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Oklahoma State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1541—Francisco Vásquez de Coronado explored western Oklahoma

1682—Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle claimed Oklahoma for France

1803—The U.S. bought the Oklahoma region as part of the Louisiana Purchase

1819—Oklahoma became part of the Territory of Arkansas

1830-1842—The Five Civilized Tribes are forcibly moved to Oklahoma by way of the Trail of Tears

1834—Congress creates the Indian Territory

1866—Congress punishes the Oklahoma Indians for helping the South by taking away some of their land and giving it to other tribes

1889—The U.S. opens some of Oklahoma to white settlement

1890—Congress established the Territory of Oklahoma; together with the Indian Territory they are known as the “Twin Territories”

1892—The University of Oklahoma opens at Norman

1893—The largest Oklahoma land run occurs at Cherokee Outlet

1901—Oil is discovered in Tulsa

1907—Oklahoma became the 46th state

1928—The Oklahoma City oil field opens

1953—The Turner Turnpike from Oklahoma City to Tulsa is completed

1970—The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System opens

1986—Flooding causes over $140 million in damage

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 Outlet.

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 California.

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 economy.

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.

During the 1980’s, Oklahoma again suffered an economic depression.  Cheap oil was flowing into the country and oil prices fell.  Many people lost their jobs and some banks failed across the state.  Farmers also were affected; nearly 18,000 farmers lost their land.  In 1993, Oklahoma began the Quality Jobs Program.  Companies that hire Oklahomans get money from the state.  This has created thousands of jobs throughout the state.  State leaders are again striving to diversify industry within Oklahoma.