Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain
Where the waving wheat
Can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain
Every night my honey-lamb and I
Sit alone and talk
And watch a hawk
Making lazy circles in the sky
From the Musical “Oklahoma!”
Come on, admit it; you hear mention of “The Sooner State” and this is the first thing that comes to your mind. The iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein (which of course made our “Famous For” wall this week) is to Oklahoma what buckeyes are to Ohio or hula dancing is to Hawaii. I know – I can’t get it out of my head! Fortunately, my research through the state with the most thorough State Meal I’ve ever seen (can one person really eat all those things in one sitting???) has proven to be plenty more interesting than a passing lyric. We had plenty of fun with Ohio last week and are looking forward through our Oklahoma adventure! So saddle up and come along!
This week I thought the most important pieces of information to convey to the Dynamic Duo was the history of Oklahoma. Before becoming the 46th state to join the union in 1907, Oklahoma was more often referred to as “Indian Territory.” The land was set aside to establish an area for the Native American tribes relocated from their native lands due to the 1830’s Indian Removal Act. The Removal Act paved the way for the reluctant migration of tens of thousands of American Indians to the West, an event widely known as the "Trail of Tears.” During the trek from their original homelands in the South to the designated area in what would eventually become Oklahoma, Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease and starvation. The largest group effected by the migration were collectively referred to as The Five Civilized Tribes which is comprised of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes. Oklahoma still has one of the largest Native American populations (second only to California) with 9% of their total population in 2010 being Native American.
The settlement of the state by the non-Native American population also has an interesting background. An area of approximately 2,000,000 acres of what would eventually become Oklahoma were ceded back from the Native Americans and after the Civil War were simply known as “Unassigned Lands”. In 1879 a campaign begun to open the land "unoccupied by any Indian" to settlement by non-Indians. Due to the Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, legal settlers could claim lots up to 160 acres (0.65 km2) in size. Provided a settler lived on the land and improved it, the settler could then receive the title to the land. So on April 22, 1889 the land was officially available for such settlement. This is also how Oklahoma got its nickname - A number of the people who participated in the run (known as a Land Rush) entered the unoccupied land early and hid there until the legal time of entry to lay quick claim to some of the most choice homesteads. These people came to be identified as "Sooners." Cities sprang up – Oklahoma City (the future capitol) skyrocketed to a population of over 10,000 in a matter for hours. When it was over, approximately 40% of the original settlors to the area were able (after a period of five years) met the requirements and were able to claim their 160 acres under the Homestead Act leading to the eventual inclusion of Oklahoma as a state in 1907.
The Trail of Tears isn’t the only famed road to run through Oklahoma. “The Mother Road”, better known as “Route 66” runs its longest driveable stretch through 400 miles of Oklahoma. The route originally ran from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California and was one of the nation’s first highways. Specifically for Noah, I learned that the route’s trek through Oklahoma played a key role in the formation of the scenery and inspiration for a character in one of his favorite movies, Cars. The Rock Café in Stroud played host to some Pixar writers doing research for the movie in 2001. While there they met the owner, Dawn Welch, who became the basis for the character Sally Carrera in the movie.
Besides the Rock Café, if you’re taking a trip down Route 66, especially if you’re driving with my Dad, you might want to make a stop at a Sonic Drive-In. “America’s Drive-In” can trace its original roots back to Seminole where Troy N. Smith, a milkman by trade, purchased and sold a few restaurants and diners before sticking with Top Hat, a five-acre parcel of land that had a log house and a walk-up root beer stand. After bringing on bringing on a partner and a series of tweaks to the business model, elaborating on an idea he had seen in Louisiana, he suspected that he could increase his sales by controlling the parking and having the customers order from speakers in their cars, with carhops delivering the food to the cars as opposed to having customers parking in the lot and walking up to place their orders. The idea took off and they decided to franchise in 1959, changing the name to Sonic. Sonic currently has over 3,500 locations in 43 states and serves approximately 3,000,000 customers daily.
Also when you’re driving along Route 66, and anywhere else in the nation, you of course have to obey the traffic laws. The original yield sign can trace its origins to Oklahoma. The first yield sign was installed in 1950 at First Street and Columbia Avenue Tulsa, Oklahoma, having been devised and designed by Tulsa police officer Clinton Riggs. (Riggs invented only the sign, not the rule, which was already in place.) The sign as originally conceived by Officer Riggs was shaped like a keystone; later versions bore the shape of an inverted equilateral triangle in common use today. And if you park make sure to feed the meter which was first installed on July 16, 1935 in Oklahoma City. The original meters were installed to deal with the lack of sufficient parking space for the rapidly increasingly number of crowding into the downtown business district. Originally, the meters cost a nickel an hour, and were placed at 20-foot intervals along the curb that corresponded to spaces painted on the pavement. By the 1940’s the United States had over 140,000 meters across the nation.
While out and about doing your shopping, you may want to offer a special thank you to Oklahoma native Sylvan Gordman who on June 4, 1937 debuted his invention at the Humpty Dumpty supermarket he owned in Oklahoma City. Goldman had long been working on a device to assist shoppers in moving more groceries through the store. He found a wooden folding chair and put a basket on the seat and wheels on the legs and the earliest shopping cart was born! Oddly enough, though his intention was to help, the carts didn’t catch on right away. Young men thought they would appear weak; young women felt the carts were unfashionable; and older people didn’t want to appear helpless. Goldman hired models of all ages and both sexes to push the things around the store, pretending they were shopping and by 1940 they were prevalent throughout the country, even causing grocery stores to redesign their layouts to accommodate carts. This may be the Oklahoma claim to fame I’m most thankful for!
To round it out this week, I reminded the kiddos of a conversation we had way back during Kansas week about Tornado Alley. The tornado spawning climate encompasses the majority of Oklahoma and some of the most destructive tornadoes in history have done major damage to Oklahoma. More F4-and F5 tornados occur in Oklahoma than any other state. The people of the state (and across the world) should be especially grateful to meteorologists at Tinker Air Force Base who in 1948 issued the first official tornado forecast, as well as the first successful tornado forecast, in recorded history. A tornado hit the base on March 20 and five days later the meteorologist noted similar conditions and base meteorologists composed and issued the first official tornado forecast so important equipment could be placed in shelters and base personnel moved to safer areas. At 6pm that evening a second tornado touched down. This second tornado caused $6 million in damage (the equivalent of $59 million in 2014 dollars). However, due to precautions enacted because of the tornado forecast, no injuries were reported, and damage totals could have been much higher. (Of further interesting note, even with continued success of predicting 19/19 tornadoes that summer, the Weather Bureau hesitated to issue ‘tornado forecasts’ fearing widespread panic and banned such statements until 1950. Broadcast media followed the ban until 1954, when meteorologist Harry Volkman broadcast the first televised tornado warning over WKY-TV Oklahoma City.)
So there you have it! Musicals, tornados, shopping carts, land rushes, cruisin’ Route 66 – Oklahoma’s got it all. I alluded to Oklahoma’s official state meal earlier in the blog so it only seemed appropriate to start our culinary journey there tonight. I don’t think I could get my crew to eat the whole meal if their lives depended on it so I picked and chose the highlights. (Don’t worry, other pieces are coming throughout the week!) So tonight for dinner I made Chicken Fried Steak, corn on the cob, and strawberries. I’m going to hold off on the pecan pie that is supposed to wrap up the meal ‘til later in the week and instead let the Bean pick dessert tonight to celebrate her first day of school (if you missed it, make sure to check out my post from earlier with all of the pictures!). We have plenty of time to do Oklahoma and I wanted to make sure she knew how proud of her we are!
More tomorrow from here in the Hills and the birthplace of Carrie Underwood, Brad Pitt, Garth Brooks and Kristin Chenoweth (yep, still talking about Oklahoma!), but until then…
Oklahoma Fun Fact of the Day: There is an operating oil well on state capitol grounds called Capitol Site No. 1.
Chicken Fried Steak - a la Oklahoma's State Meal