Today in History

Today in History: November 16

Oklahoma

Cheyenne Sun Dancer
Cheyenne Sun Dancer, Oklahoma, 1909.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

Oklahoma entered the Union as the forty-sixth state on November 16, 1907. Five days later, The Beaver Herald, the Beaver County Oklahoma newspaper, carried this news, reporting in the headline that “The Brightest Star in the Constellation Now Shines for the 46th State—Oklahoma.” The history of Oklahoma is tied to the early nineteenth-century use of this land for relocating the Native American population from the settled portions of the United States. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, May 30, 1830, authorizing land grants in this open prairie, west of the Mississippi, in exchange for Native American property to the east. Oklahoma became the migration destination of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee tribes as the federal government coerced these peoples to relocate. Known as the “five civilized tribes,” these Native Americans of the south and southeastern United States were forced west by the enormous land hunger of this period. By 1880, sixty tribes, had moved to Oklahoma where they created a government structure, landownership laws, and a thriving culture. Thus, the name Oklahoma is derived from the Choctaw Indian words "okla," meaning people, and "humma," meaning red.

In 1889 Congress opened part of the region, which the United States had acquired in 1803 under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase, to settlement by non-Native Americans. The Oklahoma Territory was organized in 1890. The new state of Oklahoma incorporated what remained of Indian Territory.

View of a house in a field from above
Home of Quanah Parker, near Cache, Okla.
History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library

Ben Stimmel was among the first non-Native Americans to take advantage of the opportunity to settle in the Oklahoma Territory. A native of Ohio, Stimmel had spent the 1880s mining gold in White Oaks, New Mexico. "We lived in White Oaks until September 1889," Stimmel recalled, "when we set out in a covered wagon drawn by four horses, to go to Oklahoma to buy a farm. We had two children and two hound pups."

They settled in Hennessy, Oklahoma, Stimmel remembered, "where we built up a real nice farm and lived for twenty five years." But on April 20, 1912, disaster struck:

A cyclone hit our farm. It took the roof off of our house, and destroyed our barn and all out buildings. We had a hundred Indian Runner ducks and after the storm we found them about half a mile from the house in a mud swamp, all dead. The family saw the cyclone coming and all got in the storm cellar. After the storm I salvaged what I could from the farm and left Oklahoma for Lincoln County, New Mexico, where they don't have cyclones. I have lived here ever since.

Ben Stimmel,
Carrizozo, New Mexico.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

Driving Cattle to Pasture
Driving Cattle to Pasture,
Bliss, Oklahoma Territory,
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., May 9, 1904.
America at Work, America at Leisure: Motion Pictures from 1894-1915

Oklahoma was devastated by the weather conditions of the 1930s. Thousands of families migrated west, out of the Dust Bowl, to take advantage of the opportunities that California afforded.

Two children on the rumble seat of a car
Oklahoma Refugees, California,
Dorothea Lange, photographer, February 1936.
Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

In the mid-1930s, Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Dorothea Lange traveled to Oklahoma to document the devastating effects of the Great Depression and seven-year drought, which had reduced the Southern Great Plains to a "Dust Bowl" unsuitable for farming. Lange's work includes numerous images of Oklahoma farm families in and en route to California in search of a better life.

The popular image of this plains state changed with the premiere of the musical Oklahoma in 1943.

Thumbnail image of Richard Rodgers
Richard Rodgers (seated at piano) and Oscar Hammerstein II,
The Richard Rodgers Collection,
Music Division, Library of Congress

Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) collaborated on some of the most popular musical comedies of the twentieth century. This joint effort, the 1943 production Oklahoma, was set in Oklahoma Territory near Claremore in 1906, and focused on a young cowboy and his sweetheart.

Learn more about the history of Oklahoma in American Memory:

The Oahu Railway

Oahu, Hawaiian Islands
Hawaiian Government Survey…,
C. J. Lyons,
1881.
Map Collections

On November 16, 1889, the Oahu Railway and Land Company (OR&L) began operating on Hawai`i's third largest island, Oahu. The brainchild of Massachusetts native Benjamin Franklin Dillingham, the railroad made it possible to move agricultural products from inland to port, stimulating the local economy and providing a valuable transportation route for decades.

Dillingham arrived in Hawai`i in 1865 as first mate of the sailing ship Whistler. Prevented by a fractured leg from returning to sea, Dillingham made Oahu his home and began investing in its future. Within four years, he was a partner in a local hardware company supplying goods for the growing sugar industry. Dillingham also invested in a dairy business. He was interested in real estate, but failed to raise the money to purchase the land for speculation. In 1888, Dillingham obtained a concession from the Hawai`i legislature to build the OR&L and succeeded in raising the money to build this venture. He scheduled the opening of the short line-railway, which originally ran nine miles, to coincide with the birthday of Hawaiian King Kalakaua.

Early revenues for the OR&L were meager, but as Dillingham had foreseen, the railway's presence stimulated land sales and new agricultural ventures,  including pineapple and sugar plantations. By the early 1900s, the expanded 160-mile railway cut across the island, serving several sugar plantations, pineapple farms, and the popular Haleiwa Hotel. As Oahu's pineapple, sugar, and tourism industries grew, profits for Dillingham's railway followed suit.

Honolulu
The Port City of Honolulu,
c1913.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

An additional, and significant, source of revenue for the OR&L came from passenger fares to and from the U.S. Army's Schofield Barracks near the center of the island. From 1909 until the late 1930s, and again during World War II, the OR&L transported troops across Oahu, which had few cars and often shoddy roads. After World War II, the railway's fortunes changed as passenger revenues plummeted and trucks began taking over the agricultural business. The OR&L abandoned service outside Honolulu and its harbor in 1947. In 1972, it closed its remaining service to the Iwilei canneries and docks. The OR&L right-of-way and terminal are on the state and National Register of Historic Places.

Learn more about the Oahu Railway and Land Company in Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers. Search on Oahu Railway to find items such as “Railway Systems of the Hawaiian Islands”, Evening bulletin. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii) 1895-1912, November 30, 1901, Evening Bulletin Industrial Edition, Image 8.

Learn more about America's railways in American Memory:

American Memory collections contain rich resources on Hawaii: