There are plenty of people here in Oklahoma. You might recognize a few: Troy Aikman, Jim Thorpe, Woody Guthrie, Shawntel Smith, Paul Harvey, Leslie Nielson, Ron Howard, and a whole slew of astronauts, including Thomas Stafford, Gordon Cooper, and Wiley Post.

This Okie is sick and tired of the disparaging remarks posted about Oklahoma. Okies are not ignorant hillbillies, and we do get more TV stations that just the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Yes, the tornadoes are bad, but not as bad as the weather in California.

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Note: This post was put up in response to a disparaging post about Okies that is no longer here.
Upon my arrival in Oklahoma City for the 1999 Student Forum of the United Methodist Student Movement, I immediately thought it reminded me of Texas… same landscape, very similar accent, plenty of Dallas Morning News newspaper stands all over OKC, the works. Scale was the only significant difference I could tell from my earlier visits to Texas -- yes, everything's bigger in Texas. Otherwise, though, same kind of place.

It seems, though, that calling their state North Texas is one of the easiest ways to piss off an Oklahoman. Fortunately, I found this out before making that mistake live and in color.

The final track of Dan Bern's six-song EP, dog boy van, "Oklahoma" probably came as a surprise to anybody with only a superficial knowledge of the folksinger who once called himself Bernstein. Although Bern/stein is probably best known for irreverent, thought-provoking tunes like "Marilyn", "No Missing Link", and the album- and show-opening "Jerusalem" and "Tiger Woods", there's a deep and caring political consciousness to his work as well: there's punch behind his punchlines, so to speak. "Oklahoma" is perhaps the ultimate one-shot retort to anyone who claims Bern/stein only writes silly songs.

Lyrics (reproduced here by permission):

On the 19th day of April
In 1995

There was the worst car bombing
Near 200 people died

In Oklahoma City
On Wednesday nine o'clock
They struck the federal building
Took out near half the block

They thought it was an earthquake
Made trees and lightpoles bend
And folks thought they were seeing
The world about to end

It blew the building open
It lay there like a wound
Twisted pipes and wires
Silent like a tomb

Yeah, they blew the building open
And blew folks lives apart
Firefighters mumbling
And wondering where to start

They rushed out some survivors
But soon could only cry
And place the dead in caskets
And ask the dear lord why

Prayer for the missing
For daughters and for sons
Prayers for the souls of those
Who'd never heard a one

Kevin Small was lucky
His clock needed repair
He overslept an hour
His three-year old son was spared

But for too many others
The news was not so bright
One baby got her picture in the paper
Then she died

The President, he promised
They'd pay dearly for the blast
and all across the country
Flags were flying at half mast

Shock soon turned to anger
"Who would do this?" people said
And everyone suspicious
Had a price upon their head

They thought it was some Arabs
And folks began to scream
"First tighten up the borders
Then hang 'em from a tree

This proves what we've been saying
'Bout our fair and gentle land
Nobody who did this
Could be an American"

The FBI got busy
Some drawings and some names
And everyone was looking
For someone else to blame

Some 50 hours later
Early Friday day
They found the man they wanted
In jail ten miles away

A so-called right extremist
A patriot government foe
An expert on explosions
And white as driven snow

When people heard the news they found it
Hard to understand
How could such a murderer
Come from our own land

But when we build walls and borders
From fear and hate and guns
The hatred turns around and
Strikes at everyone

Maybe now we'll understand
Maybe now we'll see
Superpatriots are seldom
Friends of you and me

They're scared and weak and cowards
And they think that with their guns
The ones they're most afraid of
Will turn around and run

But when we stand strong together
And let love enjoy its will
Misfortune can't defeat us
It makes us stronger still

Like on the 19th day of April
In 1995
A day all Oklahomans will
Remember all their lives

Dan Bern and Chris Chandler


On a more personal note, I had this song stuck in my head for most of September 11, 2001. My most distinct memory of the Oklahoma City bombing is my boyfriend at the time telling me, "They bombed us" and not understanding what he meant, and later being relieved that he was wrong --- the threat had come from within: "they" had turned out to be one of "us". Similarly, when my parents called me early in the morning of 9/11, it took awhile for their words to register, but unfortunately, once the story of that morning's disaster set in, there was to be no relief. I can clearly remember hoping that the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks would turn out to be domestic terrorism, so that we wouldn't have to go to war. Later that month, Bern/stein's album New American Language was released, and provided me with another lyric that encapsulated my fears: "We might get to see World War III by Thanksgiving Day..."

Oklahoma, the 46th state, was granted statehood in 1907. It was originally known as "Indian territory" due to it being the place where the Five Civilized Tribes were forcibly relocated to in the late 1830s. These tribes were originally from the Southwest, and their tragic forced migration is what we know as the "Trail of Tears". Eventually Oklahoma was home to 67 tribes. Today, Oklahoma is still home to the largest Indian population in the United States, with over 250,000 Native Americans living there. Thirty nine tribes have tribal headquarters in Oklahoma, including the Cherokee, the Seminoles, the Choctaw, the Delawares, and the Creek. The name "Oklahoma' comes from the Choctaw words okla- meaning people, and humma-meaning red.

Oklahoma has been inhabited for over 11,000 years according to mammoth bones found containing spear points near Andarko. From 500 AD to 1300 AD an advanced civilization known as the Spiro Mound Builders lived there. The first written history of Oklahoma comes from Coronado who passed through the area in 1541 on his search for the Golden City. At that time plains indians, including the Osage, the Kiowa, the Commanche, and the Apache lived in the area.

When Oklahoma became Indian Territory, the tribes were given treaties promising that the land would be theirs "for as long as the grass grows and the water flows". Ranchers from Texas, however, when moving their cattle along the Chisolm Trail realized that the land in Indian Territory was lush and also much closer to the railroads where they shipped their cattle to market. They began to lobby for making some of the land available, and in 1889 the first "Land Rush" happened, when a large piece of land known as the "Cherokee Strip" became available for homesteaders. On the day of the Land Rush, over 100,000 homesteaders lined up along 165 miles of the Kansas border, waiting for the gun to go off at noon. When the appointed hour came, the settlers raced to grab a stake from the center of 640-acre homesteads. This initial rush was followed by others in 18891, 1893, and 1895. There were certain individuals who grabbed their stakes early, some legally and some illicitly. These people were known as "Sooners", and even today Oklahoma is known as the "Sooner State".

Oklahoma is a beautiful state, being composed of approximately 25% forest, and having 4 mountain ranges within its borders. It has more man made lakes than any other state, an area totaling over one million acres. The shorelines of these lakes add up to more miles than the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf Coast shorelines of the rest of the United States.

Oklahoma can be one of the most, beautiful, dull, friendly or backward of places, depending on your point of view (and what you want out of a place, like most places really).

I've been through certain stages since I moved here a year ago from the UK: At first I was just blown away, rubbernecking all over the place. I'd never seen light so golden during the early morning and evening (the song in the musical "Oklahoma" being absolutely correct). The land, unbelievably flat to one used to the rolling English Countryside, seemed at first awe-inspiringly vast.

After a while though it got painful on the eyes, and I began seeing it more as a grassy desert, endless featureless and blank for mile upon mile, with the odd exception, (the tiny Arbuckle Mountains for example, a brief break in the monotony on the drive down I-35 from Oklahoma City to Dallas).

But in the end, as I grew accustomed to actually living in this state, I began to realise that it's not all bad. It's flat as a place can be without being polished, not recommended for agoraphobics and the horizon can seem distant, but the sky is so immensely huge and bright, the sunsets so apocalyptically gorgeous I have to admit I'm falling for it again.

It was the same with the people here. When I first turned up I was welcomed with typical Southern hospitality (I know it's not technically "The South" but as a foreigner it's damn hard to tell) and practically everywhere I turned was someone commenting on my "lovely" accent or trying to feed me cow-meat of some description. Wonderful!

Then I heard about some of the simply stupid laws here, the fact that guns are owned and used by a huge number of people, hunting is practiced with bloodthirsty fervour and that cock-fighting, something most Europeans bar perhaps the Spanish, regard as barbaric and evil, is still legal here. Suddenly I was amongst savages in a society I simply couldn't understand.

Later it was explained to me that the people who settled this place were still hunting their food into the last century. In my European arrogance I'd forgotten that we'd had plumbing since the Romans, and that these people who look as European as I do probably had great-grand-parents who'd lived a far rougher, tougher lifestyle than mine, producing a far rougher culture than the one I was used to.

Even later still I realised that most people my age or less here don't approve of the guns/hunting/cock-fighting either and that given time this, frankly, infant society will reform and adapt.

And still they're a generally friendlier, warmer people than any population I know of in America or Europe, (especially in the UK)...

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