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Oklahoma City History

Oklahoma City came into being on a single day, April 22, 1889, when some 50,000 settlers (called “Boomers”) participated in a Land Run, rushing in from Texas and Arkansas. Their aim was to stake claims on the Unassigned Lands, the mostly western parts of Oklahoma not assigned to the Native Americans who’d been forced to relocate in the 1820s, a tragic event that included the Cherokee “Trail of Tears.” At noon on April 22 an Army bugle sounded and the Boomers raced across the prairie on horseback, foot, and in wagons. By the end of the day, there were approximately 10,000 claims in what was to become Oklahoma City. In any big endeavor like this, there are cheaters—and the Boomers who’d sneaked into the lands early became known as “Sooners.” Today the mascot of the University of Oklahoma is the Sooner Schooner, a Conestoga wagon pulled by two ponies—Boomer and Sooner. Oklahoma City incorporated in 1890, and in 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state. The first commercial oil well in the state was drilled in 1897, and Tulsa’s Glen Pool gusher came in 1905. In 1928, the largest oil field of its time was discovered in Oklahoma City. In 1930, another Oklahoma City oil well gushed out of control for 11 days, spilling 10,000 gallons of oil a day and spreading petroleum up to 15 miles from the geyser. Thanks to oil income, Oklahoma City made it through the Depression fairly well; not so the rest of the state. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s drove thousands to flee, and resulted in a massive shanty town outside the city. World War II brought a resurge in prosperity, but by the 1960s the oil wells were drying up and Oklahoma City fell into decay. Efforts to revive the city were finally taking hold when, on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh committed what was then the single worst terrorist act in American history when he detonated a truck full of explosives in front of the Murrah Federal Building. The bombing killed 168 people, including 19 children, and stunned the community. In the years since the bombing, residents of Oklahoma City have worked to reclaim their town, and in particular to revitalize their downtown. A series of bond issues passed over the last decade has funded development in downtown and in the adjacent Bricktown neighborhood. The opening of the Oklahoma City National Memorial in April of 2000 was a move to transform the bombing site into a place of healing and reflection. Today downtown Oklahoma City and the surrounding neighborhoods are thriving again.