The Spiro Native Americans arrive, eventually building burial mounds filled with exquisite artwork. They are present in the region until about 1300.
(November 11) Viking explorers visit eastern Oklahoma and leave their mark on a large flat stone near the town of Heavener.
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado first explores the region for Spain during his unsuccessful search for the Seven Cities of Gold in the Southwest. Coronado introduces horses, mules, pigs, cattle, and sheep into the region.
French explorer Jean-Baptiste de la Harpe explores Oklahoma, claiming it for France.
Before settlers enter the region, several tribes of Native Americans live in or range over the land. The Plains Native Americans include the Kiowa, Apache, Ute, and Comanche in the western part of the land. They are nomadic hunters who follow the huge herds of buffalo that graze on grasslands. In the east, the Wichita live in houses thatched with grass and cultivate crops like corn, beans, pumpkins, and melons.
Of the original tribes that ranged throughout Oklahoma prior to settlement, only the Ute remain. A large portion of Oklahoma’s Native American population is made up of descendants of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole, who were forcibly moved to Oklahoma by the U.S. government between 1820 and 1842.
1803–1859 INDIAN TERRITORY
(December 30) The U.S. acquires most of Oklahoma (and 13 other future U.S. states) from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. U.S. President Thomas Jefferson agrees to the purchase price of 78 million francs ($15,000,000) from French head of state Napoleon Bonaparte. The purchase is lauded by supporters and savaged by critics of Jefferson. It more than doubles the size of the United States and is a defining moment in the expansion of U.S. territory.
(June 4) Most of present-day Oklahoma becomes part of Missouri Territory when Louisiana Territory is renamed to avoid confusion with the new state of Louisiana.
Most of present-day Oklahoma becomes part of the new Arkansaw Territory.
(July 10) The Adams-Onis Treaty, which defines Oklahoma as the southwestern boundary of the U.S., goes into effect. Portions of present-day Colorado become part of New Spain.
(April 20) Fort Gibson becomes the first fort established in Oklahoma. It is the westernmost in the north-south chain of forts intended to protect the frontier.
(November 14) Most of Oklahoma becomes part of unorganized U.S. territory when Arkansaw Territory loses its western half.
(May 6) Arkansaw Territory is further reduced, establishing the present state of Arkansas' western border with Oklahoma.
President Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act. The act gives the president the power to negotiate treaties for removal with Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi River. It calls for Native Americans to give up their eastern land for land in the west.
The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole (known as the "Five Civilized Tribes") are encouraged and then forced to relocate by the U.S. government from their native lands into Oklahoma. Thousands of Native Americans lose their lives on the bloody relocation marches.
(June 30) Congress passes the final Indian Intercourse Act. It regulates relations between Native Americans living on Native American land, and identifies the region of Oklahoma as unorganized "Indian Territory." The purpose of the territory's creation is to provide a place for Native Americans to relocate as the Unites States expands west towards the Mississippi River.
(March 2) Texas achieves independence from Mexico. Both the Republic of Texas and Mexico continue territorial disputes over Oklahoma's Panhandle.
(May 23) Treaty of New Echota grants a sixty-mile (97 km) wide strip of land south of the Oklahoma-Kansas border to the Cherokee. It becomes known as the Cherokee Strip.
Twelve thousand Cherokee Native Americans follow the Trail of Tears on a 116-day, 800-mile journey west to eastern Oklahoma. Estimates have placed the death toll in camps and in transit as high as 4,000. The Cherokee follow the trail already set by the Choctaw out of Mississippi, the Creek from Alabama, the Chickasaw from Arkansas and Mississippi, and the Seminole from Florida.
The remaining Seminole Native Americans from Florida are relocated to Oklahoma.
(December 29) The Panhandle region of Oklahoma becomes part of the new U.S. state of Texas.
(September 9) The Compromise of 1850 creates New Mexico Territory and defines the borders of the current state of Texas. The Oklahoma Panhandle becomes disputed territory. It comes to be called the "Neutral Strip" or "No Man's Land."
1860–1899 OKLAHOMA TERRITORY
Texas begins to make claims on Greer Country, then part of southwestern Indian Territory.
(February 4) The Confederate States of America is formed and gains full control of Indian Territory.
(November 19) The first battle during the Civil War in Indian Territory is the Battle of Round Mountain between Native Americans fighting for the Union and Confederate troops. Confederate troops are pushed back, leading to a Southern loss.
(July 17 The largest battle in Indian Territory during the Civil War, the Battle of Honey Springs is an important victory in the effort of Union forces to gain control of Indian Territory. In the battle, white soldiers are the minority as Native Americans and African Americans make up significant portions of each side.
The Confederate War Department organizes the Native American tribes of eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas into the Indian Division.
Indian Territory reverts back to the United States at the end of the Civil War.
Lieutenant Custer’s 7th Cavalry kills Chief Black Kettle and about 100 Cheyenne (mostly women and children) on the Washita River near present-day Cheyenne, Oklahoma.
An additional 25 tribes are moved to Oklahoma to reside on federal lands.
The Choctaw Coal and Railway Company becomes the first railroad to cross Oklahoma from east to west.
President Benjamin Harrison opens Oklahoma to white settlement through land runs, lotteries, and auctions.
(March 17) The Cherokee agree to cede their land to the U.S. government for $8,595,736.12
(April 22) At noon, the Oklahoma Land Rush begins as 50,000 people swarm into the area in a desperate grab for acreage. Later, land openings are conducted by a lottery due to widespread cheating—some of Oklahoma’s settlers are called "Sooners" because they staked their land claims before the land is officially open for settlement. One of Oklahoma's nicknames is now "The Sooner State."
(May 2) The western half of Indian Territory, along with the Neutral Strip, becomes Oklahoma Territory, establishing Oklahoma's current western borders.
(September 16) When more than 100,000 settlers stake claims, the Cherokee Strip Land Run becomes the largest land run in United States history, as well as the largest event of its kind in human history.
(May 4) The U.S. Supreme Court officially declares Greer County part of Oklahoma Territory, bringing a 36-year territorial dispute with Texas to an end.
1900–1949 THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA
Oil is discovered in the village of Red Fork.
The leaders of Indian Territory seek to form their own state. They hold a convention in Eufaula with representatives from the Five Civilized Tribes, drafting a constitution and establishing an organizational plan for a government. The U.S. government is unreceptive.
Oil is discovered in Glenn Pool. Combined with the oil discovery of 1901, the event launches Tulsa as a city. In 1900, its population is just 1,400; by 1910 it has soared to 18,200. Tulsa becomes known as the "Oil Capital of the World" for most of the 20th century.
(November 16) Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory are combined to make Oklahoma the 46th state admitted to the Union.
A grasshopper infestation plagues Tulsa. The pests are so plentiful that people rake them up and sell them as chicken feed.
(August 3) Union-backed Creeks, Seminoles, and Central Oklahoma farmers stage the Green Corn Rebellion in response to the government's attempt to enforce the national draft law passed by Congress. Locals engage with the rebels, and the battles kill four townspeople and three rebels before the rebels eventually scatter. Of the 150 men convicted, half serve prison time.
Oklahoma grants women the right to vote two years before the passage of the 19th Amendment.
(February 28) Oklahoma ratifies the 19th Amendment, granting women nationwide the right to vote.
(June 1) A race riot erupts in Tulsa’s racially segregated Greenwood neighborhood. During the 16 hours of rioting, over 800 people are admitted to hospitals with injuries, 10,000 are left homeless, 35 city blocks are destroyed by fire, and more than 300 people are killed.
Governor John C. Walton is elected and declares martial law and suspends habeas corpus in Tulsa County due to Ku Klux Klan terror after the Tulsa Race Riot. Because the Oklahoma Constitution strictly forbids any member of Oklahoma government from suspending this writ, he is impeached a year later.
Oklahoma produces 278 million barrels of crude oil. By 2005, production drops to 60 million.
Oklahoma is among the states hit hardest by the Great Depression. Severe drought and over-farming causes the Dust Bowl, launching severe dust storms, throughout 100,000,000 acres in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. Legions of Oklahomans (or "Okies," as they are dubbed) gather meager possessions and flee the state for the West.
Oklahoma passes the Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act, which allows it to impose a sentence of compulsory sterilization against those convicts of three or more crimes "immoral" in nature, making a specific except for "white collar" crimes.
In the Skinner vs. Oklahoma ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Oklahoma’s Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act of 1935, ruling it violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The decision outlaws the practice of punitive forced sterilization in the U.S.
(July 5) Boise City, Oklahoma becomes the only city in the contiguous U.S. to be bombed during World War II when at approximately 12:30 a.m., a B-17 Bomber from Dalhart Army Air Base drops six practice bombs on the town, mistaking the lights of the city for his practice target.
1950–PRESENT MODERN OKLAHOMA
(August 11) The Mississippi River floods 100,000 acres in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois.
Alcohol prohibition is repealed in the state after 51 years.
The NAACP Youth Council begins sit-ins at lunch counters in Oklahoma City to fight for racial desegregation in the state.
Wilma Mankiller takes office as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, becoming the first woman to lead a major Native American tribe. She serves until 1995.
(April 19) A large car bomb blows up the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City at 9:02 a.m., killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more. Many of the victims are children from the building’s daycare center. Within a week, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols are arrested and charged; McVeigh is later executed on June 11, 2001; Nichols is sentenced to 161 consecutive life sentences. Until the attacks on New York City and Washington September 11, 2001, it is the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the country's history.
(May 3–6) Sixty-six tornadoes touch down in Oklahoma and Kansas over three days, causing $1,500,000,000 in damages. It is the most prolific tornado outbreak in Oklahoma history.
Oklahoma becomes the first state to pass a law making it harder to buy more than small quantities of medicine containing pseudoephedrine, one of the ingredients used in the illegal production of methamphetamine.
Oklahoma files suit against Arkansas for violations related to high phosphorus levels. The state claims toxic run-off from Arkansas poultry houses is polluting the Illinois River watershed, which supplies water to eastern Oklahoma.
Oklahoma becomes the last state to legalize tattooing.
(April) Severe tornadoes sweep through the southern and midwestern United States, causing damage and deaths in several states, including Oklahoma. Two hundred tornadoes were reported in six states. At least 340 deaths in the region are attributed to the storms.
Click to enlarge an image
1012: Viking painting
1824: Fort Gibson Historical Area
1830: Andrew Jackson presidential dollar
1836: Map of the Cherokee Strip
1836: Digital reproduction of the Texas independence "Come and Take It" flag
1838: Map of removal routes
1840: Gallery of the "Five Civilized Tribes"
1868: Chief Black Kettle
1889: Benjamin Harrison
1905: Tulsa panorama
1920: 19th Amendment in the National Archives
1921: Buildings burning during the Tulsa race riot
1922: John Calloway "Jack" Walton
1930: Rear view of an Okie's car
1942: Seal of the United States Supreme Court
1943: USAAF logo
1985: Wilma Mankiller
1995: Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the bombing aftermath