In the center of the United States, the landlocked state of Oklahoma has many diverse cultural groups as well as physical landscapes. To the east are the small mountain ranges, prairie and forests which cover 24 percent of the land. The rest of the region consists of the semi-arid Great Plains.
It was Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, the Spanish explorer, came through the region in 1541. The French claimed the lands in the 1700s and that claim remained until 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase by the United States.
During the 19th century, thousands of Native Americans were expelled from their ancestral homelands from across many states and transported to the area including and surrounding present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation’s removals started in 1831 to what was called then the Indian Territory. It was thought of as land no one else wanted, not fit for white settlers, only the Indians.
In 1881, four of the five major cattle trails on the western frontier traveled through Indian Territory. Land runs began in Oklahoma, once all the other lands across the United States had been claimed. The first was held in 1889. An estimated 50,000 people lined up for their piece of the available two million acres, which had now been taken from the Indians and was opened up to white settlers.
Most of the new settlers were from states further east and some that were foreign-born. Looking at Oklahoma genealogy the major ethnic groups arriving were Germans, Irish, Scots-Irish and English.
By 1890, more than 30 Native American nations and tribes had been concentrated on the smaller Indian Territory. Population for the Oklahoma area in 1890 was about 258,000. In just ten years and the land runs, the population was 790,400.
On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma was established as the 46th state in the Union. This was also the time of major oil discoveries which prompted towns to grow rapidly in population and wealth. The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma became known as the ’Oil Capital.’ There were many black towns that thrived in the early 20th century because of huge numbers of African-American settlers moving from neighboring states, especially Kansas into Oklahoma.
By 1910 the state had 1.6 million residents. In 1960 Oklahoma was at 2.3 million and in 2009 it had 3.6 million residents.
The Great Depression of the 1930s and the American Dust Bowl caused by poor farming practices, drought and high winds, hit hard in northwest Oklahoma. Such conditions caused a migration out of the state, an important factor when doing Oklahoma genealogy.
Native Indians make up large percent of Oklahoma’s population, with some 25 different Indian languages representing over 60 Native American tribes. That is about 400,000 Native Indians which represents 11.4 percent of the state’s overall population. Some of the main tribes include the Cherokee, Chickamauga, Delaware, Apache, Kickapoo, Miami, Creek, Pawnee, Quapaw, Shawnee and Wyandotte.
The other ethnic groups include the Germans at 14. 5 percent, the Irish at 12 percent, the English at 9 percent and 8 percent for African-Americans.
Oklahoma relies on an economic base of aviation, energy (oil, natural gas), telecommunications, along with cattle production and wheat crops.