dissertation

How Many States in the State of Oklahoma?

Over on Twitter, one of my professors is requiring his students to Tweet about a course he’s teaching, on the rhetoric of space. I’m no longer in coursework, and haven’t been for a couple years now, but the Tweets are fascinating. Quite a bit of my dissertation deals with place, and exploring the idea of ethnicity as determined by place.

Half of the project is rooted in Oklahoma, and the other half in New Mexico. There are many other portions of the project that will develop later, all of them rooted in different places, and the literature and art that comes out of those places.

So, when the professor Tweeted:

 

 

This last Tweet got me to thinking about my dissertation. While some of the countries contained within Oklahoma were designated after the time period I’m examining, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that Oklahoma has always been a place of transit, a place in a continual state of flux. Oklahoma has been No Man’s Land, a place out beyond the reach of the Law back when it was the frontier, the borderland, the Wild Wild West. It’s been Indian Country, and still is, though the dominant name right now is that of the Chickasaw Nation (thanks in part to their advertising campaigns). It’s been Cherokee Country, too, and depending on what part, Osage Country as well. Now, the state thinks it’s divided between Sooner Country and Cowboy Country, if you let the world of college football determine boundary lines and the naming of places for you.

Sooner Country and Cowboy Country, though, carry a deeper meaning with them than sports. The Sooners and the Cowboys, names that signify the divide between the land owners and farmers (the Sooners) and cowboys and cattle ranchers (Cowboys) also signify the settlers that were given land that had not yet been allotted to Native Americans–land, it should be noted, that belonged to Native Americans, because it was in the designated Indian Territory.

And of course, there’s oil country–also deeply connected with the history of allotment and the Reservation system, as the oil leases were part of the motivating factor behind the government’s desire to break up the Reservations into allotted lands.

And then, in John Joseph Mathews book Wah’kon-tah: The Osage and the White Man’s Road (1929), he makes a distinction between “the States” and the Reservation. Countries within countries, or, rather, a country surrounding countries.

So, how many countries does the state of Oklahoma contain? I’m not sure I can count them all.

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