Oklahoman, adj., n.
/oh'kleuh hoh"meuh/, n.
a state in the S central U.S. 3,025,266. 69,919 sq. mi. (181,090 sq. km). Cap.: Oklahoma City. Abbr.: OK (for use with zip code), Okla.

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State (pop., 2000: 3,450,654), U.S., southwest-central region.

Bordered by Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico, it covers 69,903 sq mi (181,049 sq km). Its capital is Oklahoma City. The Red River forms its southern boundary; the Arkansas River flows across northeastern Oklahoma. Its highest point is Black Mesa (4,973 ft [1,516 m]), located in the Panhandle. Evidence of inhabitation by the Clovis and Folsom cultures, 15,000–10,000 years ago, has been found. In more modern times, until the expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in 1541, the area was home to representatives of at least three major Indian language groups. Spanish control of the area lasted until 1800, when it passed to the French. In 1803 the area became part of the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase. In 1828 the U.S. Congress reserved Oklahoma for settlement by Indians, and it became known as Indian Territory. In 1890 the western part was organized as Oklahoma Territory. The two were merged and admitted to the union as the 46th state in 1907. Cattle raising and farming are the mainstays of the economy. Mineral products include natural gas, petroleum, coal, and stone. The state's heritage is reflected in Indian and cowboy museums. A barge system links the state's second major city, Tulsa, to the Gulf of Mexico.

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Oklahoma, flag of  constituent state of the United States of America. In its land and its people, Oklahoma is a state of contrast and of the unexpected. The terrain varies from the rolling, timbered hills of the east, where the state borders Missouri and Arkansas, to the treeless high plains that extend into Texas and New Mexico to the west. Oklahoma's east central region is dominated by the lowlands of the Arkansas River, sweeping in from Colorado and Kansas on the north, and by the Red River, which forms nearly all of its southern border with Texas. Oklahoma covers an area of 69,956 square miles (181,186 square kilometres). The capital is Oklahoma City.

      The word Oklahoma is derived from two Choctaw Indian words: okla, “people,” and humma, “red.” During the 19th century the future state was a symbol of one of the least glorious chapters in American history, becoming known as Indian Territory, the dumping ground for Indian tribes displaced by white settlers' ever-increasing hunger for land. Since its admission in 1907 as the 46th state of the Union, however, Oklahoma has achieved an integration of its Indian citizens into modern economic and social life that probably is unmatched by any other state. There is no reservation in the usual sense for the Indian population. Though numbers of “blanket Indians” may possess no more than their bedrolls, others have risen to positions of distinction. Many share in the great wealth that oil resources have brought to the state.

      Once basically agricultural—and the Dust Bowl locale of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath—Oklahoma now has hundreds of lakes and a diversified economy. The customs of the Deep South are maintained in the habits and attitudes of southern Oklahoma—“Little Dixie”—despite the decline in cotton production. The customs of the wheat growers in the north, however, reflect their largely Kansan origins.

Physical and human geography

The land (Oklahoma)
  Lying in a transitional zone in topography, climate, and other features, both east to west and north to south, Oklahoma comprises a jumble of environments.

      Three of the nation's large physical regions extend into or across the state. The Interior Highlands is in the east; the Coastal Plain, extending through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, is in the south; and the Interior Plains, including the Central Lowland and Great Plains, cover the remainder. Ten subregions lie within Oklahoma. Three are mountainous and in the south—the Ouachita (Ouachita Mountains), Arbuckle, and Wichita mountains—and are characterized by rough topography and thin soils; lumbering, grazing, some farming, and mining are their principal economic activities. The northeastern Ozark Plateau (Ozark Mountains), most of which lies in Missouri and Arkansas, has rough terrain and small fields devoted primarily to growing fruits and vegetables. Once important as a lead and zinc producer, the plateau has a Cherokee heritage and beautiful rivers that make it a major recreation and tourist attraction.

      The Sandstone Hills, a wide band stretching through the east central portion between the Red River and the Kansas border, is poor in agriculture and timber but important for its oil, gas, and coal deposits. The region is sprinkled with deserted or dying oil-boom towns, with Tulsa a prosperous exception. The sparsely populated Gypsum Hills section of western Oklahoma is devoted largely to grazing and farming, with large wheat acreages in the north and smaller cotton farms in the south.

      The remaining four areas are flat to rolling and are agricultural. The Red River Plains, once the area of the best farmlands in the state, has been depleted by cotton. Its agriculture has been diversified by the addition of peanuts (groundnuts), melons, and vegetables grown on medium-sized plots. Its population is relatively dense, with many small towns serving as trade centres. The Prairie Plains region in the northeast is marked by grazing in its rougher portions and vegetable farms in the river valleys. Oil and gas fields are common, as is strip-mining for coal. It contains a number of middle-sized towns, some of which have small manufacturing plants. The Red Beds region is the largest, running through the middle of the state. The greatest population density is located there, as are most of the larger towns. Oil provides much of the income. Although cotton rules in the south and wheat in the north, corn (maize), watermelons, sorghum, alfalfa, vegetables, and livestock are common. The High Plains region of the northwest and the Panhandle offers a marked contrast. With the highest elevation and the least moisture, the eastern portion is dominated by wheat and natural gas production, and the western by grazing.

      Oklahoma's drainage pattern, consisting of the Arkansas and Red rivers and their tributaries, slopes from an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) in the northwest to about 300 feet in the southeast.

      Rainfall varies from more than 45 inches (1,140 millimetres) annually in the Ouachitas to less than 20 inches in the Panhandle. Wheat and sorghum predominate in the drier western sections, peanuts thrive in the middle areas, and corn, soybeans, vegetables, and berries grow in the damper east. Irrigation has made corn a successful crop in the dry Panhandle. Virtually all of the regions have enough water for grass; hence, ranching is common.

      Oklahoma has a southern humid belt merging with a colder northern continental one and humid eastern and dry western zones that cut through the state. The result is normally pleasant weather and an average annual temperature of about 60° F (15.5° C), increasing from northwest to southeast. No region is free from wind; and, as the collision point for warm and cold air masses, with sudden rises and falls in temperature, the state has heavy thunderstorms, blizzards, and tornadoes.

Plant and animal life
      Oklahoma is a transitional area for plant and animal life. More than 130 species of trees are native: the eastern forests of maple, sweet gum, hickory, oak, and pine change into the cottonwood, elm, hackberry, and blackjack and post oaks of the grasslands. The arid-zone plants are chiefly mesquite, sage, and cacti. Among animals are deer, elk, antelope, rabbits, coyotes, wolves, foxes, prairie dogs, and American bison. Native fish include bass, perch, catfish, and buffalo, and virtually every bird common to the land between the Mississippi and the Rockies is found. Horned toads, lizards, many varieties of nonpoisonous snakes, and rattlesnakes and cottonmouth moccasins are native.

Settlement patterns
      The outlines of roads and farms generally produce a pattern of unusual symmetry in the landscape, revealing the original survey divisions into townships, sections, and quarter sections. Small squares predominate where small-scale farming is common and very large ones where wheat and ranching prevail. As elsewhere in the nation, however, the trend has been toward urbanization. The Red Beds in the centre of the state grew most rapidly, and three of the state's four largest cities are found there, the exception being Tulsa.

       Oklahoma City is near the centre of the state and in area is one of the larger cities in the nation. Banking, insurance, manufacturing, trade and transportation, state and federal installations, and educational facilities have made it the commercial and industrial heart of the state. Tinker Air Force Base, located in nearby Midwest City, is the metropolitan area's largest employer. Lawton is a centre for the Fort Sill Military Reservation, the Wichita wildlife recreational centre, and the rural population of the area. Norman, seat of the University of Oklahoma and site of the major state mental hospital, is also a bedroom city for Oklahoma City and Midwest City commuters. Tulsa, a former Creek Indian village in the Sandstone Hills region, grew slowly until the discovery of oil nearby. Refineries and facilities for manufacturing and distributing oil-field supplies have made it the headquarters for many oil companies, and it has many other financial and industrial functions. Enid is the home of Vance Air Force Base and is the marketing centre for a prosperous agricultural community.

The people (Oklahoma)
      Most of Oklahoma's Indians live in the former Indian Territory in the eastern part of the state. The Plains tribes remain in western Oklahoma. Some Indians live on tribal landholdings that are informally called reservations. Most blacks in the state are descended from slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes (the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole), although some migrated from the South after 1865 and others came during the land runs that began in 1889. The majority live in urban centres or in the southern and eastern parts of the state, and several towns have entirely black populations.

      A wide variety of other racial and ethnic strains have contributed to Oklahoma's population. The original French claimants left their names and bloodlines, usually in conjunction with Indian families, and a mining boom in the 1870s brought Europeans into the Choctaw Nation. Descendants of these Italian, Slavic, Greek, Welsh, Polish, and Russian miners still live in Little Dixie. The land runs brought homesteaders from China, Japan, Mexico, England, France, and Canada, and the spread of wheat farming attracted German Mennonites and Czechs to the northwest. By the 1980s, sizable groups of Mexicans and Vietnamese had arrived. Nearly all of Oklahoma's residents, however, reflect a typically Midwestern American culture.

      The state's religious sects bear out this trend toward conformity. Of the Protestant majority, the Southern Baptists and the United Methodists predominate, and the resulting conservatism has placed Oklahoma in the Bible Belt. (This fundamentalism was a primary cause for Oklahoma's retention of the prohibition of liquor sales until 1959.) Other leading denominations include the Disciples of Christ, Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, and Episcopalians. Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox are represented throughout the state, but Jewish congregations are limited to the cities. Most Indians have adopted some form of European religion, although the Native American Church—in which use of the drug peyote is a part of the worship—is recognized by state charter. The sun and ghost dances of the western tribes reflect earlier religious practices and reactions to white settlement.

The economy
      Oklahoma is one of the nation's younger states, and its economy is not as balanced as those of older, more prosperous areas of the country. There has in the past been overdependence on agriculture and petroleum, but the efforts of state and local officials to attract new forms of industry have shown some success.

      Traditionally, agriculture has furnished an important part of Oklahoma's income, though Oklahoma's farms, which are slightly larger than the nation's average in size, have slightly less value per acre. In line with national trends, the averages are likely to remain the same, but the number of units will probably continue to decline. In commercial agriculture, livestock ranks first, followed by wheat, dairy products, peanuts, cotton, and other field crops and general produce.

      Oklahoma remains somewhat of an economic satellite of the industrial North and East, furnishing food, raw materials, and fuels. Despite great efforts to diversify—for example, the manufacture of transportation equipment has become important—the state still has far to go. Only about 14 percent of its workers are in manufacturing, lower than the national average. Wholesale and retail trade employ the greatest number of people, followed by services, manufacturing, transportation and public utilities, finance, insurance and real estate, mining, and construction.

      Oklahoma ranks high nationally in the value of mineral production, which includes petroleum, natural gas, natural gas liquids, coal, and stone. Commercially exploitable timber primarily consists of softwoods. The first major commercial pulp and paper plant in the state was established in 1970. Oil and gas production historically has been the major component of Oklahoma's economy. Fluctuations in oil prices—such as those in the 1980s—have tended to reduce the importance of oil and gas and cause widespread economic depression, characterized by a large number of bank failures in Oklahoma.

      Oklahoma's transportation facilities help account for its favourable record in attracting new industry. The state has well-developed networks of roads and highways and of railroads. Tulsa and Oklahoma City act as the major collection and distribution points. Several airlines provide direct flights for passengers and freight to most cities. Intricate networks of pipelines move the petroleum products, and a barge system links Tulsa to the Gulf of Mexico by way of locks and dams on the Arkansas River.

Administration and social conditions
      The general structure of the state constitution (1907) is similar to that of other states, but Oklahomans strengthened the legislature by limiting the governor's appointive powers and ability to succeed himself, although the latter prohibition was removed in 1966, and by making the judiciary elective. Also unusual is the right of initiating legislation by popular initiative and referendum. The governor is elected for four years. The 48 senators serve staggered four-year terms, and the 101 house members serve two years. The original 75 counties, later increased by two, are represented through house districts. Constitutional provision was also made for township and city governments, though the former was abolished in 1913. This constitution, often amended, is still in force.

      Since statehood Oklahomans have favoured the Democrats. Even when the state supports Republican presidential nominees, normally that party can hope for only one or two congressional seats, and it was not until 1962 that it won the governorship. Oklahomans have a history of giving strong support to third parties; in 1914 the Socialists received 52,703 votes, and in 1968 the Southern states' rights candidate, George Wallace, received more than 20 percent of the total vote.

      A major governmental change was the revision of the state's court system in 1967, which abolished justices of the peace and established selection of major judgeships according to what has become known as the Missouri Plan. Under this plan judges are nominated by a joint commission chosen by the governor and the state bar association rather than by the political parties. The state Supreme Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction in civil cases, while the Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases; in both courts judges are elected for a term of six years. The Court of Appeals, with a judge elected from each congressional district, hears only cases assigned to it by the Supreme Court, and there is no appeal from its decisions to other state courts. Lower courts include 24 district courts, with judges elected on nonpartisan ballots. In 1966 county attorneys were replaced by district attorneys.

      For financial support of its functions, Oklahoma relies basically on taxes on petroleum, natural gas, gasoline, income, and sales. Property taxes are used largely for the support of county, municipal, and school needs. A major check on spending since 1941 has been Oklahoma's “budget-balancing” amendment, by which the legislature is forbidden to appropriate more money than in the previous year plus estimated additional revenues.

      Supervision of public schools is conducted by elected state and county superintendents, and higher education is coordinated by the regents for higher education, appointed by the governor. The state university system is often regarded as inadequate in relation to the state's needs and resources. Exceptions are the University of Oklahoma (Oklahoma, University of) (founded 1890) in Norman, and Oklahoma State University (1890) in Stillwater. Both have a large number of graduate departments ranked above average in achievement. Private institutions enroll only about one-fifth of the college population.

Health and welfare
      The Department of Mental Health has general charge of mental hospitals in Norman, Vinita, and Fort Supply. The Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections administer social welfare and penal programs. In spite of a generally conservative attitude toward federal intervention in local social questions, most federal welfare programs operate in Oklahoma. In addition, more than 100 recognized agencies or groups within the state have resulted from minority initiative by Indians, blacks, and Hispanics.

Cultural life
      Oklahoma is a blend of the old and new. Cowboys and Indians may be seen at numerous rodeos and at annual performances of Red Earth or at the American Indian Exposition. As host of the annual exposition and the site of Indian City U.S.A., the National Hall of Fame for Famous American Indians, and the Southern Plains Indian Museum, Anadarko is a major tourist attraction. Among the features are full-sized reproductions of the homes of various tribes, pictures and busts of their leaders, and extensive displays of their artifacts. Western historical collections are maintained by the University of Oklahoma and by the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City. The National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, at Oklahoma City, is noted for its Western art and its exhibits of cowboy paraphernalia. The Will Rogers Memorial museum at Claremore features exhibits depicting early Oklahoma and Rogers's career as a cowboy and entertainer.

      Oklahoma's best-known graphic artists are Indian, and Indian works as well as those of European masters are represented in many museums. Oil has made the state influential on the international petroleum landscape, but those that it has enriched have contributed much to the artistic scene. The Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art and the Philbrook Art Center, both in Tulsa, and the Woolaroc Museum, in Bartlesville, originally reflected individual tastes, but they have joined other art museums (notably the Oklahoma Art Center in Oklahoma City) in offering wide-ranging displays.

      Symphony orchestras are supported in Tulsa, Lawton, Enid, and Norman. A public-school music program culminates each spring in the Tri-State Music Festival. Several ballerinas of international fame are of Oklahoman Indian descent, the most noted of whom are Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower, and the sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief. Theatres have been sources of entertainment since frontier days. Universities and civic groups continue to provide a wide variety of dramatic experiences and professional training. Several towns feature annual folk plays or pageants, and Tulsa boasts an opera company with a regional reputation. The Tulsa Little Theater has given more than 50 years of uninterrupted productions. The state is unusually active in literature, with numerous writers' clubs, poetry societies, and folklore groups.

      Oklahoma has a wide variety of recreational opportunities and actively seeks tourists from other states. Parks range from mountainous to arid land. Among popular natural features are the Little Sahara Recreation Area and Great Salt Plains and Quartz Mountain state parks. Not the exclusively arid state that some imagine, Oklahoma has an active program of water impoundment and now boasts canoe trails, fishing tournaments, and more shoreline than the Atlantic coast. There are also many ethnic celebrations, as well as nationally known college teams in American football, basketball, and wrestling.


Early habitation and European exploration
      Of the newer states, Oklahoma is one of the oldest in terms of human occupation. The abundant game of its plains attracted hunters of the Clovis and Folsom cultures 15,000 to 10,000 years ago. Others followed, producing between AD 500 and 1300 a golden age of exquisite pottery, textiles, sculpture, and metalware. Evidence indicates a widespread system of trade and communication. This high culture apparently fell before the onslaught of primitive peoples from the western plains, and until the expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (Coronado, Francisco Vázquez de) in 1541 the region's population included representatives of at least three major Indian language groups.

      Coronado claimed the area for Spain, but it became little more than a highway for wide-ranging Spanish explorers. In 1714 Juchereau de Saint Denis visited Oklahoma, and other Frenchmen subsequently established a fur trade with the Indians. France and Spain struggled for control until 1763, leaving only the natives to contest Spanish authority until the return of the French flag in 1800. Three years later, through the Louisiana Purchase, Oklahoma was acquired by the United States.

American dominion
      As one of the purchase's most attractive parts—because of trade opportunities—the area might well have become one of its first states; but it was, in fact, the last. Because of hostile Indians, Spanish intrigue, the mislabeling of its treeless plains as the American Desert, and the pressure for removal of the Indians from the settled East, the U.S. Congress in 1828 reserved Oklahoma for Indians and required all whites to withdraw. By 1880 more than 60 tribes had joined the local ones in Indian Territory. Some were sedentary, peaceful, agricultural, and semi-Europeanized; others were migratory and belligerent. Indian Territory consisted of five republics, or nations, with fixed boundaries, written constitutions, courts, and other governmental apparatus similar to those of the Eastern states. The major difference was that in each republic all land was held jointly or in severalty by an individual tribe. The first major threat to these governments came when, as former allies of the South during the American Civil War, they were placed under military rule during the Reconstruction period.

      The Reconstruction treaties required, among other things, land cessions to the former slaves, the resettlement of additional outside tribes, and railroad rights-of-way. Although a scheme to colonize free blacks in Oklahoma never materialized, the weakness of the Indian governments encouraged both blacks and whites from adjoining states to trespass. Thus, the territory again became a dumping ground for Indians and an even greater cultural hodgepodge of red, white, and black people.

White settlement and statehood
      Railroads seeking revenue and whites seeking property coveted the Indians' land. By 1879 organized bands, the Boomers, were moving in despite federal law. Although most were ejected, pressure continued until Congress opened some 2,000,000 acres (800,000 hectares) of western Indian Territory, bringing on the famous land run beginning at noon on April 22, 1889. Known as Oklahoma Territory, the new area came to include, through further land runs, about half of the former Indian domain. Then its settlers, many called Sooners for entering the area before official permission, sought union of the two territories in statehood. The remaining Indian Territory was dissolved by assignment of lands to the various tribes, and the Indians joined in approving the constitution of the proposed state in 1907.

      The drought years of the 1930s blighted many rural areas of Oklahoma, driving thousands of farmers into long migrations in search of some form of livelihood. The economic boom of World War II, however, allowed the economy to diversify. This diversification was marked by the growth of the oil and natural gas industry, which suffered setbacks in the 1980s. The major political development of the postwar period has been the growing strength and assertiveness of Oklahoma's Indian population.

John S. Ezell

Additional Reading
A work strong in local descriptions is Writers' Program, Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State (1941, reprinted as The WPA Guide to 1930s Oklahoma, 1986); it is updated by Kent Ruth (compiler), Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State, rev. ed. (1957, reprinted 1974). John W. Morris, Charles R. Goins, and Edwin C. McReynolds, Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, 3rd rev. ed. (1986), is an excellent source for geography. DeLorme Mapping Company, Oklahoma Atlas & Gazetteer (1998), provides topographic maps. Local geography and history are detailed in George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names, 2nd ed., rev. and enlarged (1974, reissued 1987). Kenny A. Franks, The Oklahoma Petroleum Industry (1980); and Edward Everett Dale, The Range Cattle Industry: Ranching on the Great Plains from 1865 to 1925, new ed. (1960), profile two important industries. Modern political subjects are analyzed in Stephen Jones, Oklahoma Politics in State and Nation (1974), covering 1907–62; and James R. Scales and Danney Goble, Oklahoma Politics: A History (1982). The best comprehensive historical work is Arrell Morgan Gibson, Oklahoma: A History of Five Centuries, 2nd ed. (1981). Biographical sketches as well as general history are found in Gaston Litton, History of Oklahoma at the Golden Anniversary of Statehood, 4 vol. (1957). Irvin Hurst, The 46th Star: A History of Oklahoma's Constitutional Convention and Early Statehood (1957, reissued 1980), is excellent for its descriptions of Oklahoma's founders. A concise, interpretive history is H. Wayne Morgan and Anne Hodges Morgan, Oklahoma (1977, reissued 1984); while Anne Hodges Morgan and H. Wayne Morgan (eds.), Oklahoma: New Views of the Forth-Sixth State (1982), collects essays on the state's history, economic and social change, politics, and literary tradition. Also of interest is Danney Goble, Progressive Oklahoma: The Making of a New Kind of State (1980). Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (1951, reprinted 1986), is essential to understanding the history of Native Americans in the state.John S. Ezell Ed.

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Universalium. 2010.

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