Hardships and Small Comforts: The Lives of Oklahoma’s First Settlers

Hardships and Small Comforts: The Lives of Oklahoma’s First Settlers

Oklahoma is a thriving Southwestern state with almost 4 million people living in its borders. It’s a land that mixes stunning natural beauty and the modernization of the 21st century. But little more than 130 years ago, Oklahoma didn’t even exist. Instead, it was a vast land that the United States government at the time had labeled “Unassigned Lands” and given to the Native Americans for their use.

People considered this large section of the country unsuited for habitation, and the populace at the time largely ignored it. It wasn’t until 1889, with new legislature and advancements in agricultural technology, that a huge number of pioneers would flow into the territory to sow the seeds of present-day Oklahoma.

The Boomers and the Sooners

Today, the state contains idyllic communities of excellent real estate properties and beautiful natural landscapes. In the 19th century, the United States government thought the land was unacceptable for homesteaders and left it alone. However, new methods of ranching and farming opened the eyes of people to the bounties the territory could produce. The public’s interest in the area grew, and the pressure made President Benjamin Harrison agree to open it for pioneers.

The president opened 1.9 million acres of the land for new inhabitants. Anyone could stake new claims in the enormous area, but they could only enter it at noon on April 22, 1889. On that day, over 50,000 pioneers waited with their caravans, horses, and families at entry points into the territory. These pioneers were nicknamed “Boomers,” and they would become the bulk of the population of Oklahoma. A lot of people didn’t wait until the appointed day, though, and had surreptitiously entered Oklahoma beforehand. People called these impatient settlers “Sooners,” and the name eventually became part of the state’s nickname.

plant growing from soil

Toiling for Tomorrow

Life for Boomers and Sooners was difficult. They suffered necessary hardships for the foundation of their new lives and the state to come.

The settlers built their homes out of raw timber. These one-room structures were tough to keep warm in winter even with a fireplace, and their larger two-story counterparts weren’t much of an improvement. In summer, insects and pests would crawl in through the innumerable gaps between the logs, and the grease paper covering the houses’ windows, if a house had windows at all, offered little protection against bugs or wind.

Families with up to 15 children shared these structures. Aside from the tumult such living conditions brought on, feeding these many mouths were the first order of business for the pioneers. They smoked and salted pork in sheds to put meat on their table. They supplemented this with wild game like turkey, geese, and deer. Cleaning and dismembering these animals was a lengthy process, but it filled their bellies.

But the pioneers primarily labored to make the land yield crops. This was a difficult process since Oklahoma soil is rich with clay. They had to clear the grass from their land, plowed the land with what farm implements they had. Then they grew food to feed themselves and whatever produce they could sell in bulk to see them through the year. These products include forage sorghum, cane, and eventually cotton. The land was rich and would yield bountiful harvests when the seasons were cooperative.

The first settlers of Oklahoma carried the spirit of exploration and pioneering that had driven the country to the continent’s borders. They soldiered on into the unknown to forge a future and toiled for a better tomorrow. The strength and determination of the Boomers and the Sooners were what made Oklahoma grow into the place it is today.