Oklahoma State Study

OklahomaAn aviation and energy powerhouse, home of the Sooners, and smack dab in tornado alley, it’s time for an Oklahoma State Study.


Oklahoma began as the tribal land of the Osage and Quapaw people.  Well, that’s not really who lived there first of course, but those are the people who were there when the Spanish first explored the land in 1541 with Coronado.  It was the French that claimed the land though.  It stayed in their control until they became hard up for cash with Napoleon’s expensive wars and sold it to Thomas Jefferson.

During the 1830’s the “civilized tribes” of the American south were driven to Oklahoma territory from their farms and stores in Georgia and Florida to make way for white settlers.  By the end of the 1800’s there were more than 30 native tribes living within “Indian Territory”.  Meanwhile, Texas had a booming cattle industry going and drives were being run through the Oklahoma territory.

This is Ouachita National Forest in Oklahoma. While large swaths of Oklahoma are semi-arid grasslands, there are also forests, lakes, and mountains. This photo is from the US Forest Service and in the public domain.

White settlers were illegally settling in the area as well, though it had been reserved for Indians alone.  In an effort to assimilate Indians into American culture and economics, the government divided up the land and gave lots to each Indian family to farm.  At the same time they took back much of the land that had originally been given to the tribes.


This is the High Plains region in western Oklahoma. It is a semi-arid grassland and scrub region that rises in elevation on the western side of the Great Plains toward the Rocky Mountains.  Cattle ranching, and wheat and corn production are the major economic activities of this area.  . Photo by Denny Mingus, CC license, Wikimedia.

The government now opened up the land on a first-come, first-serve basis and people would line up at the border of the newly opened territory waiting for the signal that the land was open for settlement.  When the signal was given they would race across the land until they found an unclaimed marker, hopefully with some timber and water on it.  The land was free and the competition was stiff.  During the latter part of the 1800’s many former slaves moved their families to Oklahoma as well, where they set up all black towns where they could be treated as full human beings.

Oklahoma is located in Tornado Alley, the plains region of the United States where cold air from Canada collides with warm fronts from the Caribbean and makes some wild weather. In this picture lighting is dancing over the tall buildings in Tulsa. Photo by Ian Carvell, CC licence, Wikimedia.

In 1907 the territory became a state.  The newest industry of the state was oil.  And it was big.  Oklahoma’s big cities like Tulsa grew up around oil.  In the 1930’s the most prolonged environmental disaster to occur in the United States, the dust bowl, made Oklahoma the hardest hit state in the union.  When they recovered many lessons about conservation of farmland were learned and are still practiced all over the United States and the world.

This is a photo of a farm destroyed by the dust bowl conditions of the 1930s. Photo by USDA and in the public domain.


    • Learn about the Land Run of 1889 and have a land run race.  Set up cones or markers in the yard.  Different resources should be found at each cone, making some more desirable than others.  You can use things to represent natural resources: glass of water for a stream, stick to show wood, fine compost to show rich soil, etc. Or you can appeal more to a kids taste and supply various amounts of cookies and punch at each cone.
    • Learn about tornadoes, a big feature of the Oklahoma plains.  Make a tornado in a bottle.
    • Read Children of the Dust Bowl by Jerry Stanley.


Map Exploration

Here is a Oklahoma Map to print out and color.  Use a student atlas to label major cities, waterways and landmarks.

Oklahoma Map web

Additional Layers

    • “Sooners” is the Oklahoma state nickname.  Find out where it came from.
    • Route 66 begins in Tulsa, learn more about how it was developed.
    • The “Trail of Tears” is the name for the forced march of the Indian Tribes from the south to Oklahoma. Learn more about this tragic epoch in their history.
    • Watch the play, Oklahoma.
    • Why is there oil in Oklahoma?  Learn about the geology of the state.

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