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Several Native American groups
lived in the Oklahoma region when European explorers first visited the
area. Some of these groups
included the Osage, Kiowa, Arapaho, Wichita, and Caddo people.
They hunted the buffalo herds and grew corn, beans, and squash.
In 1541, Spanish explorer
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado reached Oklahoma.
Other Spanish explorers also came in search of gold, but left when
none was found. In 1682, René-Robert
Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle explored the Mississippi River and claimed the
land around it, including Oklahoma, for France.
During the early 1700s, other French explorers and some traders
came to Oklahoma.
In 1800, Spain gave the land
they called Louisiana to France. In
1803, France sold Louisiana to the United States.
The Louisiana Purchase included the land of Oklahoma.
During the early 1800s, only a few fur traders settled in Oklahoma.
The first permanent American settlement was a trading post
established at present-day Salina in 1823.
Oklahoma became part of the
Arkansas Territory in 1819. During
the following years the U.S. government encouraged Indians living in the
East to move into Oklahoma. By
1842, five southeastern tribes (referred to as the “Five Civilized
Tribes” because of their standard of living) were forced west.
These tribes included the Seminoles, Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws,
and Cherokees. Of the nearly
75,000 Indians that traveled the Trail of Tears into Oklahoma, thousands
died of hunger, cold and disease along the way.
The issue of slavery led to the
Civil War in 1861. The Five
Civilized Tribes had come from the South and many of them owned slaves.
About 6,000 men from the Indian Territory fought for the
Confederacy. Stand Watie, a
Cherokee, served as general of the Cherokee Mounted Rifles.
In 1865, the Confederacy lost the war and all slaves were freed.
In 1866, Congress took some of the western land away from the Five
Civilized Tribes to punish them for supporting the South.
Other Indians from farther west were then given the land.
During the late 1860s, cattle
ranchers followed the Shawnee and Chisholm trails across Oklahoma on their
way to Texas. The
Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad was built through eastern Oklahoma between
1870-1872. Boomers were
pioneers that wanted Indian land open for white settlement.
Many times U.S. troops had to force pioneers back into Kansas.
In 1889, the federal government yielded and bought over 3 million
acres of land from the Creek and Seminole tribes.
Oklahoma opened for settlement at noon on April 22, 1889 and each
family could claim up to 160 acres. When
the pistol shot, the Land Run of 1889 began.
At the end of the day, about 50,000 people had moved into Oklahoma.
In a single day, Guthrie and Oklahoma City had populations of over
10,000 persons. Kingfisher,
Stillwater, and Norman were also begun on that day.
In May 1890, Congress formed the
Oklahoma Territory. This
territory combined with the Indian Territory were called the “Twin
Territories” of Oklahoma. The
U.S. government continued to buy Indian land.
In an effort to dissolve the Indian nations they created the Dawes
Commission. This commission incorporated towns and prepared the Indians
for citizenship into the United States.
Land runs continued, the largest of them in northern Oklahoma.
On Sept. 16, 1893, more than 100,000 rushed into the Oklahoma
In 1905, leaders of the Indian
Territory met to create a constitution in preparation for statehood.
They invited the whites to participate; at that time the whites
living in Indian Territory outnumbered the Indians five to one. However, Congress wanted the Twin Territories together, to
become the state of Oklahoma. Delegates
from both territories met to create a constitution and on Nov. 16, 1907,
Oklahoma became the 46th state of the Union.
During the early 1900s, Oklahoma
became a center of oil production. Tulsa became known as the “Oil
Capital of the World,” after oil was discovered in 1901.
In 1917, the Phillips Petroleum Company was founded in
Bartlesville. Fuel and farm
products became even more important as the U.S. enter World War I that
same year. Oklahoma sent
about 90,000 soldiers to war.
The Great Depression (1929-1939)
brought hard times to Oklahoma. Western
Oklahoma was part of the Dust Bowl. Dust
covered homes and severe drought killed crops and livestock.
Many people lost their jobs. Banks
failed and people lost their savings. About 60,000 people left Oklahoma, many headed for
World War II (1939-1945) helped
end the depression as foods and fuels again came into great demand.
Improved weather conditions and better soil conservation practices
helped farms to recover. Many
state reforms also occurred during this time in education, state finances,
and criminal proceedings. Between
1947 and 1970, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was
built. It deepened and
widened the Arkansas River, allowing large boats to travel through
Oklahoma. Tulsa, Muskogee and Catoosa ports have helped Oklahoma’s
During the 1960s and 1970s,
Oklahoma’s economy shifted from agricultural to industrial.
Two large electronics plants and an aeronautics center were
established in Oklahoma City. Tulsa
was the site of a new space equipment factory.
Large industries expanded to include automobiles and computers.
Several dams were constructed to provide hydroelectric power and
water storage. The lakes they
created encouraged tourism. Thousands
of people moved into Oklahoma during this time.