50 States in 50 Days: Oklahoma – Native America

Posted by: Jerrold Frank, Regional English Language Officer

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Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain!  When many people think of the state of Oklahoma, this popular verse by Rodgers and Hammerstein, from the score of the musical Oklahoma, immediately springs to mind.  Perhaps what many people don’t know is that Oklahoma derives its name from the Native American Choctow language, okla and humma, meaning “red people.”  However these days people who live in Oklahoma are often called Oklahomans. Sometimes Oklahomans are referred to as Sooners.  This is because when lands in the region opened to settlers in 1889, some tried to stake their claims before they were supposed to.  These people became known as Sooners, as they arrived a little too soon. After that, the name stuck and Oklahoma earned the nickname The Sooner State.

The state's high plains stretch behind a greeting sign in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
The state’s high plains stretch behind a greeting sign in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Oklahoma is located in the South Central region of the United States. Of the 50 United States, Oklahoma ranks number 20 in terms of size and number 28 in terms of population.  The landscape in Oklahoma is very diverse, ranging from large eastern forests to sweeping prairies and small mountain ranges in the west.  Also, much of Oklahoma is located in an area of the United States known as Tornado Alley, where warm and cold air masses frequently collide to produce severe weather.  Besides being a major producer of agriculture, natural gas and oil, Oklahoma also has one of the fastest growing economies in America.

A river carves a canyon in the Wichita Mountains.
A river carves a canyon in the Wichita Mountains.

Sports play a very important role in the lives of Oklahomans. The state’s only professional sports franchise, the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma Thunder, made it all the way to the NBA finals this year.  Sadly, despite a gritty effort, they were defeated by the Miami Heat. Perhaps closer to the hearts of Oklahomans are their college football teams. The Oklahoma State University Cowboys and the University of Oklahoma Sooners regularly have more than 50,000 fans attending their games.  It can be argued that the biggest sporting event in the state occurs when the two universities meet to play each year.  The enthusiasm of the fans at these events has led to these contests being dubbed as the Bedlam Series.

The Sooner Schooner on the field during a football game.
The Sooner Schooner on the field during a football game.

Just because Oklahomans are crazy about their sports teams does not mean that the state is devoid of culture. The city of Bartlesville hosts an annual Oklahoma Mozart Festival, one of the largest classical musical festivals in the South, and Oklahoma City’s Festival of the Arts is one of the top in all of the United States.  In addition, the state has produced five world famous Native American ballerinas and the city of Tulsa boasts one of the best ballet companies in America. Not to mention, if you want to see the musical Oklahoma in person, you can head to Discoveryland, an outdoor amphitheater and official headquarters of the musical in Sand Springs.

Oklahoma! Original Broadway Cast Album (1943)
Oklahoma! Original Broadway Cast Album (1943)

Whether you love great natural diversity, sports, or the arts, if you’re not from Oklahoma, the SOONER you get there the SOONER you will be able to enjoy all this great state has to offer.


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