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Oklahoma Prairie Country

~A Little Oklahoma History~

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     Brief History of Oklahoma
     The Famous and The Infamous

Brief History of Oklahoma

In prehistoric times the land which is now Oklahoma was settled by a people who sustained life through hunting and farming. Archeologists unearthed the skeleton of a mammoth, which roamed the prairie over 11,000 years ago, near the city of Anadarko. Artifacts found near Spiro indicate that from 500-1300 AD a clan of mound builders lived in that area. They built a number of burial mounds and objects buried with the dead showed that they were very skilled artists.

In the 1500s, when the Spanish explorers came to the area, they found it occupied by the Plains Indian tribes, such as the Kiowa, Apache, Comanche, and Osage.

In 1803 the land now known as Oklahoma (means "Land of the Red Man"), Kansas, and Nebraska was acquired by the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. The Native Americans in the eastern part of the of the country were constantly in conflict with the European settlers, mainly farmers, and they found it hard to retain their land ownership. In 1830 the United States government passed The Indian Removal Act, which gave the President authority to set aside specific lands for the Indian tribes. The Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole), which lived in the southeastern part of the country were forced to move west to the Indian Territory. The infamous "Trail of Tears" was part of this relocation process and many died from hardship and exposure.

The Indian Territory was established in what is present-day Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. In 1854, however, the territories of Kansas and Nebraska were established and the area of Oklahoma was divided into Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory.

In the 1870s white settlers began to pressure and demand for the United States Government to allow white settlement in Oklahoma. President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1871 and in 1881 refused permission for white settlement in the territory. Pressures mounted and in 1885 the Congress gave the President permission to negotiate with the Creek and Seminole tribes to open any vacant land in their territories to white settlement.

There was some land in the Oklahoma Territory that was not assigned to Native American tribes. On March 2, 1889 President Harrison signed legislation that opened up the unassigned land to white settlers. Thus enabling the beginning of the historic Land Runs of Oklahoma. On April 22, 1889, the boom of a cannon started the first Land Run. There were over 50,000 future settlers lined up ready to pursue their dreams of a new beginning in Oklahoma. On hearing the cannon shot they ran, rode horseback, and raced wagons to stake their claims. By the end of the day 10,000 People settled in the area that is now Oklahoma City. Some, however, did not adhere to the rules and snuck over the night before, hiding from the army patrols, and staked their claims. Thus arose the term "Sooners."

On September 21, 1891, the lands of the Sac and Fox, and the Pottawatomie-Shawnee lands just east of the first run were opened. The Cheyenne and Arapaho lands in western Oklahoma were opened. September 19, 1893, the largest Land Run was held in the Cherokee Outlet. The Kickapoo Land Run, the last run, was held May 23, 1895, in central Oklahoma.

On November 16, 1907, the Oklahoma Territory achieved statehood with Guthrie as the Capitol. In 1910 the capitol was moved from Guthrie to Oklahoma City.

The Famous and The Infamous

Many well-known people have a connection to northeast Oklahoma. Some are famous and some are notorious.

Norman Schwarzkopf, the general heading the Gulf War, was present at the Tallgrass Prairie in 1993 when the first 300 bison were introduced into the prairie by the Nature Conservancy. At that time the Osage Tribe inducted him into the tribe and gave him an Osage name meaning "Eagle Chief."

Ben Johnson, Jr. grew up on the Chapman-Barnard Ranch, from which the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve evolved. His father was foreman for the ranch for many years until his death. Ben Johnson, Jr. was always called "Son" by the local population. Son became a famous rodeo celebrity and was a world roping champion. Howard Hughes came to Oklahoma to buy horses for his western, "The Outlaw," starring Jane Russell. He hired Son to take the horses back to Hollywood. He found that working for Howard Hughes was a lot more profitable ($175) than working as a cowboy ($75). While in Hollywood he became good friends with John Wayne and ended up being in almost all of John Wayne's movies. Ben Johnson, Jr. won the Academy Award for his role in "The Last Picture Show."

Herbert Hoover was an orphan and spent his early summers in Pawhuska with his uncle, who was the agent to the Osage Tribe in 1878. When Hoover was elected President he made Charles Curtis, a member of the Kaw Tribe, his Vice President.

Clark Gable worked as a roustabout in the Osage oilfields before going to Hollywood. He was a member of a singing group at the small town of Barnsdall, Oklahoma.

James Bigheart, a full-blooded Osage is considered the greatest tribal chief. He was well educated and spoke English, Osage, French, Ponca, Cherokee and Sioux. He was directly responsible for the writing of the Osage Constitution. He was also a champion for those of mixed-blood.

The first troop of the Boy Scouts of America was organized in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in 1909 by Rev. John Mitchell. The scouting movement began in England and the scout uniforms for the Pawhuska troop had to be ordered from England.

Tom Mix was the town marshal in Dewey, Oklahoma, before becoming a silent film star. The Wild West Show of the 101 Ranch in Kay County, just west of the Osage, gave him the chance that got him to Hollywood.

Anita Bryant, the former Miss Oklahoma and the well-known entertainer, was born in Barnsdall, a town near Pawhuska.

J. Paul Getty's father invested $500 in Bartlesville for a 1,100-acre lease. He drilled 43 wells and all but one were producers. J. Paul worked as a roustabout for $3 for a 12-hour shift. He was a millionaire by his early 20s.

Maria and Marjorie Tallchief are world-famous ballerinas. They were Osage Indian sisters from Fairfax, Oklahoma.

Frank Phillips came to Bartlesville, Indian Territory, and started an oil and banking business. He established the Phillips 66 Petroleum Company.

H. V. Foster was an influential oilman who held the largest oil lease in the world - the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company. The lease covered the entire Osage County.

Bill Doolin was the head of the Doolin Gang, the worst of the outlaw gangs in the 1890s. Oklahoma in the 1800s, with a lack of law and order, offered great opportunities for "easy money." The Doolin Gang included three women outlaws: Little Britches, Cattle Annie and Rose Dunn, the "Rose of the Cimarron."

Belle Starr, probably the most famous of the women outlaws, lived in Oklahoma. She was accused of the crimes of arson, horse theft, and bootlegging. In 1882 Isaac Parker, the "Hanging Judge," sent her to federal prison for horse theft.

The James Brothers and the Younger Gang were two other notorious outlaw groups that plundered the banks and businesses of Oklahoma and Kansas.

Bill Pickett was a black cowboy from Oklahoma and he is credited with inventing the bulldogging event in rodeo shows.

Zack Mulhall owned a popular Wild West Show, which toured the country in 1900 to 1915.

Gordon Lillie, better known as "Pawnee Bill," toured the world from 1883 to 1913 with his Wild West Show. His wife, May, rode broncos sidesaddle and was an expert markswoman. She and Pawnee Bill joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which toured the world from 1900 to 1929. The Great Depression put an end to many entertainment enterprises.

( The above information was obtained from an article written by Jenk Jones, Jr. and from the book "Big Bluestem," by Annick Smith)

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