Oklahoma State History

Originally, a portion of Oklahoma was designated and Indian Territory and meant for Native American settlement. The other part of the state was known as “Oklahoma Territory” and became open to white settlers near the end of the 1800s. Certain settlers, known as Sooners, tried to settle on land in one section of Oklahoma before they were legally entitled to the land, which is how the state got the nickname of the “Sooner State.”

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On November 16,1907 Oklahoma became the 46th state in the United States. Both the names of certain parts of the state and the population of the state clearly show its Native American history. The largest city in the state, Oklahoma City, is also the state’s capital.

Oklahoma has one of the most unusual histories and organization of any of the United States. That is due to the fact that its boundaries and jurisdictions have changed so many times over the years, which is partially a result of the fact that it was originally a merging of Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory.
Up until 1803, the area now known as Oklahoma was mainly owned by the Spanish and the French. After that point, it was purchased from France by the United States. The area fell under the jurisdictions of Indiana, Missouri and Arkansas on 1803, 1812 and 1819, respectively. During that time, several forts were constructed along its Red River.
As far back as 1804 there were attempts made to move certain tribes to the Mississippi River’s western side. However, the vast majority of tribe removal was not done until the years 1825 to 1842. When those groups were moved to what later became eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, it was agreed upon that the Five Civilized Tribes could stay there for “as long as the grass shall grow and rivers run.” Those tribes are Seminole, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Choctaw. They were moved along a route that became known as the “Trail of Tears” because of all of the Native American deaths and tragedies experienced during the movement. After the move was complete, the tribes set up schooling, government systems, newspapers and farms. Towson, Washita and Gibson Forts were constructed in an effort to keep U.S. citizens and raiding plains tribes from invading the area belonging tot he Five Civilized Tribes.
The Oklahoma panhandle was originally part of the Republic of Texas when the United States acquired it in 1845. Congress purchased the panhandle in 1850, but it stayed independent from any state or territory. Congress chose to keep the panhandle strip excluded from Indian territory in 1854, despite pressure from the railway companies. The Choctaw and Chicksaw nations had allowed the southwestern third of what is now Oklahoma to be leased out as plains tribes hunting ground until the time of the Civil War.
There was dissension within the tribes when the Civil War started because some members supported the Confederacy, while others supported the Union and some tried to stay entirely neutral during the war. The Five Civilized Tribes agreed with the majority, who were in support of the Confederate cause.
The federal government required new treaties in 1866, in order to both respond to the Native Americans supporting the Confederate cause and to make it possible for free black people to become landowners. The result was that the size of the reservations was reduced and other tribes were allowed to move into the area. Over the next seventeen years, many tribes moved into what is now Oklahoma. A tract of land in the middle of Oklahoma remained unassigned, as did a large part of the Cherokee Outlet (the Kansas border region).
From 1865 to 1889, many settlers, railroad workers, cattlemen and soldiers illegally populated parts of Indian Territory. Others claimed to be “artisans” contracting with the tribes, which allowed them to take advantage of a legal loophole and live in the region.
The first railroad in the area was constructed to connect Texas, Kansas and Missouri, in 1872. People began to call Indian Territory “the promised land” because there were rumors of free land and prime grazing areas for livestock. The land between Texas and Kansas contained several major trails, including Payne, Plummer, Couch, East and West Shawnee, Chisholm and the Great Western Trail.
David L. Payne led a march of 20 people who were in favor of legalizing territory settlement. Those people were known as “Boomers” and defied the federal government by crossing the border between Oklahoma and Kansas. Over the next half a decade, many other boomers followed them.
In 1889, there was a major change in the settlement of the area. Sixty-five tribes had populated the area up to that point. However, the federal government then opened up the “Unassigned Lands” to new homesteads and the first “homestead run” was on April 22, 1889. While many people waited on the boundaries of the Indian Territory and Canadian River until they were given the signal to settle, many people did not wait. Those settlers who jumped the gun, known as “Sooners,” gave the state its nickname and also gave rise to many land disputes that had to be settled in the courts.
It took only one day for an estimates 50,000 people to settle the area, shifting the area to primarily non-native settlements. Over 10,000 people settled in Oklahoma City alone, setting up a tent town, which later grew into the state’s capital as it’s known today. Norman, Kingfisher and Gutherie were other major towns of the time.
Land run trails began in Kansas, running south. Some of the most well-known of them were Caldwell, Ponca, Black Bear and Wild Horse. There were also stage routes that ran from Fort Reno eastward, from Arkansas westward and from Kansas southward. For example, from Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Butterfield Stage ran all the way to the Red River. There was also a Poawatomie land wagon road that ran along the North Canadian River as well. A railroad line connecting Seward, Kingfisher and Guthrie was also constructed.
As of May, 1890, what is now Oklahoma was split into Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory. The eastern half of the state and the area along the border of Kansas, known as Cherokee Outlet, were in Indian Territory. Oklahoman Territory, meanwhile, included the “No Man’s Land” (panhandle) and the area from the Kansas border to Greer County (Unassigned Lands), as well as the southwestern section of the state. Soon, Oklahoma Territory began to develop governments in the various territories.
Cattlemen were not legally allowed to lease grazing land from Indian tribes in the 1890s. Native Americans were also forced by Congress to take individual land allotments, rather than a tribal land allotment. In 1893, the Dawes Commission was established. Its job was to supervise the change over from tribal government to state organization, as well as to allot the land and register each Native American tribe member. In 1891, 1892, 1895, 1904 and 1906, more land was opened up to homesteaders as a response to high demand.
Oklahoma grew to include over half of what is now the western half of the state, by 1900. Indian Territory, meanwhile, rapidly shrank until it was just a small part of the eastern portion of what is now the state of Oklahoma. Greer county was originally under the jurisdiction of Texas, but in 1896 it became officially part of Oklahoma Territory. Congress decided, in June of 1906, that Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory could join the union as a single state, but only if the natives and the non-natives approved of that plan. That lead to President Theodore Roosevelt giving Oklahoma its statehood status on November, 16, 1907. Guthrie was the capital of Oklahoma until 1910, when Oklahoma City became its capital.
European settlers came to the area mainly because of ore and mineral deposits. However, these days both petroleum and coal make up a lot of the state’s industry. In fact, the petroleum industry helped the state to deal with produce and livestock declines. Six railroads were present in the state by the 1930s and they all ran to Oklahoma City.
The fact that Oklahoma was made up of both native and non-native settlers and that so many records were kept makes Oklahoma genealogical research particularly interesting. It is also worth noting that even today Oklahoma contains one of the highest Native American populations of any state in the country.
Both from a cultural and a physical perspective, Oklahoma is a very diverse state. It contains plains, dry areas, woodlands and mountains. It is also economically diverse, with industries ranging from lumber to wheat and many things in between, depending on which part of the state you look at.

Oklahoma Ethnic Group Research

A series entitled “Newcomers to a New Land” was sponsored by the Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association. These books analyze the role and impact of major ethnic groups in the state. The following are among volumes in the series:

Due to the government’s regulations, modern-day Oklahoma includes members of 65 Native American tribes. The state contains traditional county and state records, but it also contains many Native American records. Those include many held at Ft. Worth’s Southwest National Archives branch. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also houses a lot of records, with branches existing in all of the following: Anadarko, Ardmore, Concho, Okmulgee, Pawhuska, Pawnee, Miami, Shawnee, Stewart, Tahlequah, Talihina, Wewoka.

You can see George J. Nixon, “Records Relating to Native American Research: The Five Civilized Tribes” or Blessing, Oklahoma Records and Archives, and Koplowitz Guide to the Historical Records of Oklahoma for more information on Native American records for the area.

The FHL and the Oklahoma Historical Society library house some Native American census records. They can be found in order according to BIA agency, tribal name and enumeration date. It is possible for more than one agency to have a specific tribe’s listings, due to changes made in agency jurisdictions over the years. Each tribe’s census schedules from 1916 onward may list the names of individuals in alphabetical order.

If you are researching Native American ancestors, the land allotment records can be a great source of information. Any applicant trying to obtain land was required to provide a documented line of descent. Transfers of land after a death required the permission of any heirs that the original owner had, which meant that complete lists of heirs needed to be kept. There are later records called “Heirship Records” that contain a lot of information, including relationships, names and dates of birth. Although some individuals did get patents for their lands, most lands eventually became reabsorbed by the tribe that had jurisdiction over the land.

The top two sources for information on Native American records for the state of Oklahoma are the National Archives and the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Indian Archives Division. Between them, they house the work of Grant Foreman and other private information collections, as well as many state government records.

The Oklahoma Historical Society’s Archives and Manuscripts Division is home to about 6,000 bound volumes and 3,000,000 pages of information relation to Oklahoma’s Indian Agencies and covering the years 1870 to 1930. Any archival records from 1860 to 1906 for the Seminole, Creek, Chicksaw, Choctaw and Cherokee nations are held at the archives. The archives is also home to Mekusukey Academy records and other special collections, as well as to agency records for the following tribes: Cheyenne, Cantonment, Pawnee, Quapaw, Chilocoo, Shawnee, Kiowa, Arapaho.

The collection includes Executive Library Cherokee Nation information spanning 1,4000 volumes. Also included in the collection are issues of the Cherokee Advocate newspaper, which began in 1844.

Records for the Cherokee nation and other tribes are maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There are also Cherokee records available at the Cherokee Registration Office.

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