State in southern central USA, bordered to the south by Texas, to the west, at the extreme of the Oklahoma panhandle, by New Mexico, to the north by Colorado and Kansas, and to the east by Missouri and Arkansas; area 177,847 sq km/68,667 sq mi; population (2010) 3,751,351; capital Oklahoma City. It is nicknamed the Sooner State because during the Oklahoma Land Run in 1889, when the land was opened up to white settlers, many took land before it was officially allowed. The state has a number of land regions, including the Ozark Plateau, the Prairie Plains, and the Ouachita Mountains. Oklahoma ranks among the leading states in petroleum and natural gas production, and it is the only US state that produces iodine. Beef cattle are the major source of agricultural income and cowhands still ride the range, although ranching has been thoroughly modernized. Other towns and cities are Tulsa, Norman, Lawton, Broken Arrow, Edmond, Moore, Midwest City, and Enid. Oklahoma is the US state most associated with American Indians, and has one of the largest American Indian populations of any of the states. Most of this population is descended from the 67 tribes who inhabited the Indian Territory. Oklahoma was admitted to the Union in 1907 as the 46th US state.
Physical Oklahoma has a number of distinct land regions. The Ozark Plateau in the northeast extends into Missouri and Arkansas, and is hilly with steep-sided rivers. South and west of the Ozark are the Prairie Plains, a farming and cattle-ranching area, which also produces most of the state's coal and petroleum. The Sandstone Hills extend south from the Kansas border almost to the Red River in the south. The Ouachita Mountains rise on the border with Arkansas and are an area of high, rough sandstone ridges running in an east–west direction. They include the Ouachita National Forest.
The Arbuckle Mountains in south-central Oklahoma have been eroded over millions of years into interesting geological formations. The Wichita Mountains in the southwest lie within the Fort Sill military reservation and are a wildlife refuge. They form rugged granite peaks and the area has many artificial lakes created by the damming of mountain streams.
The Red River region in the southeast is a fertile rolling prairie and forest area where peanuts, cotton, and vegetables are grown. The Red Beds Plains of soft red sandstone and shale stretch through the middle of Oklahoma from Kansas to Texas, with forests in the east and grasslands in the west, where cotton and wheat are grown. A few oilfields have been developed in this area. To the west are the Gypsum Hills, or Glass Mountains, capped with gypsum up to 6 m/20 ft thick, which sparkles in the sun. The High Plains are flat grasslands in the northeast and include Oklahoma's panhandle. They rise from 610 m/2,000 ft in the east to 1,517 m/49,73 ft at Black Mesa in the far northwest, the highest point in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has two main rivers: the Red River, forming the southern state boundary, and the Arkansas, which flows through the northeast from Kansas to Arkansas passing through Tulsa. These two rivers flow eastwards towards the Gulf of Mexico. Smaller rivers include the Canadian, Cimarron, Washita, Verdigris, and Neosho rivers.
Oklahoma has around 200 artificial and 1,000 natural lakes, many of which are devoted to recreation. The most popular are Lake Texoma in the southwest, part of which is in Texas, and the Eufaula Lake to the east. Lake resorts for fishing and boating include Tenkiller Lake, Fort Gibson Lake, Greenleaf Lake, and Lake Wister. The Lake o' the Cherokees lies to the northeast and is part of the Ozark Plateau. Other large lakes and reservoirs include Great Salt, Upper and Lower Spavinaw Lakes, Keystone, Lawtonka, Murray, Oologah, and Pawnee.
The climate in Oklahoma is mostly warm and dry, with the northwest cooler and drier than the southeast. The state has suffered from several tornadoes; the one of 1999 was particularly devastating, causing nearly 50 deaths and more than $1 billion in damages.
Features Oklahoma has a large American Indian population, mainly in the east, as a result of their 19th-century displacement to the Indian Territory. Their culture and history is preserved in a number of places of interest. For example, Fort Sill military reservation, founded by Philip Sheridan, George Custer, and William Tecumseh Sherman, is where Chief Geronimo died in 1909. Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation until 1907, is the site of the National Hall of Fame for Native Americans and Indian City USA. The Cherokee constitution was signed here in 1839.
Several museums have fine collections of American Indian history and art, including the Thomas Gilcrease Museum of Art in Tulsa and the Woolaroc Museum near Bartlesville, which holds a world-famous collection of Indian blankets. Anadarko has the Southern Plains Indian Museum and Craft Centre, and the Cherokee National Museum at Tahlequah has a re-creation of an Indian village. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Capitol Museum is in Tuskahoma, and the Apache Historical Museum in Apache. The Creek Capitol in Okmulgee is the building from which the Creek Indians governed their nation. Spiro Mounds archaeological state park is a 57 ha/140 acre site encompassing 12 mounds containing evidence of an Indian culture dating from AD 900–1400. The mounds are considered one of the four most important American Indian sites east of the Rocky Mountains. Sequoya's Cabin in Akins is a log cabin which was the home of Sequoya (George Gist), a teacher who invented a system for reading and writing the Cherokee language.
Will Rogers, the ‘Cherokee cowboy’ humorist, is celebrated in his home state with a memorial at Claremont, where he is buried and where there is a collection of his paintings, manuscripts, and other belongings. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City holds famous paintings and sculptures of the American West and also includes the Rodeo Hall of Fame, a re-creation of an American Indian village, and a pioneer town. Oklahoma City also has the Harn Homestead and 1889ers Museum. The Oklahoma state capitol stands in the middle of an oilfield in Oklahoma City. An oil well remains in its grounds as a tourist attraction, having ceased production in 1986. Other wells in production are scattered around the city. The Woolaroc Museum is a wildlife reserve as well as a museum of the West which has over 50,000 exhibits.
Tulsa, with its art deco architecture from the 1920s; Bartlesville, with the Frank Phillips home (1909) and the Price Tower (1956), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; and Guthrie, the state's original capital, are Oklahoma's architectural gems. When Oklahoma City became capital in 1910, Guthrie was suddenly deserted. A restoration project in the 1980s helped to recapture some of the town's original early 20th-century grandeur.
Culture Oklahomans are proud of their cultural diversity. The state's largest population groups include people of German, Irish, English, and Hispanic descent, with American Indians making up nearly 9% of the population (2010). Africans first arrived as slaves to the Cherokee and later came as settlers, gunfighters, cowboys, and farmers. By 1907, when Oklahoma achieved statehood, the people of African descent outnumbered Indians and Europeans and had created 27 black towns, few of which are still in existence.
Many towns and cities hold annual events to celebrate their American Indian and pioneer heritage. One of the most popular of these is the Trail of Tears outdoor drama in Tahlequah, which is performed every evening from early June until September, and dramatizes the traumatic arrival of the Cherokee and other tribes who were relocated from other states to Indian Territory in the 1830s.
Oklahoma's agricultural traditions are celebrated at the Bullnanza in Guthrie in February; the World Championship Hog-calling Contest in Weatherford, also in February; the Strawberry Festival in Stilwell in May; and the State Fair of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City in August. Cowboy history is still remembered in rodeos in Oklahoma City, which take place in April, and at Freedom, in August. Oklahoma City is also known for its numerous horse shows.
Oklahoma's black American musical heritage is celebrated in the Jazz Banjo Festival in Guthrie in May, and the BOK/Williams Jazz Celebration in Tulsa in August. Will Rogers is remembered over several days in Claremont in November.
Oklahoma's early 20th-century history has been immortalized in fiction. The story of the fertile and productive early years of the 20th century is told in the musical Oklahoma! John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is a fictionalized description of the drought of the 1930s.
GovernmentOklahoma's state constitution Oklahoma's first constitution was adopted in 1907, the year it became a state. The constitution contains clauses allowing voters to directly propose and pass laws.
Structure of state government The state legislature consists of a 48-member Senate and a 101-member House of Representatives. Senators serve four-year terms and representatives two-year terms. There is a limit of 12 years' cumulative service between both legislative branches. Two senators and five representatives go to the US Congress. The state has seven electoral votes in presidential elections.
Oklahoma has voted Republican in every US presidential election since 1968.
Oklahoma's governor is limited to two four-year terms. Republican Mary Fallin took the governorship in January 2011. The governor appoints the secretary of state, and the heads of the revenue and budget departments, while other heads of department are chosen by commissions or boards. The most important elected officials are the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, treasurer, auditor, and inspector, who are all elected for four-year terms.
Oklahoma's local government operates in 77 counties and 594 cities and towns. Each county has three elected representatives, and most towns and cities use the mayor-council or council-manager type of government. Cities of over 2,000 people can adopt and amend their own charters.
The Supreme Court consists of nine justices, including the chief justice, who serve six-year terms. Other state courts are the court of criminal appeals, court of civil appeals, the district courts (trial courts of general jurisdiction), and a workers' compensation court.
Economy Service industries are the backbone of the modern Oklahoma economy, with wholesale and retail trade the leading services. Oklahoma is a major oil- and gas-producing state, and natural gas (including shale gas) production has now overtaken oil as the mainstay of mineral production, with much of the state's gas being piped to northern states. Cattle ranching is a major source of income. The fertile plains produce huge crops of wheat, sorghum, peanuts, cotton, soybeans, and hay. Livestock, including cattle, pigs, and chickens, account for over half the state's agricultural receipts. Other important industries are oil refining, food processing, meat packing, machinery and transport equipment manufacture, computer and electronic equipment, and military communication systems manufacture. Non-fuel minerals include stone, cement, lime, sand and gravel, gypsum, helium, zinc, and iodine.
HistoryAmerican Indians What is now the state of Oklahoma was originally home to the Plains Indians including the Apache, Arapaho, Caddo, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita, who followed the herds of buffalo grazing on the grasslands.
Explorers Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was searching the area for the fabled lost city of gold when he arrived in Oklahoma from New Mexico in 1541. He was followed by Hernando de Soto, but neither of them found gold. French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, claimed the whole area drained by the Mississippi, including Oklahoma, for France in 1682, and before long French traders and explorers began to pour into the area.
France ceded the area to Spain in 1792 and most of the region was acquired by the USA from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The western panhandle became US territory when Texas was annexed in 1845 (see Texas, annexation of). The region was traversed by users of the Santa Fe Trail, a trade route from Missouri to New Mexico, from the 1820s.
The Trail of Tears Oklahoma was set aside as Indian Territory in 1834. Immigrant American Indians were given the right to all the land in present-day Oklahoma except for the panhandle in the far northwest. In the early 1830s, gold was discovered on Cherokee land in Georgia, and settlers there called for the relocation of the Cherokees. The Cherokees had lost their land and many had lost their lives in a series of treaties with the US government from the 1780s through to the 1830s. They were ultimately sent to the Indian Territory by President Andrew Jackson under the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In the winter of 1838–39 around 16,000 Cherokees were forced to march over 1,600 km/1,000 mi to the Indian Territory. More than 4,000 Cherokee died during the journey, and the journey became known as the Trail of Tears. From then until 1842, a succession of groups of American Indians were forcibly resettled in the hills and grasslands of what was to become eastern Oklahoma.
Once they had recovered from the immediate trauma of their dislocation, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole set up their own nations, legal systems, courts, laws, schools, and capitals, which were recognized by US treaties. Many of them became prosperous, and some were already slave-owners. Their behaviour was approved of by the white settlers, who called them the Five Civilized Tribes. The first Africans in the Oklahoma region came through the Trail of Tears with their Indian owners.
The Civil War American Indians were divided in their roles in the Civil War – some made treaties with the Confederates, while the Cherokees pledged their allegiances with the Union. Black Americans fought side by side with whites in the Battle of Honey Springs in July 1863. Their victory in this decisive battle secured the Arkansas River and the Texas Road, both major transport routes, and ensured a foothold for the Union in Indian country.
In 1865, Congress passed a bill allowing black troops to become the 9th and 10th cavalry, headquartered at Fort Sill and Fort Gibson. Black soldiers later played an important role in the Indian Wars of the late 19th century and were named buffalo soldiers by the American Indians they helped. After the Civil War, however, the Indian nations lost the protection of the government and were forced to give up the western part of their land, which was then leased to other Indians. By 1883, the Indians leased 6 million acres of their land to white cattle ranchers.
Pamphlets promising a black paradise in Oklahoma brought thousands of freed slaves from the south. Black settlers could vote, study, and walk free. They were urged to join land runs in Indian Territory and create black businesses and black cities. Twenty-seven black towns grew up in the Indian Territories.
The great land rushes Under pressure from prospective settlers in the late 1880s, the government bought over 800,000 ha/2 million acres of land from the Creek and Seminoles, dividing the original Indian Territory into a new Indian Territory and the Oklahoma Territory, part of which was thrown open to white settlers. Many of the freed slaves of Indians also took part. On 22 April 1889, the first of five Oklahoma Land Runs took place, in which 50,000 potential settlers (who became known as the '89ers) had to run and stake their claim to a piece of land (although some ‘sooners’ crossed the territory's border early to obtain choice locations). Towns such as Oklahoma City, Guthrie, Norman, and Stillwater were established in a single day.
Before 1907 and the achievement of statehood, continued pressure had persuaded the tribes in the Indian Territory to surrender communally held lands, accepting individual allotments and allowing whites to buy from individuals. At the start of the 21st century, although the Osage inhabit the only Indian Reservation in the state, many Choctaw still live in Oklahoma and many Chickasaw live on tribal landholdings and raise cattle. Most have abandoned their traditional culture and are either Methodist or Baptist.
Oil Oklahoma struck oil in 1897, and the state led all others in oil and gas production. In 1928 a huge oilfield was opened at Oklahoma City, and more than 1,500 wells were built in the next ten years.
The Great Depression The 1930s brought drought, dust storms, and the Great Depression to Oklahoma. Farm prices were low, business was poor, and banks failed. There was a serious water shortage in the whole Great Plains region, and hot summers and high winds stripped away the fertile plains, leaving what was known as the dust bowl. Miners, oil-workers, and farmers led a great exodus, especially to California. Economic growth resumed thereafter, in World War II, when the state's agricultural and fuel resources were again in demand and conservation projects rehabilitated many of the farms.
20th-century Oklahoma Demand for fuel and rising world oil prices led to a boom in the 1970s. Falling demand in 1980 again caused a crisis in which oil wells shut down, farmers lost their farms, and unemployment forced another exodus. This persuaded state leaders to introduce a diversity of industries and lessen dependence on oil. In 1995 a terrorist bomb blew up the Alfred P Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. Timothy McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran, and Terry Nichols were convicted as perpetrators of the attack.
Famous peoplesport Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), athlete; Mickey Mantle (1931–1995), baseball player; Maria Tallchief (1935–2013), ballerina; Johnny Bench (1947– ), baseball player; Shannon Miller (1977– ), gymnast
the arts Chester Gould (1900–1985), cartoonist; Woody Guthrie (1912–1967), folk singer; John Berryman (1914–1972), poet; Ralph Ellison (1914–1994), writer; James Garner (1928–2014), actor; Eddie Cochran (1938–1960), musician; Ron Howard (1954– ), actor and director; Reba McEntire (1954– ), country singer; Garth Brooks (1962– ), country singer; Brad Pitt (1964– ), actor
science Karl Guthe Jansky (1905–1950), radio engineer; L Gordon Cooper (1927–2004), astronaut; Owen K Garriott (1930– ), astronaut; James L Gould (1945– ), animal behaviourist
society and education Will Rogers (1879–1935), humorist; Oral Roberts (1918–2009), evangelist
economics Sam Walton (1918–1992), retail executive
politics and law Daniel P Moynihan (1927–2003), politician.
Wicks, Hamilton S: The Opening of Oklahoma
Oklahoma – flag
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