Geography and Landforms:

Oklahoma is the smallest of the southwestern states. Its landscape consists primarily of flat plains and low hills broken here and there by mountains, ridges, and regions of low-rising hills.

The northwestern portion of the state is known as the Panhandle. It is a narrow strip of land, 144 miles long and 34 miles wide and is part of the High Plains, a region of level grasslands. Oklahoma's highest point, Black Mesa (4,978 feet), is located here.

Mountainous areas include a series of sandstone ridges known as the Ouachita Mountains in the southeastern part of the state along the border with Alabama. The rough, granite peaks of the Wichita Mountains rise in southwestern Oklahoma and the Arbuckle Mountains occupy a 1,000 square mile area in the south-central part of the state.

Central and eastern Oklahoma consists primarily of prairie plains. These plains slope upward to the Ozark Plateau in the northeast and to the Ouachita Mountains in the southeast.

Two large river systems - the Red and the Arkansas - drain the entire state, carrying water from Oklahoma's rivers and streams to the Gulf of Mexico. The Red River forms the state's southern boundary with Texas and the Arkansas flows through the northeastern part of the state.


The first Spanish explorer to enter the region was Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. In 1541 he led an expedition from New Mexico into Oklahoma. That same year, another Spaniard, Hernando DeSoto, explored the area. Both DeSoto and Coronado were in search of the legendary cities of gold that were believed to be located in that region.

In 1682 French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle claimed all of the land drained by Mississippi River for France, including present-day Oklahoma. Soon after, French traders and trappers began to visit the region. In 1762, the land was ceded to Spain, but it was reclaimed by Napoleon for France in 1800 and sold to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. For the most part, this region remained in control of the nomadic native populations. No white settlements developed, and only traders, explorers, and adventuresome travelers visited present-day Oklahoma.

The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 established Oklahoma as the southwestern boundary of the United States. This Treaty also gave the Panhandle, the extreme northwestern portion of the present state, to Spain.

After 1819, the United States Government began encouraging Native Americans in the southeastern part of the country to move to the Oklahoma area. These Indians, part of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes, had lived in close contact with white settlers for many years and had adopted many of their customs. For that reason, they became known as the "Five Civilized Tribes."

Intense white pressure for the land occupied by these five tribes led President Andrew Jackson to force them into what became known as "Indian Territory." In preparation for this migration, the U.S. Army established Fort Towson and Fort Gibson in 1824. This sad migration between 1820 and 1842 is known as the "Trail of Tears." Many Indians died along the way.

These Native Americans settled on the hills and prairies of the eastern part of the Oklahoma region. In 1834 the area was officially established as the Indian Territory. Each of the five tribes formed a nation that consisted of a legislature, courts, and written laws. The United States government assured the Indians that they would own their own land "as long as grass shall grow and rivers run."

Gradually these Native American settlers built schools, churches, plantation-style farms, and ranches. Occasionally they traveled to the western part of the territory to hunt buffalo. Treaties protected them from white settlement and pioneers traveling west bypassed them.

The Civil War shattered the security and protection enjoyed by the Indians. The Five Civilized Tribes had come from the South and many of these Indians owned slaves. They sided with the Confederacy. As punishment for this allegiance, the U.S. government forced the Five Tribes to give up the western portion of their land. Soon other tribes from the East, including the Delaware and the Shawnee, were relocated to western Oklahoma. But large tracts of land in the territory still remained uninhabited.

Immediately after the Civil War, Texas cattlemen began to drive their herds across Oklahoma on their way to the railroad centers in Kansas. The most famous of these cattle trails was the Chisholm Trail. From 1866 to 1855, more than 6 million longhorn cattle crossed the Indian lands.

After the first railroad to cross Oklahoma was built in the 1870s, white settlers began to enter the region, despite the earlier laws and treaties with the Native Americans. By the 1880s, ranches - controlled by white cattlemen but owned by Native Americans - began to appear.

Land bordering the Indian Territory was filling up rapidly and very little free or cheap land was available. Soon the government was urged by white settlers to open up land in Indian Territory. In 1885, Congress authorized the president to begin negotiations with the Creek and Seminole tribes. As a result, the government purchased 3 million acres from the tribes and declared 1.9 million acres in central Oklahoma open for settlement. On April 22, 1889, nearly 50,000 people flooded the territory as a race for the best land began. Tent towns and farms were established, and the population began to increase dramatically.

In May of 1890, Congress established the Territory of Oklahoma, Guthrie became the capital, and the Panhandle was added. The Panhandle had become part of the United States in 1845 when Texas entered the Union.

White settlers were eager to possess the remaining lands in Indian Territory. In 1893, Congress created the Dawes Commission to implement a plan that would dissolve the individual nations and divide the remaining tribal lands into individual holdings. Initially, the Native Americans resisted, but in 1906, the plan was put into place as the result of a constitution drawn up by delegates from both territories. In 1907, the Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory were united to form the state of Oklahoma.


Agriculture is an important industry in the state of Oklahoma. Historically, cotton was the leading cash crop, but this has been succeeded by wheat. Other leading crops include hay, peanuts, sorghum, and soybeans.

Livestock and livestock products make up the majority of Oklahoma's yearly farm income. Most of the state's cattle ranches are concentrated in the Panhandle and northern portions of Oklahoma. Poultry and hogs are also significant sources of income, and are raised primarily in the eastern half of the state.

Mineral wealth is great throughout the state. Petroleum, including oil and natural gas, has been a major income-producing product for Oklahoma since 1888 when the first oil well was drilled. The state also mines large deposits of gypsum, iodine, coal, granite and limestone.

Chief manufactured products include industrial machinery, transportation equipment, fabricated metal products, electronic equipment and processed foods. The state's two major industrial and transportation centers are Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Each year, millions of visitors from out-of-state visit Oklahoma to enjoy the state's 57 state parks, Indian villages, and historic sites. Numerous reservoirs through the state provide many recreational opportunities for tourists.

First Inhabitants:

Before the white man entered the region that is now the state of Oklahoma, several tribes of Indians lived in or ranged over the land. Plains Indians including the Kiowa, Apache, Ute, and Comanche occupied the western part of the region. They were nomadic hunters who followed the huge herds of buffalo that grazed on the grasslands.

Farther to the east, the more sedentary Wichita Indians lived in houses thatched with grass and cultivated crops such as corn, beans, pumpkins, and melons. The Wichita are descendants of a prehistoric culture known as the Earth House People.

Of the original tribes which ranged throughout Oklahoma when Europeans first began to explore the area, only the Ute remain. A large portion of Oklahoma's Native American population - the largest in the nation - is made up of descendants of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes. These five tribes were forcibly moved to Oklahoma by the United States government between 1820 and 1842.

Books Related To Oklahoma

Famous Citizens:

Johnny Bench
Johnny Bench, born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is considered to be one of baseball's greatest catchers. He played for the Cincinnati Reds between 1967 and 1983, pioneered the technique of one-handed catching, and hit 389 career home runs during his career. Bench received the Most Valuable Player Award in 1970 and 1972. In 1989 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma. He was a prolific American folk music composer and performer who wrote more than 1,000 songs. His legacy of music, ballads, prose, and poetry reflects the most significant events of the 20th century including the Great Depression, the Great Dust Storm, World War II, and the Cold War.

Jeane Kirkpatrick
Jeane Kirkpatrick, political scientist and government official, was born in Duncan, Oklahoma. She was a college professor and Democratic Party activist, but changed parties due to her opposition to President Carter's foreign policies. In 1981, she became the American ambassador to the United Nations. She returned to university teaching in 1985.

Shannon Lucid
Shannon Lucid was born in Bethany, Oklahoma. An astronaut and biochemist, she set a record for the longest US space mission. She spent 188 days in orbit aboard the Mir space station. Lucid was the first female to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers was born in Oologah, Indian Territory, now part of Oklahoma. He was a cowboy, actor, writer, and humorist, appearing in vaudeville, Broadway musicals, numerous movies, and the Ziegfield Follies. Best known for his unique wit and homespun philosophy, Rogers also worked as a syndicated newspaper columnist, and was a presidential candidate in 1928.

Capital: Oklahoma City
Entered Union: November 16, 1907
Population: 3,878,051
Area 69,898
Bird Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Flower Mistletoe
Nickname: The Sooner State
Governor Mary Fallin

Places to Visit in Oklahoma: (Click the links to learn more.)

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum - Oklahoma City
Learn about the men and women who established the West as an integral part of America's cultural history at this award-winning museum. Highlights include contemporary and traditional art and sculpture of the West and exhibits featuring the development of the cowboy as an American icon. The complex also includes Prosperity Junction, a 14,000 square foot turn-of-the-century Western town.

Oklahoma City National Memorial - Oklahoma City
This memorial honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were changed forever on April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed in a violent act of terrorism.

Great Salt Plains State Park - Cherokee
One of Oklahoma's most unique state parks, Great Salt Plains contains a fascinating geological phenomenon that was formed millions of years ago when seawater became trapped in the area. This "sea of salt" is the only spot in the world where people can dig for hourglass-shaped selenite crystals.

Price Tower Arts Center - Bartlesville
The Price Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright's tallest skyscraper, was a pioneering experiment in multi-use skyscrapers combining offices, shops, and apartments. The Arts Center offers a variety of exhibits about Frank Lloyd Wright and the history of the Tower.