Oklahoma (Pawnee: Uukuhuúwa, Cayuga: Gahnawiyoˀgeh) is a state located in the South Central United States. Oklahoma is the 20th most extensive and the 28th most populous of the 50 United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, The Sooner State, honoring the European settlers, and the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889 which opened the door for white settlement in America's Indian Territory. The name was settled upon statehood, Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged and Indian was dropped from the name. On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state to enter the union. Its residents are known as Oklahomans or, informally "Okies", and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.
A major producer of natural gas, oil, and agriculture, Oklahoma relies on an economic base of aviation, energy, telecommunications, and biotechnology. In 2007, it had one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, ranking among the top states in per capita income growth and gross domestic product growth. Oklahoma City and Tulsa serve as Oklahoma's primary economic anchors, with nearly two thirds of Oklahomans living within their metropolitan statistical areas.
With small mountain ranges, prairie, mesas, and eastern forests, most of Oklahoma lies in the Great Plains and the U.S. Interior Highlands—a region especially prone to severe weather. In addition to having a prevalence of English, German, Scottish, Scotch-Irish and Native American ancestry, more than 25 Native American languages are spoken in Oklahoma, second only to California.
Oklahoma is located on a confluence of three major American cultural regions and historically served as a route for cattle drives, a destination for southern settlers, and a government-sanctioned territory for Native Americans.
Evidence exists that native peoples traveled through Oklahoma as early as the last ice age. Ancestors of the Wichita and Caddo lived in what is now Oklahoma. The Panhandle culture peoples were precontact residents of the panhandle region. The westernmost center of the Mississippian culture was Spiro Mounds, in what is now Spiro, Oklahoma, which flourished between AD 850 and 1450. Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado traveled through the state in 1541, but French explorers claimed the area in the 1700s and it remained under French rule until 1803, when all the French territory west of the Mississippi River was purchased by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.
During the 19th century, thousands of Native Americans were expelled from their ancestral homelands from across North America and transported to the area including and surrounding present-day Oklahoma. The Choctaw was the first of the Five Civilized Tribes to be removed from the southeastern United States. The phrase "Trail of Tears" originated from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831, although the term is usually used for the Cherokee removal.
About 17,000 Cherokees – along with approximately 2,000 black slaves owned by Cherokees – were removed from their homes. The area, already occupied by Osage and Quapaw tribes, was called for the Choctaw Nation until revised Native American and then later American policy redefined the boundaries to include other Native Americans. By 1890, more than 30 Native American nations and tribes had been concentrated on land within Indian Territory or "Indian Country."
Many Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate military during the American Civil War. The Cherokee Nation had an internal civil war. Slavery in Indian Territory was not abolished until 1866.
In the period between 1866 and 1899, cattle ranches in Texas strove to meet the demands for food in eastern cities and railroads in Kansas promised to deliver in a timely manner. Cattle trails and cattle ranches developed as cowboys either drove their product north or settled illegally in Indian Territory. In 1881, four of five major cattle trails on the western frontier traveled through Indian Territory.
Increased presence of white settlers in Indian Territory prompted the United States Government to establish the Dawes Act in 1887, which divided the lands of individual tribes into allotments for individual families, encouraging farming and private land ownership among Native Americans but expropriating land to the federal government. In the process, railroad companies took nearly half of Indian-held land within the territory for outside settlers and for purchase.
Deliberations to make the territory into a state began near the end of the 19th century, when the Curtis Act continued the allotment of Indian tribal land.
Attempts to create an all-Indian state named Oklahoma and a later attempt to create an all-Indian state named Sequoyah failed but the Sequoyah Statehood Convention of 1905 eventually laid the groundwork for the Oklahoma Statehood Convention, which took place two years later. On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma was established as the 46th state in the Union.
Oklahoma also has a rich African American history. There were many black towns that thrived in the early 20th century because of black settlers moving from neighboring states, especially Kansas. The politician Edward P. McCabe encouraged black settlers to come to what was then Indian Territory. He discussed with President Theodore Roosevelt the possibility of making Oklahoma a majority-black state.
By the early 20th century, the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa was one of the most prosperous African-American communities in the United States. Jim Crow laws had established racial segregation since before the start of the 20th century, but the blacks had created a thriving area.
Social tensions were exacerbated by the revival of the Ku Klux Klan after 1915. The Tulsa Race Riot broke out in 1921, with whites attacking blacks. In one of the costliest episodes of racial violence in American history, sixteen hours of rioting resulted in 35 city blocks destroyed, $1.8 million in property damage, and a death toll estimated to be as high as 300 people. By the late 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan had declined to negligible influence within the state.
During the 1930s, parts of the state began suffering the consequences of poor farming practices, extended drought and high winds. Known as the Dust Bowl, areas of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and northwestern Oklahoma were hampered by long periods of little rainfall and abnormally high temperatures, sending thousands of farmers into poverty and forcing them to relocate to more fertile areas of the western United States. Over a twenty-year period ending in 1950, the state saw its only historical decline in population, dropping 6.9 percent as impoverished families migrated out of the state after the Dust Bowl.
Soil and water conservation projects markedly changed practices in the state and led to the construction of massive flood control systems and dams; they built hundreds of reservoirs and man-made lakes to supply water for domestic needs and agricultural irrigation. By the 1960s, Oklahoma had created more than 200 lakes, the most in the nation.
In 1995, Oklahoma City was the site of one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in American history. The Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, in which Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonated an explosive outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killed 168 people, including 19 children. The two men were convicted of the bombing: McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed by the federal government on June 11, 2001; his partner Nichols is serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. McVeigh's army buddy, Michael Fortier, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison and ordered to pay a $75,000 fine for his role in the bombing plot (i.e. assisting in the sale of guns to raise funds for the bombing, and examining the Murrah Federal building as a possible target prior to the terrorist attack). His wife, Lori Fortier, who has since died, was granted immunity from prosecution in return for her testimony in the case.
Note Before Statehood
Note: Oklahoma was acquired by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It soon became an area of settlement for various Indian tribes displaced from States farther east, and was known as the Indian Territory although it had various tribal governments rather than a central administration. Many non-Indians also settled in the area. Oklahoma Territory was established from a part of the Indian Territory in 1890 and expanded in 1893; the tribal jurisdictions continued in the remainder. On November 16, 1907 the two parts were admitted as the State of Oklahoma, with substantially the current boundaries. A dispute about the western boundary was settled in Texas' favor by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1930. Census coverage did not systematically include any of present-day Oklahoma until 1890; some Indian areas were first enumerated in 1900. In 1860 non-Indians were enumerated but not included in official population totals; non-Indians in the area in 1870 and 1880 were not enumerated. The 1890 total is for Oklahoma Territory (78,475) and Indian Territory (180,182); and the 1900 total is for Oklahoma Territory (398,331) and Indian Territory (392,060). Just prior to statehood, the U.S. Census Bureau took a special census on July 1, 1907, showing a total population of 1,414,177 (Oklahoma Territory, 733,062; Indian Territory, 681,115); results of this special census are included in the Oklahoma table.. Population for 1890 is total of Oklahoma Territory (78,475, including 3,569 non-Indians on Indian reservations but not reported by reservation) and Indian Territory (180,182, including 861 not reported by nation or reservation). Population for 1900 is total of Oklahoma Territory (398,331) and Indian Territory (392,060).. Population for 1907 is total according to special census of Oklahoma Territory (733,062) and Indian Territory (681,115, including 9,155 not reported by nation or reservation) taken as of July 1, 1907. The 1907 data are given both for the subdivisions of Indian Territory existing on July 1 and for the counties into which the new State was divided later in that year.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Oklahoma family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.