History of Oklahoma
According to archeological evidence, different native peoples have traveled through Oklahoma as early as the ice age (the last period). However, it seems that the territory did not have any permanent settlements for a long time, at least until the period between 850 and 1450 AD. Spanish explorers traveled through the state in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that Oklahoma got its first European permanent settlers, who were French. The state remained under French rule until the Louisiana Purchase, when it passed to the United States.
Throughout the 19th century, various Native American tribes were forced to leave their lands all across America and sent to the area in and around the present-day Oklahoma. The term “Trail of Tears”, which usually refers to the Cherokee removal, in fact originates from the removal of the Choctaw, which took place in 1831. the Choctaw Nation was a territory in Oklahoma which included other tribes as well (Quapaw and Osage, among others). By the end of the century, the Indian Territory (sometimes called the Indian Country) was inhabited by more than 30 Indian nations. Native Indians at the time used to have black slaves, until the slavery was abolished in 1866. Many members of Indian nations served on both parts during the Civil War, and the Cherokee Nation even had their own internal civil war.
In the second half of the 19th century, cattle ranchers and cowboys used to move the cattle towards north through the Indian Territory or settled there, although illegally. This meant that the presence of non-Indian settlers was increased and, as a consequence, Native Americans started losing land that was appropriated to the federal government. Almost one half of the Indian land was taken by emerging railroad companies, for the purpose of selling it or offering it to white settlers.
A lot of the territory of present-day Oklahoma was gained by settlers through land runs. A portion of the territory was opened for settlement and whoever got to it first had the right to claim it his own. Arriving to the land before the run officially started was illegal, but that did not stop groups of settlers known as “sooners” who crossed the border into the territory before the opening time. This practice was typical for Oklahoma and today the state’s official nickname is “The Sooner State”.
Oklahoma’s statehood resulted partly from the efforts to create an all-Indian state, which was supposed to be called either Oklahoma or Sequoyah. Even though those efforts turned out futile, they still provided a foundation for the Oklahoma State Convention in 1907. The same year Oklahoma became the Union’s 46th state.
The discovery of oil in Oklahoma was a very important moment for the state’s economy. Thanks to the rapidly developing oil industry, new towns and cities emerged and the population was on the rise. Throughout the 20th century, one of Oklahoma’s major cities, Tulsa, was known as “The Oil Capital of the World”.
The U.S. Route 66 and its creation were also very significant for Oklahoma, not to mention its importance for the entire United States. By connecting Los Angeles and Chicago, the highway connected two major US regions and supported local economies along its path. A businessman from Oklahoma, Cyrus Avery, is considered to be one of the most important people in this project.
Even though it is often associated with Native Americans, Oklahoma has a rich African-American history as well. Many black settlers moved to Oklahoma, especially from Kansas, and others were encouraged to move there from all over the United States. At one point, the possibility of making Oklahoma a predominately black state was even discussed with the president Theodore Roosevelt. Prosperous black communities thrived across the state, especially in Tulsa. However, the presence of African-Americans was not always welcomed by the non-black population in the state. Racial segregation was introduced by the end of the 19th century and racial tensions took a turn for the worse after the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1915. In 1921, the racial tensions culminated in what is known as the Tulsa Race Riot, one of the worst racially motivated riots in the American history, with as much as 300 dead and 1,8 million in property damage. By the beginning of the 1930s, the influence of the Ku Klux Klan eventually faded.
The northwestern part of Oklahoma suffered greatly during what is known as the Dust Bowl. This period, sometimes referred to as “The Dirty Thirties”, was marked by severe dust storms in parts of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Little or no rainfall, extremely hot weather and high winds, combined with dry soil and generally poor farming practices, had sent thousands of farmers into poverty and eventually forced them to move in pursuit of more fertile lands in other parts of the United States, moving mostly towards the west. As a consequence, Oklahoma lost 6.9% of its population in the following 20 years.
In order to prevent this from happening again, the state started numerous water conservation projects, built dams and man-made lakes that would guarantee steady water supplies for homes and crops.
In the more recent history, Oklahoma was the site of another tragic event, in this case an act of domestic terrorism – the Oklahoma City Bombing. On April 19, 1995 Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonated a bomb just outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680. McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed in 2001, and Nichols is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Oklahoma is located near the geographic center of the United States. It is one of the six states in the Frontier Strip (a vertical line from North Dakota to Texas). The state lies partially in the Great Plains region, in the Gulf of Mexico watershed. The terrain in the state ranges from high plains to the west to low wetlands in the southeastern portion. The state’s highest point is called Black Mesa and it is located in the northwestern corner of Oklahoma Panhandle (the state has a characteristic, nearly rectangular shape with an elongated and narrow portion to the west that resembles a panhandle).
Oklahoma has more man-made lakes than any other US state – more than 200. Lake Texoma is the largest, while the Broken Bow Lake is considered by many to be the most beautiful one. As for the natural lakes in the state, there are more than 600 of them and they are all of oxbow and playa types. Playa lakes, located in the high plains region of the state, are generally intermittent, which means they dry up if there is no rain.
The state is remarkably diverse in terms of geography and ecology. It has 10 eco-regions – eight in the eastern and two in the western portion of the state. Oklahoma has four major mountain ranges: the Ouachita Mountains, the Arbuckle Mountains, the Wichita Mountains and the Ozark Mountains.
The western portion of Oklahoma has very little rainfall, so the land mostly consists of shrublands and shortgrass prairie. The far western part of the Oklahoma Panhandle has several rivers and creeks lined with trees, mostly pines and junipers. The southeastern portion of the state is dominated by marshlands, pine forests and deciduous forests and to the northeast the forests mostly consist of elms, red cedars, post oaks and pines.
Oklahoma has a rich fauna, with deer, elk, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, American bison, black bears, red and gray foxes, American alligators, as well as large populations of prairie dogs and river otters.
As for the climate, even though it has a continental climate (with certain portions belonging to humid subtropical climate), as it lies in a temperate region, Oklahoma is prone to severe weather. It lies in the so-called Tornado Alley and has one of the highest annual tornado rates in the world. The climate in Oklahoma is also favorable for thunderstorm development.
The state has six national parks and protected regions and 50 state parks. Some of the most important ones include the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (the oldest and largest wildlife refuge in the United States), the Ouachita National Forest and the Chikasaw National Recreational Area. The national historic trails in the state include the Trail of Tears and Santa Fe.
Population of Oklahoma
According to the U. S. Census Bureau, Oklahoma has 3,791,508 inhabitants. In 2010, the racial makeup in the state was 68.7% non-Hispanic White, 8.9% Hispanic or Latino, 8.2% Native American, 7.3% Black or African American, 1.7% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.1% from some other race and 5.1% two or more races.
The largest ancestry groups in Oklahoma are German, American, Irish, English and African American.
The largest city in the state are Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, Broken Arrow, Lawton, Edmond, Moore, Midwest City, Enid and Stillwater.
Oklahoma is part of the Bible Belt, a conservative region in the USA dominated by Evangelical Christianity. The state has the second-largest percentage of Evangelicals in the USA, after Arkansas. Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic are other significant religious groups in the state.
When the settlement of America first began, many Native Americans were forced or chosen to move from their previous territories and many of them moved to Oklahoma. The state today has 67 Native American tribes, of which 39 are federally recognized tribes.
Economy of Oklahoma
Oklahoma was traditionally an important state in the oil sector. However, the 1980’s oil glut or a collapse in the energy sector, caused a severe job loss in Oklahoma’s oil industry and damaged the local economy. Today, the economy of the state is largely based on natural gas. In fact, Oklahoma is the third largest producer of natural gas in the States. Other significant industries include food production and processing, aviation, transportation, electronics and telecommunications. The largest airline maintenance base in the world is located in Tulsa and serves as the maintenance headquarters for American Airlines.
Oklahoma is the top producer of tires in the USA and home of one of the fastest-growing biotech industries in the country.
The state is also home to some of the largest private oil companies in the world, such as Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Devon Energy Corporation and SandRidge Energy Corporation.
Other large companies based in Oklahoma include Hobby Lobby, Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, QuikTrip, ONEOK and Williams Companies.
As for the agriculture, which is still a very important industry, the state relies mostly on cattle, wheat and dairy. Oklahoma is the fifth-largest producer of cattle in the United States and also the fifth-largest producer of wheat.
Oklahoma Government and Legislature
Oklahoma is divided into 77 counties and it has five congressional districts. Even though it is one of the America’s most conservative states, the voting base is predominantly Democratic. However, Democrats in Oklahoma are somewhat more conservative than in the rest of the nation. In addition, the state is becoming more Republican-friendly on national levels.
The state legislature consists of the Senate with 48 members who serve four-year terms and the House of Representatives, with 101 members who serve two-year terms.
The judicial branch consists of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and 77 district courts (one for each county).
The executive branch consists of the Governor, staff and elected officials. The governor serves a four-year term which can be renewed only once. Current Governor of Oklahoma is Republican Mary Fallin.
Education in Oklahoma
Oklahoma has 1,845 public schools in 533 school districts. The state has the highest school enrolment of Native Americans in the USA. It also ranks among the best in pre-kindergarten education.
As for the higher education, Oklahoma has eleven public regional universities. The largest institutions are Oklahoma State University, The University of Oklahoma and The University of Central Oklahoma. Together with the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma City University, they have some of the best undergraduate business programs in the USA.
Northeastern State University is the second-oldest university west of the Mississippi River and Langston University is the state’s only historically black college.
There is also a number of independent institutions in Oklahoma, such as Oral Roberts University, Oklahoma Christian University, Bacone College, University of Tulsa and others, as well as four tribal colleges.
Oklahoma has more than 12,000 miles of highways. It has three large interstate highways: I-35, I-40 and I-44 which form one of the most important intersections in the United States. The state also has four auxiliary interstate highways, a number of state-operated highways and ten turnpikes and major toll roads.
Passenger rail service in Oklahoma is provided on the Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer service. The state has two inland ports on its rivers - Tulsa Port of Catoosa and Port of Muskogee. Both are part of the McKellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.
The largest commercial airport in the state is Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. The second-largest is the Tulsa International Airport and the busiest is the Richard LLoyd Jones Jr. Airport, often referred to as Riverside Airport.