries in the city. Residential suburbs include Broken Arrow (88,314).
Lawton is the wholesale and retail trade center for southwestern Oklahoma. The city, which had a population of 87,540, is also the service center for Fort Sill Army Base, which borders it on the north. Norman, with 102,827 inhabitants, is the home of the University of Oklahoma. Located less than 30 km (20 mi) south of Oklahoma City, Norman is largely a residential and service center for students at the University of Oklahoma and people working in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area but has recently added industries to this base.
Midwest City sprang up during World War II, because of its proximity to Tinker Field. Many of its 54,890 residents are employed in the aircraft industry, which services the U.S. Air Force. Enid, which has 46,514 inhabitants, is the leading agricultural service center of the state. Bartlesville, with 34,885 inhabitants, is an important center for mineral research and is a corporate headquarters to Phillips Petroleum, a major U.S oil producer.
Southern Baptists, Methodists, and Roman Catholics are more numerous than any other religious groups in Oklahoma. About two-thirds of the population claim membership in an established church.
|V||EDUCATION AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS|
Schools in Oklahoma date from the middle of the l9th century, when the Native Americans belonging to the Five Tribes were moved to Oklahoma. Each tribe organized schools for both boys and girls. Church groups from the eastern states also founded schools, including educational facilities for the Plains tribes after they were settled on reservations. After 1890 the Oklahoma territorial legislature began to establish institutions for higher education, including the University of Oklahoma, Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Oklahoma State University), and Central Normal School for teacher training (now University of Central Oklahoma). After Oklahoma became a state, several state normal schools were established in Indian Territory. They later became state colleges.
Attendance at school is compulsory for children ages 5 to 18. Some 5 percent of the state’s children attend private schools. In the 2002–2003 school year Oklahoma spent $6,611 on each student’s education, compared to a national average of $9,299. There were 16 students for every teacher (the average class size in the country was 15.9 students). Of those older than 25 years of age in 2006, 84.3 percent had a high school diploma; the national norm was 84.1 percent.
In 2004–2005 Oklahoma had 29 public and 25 private institutions of higher learning. Among these schools were the University of Oklahoma, in Norman; Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater; University of Central Oklahoma, in Edmond; Southwestern Oklahoma State University, in Weatherford; Phillips University, in Enid; the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa; Oklahoma City University; St. Gregory’s University and Oklahoma Baptist University, in Shawnee; and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, in Chickasha. .
Oklahoma is served by 110 tax-supported library systems. The libraries each year circulate an average of 5.9 books for every resident. The largest libraries are located at Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, and the University of Oklahoma, in Norman. Noted specialized book and historical manuscript collections in the University of Oklahoma Library are the Bizzell Bible Collection, the History of Science Collections, the Western History Collections, the Carl Albert Center, and the Henry Bass Business Collection. The Oklahoma State Department of Libraries coordinates an online interlibrary loan service to facilitate resource sharing among all types of libraries in the state. The Department also maintains a back-up interlibrary loan collection to serve the state's library patrons. The Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Oklahoma City houses collections for people with disabilities.
The library of the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City has an unusual collection of books, maps, and manuscript material about the various Native American tribes and their lands, and also historical materials about the formation and development of the state.
A number of museums are found in Oklahoma. The largest and best known of these are the Oklahoma Historical Society Museum, Oklahoma City Art Museum, National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, and the Kirkpatrick Science and Air Space Museum at Omniplex, all in Oklahoma City; the Philbrook Museum of Art, which has a noted collection of Native American art and crafts, and the Gilcrease Museum, both in Tulsa; and the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma.
In 2002 Oklahoma had 28 daily newspapers. The Cherokee Advocate, printed in both English and Cherokee, was the first paper published in Indian Territory. It was started in 1844 at Tahlequah. An early daily paper was the State Capital of Guthrie, first published in 1889. The Daily Oklahoman, the largest daily now published in the state, started in Oklahoma City in 1894. The Tulsa World is also a well-known daily newspaper.
In 2002 Oklahoma had 52 AM and 92 FM radio stations, and there were 19 television stations in the state.
|E||Music and Theater|
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra, noted throughout the South and Southwest, and the Tulsa Philharmonic Orchestra give many concerts each year. Theatre Tulsa is an outstanding live theater group. Oklahoma City and Tulsa each have civic ballet societies. Oklahoma has also contributed many performers to the country-and-western music genre.
|VI||RECREATION AND PLACES OF INTEREST|
The rugged mountains with their swift-flowing streams, the numerous large lakes and reservoirs, and the historic sites of Native American and pioneer days attract many visitors to Oklahoma. The most popular recreation areas in the state are the lakes and streams. The generally mild climate makes fishing a year-round sport on Oklahoma’s lakes, which are well-stocked with bass, trout, and catfish.
Tourism has become an important economic activity in Oklahoma. Since the 1950s, many parks have been developed in the areas around Oklahoma’s lakes and reservoirs. The parks have been supplied with luxury hotels, lodges, and camping and recreational facilities. Sporting events, including rodeos and horse shows, draw people from within and outside the state.
Oklahoma has 52 state parks and recreation areas. Lake Murray, Quartz Mountain, and Lake Wister state parks in the south and Sequoyah State Park at Fort Gibson Reservoir are the better-known parks in the state. These parks provide outstanding facilities for fishing and water sports, as do the state parks on the shores of lakes Eufaula, Texoma, Greenleaf, and Tenkiller.
In the northwest corner of the state, Black Mesa State Park has Native American pictographs, a pit where dinosaur bones have been found, and colorful rock formations. Other natural features in the northwest are springs that bubble up through the sand at Boiling Springs State Park; one of the largest known gypsum caves at Alabaster Cavern State Park; and the salt lake in the Great Salt Plains State Park. Roman Nose and Red Rock Canyon state parks are located in scenic canyon valleys in western Oklahoma. Robbers Cave State Park in the San Bois Mountains of eastern Oklahoma is said to have been a hideout for deserters from both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War (1861-1865). Other state parks in eastern Oklahoma are Osage Hills and Beavers Bend.
|B||Other Places to Visit|
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, in the Arbuckle Mountains near Sulphur, was originally established in 1902 as Sulphur Springs Reservation and then redesignated as Platt National Park in 1906. In 1976 it was merged with the Arbuckle National Recreation Area. The area is famed for the mineral water that comes from its many springs and for Lake of the Arbuckles. Wilderness areas and botanical preserves are found in the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area, located in the Ouachita National Forest near Talihina in the southeast. Oklahoma also contains seven national wildlife refuges, with herds of buffalo and deer and prairie dog colonies. Private groups are also active. For example, the Natural Conservancy in the late 1990s operated 16 preserves in Oklahoma, including the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Bartlesville and the Black Mesa Preserve in the panhandle of the state.
Many sites of historic interest are visited by tourists each year. These include old frontier outposts such as Fort Reno and Fort Supply in the northwest and the reconstructed stockade at Fort Gibson, one of the old frontier posts near Muskogee. Indian City U.S.A., near Anadarko, contains reproductions of seven Native American villages. Visitors to Oklahoma can sample the state’s history at the Woolaroc Museum near Bartlesville, created from the estate of one of the cofounders of Phillips Petroleum; No Man’s Land Historical Museum in Goodwell; and the Black Kettle Museum in Cheyenne, which contains details of an attack by General George Armstrong Custer on a Native American village. The site of the old Cherokee national capital is Tahlequah, while those of the Chickasaw, Creek, and Choctaw tribes are at Tishomingo, Okmulgee, and Tuskahoma. The cabin of Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, is a state memorial, as is the Murrell Home, a beautiful old mansion which is nearly all that remains of a pre-Civil War Cherokee community. The Will Rogers Memorial at Claremore and the Pioneer Woman Statue and Museum at Ponca City are in northern Oklahoma. Among the more unusual attractions in Oklahoma City is the working oil well on the grounds of the State Capitol. Recently visitors have been attracted to the state while exploring the remnants of Route 66, one of the first national highways linking East and West and immortalized in American literature and music.
Oklahoma’s mix of cultures can be seen in the diversity of its annual festivals. The year of events begins in February with the World Championship Hog Calling Contest in Weatherford. A dramatic Easter pageant is presented annually at Holy City in a natural amphitheater in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. The Pioneer Days Celebration and Rodeo in Guymon has been offering tributes to the community’s pioneer spirit every May since the 1950s. A Blue Grass and Old Time Music Festival each August in Hugo includes concerts by some of the country’s top performers. The Cherokee Nation welcomes visitors to their annual homecoming celebration in Tahelquah at the beginning of September. The State Fair of Oklahoma, the third largest fair in North America, begins in mid-September in Oklahoma City, while the Tulsa State Fair is held in late September and early October. The Red Earth Festival, in Oklahoma City in June, is a major Native American celebration.
Oklahoma is governed under its original constitution, adopted in 1907, and since amended. An amendment to the constitution may be proposed by initiative, the state legislature, or a constitutional convention, which can be called by the legislature if approved by a vote of the people. To become effective, an amendment must be approved by a majority of the people voting on the issue in a general election.
State executive officers include the governor, lieutenant governor, inspector, auditor, attorney general, treasurer, and superintendent of public instruction, who are elected to four-year terms. The governor may only serve any number of terms but only two in a row. The secretary of state, chief mine inspector, commissioner of charities and corrections, commissioner of insurance, commissioner of labor, and three public utilities commissioners are appointed.
Oklahoma’s legislature consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate, and meets annually beginning in January. The House of Representatives has 101 members, elected for two-year terms, and the Senate consists of 48 members, elected for four-year terms.
The judicial power of Oklahoma is vested in a supreme court, which has nine members, a court of criminal appeals, a court of appeals, and district courts. The term of office for justices of the supreme court and of the two appeals courts is six years. The supreme court and two appeals court judges are appointed by the governor from a list provided by the Judicial Nominating Commission. After one year of service they stand for election on their record. District judges and associate district judges serve for four years and are elected on nonpartisan ballots.
Oklahoma is divided into 77 counties. Most counties are governed by a board of three commissioners, elected for two years. Other officials, also elected for two years, are the county judge, county attorney, court clerk, county clerk, sheriff, treasurer, registrar of deeds, and surveyor.
Most cities of 2,500 or more use a council-city manager form of government. Others use a mayor-council or other municipal format. The governing body for each school district is the school board, having from three to seven members. Many school districts are larger than the incorporated limits of the towns or cities they service, and their boundaries frequently cross county boundaries.
Oklahoma elects two senators and five representatives to the Congress of the United States. This gives the state seven electoral votes in presidential elections.
The first humans appeared in Oklahoma about 15,000 years ago. These nomadic hunters were members of what archaeologists call the Clovis and Folsom cultures, after the name of the arrowheads they used to hunt animals. Later peoples lived in caves, projecting ledges, and overhanging bluffs, notably along the streams of northeastern Oklahoma and in the Panhandle. About 4000 bc these peoples moved to the riverbanks and built villages of mud and wattle dwellings. Near Spiro, along the Arkansas border, archaeologists have discovered remains of a sophisticated culture that flourished from 500 bc to ad 1300. These peoples, called Mound Builders, built large earthen mounds as sites for their temples. Excavations of these mounds have revealed pottery, textiles, and metalwork with a high level of craftsmanship.
Sometime after 1200 the Mound Builders were attacked by peoples from the western plains, and the Mound Builder culture declined. Native peoples identified by early European explorers indicate that communities of Wichita, Caddo, Quapaw, and Kiowa-Apache lived in scattered villages along the rivers of Oklahoma.
|B||Spanish and French Exploration|
The Spanish were the first Europeans to visit Oklahoma. From their bases in Mexico and the Caribbean, Spanish explorers called conquistadors explored the present-day southern United States during the mid-1500s in search of gold and silver. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado crossed western Oklahoma in 1541 searching for the Seven Cities of Cíbola, Cale, and Quivira, which he believed to be wealthy kingdoms. To Coronado’s great disappointment, Quivira proved to be a Wichita community in what is now Kansas. In 1601 Juan de Oñate, the founder of the Spanish colony of New Mexico, also led parties from Spanish settlements on the Río Grande east along the Canadian River, exploring north to the Arkansas River and south into the Wichita Mountains.
The French entered the Southwest following the explorations of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in the 1680s. In 1682 La Salle claimed all the land drained by the Mississippi River (including present-day Oklahoma) for Louis XIV, king of France, and named the region Louisiane (in English, Louisiana). French fur traders then moved into Oklahoma along the Red and the Arkansas rivers. In 1719 Bernard de la Harpe established military posts and trading stations in Oklahoma. Among the better-known French settlements were Fernandina on the Arkansas River in northern Oklahoma and the villages of San Bernardo and San Teodoro on the Red River in the south.
At the close of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the last in a series of wars between Great Britain and France for domination in North America, France ceded Louisiana to Spain to avoid losing the land to Britain. Little changed in the administration of Louisiana while in Spanish hands, and French fur traders continued doing business with the native peoples of Oklahoma. In 1800 France regained the Louisiana Territory and then sold it to the United States in 1803. In 1819 Spain and the United States negotiated the Adams-Onis Treaty, which defined the boundary separating the territory of these two nations in the Southwest. A portion of this boundary, the Red River and the 100th meridian, became the southern and western boundary of the present state of Oklahoma.
|C||United State Exploration|
Between 1806 and 1821 the U.S. government organized a number of expeditions to explore the area it had purchased from France, known as the Louisiana Purchase. Several of these expeditions crossed Oklahoma. In 1806 Captain Richard Sparks organized an expedition in Louisiana to find the headwaters of the Red River; the expedition reached the southeastern corner of Oklahoma before Spanish troops forced it to turn back. The same year Zebulon Montgomery Pike led a party up the Missouri River toward the Rocky Mountains. Pike turned southwest at the mouth of the Osage River and proceeded to the Arkansas River. There he sent Lieutenant James Wilkinson and five men to follow the river downstream to the Mississippi River, across what is today northeastern Oklahoma. An unusually severe cold spell set in the Arkansas River valley, and the Wilkinson party endured great hardship before reaching U.S. settlements.
Major Stephen H. Long explored the region most extensively. In 1819 Long led a party from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Rocky Mountains. At the headwaters of the Arkansas River the party divided. Captain John R. Bell followed the Arkansas River across the plains to Fort Smith in present-day Arkansas, while Long followed the Canadian River east, eventually arriving at Fort Smith in 1821.
Following the War of 1812 (1812-1815) the U.S. government decided to move Native Americans west of the Mississippi River to open up new land for white settlers from the East. One of the nation’s most populous Native American regions covered western North and South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi and was inhabited by the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee. Whites referred to these peoples collectively as the Five Civilized Tribes because they resembled European nations in organization and economy, and because they quickly incorporated many European imports, such as fruit trees, into their way of life. For generations these peoples had been powerful commercial and military allies of European colonial powers, and many had adopted white styles of dress, agricultural and commercial practices, and politics.
Acculturation, however, had not won them friendship with whites. Southern state governments and Southerners in the United States Congress regularly demanded that the federal government remove these peoples so that white farmers and planters could use their land. This was especially true after 1829, when gold was discovered on Cherokee land in Georgia.
Federal officials proceeded to negotiate removal treaties with each of the Five Civilized Tribes; in these treaties, the native peoples promised to give up their land in exchange for annual distributions of food or money and land in what is now Oklahoma. Treaties were usually negotiated with only a portion of the tribe, but the entire group was held to the agreement. In 1834 the federal government created what was called Indian Territory, lands west of the Mississippi River that originally included not only the area of present-day Oklahoma, but much of the area of present-day Kansas and Nebraska as well. Within Indian Territory, the treaties promised, tribal authority of the Native American nations was assured. A federal commission first secured pledges of peace with the Wichita, Kiowa, Comanche, and other native peoples already in the area of what is now Oklahoma. Beginning in the 1830s and continuing until 1842, the federal government began the forced removal of the eastern peoples to Indian Territory. The resulting Trail of Tears, as the Native Americans called it, uprooted tens of thousands of native people, and drove them (many in irons) into what is now Oklahoma. Among some native peoples as many as two of every five died along the way. This was particularly true of the Creeks, whose removal cost them two entire generations, both the very young and the very old.
Oklahoma’s new Native American settlers created a culture influenced by their life along the borders of the Spanish, French, and British colonial empires and their exposure to U.S. settlements. A substantial mixed-blood population appeared in each native community, and many Native Americans bought and sold slaves, owned plantations, or became businessmen, teachers, editors, lawyers, or judges. A Cherokee, Sequoyah, also called George Guess, had developed a written form for the Cherokee spoken language. He identified the 85 basic sounds in the Cherokee language and gave each a symbol, creating the Cherokee alphabet, or syllabary. Using Sequoyah’s syllabary, the Cherokee had become literate between 1821 and 1828.
The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek had each adopted written constitutions by 1861. The Native American republics they established had well-ordered governments based on law, and their communities were generally more orderly than white towns in the West. To support themselves, they cleared and planted farms and plantations, worked ranches, built towns and public schools, and published newspapers.
After the beginning of the American Civil War (1861-1865), leaders of the Five Civilized Tribes signed treaties committing their nations to the Confederate cause. The Five Tribes contributed men to the Confederate armies and received uniforms and equipment from Southern arsenals. The Choctaw-Chickasaw Regiment was commanded by Douglas Cooper and Tandy Walker. John Jumper and Chilly McIntosh headed the Creek-Seminole Confederate forces, and Stand Watie, the only Native American to become a general during the Civil War, commanded the Confederate Cherokee Mounted Rifles. However, many individual Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles supported the Union.
In the West, Native American units under Watie fought at Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge; later Watie periodically attacked Union positions as far north as Fort Scott in Kansas and Neosho in Missouri, although most engagements involving Native American troops were fought in Indian Territory. Watie surrendered at Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation on June 23, 1865, the last Confederate general to do so.
For their alliances with the Confederacy, in 1866 the U.S. government required the Five Civilized Tribes to abolish slavery, grant former slaves citizenship, grant permission for railroads to cross their territory, and surrender land to other native peoples that were being removed from Kansas and other Western states and territories. To satisfy the last requirement, the entire western half of present-day Oklahoma was taken by the federal government for the relocated Native American peoples. Today Oklahoma has more than 60 Native American peoples, many of whom were moved to reservations between 1866 and 1885, including the Sac and Fox, Osage, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Pawnee, Iowa, and Ponca tribes.
The Civil War in Oklahoma left few homes standing, and the loss of personal property, livestock, and equipment caused widespread poverty. Tribal governments, divided and weakened, were unable to maintain order, and lawlessness flourished. White criminals from neighboring states used Oklahoma as a base from which to raid banks, trains, and stagecoaches all across the Southwest. Some of the more notorious outlaws who used Indian Territory hideouts were Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers, and Belle Starr. Unable to cope with the disorder caused by these intruders, tribal leaders appealed to the U.S. government, which built a federal district court at old Fort Smith, Arkansas. An army of deputy marshals scoured Indian Territory, rounding up outlaws, and Isaac C. Parker in Fort Smith became known nationally as the “hanging judge.”
In October 1867 at Medicine Lodge Creek in southwestern Kansas, federal negotiators met with 7,000 Native Americans to negotiate treaties that would reduce Indian Territory to about the area of present-day Oklahoma by removing Native Americans from Kansas and other Western states. Treaties negotiated there assigned native peoples like the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche new reservations in western Oklahoma on lands ceded by the native peoples following the Civil War. The treaties were much easier to negotiate than to enforce, however, and Plains tribes continued to follow the bison and attack isolated white settlements in Texas and Kansas. To discourage these attacks, Major General Philip Sheridan ordered an unexpected military campaign against the Native Americans during the winter of 1868, when Native Americans would be low on food and supplies. During this campaign the Seventh Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked an unsuspecting Cheyenne village under Chief Black Kettle, who had earlier tried to ally himself with the United States. On the banks of the Washita River, Custer’s troops killed Black Kettle and more than 100 Cheyenne men, women, and children, as well as hundreds of Cheyenne ponies.
Thereafter most Native Americans remained on the reservations. To keep them there, the government constructed a number of military posts and camps, the largest at Fort Cobb (near the Kiowa and Comanche Reservation), Fort Reno (on the edge of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation), and Fort Sill (on the Kiowa and Comanche Reservation). Among the troops that filled those posts were the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry units, all-black groups known as Buffalo Soldiers.
Their presence did not assure peace, however. As professional hunters systematically eliminated the great bison herds, Plains bands left their reservations and renewed their raids, generally into Texas, resulting in the so-called Red River War in 1874 and 1875. United States troops numbering 3,000 soldiers pursued the hostile Native Americans. Although few pitched battles were fought, the army steadily wore down Native American resistance, forced them back onto the reservations, disarmed warriors, confiscated ponies, and jailed their most prominent leaders in Saint Augustine, Florida. Leaderless and unable to maintain any effective resistance, most Native Americans on the southern Plains came to depend mainly on the reservation.
The Indian Territory, now about the area of present-day Oklahoma, developed rapidly between 1870 and 1889, led by ranching, railroad building, and mining. In the early years of the cattle industry, the area was a highway for Texas herds bound for Kansas. Trails that crossed the Indian Territory included the East Shawnee, the West Shawnee, the Chisholm, and the Dodge City, or Great Western Cattle Trail. When previously open range was enclosed with barbed wire during the 1880s, ranchers turned to Indian Territory where they leased Native American land. The Cheyenne-Arapaho Stock Growers Association and the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association were the biggest stock-raising combinations during this period. Both companies made money by allowing independent stock growers to lease huge tracts of land at favorable prices. The Cheyenne-Arapaho lease gave seven Texas companies the right to graze 200,000 head of cattle on 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres). Similar arrangements with the Cherokees were used to feed 300,000 animals per year.
Extensive postwar railroad construction accelerated economic development among the Native American nations. In 1870 the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad began construction from Chetopa, Kansas, across the Indian Territory. In January 1873 it had crossed Red River at Colbert’s Ferry to become the first line to span what is now Oklahoma from north to south. Other important railroad lines in Indian Territory were the Atlantic and Pacific, called the Frisco; the Fort Smith and Western; the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf; the Santa Fe; and the Rock Island.
Mining also changed Indian Territory. Native American laws allowed tribal citizens to mine all the coal they discovered and could use. A mining industry developed rapidly. James J. McAlester, a Confederate veteran who had married a Choctaw and become a member of the Choctaw Nation, discovered a thick coal seam in 1871. He organized the Oklahoma Mining Company and leased coal-bearing land to mining companies, which paid the Choctaw Nation royalties on each ton of coal mined. By 1900 the central portion of the Choctaw Nation was a maze of mining camps. The principal centers were at McAlester, Hartshorne, Haileyville, Krebs, Coalgate, Lehigh, Dow, and Alderson. Immigrants from Russia, the Balkans, Greece, Italy, and Wales worked the mines, and many of their descendants still live in the territory of the old Choctaw Nation.
By the 1880s most of the arable, well-watered land west of the Mississippi had been settled by whites, and land-hungry settlers began to argue that the Indian Territory should be opened to white settlement. Treaties and federal laws protected the ownership rights of Native Americans there, but railroads, homesteader associations, and other business interests initiated a campaign to eliminate the legal obstacles to white settlement. In 1879 professional promoters, called boomers, organized so-called Oklahoma colonies, or communities of home seekers, in northern Texas and southern Kansas and illegally entered Indian Territory. Although ejected each time by U.S. Army patrols, white attempts to settle in the Indian Territory won national attention. President Rutherford B. Hayes even issued proclamations in 1879 and 1880 forbidding settlement in the territory. Violations occurred frequently, and agitation for the opening of the lands to whites increased.
In early 1889 the U.S. Congress finally yielded to the settlers’ demands and opened 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) in central Indian Territory known as the Unassigned Lands. The number of home seekers far exceeded the available land, so the government decided to have settlers line up at the border and simply run to claim land after the signal was given. Many settlers, called sooners, snuck into the Unassigned Lands ahead of time. Many were ejected; but others avoided discovery. On April 22, 1889, 50,000 home seekers gathered on the borders of the Unassigned Lands. At the signal the race for claims, known as the Oklahoma land rush, began with a burst of speed, and by evening nearly every homestead and town lot in the settlement zone had been taken.
Tents, wagon boxes, dugouts, and crude cabins sheltered the white settlers of the area of present-day Oklahoma. In May 1890 the U.S. Congress passed the Oklahoma Organic Act, which created the Territory of Oklahoma and attached No-Man’s Land, or the Oklahoma Panhandle, to the new territory. By 1906 the lands of western Oklahoma had been settled by land runs, allotments, and lotteries; of the Indian Territory, only the land of the Five Civilized Tribes remained. Other tribal lands had been allotted to individual Native Americans and as private property became part of Oklahoma Territory.
Within a generation Native Americans had become a shrinking minority within the Indian Territory. The 1890 census recorded that full-blood and mixed-blood Native Americans comprised 28 percent of the territory’s total population, and by the 1907 Oklahoma statehood census, Native American population was only 9 percent, the smallest of the three major racial groups living in the former Indian Territory.
Oklahoma Territory nearly became a state without the Indian Territory several times prior to 1907, but Congress finally decided that the area of both the Oklahoma Territory and the Indian Territory should be admitted as a single state. Congress also decided that Indian Territory, as a political entity with land held in common by the tribe, had to be eliminated and individual Native Americans transformed into United States citizens before the Oklahoma Territory could become a state. The federal Dawes Commission, formed in 1893, forcibly divided tribal lands into allotments given to individual Native American families in 1896, beginning the process; the Curtis Act of 1898 helped finish it by placing all residents under federal laws and abolishing the tribal courts. In 1906 Congress passed the Oklahoma Enabling Act, which authorized a convention to meet at Guthrie to write a state constitution.
The delegates convened on November 20, 1906, and elected William (Alfalfa Bill) Murray of Tishomingo in the old Chickasaw Nation president of the convention. The convention completed its work in the summer of 1907, and on September 17 the voters of the two territories approved the constitution. The most revolutionary of the constitutional provisions were the initiative, which allowed citizens to write and submit their own laws to a direct vote, and the referendum, which permitted voters to accept or reject laws the legislature had made. The new constitution also included the long ballot, which made all high state offices elective, including the judiciary.
The Oklahoma Enabling Act had also required that alcohol be prohibited in the Indian Territory for a period of 21 years, and since prohibition was a popular social reform at this time, the constitution extended this principle to the entire state. President Theodore Roosevelt officially welcomed Oklahoma to the Union as the 46th state on November 16, 1907.
|K||Politics of Early Statehood|
Democrats regularly won most elections until the early 1950s. They monopolized the governorship until 1962, held large majorities in every legislative assembly but one, elected all but two U.S. senators, and almost always occupied a majority (in some instances all) of Oklahoma’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the early years of statehood much of that strength resulted from the disfranchisement of black voters in 1910, which temporarily decimated a strong Republican opposition. Democrats also battled a strong Socialist Party, which appealed to the state’s hard-pressed workers and the poorest farmers. By 1915 the Socialists were receiving a substantial amount of support, electing five legislators and a host of local officials.
Opposition to U.S. involvement in World War I, however, destroyed the Socialists; the Democratic state government accused them of disloyalty. The Democrats, however, faced opposition from a rejuvenated Republican Party. National prosperity in the 1920s encouraged Oklahoma to support the Republican presidential candidates Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover in 1920 and 1928, respectively. The state also elected its first two Republican U.S. senators, John W. Harreld in 1920 and William B. Pine in 1924.
Republican success owed as much to Democratic infighting as it did to its own efforts. The internal battles in the Democratic Party reflected the severe economic and social disturbances that affected Oklahoma during the 1920s. Although the manufacturing and financial industries increased economic prosperity for many Americans, that was not true for many farmers. Prices for farm products fell rapidly after World War I and after taking out loans to increase their production during the war, many Oklahoma farmers were unable to repay their debts and went bankrupt. Workers, too, suffered through most of the decade. Local chambers of commerce and manufacturer’s associations fought labor unions with the assistance of the state government, including state militias, who intervened to end strikes. Finally, in the early 1920s the Ku Klux Klan, an organization dedicated to white supremacy that had terrorized blacks and Republicans in the South during the Reconstruction period, reappeared in Oklahoma. The Klan received substantial public support, and politicians associated with it briefly controlled both major parties as well as the state legislature.
Republican power evaporated with the Great Depression that followed the stock-market crash of 1929. Oklahoma became almost a one-party state. Many Oklahoma Democrats opposed the federal government’s accumulation of power in general and the active social experimentation of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Well funded by the oil industry and strongly endorsed by the state’s metropolitan newspapers, those who opposed Roosevelt and his policies found their champion in Governor Leon C. (Red) Phillips. Phillips spent most of his gubernatorial term (1939-1943) battling both state and federal government policies that he considered too intrusive or too expensive, but World War II (1939-1945) united the parties in support of the federal government.
|L||Economics of Early Statehood|
When Oklahoma entered the Union, it was both a rich agricultural state and the nation’s leading producer of petroleum. Farming grew rapidly through the 1920s, but often at the expense of Native Americans. Prior to statehood, the land that the Five Civilized Tribes had held collectively was divided into individual allotments. Land speculators acquired these allotments and, within a short time, had acquired all but a tiny fraction of Native American property. They set Southern farmers up on small patches as sharecroppers, people who paid a share of their crops as rent, and insisted that the sharecroppers raise the one crop that the speculators knew they could market: cotton.
Ecological catastrophe resulted as new tractors pulling new plows broke the grass-covered prairies of far western Oklahoma and its Panhandle. Although never abundant, rainfall was at least adequate during the 1920s, and dry-farming techniques seemed to promise success. In the mid-1930s, however, several years of drought turned plowed fields to dust, which the wind blew into massive dust storms, creating what was called the Dust Bowl.
For tenants and sharecroppers especially, the final blow came when the federal Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) attempted to raise farm income by cutting production. Unfortunately, the landowners, who were not actual farmers, agreed to reduce production, ejected surplus tenants and sharecroppers, and collected the federal payments. Tenants and sharecroppers left by the tens of thousands. So many left that it took Oklahoma 40 years to again reach the population recorded in the 1930 census.
The oil industry also expanded rapidly immediately after statehood. Land that was worthless for agriculture was often priceless for oil deposits, and production grew much faster than storage or transporting capacity. Excess oil, however, flooded farmlands, fouled creeks, and easily erupted into flames. Increased production soon resulted in lower prices and less income.
The policies of the Roosevelt Administration did partially stabilize prices, but it was World War II that ended the state’s financial crisis. Federal spending dramatically increased in Oklahoma. Existing military bases (like Lawton’s Fort Sill) expanded rapidly. New military installations were built, including several prisoner-of-war camps and a navy base on the prairies at Norman. None was more important than the establishment of Tinker Field (now Tinker Air Force Base) near Oklahoma City. That installation became the nucleus of entire new cities (Midwest City in particular), and its civilian payroll soon included one out of every four wage earners in the Oklahoma City area.
Subject to federal price and production controls, the oil industry did complain about what it felt was needless government intervention, but it, too, benefited from federal programs. In the same way, farmers and stock growers accepted federal price supports.
|M||Native Americans in Oklahoma|
The native peoples of the former Oklahoma Territory lost all of their reservations and most of their individual allotments before 1907 and the same was true of the Five Civilized Tribes of the old Indian Territory. Native peoples did, however, survive their poverty as well as efforts to forcibly assimilate them. After years of attempts to assimilate Native Americans, government authorities admitted their failure during the 1930s and federal and state legislation allowed Native Americans to restore their governments and to try to reclaim property that had been taken from them through force or fraud.
Arguing that Native Americans should be treated in the same way as other citizens, the United States Congress resolved in 1953 to gradually withdraw all federal support and responsibility for Native American affairs. The effect was disastrous for Native American cultures: federal services that Native Americans depended upon were withdrawn, and many Native Americans went on welfare. In the 1970s, however, the federal government encouraged the revitalization of Native American governments and tribal economies. Thirty-five tribal governments are based in Oklahoma, maintaining businesses ranging from tax-free tobacco shops to million-dollar bingo operations.
|N||Blacks in Oklahoma|
As in neighboring states, black Oklahomans were subject to discriminatory laws and practices. The 1907 constitution explicitly defined as black all persons with any degree of African ancestry, and it also prohibited interracial schooling at all levels. Eventually everything from public schools to hospitals, housing, cemeteries, and even pay-telephone booths were formally segregated. Many communities went further by forbidding blacks within their borders, particularly after sundown.
Nevertheless, black Oklahomans maintained separate, strong communities. By the 1930s the state had more than 20 all-black towns (the highest number of any state in the nation), many of which forbade whites within their borders. In urban centers, blacks maintained their own residential areas, churches, schools, and businesses. The most famous were “Deep Deuce” along Oklahoma City’s Second Street and Tulsa’s Greenwood, once known as the “Negro Wall Street of America.”
Blacks themselves demonstrated their opposition to the first segregationist transportation laws by burning the Midland Valley Railroad Station at Taft, an all-black town near Muskogee. Violence, however, more often came from the white community. Hoping to prevent a black prisoner from being lynched (hanged without a trial), Tulsa’s black community rallied at the county courthouse to protect him on May 31, 1921. Three days of rioting and burning followed, leaving blocks of black-owned property in ruin, including Tulsa’s Greenwood area. Deaths were in the hundreds, all but a few of which were black. No one had an exact number, since rioters burned the bodies, buried them in unmarked graves, or threw them into the Arkansas River.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Oklahoma blacks filed lawsuits against the racial segregation of students in public schools. These Oklahoma cases were precursors for the Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision in 1954, which declared racially segregated schooling unconstitutional.
|O||Recent Economic Development|
During the early postwar years, Oklahoma prospered under the Democrats. Much of the prosperity, however, centered around Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and both areas grew dramatically through the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s large electronics plants and a Federal Aviation Administration installation were built in Oklahoma City. During the 1970s wheat and other grain prices soared to near-record levels following massive grain sales to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Crude oil and natural gas prices increased dramatically after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) refused to sell oil to allies of Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War of 1973. For a short time unemployment all but disappeared, new workers were attracted to the state, per capita income approached the national average, and money for public services and education increased.
All of that changed abruptly when international oil prices and the price of wheat began falling rapidly in 1985. Oil-industry jobs disappeared by the thousands, and family farmers lost their farms. Merchants depending upon the regular flow of oil and wheat money were affected next. Automobile dealerships, home builders, entire shopping malls, and several dozen state banks all went out of business.
In 1960 about 30 percent of Oklahoma voters lived in the Oklahoma City or Tulsa metropolitan areas, yet state political power remained in rural areas because the legislature, since 1910, had refused to adjust political district boundaries to match the redistribution of population. In 1960 one voter in the Oklahoma Panhandle had as much power in the legislature as 80 residents of Oklahoma County. As a result, the rural-dominated legislature jealously controlled nearly all state employment, funneled public money to their sparsely populated districts, and kept the sale of alcohol illegal. In 1960 voters rejected an initiative to reapportion the legislature, but the issue reemerged in 1962, when a federal court in Oklahoma City ruled that the political districting system discriminated against city residents. The next year a reapportionment plan passed by the legislature was struck down by a federal court tribunal, which in 1964 ordered Governor Henry Bellmon to hold a special election along the court’s own reapportionment plan that increased urban representation.
Oklahoma voted mainly for Republican presidential candidates after 1952, voting for Republican presidential candidate Dwight David Eisenhower in 1952 and in 1956 and for Republican Richard Nixon in 1960. However, in 1964, Democratic presidential candidate Lyndon Baines Johnson won in Oklahoma when he defeated the U.S. senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater. In 1962 Oklahoma elected its first Republican governor, Henry Bellmon.
Support for the Republican Party increased when the economy weakened in the 1980s and the Democratic state government suddenly confronted a staggering deficit. After two bitterly contested tax increases that decade, angry taxpayers amended the state constitution to limit legislative terms and to require public approval of nearly all tax increases, changes that were engineered by the state Republican Party.
Scandals further soured voters with the Democratic Party. The largest involved the state’s county commissioners. Most common was the apparently standard practice of exchanging contracts for bribes with road builders and suppliers. Between 1977 and 1987 a total of 246 sitting public officials were convicted of assorted federal crimes. Others were eventually convicted of state offenses. Among the latter were two Democratic governors and several legislators, mostly Democrats, whose misdeeds ranged from election rigging to drug trafficking.
On April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City became the site of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the history of the United States. A massive bomb exploded in a truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, destroying much of the building, and damaging surrounding structures. Timothy McVeigh was charged with 11 counts of conspiracy and murder by the federal government. His trial took place in Denver, Colorado, beginning in April 1997. In June McVeigh was convicted on all charges. He received a death sentence and was executed in 2001. The trial of a co-defendant, Terry Nichols, resulted in a verdict of guilty on charges of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter, but Nichols was acquitted of the charge of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors and defenders agreed that McVeigh alone had taken the bomb to Oklahoma City and detonated it.
The history section of this article was contributed by Danney Goble. The remainder of article was contributed by John Michael Caldwell.