Oklahoma — History and Culture
Oklahoma is truly a land of cowboys and Indians. Though most of the Native Americans who live in the state were forcibly relocated here, their presence makes up a large part of the history and culture of the state. Cattle ranchers and cowboys make up the other main social component of Oklahoma. You’ll see plenty of cowboy boots and hats in this state, which gives the place a distinctly western flavor that appeals to many visitors.
Oklahoma has America’s largest population of Native Americans, but many of them were forcibly relocated to the state during the 19th century. The Choctaw were the first tribe to be moved from the southeastern United States in 1831, but the most famous are the Cherokee. Around 17,000 Cherokee were forced to walk the Trail of Tears road that ended in Oklahoma. Today the historic trail is a stark reminder of the unfair treatment Native Americans received at the hands of the American government.
By 1890 over 30 Native American tribes were living in Indian Territory, as Oklahoma was known at the time. Although this land was supposed to be the exclusive domain of the tribes, by the end of the 19th century cattle trails were cutting through the area and cowboys were illegally encroaching. This began the era of cattle ranchers and cowboys that persists today in Oklahoma, the site of America’s largest stockyards on the edge of Oklahoma City.
As more white settlers encroached on Indian Territory the US government slowly began carving up their lands. The railroads took half of the Indian’s land and much of the rest was dished out to homesteaders in famous events like the Land Run of 1889, which essentially settled Oklahoma in one fell swoop.
Oklahoma’s next phase centered around an oil boom that made Tulsa the oil capital of the world briefly in the 1920s. At this time an Oklahoma businessman spearheaded the campaign to build Route 66, which remains one of America’s most iconic roadways. But the 1930s brought a major disaster to the state as over farming turned the land into the Dust Bowl and much of the population had to move away.
The modern era has seen Oklahoma continue to thrive on the cattle industry. In 1995 Oklahoma City was the site of one of America’s worst incidents of homegrown terrorism, when Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building downtown killing 168 people. A memorial stands at the site today to mark the tragedy.
The name ‘Oklahoma’ is made up from two Choctaw Native American words that translate to ‘red people’. The state has a deep connection to the country’s Native American tribes, but most of it is unpleasant. The Five Civilized Tribes and the Cherokee Nation were forced into Oklahoma from the east, many along the infamous Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Though this event happened long ago, Native Americans still play a big role in the state’s cultural fabric.
The other side of the coin belongs to the ranchers and cowboys. It’s hard to go anywhere in Oklahoma without seeing something related to cows and cowboys. This area was a major thoroughfare for cattle trails in the early 20th century, and Oklahoma remains the country’s main center for livestock trading. The people here are quite friendly, however, so visitors can expect a fairly warm welcome wherever they travel. The cost of amenities in Oklahoma is also among the lowest in America, a boon for travelers looking to save a little cash.