Oklahoma City was not the first capital of Oklahoma, and many are surprised to hear that. Many are also surprised to hear several interesting historical tidbits about the state’s largest city. What follows is a brief history of Oklahoma City with information gathered from a number of sources including the Oklahoma City Visitor’s Bureau, the State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The Oklahoma Territory
Many are familiar with the Native American relocation to the Oklahoma Territory in the 1820’s, most famously illustrated in the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” recount. The United States government forced the Five Civilized Tribes to endure a difficult resettlement into the lands of Oklahoma, and many died in the process.
Much of the western lands of Oklahoma, however, were part of the “Unassigned Lands.” Including what is now Oklahoma City, these areas began to be settled by a variety of pioneers in the late 1800’s. Doing so without permission, these pioneers were referred to as “Boomers,” and they eventually created enough pressure that the US government opted to hold a series of land runs for settlers to claim the land.
The Land Run
There were actually several land runs between 1889 and 1895, but the first was the most significant. On April 22, 1889, an estimated 50,000 settlers gathered at the boundaries. Some, called “Sooners,” snuck across early to claim some of the prime spots of land.
The area that is now Oklahoma City was immediately popular to the settlers as an estimated 10,000 people claimed land here. Federal officials had to help maintain order, and there was a great deal of fighting and death.
Nevertheless, the early settlers remained, and a provisional government was put in place. By 1900, the population in the Oklahoma City area had more than doubled, and out of those early tent cities, a metropolis was being born.
State of Oklahoma and Its Capital
A relatively short time later, Oklahoma became a state. On November 16, 1907, it was officially the 46th state of the Union. Based largely on the proposition of striking it rich through oil, Oklahoma grew exponentially in its early years.
Guthrie, several miles North of Oklahoma City, had been the territorial capital of Oklahoma. By 1910, Oklahoma City’s population had surpassed 60,000, and many felt it should be the state’s capital. A petition was called, and the support was there.
The Lee-Huckins Hotel served as the temporary capitol building until the permanent capitol was built in 1917.
Continued Oil Boom
Oklahoma City’s various oil fields not only brought people to the city; they also brought money. The city continued to expand, adding commercial areas, public trolleys and a variety of other industries.
Oklahoma City suffered during the Great Depression like everyone else, but many had already become quite rich from the oil boom.
In the 1960’s, though, Oklahoma City began to seriously decline. The oil had dried up, and many were migrating outside of the metro to various suburban areas. Various recovery attempts for the most part failed until the early 1990’s.
Metropolitan Area Projects
When Mayor Ron Norrick proposed the MAPS initiatives in 1992, a number of Oklahoma City residents were skeptical. It was nearly impossible to imagine the positive results that could come. There was resistance, but sales tax to fund city renovations and construction was passed. And it may be fair to say it began a rebirth for Oklahoma City.
Downtown Oklahoma City has become an incredible commercial district today. “Bricktown” features sports, arts, education, restaurants and entertainment. It has been largely responsible for the rejuvenation of Oklahoma’s capital and figures to become even more popular for residents and tourists in the coming years.
Interrupted by Tragedy
Oklahoma City was experiencing a wonderful period of time when Timothy McVeigh parked a truck full of explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The explosion would be felt miles from the city. By the time anyone even knew what had happened, 168 people were dead and a building stood cut in half by the horror.
For a full history of the Oklahoma City bombing, see this excellent article by About.com guide Jennifer Rosenberg.
Although the pain of the experience will live forever in the hearts of the city, the year 2000 brought the beginning of the healing. The Oklahoma City National Memorial was erected on the very ground where the federal building once stood. It continues to offer solace and peace for every visitor and resident of Oklahoma City.
The Present and the Future
Oklahoma City proved to be a resilient city with incredibly strong residents. The Bricktown revolution has continued to drive the success of the city as businesses, concert tours, artistic companies and sports teams have flocked to be a part of the positive community.
Today, it is one of the largest metropolitan city in the “plains” states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. With a number of smaller cities making up the overall land area, Oklahoma City is the 29th largest in the nation with just over a half million residents in the metro.
Continued development downtown is on the horizon as a number of companies look to capitalize on the growing hotspot that is Bricktown. Higher energy prices have also meant more money for the city’s key businesses, and the future indeed looks bright.