Oklahoma's history lessons are valuable

Oklahoma has been home to some of the worst social and political experiments ever devised.

No, I don’t mean electing Mary Fallin Governor. I’m talking about the state’s history.

I was born and raised an Okie and I have to believe that even Oklahoma’s heritage isn’t as long as some of the other states in the union, its history lessons are equally valuable.

Almost a century before Oklahoma would become a state, the land that would one day become Oklahoma gained interest from political leaders like George Washington. See, those 13 colonies were filling up pretty quickly and the white people really needed room to spread out.

But they couldn’t send white people west. So they did the next best thing. They forcibly relocated Native Americans there.

The United States had purchased the land the included what would become Oklahoma from the French in the early 1800s. But much of that land which is now valued for oil and gas, agriculture and college football was considered almost uninhabitable.

So Andrew Jackson and Congress decided to move the Native Americans often called the Five Civilized Tribes, to an area known as Indian Territory. That freed up a lot of space in the southern colonies for more farming and got rid of those pesky Native Americans who were always trying to convince colonists that they had lived in this country long before the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria set sail.

Over the course of a decade or so, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Muscogee tribes were forcibly marched from areas in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida into the harsh Indian Territory environment. This is often referred to as the Trail of Tears because of the amount of death, sickness and starvation endured by Native Americans during the relocation.

That worked for the colonists for about 75 years. But as farming techniques improved and large cattle ranches grew in popularity and profitability, the land that no one wanted became increasingly valuable.

Unfortunately, it had already been given to the tribes.

Once again, the Native Americans found out that being there first didn’t carry a lot of weight with the early Americans. On April 22, 1889 President Benjamin Harrison opened about 2 million acres of land that was not specifically deeded to one of the tribes for white settlement. Not long afterward, much of the tribal land was redistributed to white settlers, as well.

But the great Land Run of April 22 featured hopeful settlers lined up and ready to stake a claim on a parcel of their own. More than 50,000 Boomers gathered in tent cities to get ready for the Land Run.

But several thousand Sooners took advantage of poor security and settled their claims during the seven-week period between the announcement of the plan and the actual Land Run.

If you ever wondered why so many Oklahoma cities, towns and institutions have an inception date of 1889, now you know.

Less than 20 years later in 1907, Indian Territory became history and Oklahoma was added to the Union as the 46th state.

For a state that came into existence so recently, Oklahoma has an interesting history as a social experiment from the trail of Tears to the Land run.

Hopefully, we never forcibly relocate entire nations of people again. I hope there would be better methods of settling new areas if the opportunity arises.

These experiments were successful even if they only taught us what not to do in the future.


Bush is the publisher of the Butler County Times Gazette and can be reached at: kbush@butlercountytimesgazette.com