OKLAHOMA'S HISTORY

BEGINNINGS

Oklahoma's recorded history began in 1541 when Spanish explorer Coronado ventured through the area on his quest for the "Lost City of Gold."  The land that would eventually be known as Oklahoma was part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. 

Beginning in the 1820s, the Five Civilized Tribes from the southeastern United States were relocated to Indian Territory over numerous routes, the most famous being the Cherokee "Trail of Tears."  Forced off their ancestral lands by state and federal governments, the tribes suffered great hardships during the rigorous trips west.  The survivors eventually recovered from the dislocation through hard work and communal support.  Gradually, new institutions and cultural adaptations emerged and began a period of rapid development often called the "Golden Age" of Indian Territory. 

Following the destruction of the Civil War, Oklahoma became a part of the booming cattle industry, ushering in the era of the cowboy.  Western expansion reached the territory in the late 1800s, sparking a controversy over the fate of the land.   Treaties enacted after the Civil War by the U.S. government forced the tribes to give up their communal lands and accept individual property allotments to make way for expansion.  There was talk of using Indian Territory for settlement by African Americans emancipated from slavery.  However, the government relented to pressure, much of it coming from a group known as "Boomers," who wanted the rich lands opened to non-Indian settlement.  The government decided to open the western parts of the territory to settlers by holding a total of six land runs between 1889 and 1895.  Settlers came from across the nation and even other countries like Poland, Germany, Ireland and Slavic nations to stake their claims.  And African Americans, some who were former slaves of Indians, took part in the runs or accepted their allotments as tribal members.  In the years that followed, black pioneers founded and settled entire communities in or near Arcadia, Boley, Langston, and Taft.

On November, 16, 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state.   Statehood had become a sure thing, in part due to a discovery which made Oklahoma the "place to go to strike it rich" -- oil.  People came from all parts of the world to seek their fortunes in Oklahoma's teeming oil fields.   Cities like Tulsa, Ponca City, Bartlesville, and Oklahoma City flourished. 

Oklahomans are filled with pride for their land of diverse cultures, hundreds of scenic lakes and rivers, and genuine warmth and friendliness.  This proud Oklahoma spirit is echoed through the accomplishments of our citizens, such as humorist and "Cherokee Cowboy" Will Rogers, Olympian and American Indian Jim Thorpe, African American author Ralph Ellison, astronaut Thomas Stafford, jazz musician Charlie Christian, and country music superstars Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, and Garth Brooks.

AFRICAN AMERICANS

The history of African Americans in Oklahoma is a story unlike any to be found in the United States.  African Americans came to this region as cowboys, settlers, gunfighters, and farmers.  By statehood in 1907, they outnumbered both Indians and first- and second-generation Europeans.  They created more all-black towns in Oklahoma than in the rest of the country put together, produced some of the country's greatest jazz musicians, and led some of the nation's greatest civil rights battles.

One of the great omissions in the history books was the role African American soldiers played in the Civil War.  Blacks first fought alongside whites during the Battle of Honey Springs, an engagement fought on July 17, 1863, on a small battlefield outside present-day Muskogee.

Black troops held the Union's center line in that battle, breaking the Confederate's center and giving the Union a critical win that secured both the Arkansas River and the Texas Road (the region's major transportation routes).  This ensured the Union a solid foothold in Indian Territory -- one it never relinquished.

A year after the Civil War ended in 1865, Congress passed a bill providing provisions for black troops, what became the 9th and 10th cavalry.  The 10th went on to be headquartered at Fort Gibson; the 9th was stationed at Fort Sill.  Black soldiers built Oklahoma forts; fought bandits, cattle thieves, and Mexican revolutionaries (including Pancho Villa); and policed borders during the land runs.  They also played a critical role in the Indian Wars of the late 1800s, earning the respect of Native Americans who gave them the name of "Buffalo Solders."

After the Civil War, Freedmen and new African American settlers in Oklahoma could vote, study, and move about with relative freedom.  Pamphlets distributed throughout the South urged African Americans to join land runs in Indian Territory, to create businesses, cities and perhaps even the first black state.   Pamphlets promising a black paradise in Oklahoma lured tens of thousands of former slaves from the South.  Eventually 27 black towns grew to encompass 10 percent of Indian Territory's population.

Today many of Oklahoma's original black towns and districts are gone, but those that remain still host rodeos, Juneteenth celebrations, and community reunions.

OKLAHOMA HERITAGE

America is steeped in the traditions of the west and the American Indian, and no state boasts a richer heritage of both that Oklahoma.

Indians from more than 67 tribes, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, Osage, Cheyenne, Sac and Fox, Delaware, Apache, and Pawnee, call Oklahoma their home today.  Such famous Indians as Sequoyah, Black Beaver, Jim Thorpe, and Maria Tallchief contributed to Oklahoma's development.

The state is also the setting for vast horse and cattle ranches, rodeos, and working cowboys.  Such famous cowboys as Bill Pickett, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Will Rogers hail from Oklahoma.

NATIVE PEOPLE

Before Coronado and his colleagues landed on America's shores, Indians resided in what would become Oklahoma. 

Remnants of several different hunter-agricultural civilizations have been found in Oklahoma, including a site near Anadarko, where archaeologists discovered the bones of a mammoth and several spear points.

Scientists estimate the mammoth was killed more than 11,000 years ago and have identified the spearheads as belonging to an ancient group of hunters known as the Clovis culture.

From 500 to 1300 A.D., a group known as the Mound Builders lived in an area just west of the Arkansas/Oklahoma border in LeFlore County.  Artifacts left in ceremonial burial site "mounds" show the Mound Builders were highly skilled artisans with a sophisticated economy. 

By the time explorers discovered the mysterious earthen mounds in the 17th and 18th centuries, the culture centered there was extinct, and the Osage and Quapay tribes laid claim to the region.  Today, the area has been preserved for visitors and scientific study as Spiro Mound State Park.

Osage
Osage Indians settled in the rich woodlands of northeastern Oklahoma around 1796.   Shortly thereafter, the area became United States property as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  When a band of Cherokees settled near the Osage (after voluntarily moving from the East Coast), territorial violence erupted between the two tribes with white settlers caught in the middle.

Eventually the United States negotiated a truce with Osage Chief Clermont, dropping all damage claims against the tribe if the Osage would cede seven million acres of land to the federal government.  The Osage continued attacking, however, and were finally forced to cede the rest of their lands to the United States in 1825.  They then moved to Kansas territory, but it was soon opened to white settlement. In 1870, Congress sold the rest of the Osage lands, turned the money over to the tribe and opened a reservation for them which later became Osage County.

Before long, oil was struck on this land and the Osage became the wealthiest people per capita in the United States.

Quapaw
The Quapaw history is less violent, yet more tragic than that of the Osage.   Prior to 1820, the tribe sold 45 million acres  of their land south of the Arkansas river to the U.S. government for $18,000.  The United States took the rest of their land in 1824 when four Quapaw chiefs, induced with alcohol and $500 each, ceded the property.

Homeless, the tribe settled near the Red River on land received from the Caddos, a tribe from Texas.  However, crop failures in successive years diminished the tribe, and the survivors scattered.

In 1890, the Quapaw reorganized and obtained a sliver of property in northeastern Indian Territory.  Zinc and lead were soon discovered on this land, and by the 1920s tribal members were gaining as much as $1.2 million a year in royalties from the mines.

Five Civilized Tribes
The lands which the Osage and Quapaw had ceded to the United States government were turned over to the Indians of the old Southeast, who were being relocated from their tribal homes.  Five tribes of these Indians had come to be known as the Five Civilized Tribes because of their advanced systems of government, education and law enforcement.  These tribes were the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole.  The most peaceful removal among the Five Civilized Tribes was the Choctaw in 1820.  The other four tribes followed, with removals becoming increasingly bloodier from internal skirmishes and bouts with white men.

The Seminoles were the last to make the westward journey in 1842.   The Choctaw even brought their crack police force called the Lighthorsemen to Indian Territory.  This law enforcement unit maintained justice and safety for much of the region.

Although a relatively peaceful move, the most tragic Indian removal to Oklahoma was that of the Cherokee.  A portion of the tribe had already moved to Arkansas in the late 18th century.  The rest were forced to move after the removal Act of 1830.

The Cherokees' travels across the Missouri and Arkansas wilderness during harsh winter months became known in history as the "Trail of Tears" because many members of the tribe died and were buried along the way.

By 1856, each of the Five Civilized Tribes established territorial boundaries in the frontier.  These were all national domains, not reservations.

Settled in their new homes, the Five Civilized Tribes began building cultures out of the Oklahoma wilderness, laying the foundation of a society which would carry the territory to statehood and modern times.

The Five Civilized Tribes each formed their own constitutional governments and established advanced public school systems.  The nations had powerful judicial systems and strong economies.  Some tribes brought black slaves and freedmen with them from the East and built plantations, villages, and towns in the new "Indian Territory."

To protect the five nations from angry Plains Indians who were upset at having to share their lands with the newcomers, the U.S. Army built several forts.   These included Fort Washita near Durant and Fort Gibson, near Muskogee.

One Cherokee who moved west in 1829 was one of America's most honored Indians, Sequoyah.  He was intrigued with the white man's ability to write, so after 12 years of experimenting and study, Sequoyah created an 86-letter syllabary for the Cherokee language.  This alphabet was so efficient it could be learned in less than a month and became the standard means of communication for the Cherokee.  Sequoyah's home is still standing near Sallisaw.

During the Civil War, individual Indians were divided between loyalty to the Confederacy or neutrality.  However, tribal governments officially sided with the South.  The rivalry turned to violence as Confederate factions attacked those Indians favoring neutrality, forcing them to flee into Kansas.

In the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, the United States government confiscated the western portions of the Indian Territory and began resettling other tribes such as the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche.

The separate nations of the Five Civilized Tribes would survive until Oklahoma's statehood in 1907.

Plains Indians
After the Civil War, many of the lands taken away from the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma Territory were turned over to tribes from the West.  As non-Indian expansion pressed westward and the railroads built networks of tracks, the federal government decided to relocate the western Indians, whose homes stood in the way of "progress."

Moving in to these newly-designated lands were two great Indian leaders who lived their last days in the territory:  Apache warrior Geronimo and Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle

Geronimo's relentless battle to stanch the expansion of settlers in the desert and mountains of the Southwest led him to incarceration at the Ft. Sill Military Reservation near Lawton where he lived to an old age.

Chief Black Kettle was an outspoken proponent of peace with white men, but he was killed in the last great battle between Indians and the U.S. Army in Oklahoma.   Black Kettle was among several chiefs who signed the peace treaty of Medicine Lodge, Kansas, in 1867, which guaranteed the Cheyenne and Arapaho land in Oklahoma along with goods and services.  As with many other Indian treaties, the federal government failed to uphold the bargain.  Several bands of Cheyenne and Arapaho grew impatient, carrying out raids on government installations and many inhabitants.

Conflicts between Indians and settlers continued in Oklahoma until the 20th century, although not as violent as in the Washita River Battle.  The Five Civilized Tribes' efforts to maintain autonomy disappeared in 1905 when they attempted to organize an Indian state named Sequoyah.  The federal government rejected this idea in favor of a single state combining the Oklahoma and Indian Territories.  Thus, Oklahoma became the 46th state on November 16, 1907.

When Indian and Oklahoma territories achieved statehood under one banner, Indians and settlers joined efforts to develop the state's cultural and economic assets.

According to the 1990 census, Oklahoma's Indian population is 252,420, the largest of any state.  Currently, 35 tribes maintain tribal councils in Oklahoma.

Although Indians in Oklahoma are an active part of modern society, many tribes continue their customs and ceremonial rites in powwows scheduled throughout the year.  These colorful powwows feature Indians dancing in native dress and are generally open to the public.  Many major Indian events and museums are found in Oklahoma, providing an authentic glimpse at one of Oklahoma's most important pieces of history.

THE COWBOYS

America's working cowboy began his history on the Texas plains where, after the Civil War, ranchers found they had a plentiful supply of beef with no place to sell it.   Demand for beef existed along the East Coast, but to fulfill that need, Texas ranchers had to move cattle to the railroads, and the closest ones were in Kansas.

Between the cattle ranches and railroads lay Oklahoma, the land of the great cattle trails between 1866 and 1889.

As cattle drives crossed the Oklahoma plains, drovers recognized the value of Oklahoma's land for grazing, and the economical advantages of originating a herd in the territory.  Oklahoma consequently turned into a prime site for cattle ranches and continues to be a thriving center for livestock.

Although the ranch cowboys of history are still working the ranches today, their lifestyle has changed.  Modern cowboys live with their families in comfortable homes and use advanced technology in working cattle.  Horses are still used on the range, but trucks are more common.  Helicopters and airplanes also supplement horses in herding cattle.  Scientific knowledge of animal husbandry and irrigation planning are as practical to the modern-day cowboy as the rope and saddle were to the cowboy of yesterday.

Branding irons are still used for identifying cattle by searing permanent marks into the animals hides.

Brands were an early deterrent against cattle being lost or stolen, similar to serial numbers.  Designed to be functional, brands are simple, legible and easily identifiable.  Despite their simplicity, many cattlemen hold their brand symbols in high esteem and name their ranches after them.

THE OUTLAWS

After cattlemen and settlers came to Oklahoma and Indian territories, outlaws were attracted to this wild frontier country of the late 1800s.  Law enforcement hadn't been firmly established in the territories and the landscape offered many places where outlaws and their gangs could hide, such as the rocks, caves and trees in what is now Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton.

Outlaws in Oklahoma robbed banks and trains, stole horses and cattle.   Some were quite infamous and dangerous, achieving legendary status and making heroes out of the lawmen who brought the criminals to justice.

Such was the fate of Bill Doolin, whose gang battled U.S. Marshals in one of the most historic shootouts in the West in 1893.  Marshal Heck Thomas tracked Doolin for three years, finally ambushing and killing Doolin on a quiet country road in northeastern Payne County.

Another famous lawman was Bass Reeves, believed to be the first African American deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River. A tough and fearless man, Reeves served for 35 years, longer than any lawman on record in Indian Territory.

Reeves was born into slavery in Texas but escaped to Indian Territory before the Civil War.  Reeves was one of 200 deputies commissioned by Judge Isaac C. Parker, the "Hanging Judge," after 1875 to track down criminals in lawless western Arkansas and Indian Territory.  Many Indians distrusted white deputies, so Parker believed blacks would be particularly effective lawmen in Indian Territory.

Associated with the Doolin Gang were a few female outlaws, including one of the most famous bad women of all times, Belle Starr.

Judge Parker sentenced Starr in 1882 to federal prison on a horse-stealing charge.  After her release, Starr lived quietly on her homestead near Eufaula, until she was murdered on a road one wintry day.  Starr's killer has never been brought to justice.

WILD WEST SHOWS

The Hollywood and rodeo cowboys got their starts in wild west shows and circuses that became popular around 1900.  Three of the more popular wild west shows originated in Oklahoma from the Mulhall Ranch, the Pawnee Bill Ranch and the Miller 101 Ranch.

Zach Mulhall's ranch near Guthrie covered 80,000 acres in Oklahoma Territory.  He started a wild west show starring his daughter Lucille, the world's first "cowgirl," who became a favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt.  The show toured from 1900 to 1915.

Gordon William Lillie built his ranch near Pawnee and became famous as "Pawnee Bill."  This name was given to him by the Pawnee Indians, who made him their "white chief" after he saved the tribe from starvation during a harsh winter.

Pawnee Bill and some of his Indian friends later joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, but in 1888, Lillie started his own.  The Pawnee Bill Show featured his wife, May, a refined Philadelphian who learned to ride broncs sidesaddle and became a sharpshooter with guns.  Pawnee Bill's show toured the world until 1913.

The ranch, with many relics and memorabilia, is also the home of an authentic 60-foot poster advertisement for a 1900 Pawnee Bill Wild West Show performance in Blackwell.  The ranch and museum are open to the public.

Perhaps the most popular of all wild west shows originated on the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch near Ponca City, built by Col. George Washington Miller and his three sons.  Their show toured the world from 1908 until the Great Depression and even included a team of Cossacks, but it remained true to its western roots with headline acts featuring cowboys and Indians.

RODEOS

The rodeo was born on the range where cowboys pitted their herding skills against each other and ranches competed for bragging rights.  The wild west shows picked up these competitions and included them as entertainment.  Although the shows later dissolved, the competitions evolved into rodeos, the only national spectator sport originating entirely in the United States.

A typical rodeo includes a variety of events to test a cowboy's skill.   From calf roping and steer wrestling to saddle-bronc and bull riding, the degree of danger varies but the competition is always exciting.

More than a hundred rodeos take place throughout the year in Oklahoma, ranging from junior rodeos to high school, intercollegiate and professional events.   Oklahoma's rodeos also feature women's competitions where cowgirls compete in rodeo events, barrel racing contests and rodeo queen competitions.  Indian rodeos are another major Oklahoma attraction.

OKLAHOMA FACTS


STATE SONG

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The official song and anthem of the State of Oklahoma is "Oklahoma," composed and written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

"Brand new state, Brand new state, gonna treat you great!
Gonna give you barley, carrots and pertaters,
Pasture fer the cattle, Spinach and Termayters!
Flowers on the prairie where the June bugs zoom,
Plen'y of air and plen'y of room,
Plen'y of room to swing a rope!
Plen'y of heart and plen'y of hope!
Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, ev'ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin' lazy circles in the sky.
We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say - Yeeow■ A-yip-i-o-ee ay!
We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma - O.K."


STATE CHILDREN'S SONG

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The official children's song of the State of Oklahoma is the song "Oklahoma, My Native Land", composed and written by Martha Kemm Barrett.

The words of the official state children's song are:
"As I travel the roads of America, such wonderful sights I can see.
But nothing compares to the place I love;
The perfect home for you and for me.
Yes, Oklahoma, my native land. I am proud to say your future's
looking grand. Yes, Oklahoma, such history. Ev'ry day you give a
gift just for me.
I see a Scissortail Flycatcher cut through the clean air as
mistletoe kisses the branches ev'rywhere. Redbuds open ev'ry single
spring. I hear a Pow Wow beat the rhythm of the old ways as oil
wells pump back mem'ries of the boom days. Only Oklahoma has these things.
Yes, Oklahoma, my native land. I am proud to say your future's
looking grand. Yes, Oklahoma, such history. Ev'ry day you give a
gift just for me. Perfect home for you. The perfect home for me.
It's only Oklahoma for me."

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The above text was taken from the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation's "A Look at Oklahoma."