Oklahoma, The Sooner State

Oklahoma, The Sooner State

By Sandra Merville Hart

Oklahoma’s nickname is the Sooner State.

Wagons, buggies, and horseback riders waited tensely to stake there claim in the Oklahoma Territory on April 22, 1889. A shot fired at noon signaling the start of the first “land rush.” Farmers, cowboys, and other settlers tore off to claim the best land available. Yet some folks didn’t wait for the signal shot—they set off earlier, giving Oklahoma its “Sooner State” nickname.

The state’s name comes from two Choctaw words: okla means  “people” and humma means “red.”

The early history of Oklahoma

Native Americans who built mounds lived in the Oklahoma area until about 1300 A.D.

Looking for the “Lost City of Gold,” Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado arrived in 1541. This land was part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Indian Territory

In 1834, the United States named the Oklahoma area as Indian Territory. Native Americans including the Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw were forced to walk hundreds of miles to travel there beginning in the 1820s. The Cherokee traveled a route that came to be known as the “Trail of Tears” because many died on the difficult journey.

Sixty-seven tribes lived there, each with their own dialect.

The area designated as Indian Territory was closed to settlers until the land rush of 1889, when the western part was opened for new settlement.

Chisholm Trail

cattle-drive-793676_960_720The famous Chisholm Trail went from Texas and Oklahoma to Kansas. Herds of longhorns were driven north on the trail by cowboys from 1867 to 1884.

Oklahoma becomes a state

Oklahoma became the 46th state on November 17, 1907.

1897 Bartlesville Gusher

oil-3629119_960_720The 1897 Bartlesville Gusher is considered the first Oklahoma Oil Well, though some historians say an oil well drilled from ten years earlier was the first. The success of this oil well drew investors to the area.

Another drilling started after the 1901 Red Fork Gusher. Tulsa quickly became the “Oil Capitol of the World.”

Oil at the Capitol Building?

Oklahoma’s state legislature authorized drilling for oil around the state capitol in 1935. This made Oklahoma’s state capitol the only one in the world with an oil well on the lawn.

Other fun facts about Oklahoma

Head to Oklahoma City for the Red Earth Festival.

Tahlequah is the Cherokee Nation’s capital.

Beaver hosts the World Championship Cow Chip Throw every spring.

In 1937, Oklahoma City resident Sylvan Goldman invented the shopping cart.

The state capital is Oklahoma City.

The state bird is the scissor-tailed flycatcher.

The state flower is mistletoe.



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Davis, Kenneth C. Don’t Know Much About The 50 States, HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.

Fast Facts About the 50 States. Children’s Press, 2010.

Keenan, Sheila. Greetings from the 50 States, Scholastic Inc., 2008.

“Oklahoma Oil History,” American Oil & Gas Historical Society, 2019/01/12 https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/oklahoma-oil-history/.




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