Oklahoma is defined by its rich Native American heritage and for being the home of the “Sooners” – not the OU football team, but the pioneers during the late 19th century who staked their claim to homesteads during the Oklahoma land runs. If you’ve watched Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Far and Away, you’ll know what these land runs were all about. Oklahoma’s population exploded almost overnight after each land run; there were five in total during the 1890s. And by the end of it all, the United States Land Office had given away more than 16 million acres, instantly transforming Oklahoma into a formidable territory (and state when it was finally admitted into the union in 1907).
Prior to the land runs, Oklahoma was almost completely settled by Native Americans. Most of them were forcibly located there. The United States government had set aside Oklahoma during the 1830s as “Indian Territory”, believing it was of little value. The Cherokee, Creeks, Choctaws, Seminoles, and Chickasaws were all moved to Oklahoma from states like Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Louisiana. Many of the Native Indians also died en route to Oklahoma from diseases and starvation in what has been dubbed the “Trail of Tears”. Today, Oklahoma continues to have the largest population of Native Americans in the U.S. With more than 65 tribes instate, Oklahoma is rich with American Indian festivals, ceremonies and events, highlighted by the annual Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City.
With such a strong Native American presence, Oklahoma is perhaps the best place in the country to learn and explore the history and culture of the various tribes. Visitors will find Native American historic sites, museums, art galleries, and events such as pow wows, festivals, and dance performances.
Oklahoma has a beautiful side of nature to it, not just the stretches of flat plains everyone pre-imagines. More than 200 lakes grace this “Sooner State” that is capped also by gorgeous mountain ranges like the Ozarks, Arbuckles, Wichitas, and Ouachitas. In fact, Oklahoma really has a bit of everything: red, green, blue, and brown. Oklahoma’s northwest, for example, is nicknamed “Red Carpet Country” for its red soil; in this region you’ll find rugged buttes, gypsum dunes, and red and brown mesas. Oklahoma’s northeast, on the other hand, is known as “Green Country” for its emerald hills and miles of green state parks that provide a perfect outdoor paradise for sports enthusiasts. This region is also home to Oklahoma’s oil capital and second largest city, Tulsa. Oklahoma’s central region features a land of blue skies known as the “Frontier Country”. This region of open stretches exudes an air of the old West, mixed in with a pioneering spirit that still vibrates strongly more than a hundred years since the Land Runs it used to host. Oklahoma’s southwest, meanwhile, is a rugged but romantic land of granite mountains and open plains, once roamed by tribes and outlaws. In stark contrast with the southwest, Oklahoma’s southcentral region features sparkling blue lakes, an aquatic paradise. Southeastern Oklahoma, on the other hand, is characterized by miles of scenic trails that wind through rivers, valleys, hills, and canyons that all teem with wildlife.
As eclectic and beautiful as Oklahoma is, both physically and culturally, most people seem to harbor unfavorable preconceived notions about this state. That's unfortunate. But if you are one of those people who loves to find hidden gems, Oklahoma may be one of them.