Wedged between gargantuan Texas to the south and the gently rolling farmland of Kansas to the north, OKLAHOMA has experienced a singularly traumatic history. In the 1830s, all this land, held to be useless, was set aside as Indian Territory – a convenient dumping ground for the so-called Five Civilized Tribes who, for a time, had blocked white settlement in the southern states. The Choctaw and Chickasaw of Mississippi, the Seminole of Florida and the Creek of Alabama were each assigned a share, while the rest (though already inhabited by Native Americans) was given to the Cherokee from Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, who followed in 1838 on the notorious four-month trek known as “the Trail of Tears”. Today, the state claims a large Native American population – “oklahoma” is the Choctaw word for “red man” – and many of its towns host museums devoted to Native American history.

Once white settlers realized that Indian Territory was, in fact, well worth farming, they decided to stay. The Native Americans were relocated once more, and in a series of manic free-for-all scrambles starting in 1889, entire towns sprang up literally overnight. Those who jumped the gun and claimed land illegally were known as Sooners; hence Oklahoma’s nickname, the “Sooner State”.

White settlers didn’t have an easy life, however. They faced, after great oil prosperity in the 1920s, an era of unthinkable hardship in the 1930s. The desperate migration, when whole communities fled the state’s blinding dust bowl for California, has come to encapsulate the worst horrors of the Depression, most famously in John Steinbeck’s novel (and John Ford’s film) The Grapes of Wrath, but also in Dorothea Lange’s haunting photos of itinerant families hitching and camping on the road, and in the sad yet hopeful songs of Woody Guthrie. Improved farming techniques in the post-World War II era eventually brought life back to Oklahoma.

Many of the state’s places of interest, including Tulsa, lie in the hilly and wooded northeast, while the Tornado Alley grassland of central Oklahoma holds the revitalized capital, Oklahoma City. The lakes and parks of Oklahoma’s southern reaches have helped make tourism the state’s second leading industry after oil.

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