Oklahomas Statehood Coincided Exactly

Goble, Ph.D. Danny. "Oklahomas Statehood Coincided Exactly." Norman Transcript, 10 January 2007.

Oklahomas statehood coincided exactly with the zenith of foreign immigration to America. The year 1907 marked both Oklahomas admission to the union and the one-year record for immigration into America.

Although coincidental, the convergence was anything but irrelevant. Roughly one of every twelve new Oklahomans in 1907 were foreign-born or born here of immigrant parents. Even though auto tags identify Oklahoma as Native America, the fact is that the two together totaled 130,430 nearly double the new states 74,825 Native Americans.

Historical circumstances multiplied the effect. One was that most of Oklahomas foreign-born had arrived from a handful of nations, seven at the most. Atop that, the immigrants usually collected into a few identifiable regions.

Consider the new states largest single immigrant group. Oklahomas first decennial federal census, taken in 1910, calculated that more than a quarter of Oklahomas foreign-born population were German-born. Most made their homes in just a few of the states centrally located counties. One in ten lived in Oklahoma County, and neighboring but less populous Canadian County had the states highest percentage of German-birth. Like most of foreign birth for that matter, like most of the American-born Germans scattered anywhere and everywhere there was fertile soil to farm, but a surprising number of them preferred city life, such as it was. How many? Just under a tenth of Oklahomas German-born population in 1910 lived in
one of three cities: Oklahoma City, El Reno or Enid.

At its statehood, Oklahoma was also home to second group generally thought of as German, if not by officers of the United States Bureau of the Census then by practically everyone else, themselves included. Census-takers designated them Russian-born, and they were, literally. Geographically they were as well, since they originated from at least six distinct nationalities within the vast Russian Empire. In every other respect, however, they were German, sharing a common German culture and language.

In Europe that scarcely mattered and had not for a century or more. Determined to fill vast, almost empty regions with hardy farming stock, Russian Czars had offered the lure of both land and autonomy.

Soon, a string of self-contained, German-speaking colonies stretched from Bessarabia to the middle Volga. Having successfully colonized the region, the Imperial Czar then resolved to Russianize it as well. Year by year, the drive to stamp out German culture worsened. Year by year, more fled, most to farm Americas Great Plains.

Those who settled Oklahomas Plains consisted almost entirely of two approximately equal groups. About half of 4,300 so-called Germans from Russia were Mennonites. The first arrived in 1891, for the opening of the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation.

Two years later, others jostled among the thousands in the great run for homesteads in the Cherokee Outlet. Almost as many of these Germans from Russia were Lutherans. Religious differences aside, the demographic consequences were similar. Some Lutheran settlements concentrated near Okeene, others in southern Noble or northern Payne counties. Most dense was the area in Ellis County, around Shattuck. Out there, one resident in six was Russian-born and German-speaking.

The coal fields within the old Choctaw Nation produced communities notable either for their ethnic diversity or their homogeneity, depending upon how and where one looked. In the 1870s, Welsh-, Scot-, Irish-, and English-born miners poured into Indian Territory, most indirectly, after years spent working in Pennsylvanias declining fields. Italians, Lithuanians, Slovaks, Poles,
Hungarians, and Russians joined them starting in the 1880s.

Some of these, too, were veterans of eastcoast fields. Others came straight from Europe. Thus, some mining communities became polyglot communities, among them McAlester and Wilburton. Others sprang up as something of a Little Italy (Krebs, most notably) or Little Russia. One, Hartshorne, still maintains one of the few and oldest Russian Orthodox Churches to be found west of the Mississippi and south of Alaska.

Shortly after Oklahomas statehood, tides of European immigration slowed to barely a trickle. World War I temporarily shut it down. Out of the reactionary peace that followed came the nations first, tightly restrictive quota system. The first was enacted in 1921, an even tighter one three years thereafter.

The Great Depression then nailed the coffin shut. But no coffin can bury historical fact. The state of Oklahoma owes very much to very many, not the least to those who left everything they knew to search for things of which they could only dream. What they found, they found in Oklahoma. Both those peoples and the state are much richer for it.

(Note: Oklahoma Reflections is produced in cooperation with Danney Goble, Ph.D., a professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma and a noted author of history. The art was produced specifically for this series by Carolyn Chandler, an artist and illustrator of 45 years, who now resides in Norman and specializes in oil painting.)

Reprinted with permission of the Norman Transcript.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller