Oklahoma State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Oklahoma State History

Although one of the youngest states in the nation, Oklahoma is a land that reaches far back in time. Oklahoma's recorded history began in 1541 when Spanish explorer Coronado ventured through the area on his quest for the "Lost City of Gold." The land that would eventually be known as Oklahoma was part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Beginning in the 1820s, the Five Civilized Tribes from the southeastern United.

States were relocated to Indian Territory over numerous routes, the most famous being the Cherokee "Trail of Tears." Forced off their ancestral lands by state and federal governments, the tribes suffered great hardships during the rigorous trips west. The survivors eventually recovered from the dislocation through hard work and communal support. Gradually, new institutions and cultural adaptations emerged and began a period of rapid developments often called the "Golden Age" of Indian Territory. Following the destruction of the Civil War, Oklahoma became a part of the booming cattle industry, ushering in the era of the cowboy. Western expansion reached the territory in the late 1800s, sparking a controversy over the fate of the land. Treaties enacted after the Civil War by the U.S. government forced the tribes to give up their communal lands and accept individual property allotments to make way for expansion. There was talk of using Indian Territory for settlement by African-Americans emancipated from slavery. However, the government relented to pressure, much of it coming from a group know as "Boomers," who wanted the rich lands opened to non-Indian settlement.The government decided to open the western parts of the territory.

To settlers by holding a total of six land runs between 1889 and 1895. Settlers came from across the nation and even other countries like Poland, Germany, Ireland and Slavic nations to stake their claims. And African-Americans, some who were former slaves of Indians, took part in the runs or accepted their allotments as tribal members. In the years that followed, black pioneers founded and settled entire communities in or near Arcadia, Boley, Langston and Taft. On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state.

Statehood had become a sure thing, in part due to a discovery which made Oklahoma the "place to go to strike it rich" -- oil. People came from all parts of the world to seek their fortunes in Oklahoma's teeming oil fields. Cities like Tulsa, Ponca City, Bartlesville and Oklahoma City flourished.
Oklahoma Historic Figures

Chester Gould
1900-85: Cartoonist; born in Pawnee, Okla. He created the newspaper comic strip, Fillum Fables, in 1924 for Hearst's Chicago American, and in 1931 he created for syndication a strip featuring a square-jawed police detective named Dick Tracy. The strip encouraged citizen involvement in crime prevention and a strong adherence to the law. In 1990 the strip was adapted to a full-length film starring Warren Beatty as Tracy.


Will Rogers
1879-1935: Humorist, stage/film/radio actor; born in Oolagah, Indian territory (now Oklahoma). Part Cherokee, he was a practicing cowboy but went abroad to seek adventure, beginning his career (1902) as a rider and trick roper in Wild West shows in South Africa and Australia. Returning to the U.S.A. (1904), he moved into vaudeville and Broadway musicals, becoming an especial favorite in the Ziegfield Follies (1916--24), by which time his act had begun to feature his own cracker-barrel wit and homespun philosophy. By 1918 he was making the first of many movies, and soon he projected his persona of the common-but-shrewd man through many mediums - as a popular radio performer, a syndicated newspaper columnist, author of several books, and a presidential candidate on the Anti-Bunk ticket (1928). His trademark line was, "All I know is what I read in the papers," which he used to launch his wry comments on the current scene. When he died with Wiley Post in a plane crash in Alaska, he was mourned as an authentic American folk hero.


Maria Tallchief
1925-Present: Ballet dancer, teacher, and artistic director, born in Fairfax, OK. Raised in Los Angeles, she studied with Ernest Belcher and Bronislava Nijinska. Touring with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1942--7), she met the choreographer George Balanchine; they married in 1946, and in 1948 she joined his newly founded New York City Center Ballet, where through 1965 her elegant and brilliant dancing won her acclaim. The ballet troupe and school she formed to serve the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1974 became the Chicago City Ballet in 1980.


Jim Thorpe
1888-1953: Athlete, born near Shawnee, Oklahoma, USA. Voted in 1950 by an Associated Press panel as the greatest athlete of the century, he attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1912, where he starred as an All-American football halfback (1911--12). In 1912 he won gold medals in the Olympic decathlon and pentathlon but was later forced to return the medals because he had played semi-professional baseball in 1909, thereby losing his amateur status on a technicality. He excelled at every sport he played, including the traditional Native American sport of lacrosse. He played major league baseball as an outfielder for six years (1913--19) and dominated professional football during its formative years (1917--29). As first president (1920) of the American Professional Football Association, he helped found the National Football League (1922). After retiring from competition, he appeared in movie westerns and spoke on behalf of Native American education. It was not until 1984 that the International Olympic Committee returned the gold medals to Thorpe's family. The Jim Thorpe Memorial is located in Yale, Okla.


Mickey Mantle
1931-95: Baseball player; born in Spavinaw, Okla. During his 18-year career as an outfielder for the New York Yankees (1951--68), the switch-hitting slugger hit 536 homeruns and was voted the American League Most Valuable Player three times (1956--57, 1962). In 1956 he won the American League triple crown with 52 homeruns, 130 runs batted in, and a .353 batting average. He became a restaurateur and television commentator after retiring from baseball. A fan favorite, he was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1974.