Early on, Wichita, Arapaho, Comanche and Osage people populated or used this land. By 1834 it (minus the panhandle) had been declared autonomous Indian Territory and Tribes from across the nation were relocated here, often at gunpoint. In one of the most dramatic examples, more than 4000 of 15, 000 Cherokee perished of cold and hunger while marching the ‘Trail of Tears’ to the territory in the winter of 1838–39.
In the 1880s, before the US gave the go-ahead to parcel out former Native American lands, eager homesteaders (‘Sooners’) crossed territory lines to stake claims. That’s right: the Sooner State is named for lawbreakers. In April of 1889 settlement to non-Indians was officially opened and towns emerged overnight in the Great Land Rush.
Statehood in 1907 was followed by another boom when oil was discovered in the 1920s, but the Depression and soil erosion hurt the state badly. Thousands of ‘Okie’ farmers migrated west on Route 66 to find a better life. The state’s agricultural industry eventually rebounded, due to greater care for the fragile Plains environment. Oil continues to play a role in the state’s development.