Oklahoma History Timeline

By | May 12, 2022

UPDATE – On May 31, 2013, a series of tornadoes ravaged central Oklahoma once again, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

On May 20, 2013, a powerful F5 tornado struck the city of Moore, Oklahoma, leaving 24 confirmed dead (including schoolchildren) and hundreds of people injured in its path. The financial impact of the tornado and extensive property destruction is expected to exceed $US2 billion.

You knew? The city of Moore, Oklahoma was also damaged by significant tornadoes on October 4, 1998, May 3, 1999, May 8, 2003, May 10, 2010, and May 20, 2013. The May 3, 1999 tornado that hit Moore was rated F5 on the Fujita scale and was one of the most strongest (Probably the strongest single tornado ever) and the most destructive tornadoes in world history.

The tornado that occurred during the 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak had an approximate recorded wind speed of 320 mph (510 km/h), the highest speed on the first F-scale, suffered a 1-mile (1.6 km) wide destruction series at times, and 38 miles (60 km) long. It killed a total of 36 people in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

This was the deadliest F5 tornado recorded since the Delhi, Louisiana tornado in 1971, although several tornadoes since 2011 have eclipsed this mark, today’s tornado may change that statistic. We can only hope for the best.

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Oklahoma was home to the American Indians long before European explorers arrived, and one look at the Oklahoma flag – and a significant part of the state in the history of the Indians becomes quickly apparent.

And speaking of Europeans, the Spanish explorers Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and Hernando Desoto (in search of gold and other treasures) arrived in 1541.

At the end of the 17th century, the French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle boldly claimed all the land drained by the Mississippi River for France; then named by him “Louisiana Territory” in honor of its king, Louis XIV.

The French continued to develop their claims in the Americas, much to the dismay of the entrenched Spaniards, and for the next century this valuable land was alternately ruled by both countries.

In 1800, when the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte were moving across Europe, pressing Spain to the corner, the Louisiana Territory (New Orleans) and a huge chunk of land in the now central United States (including Oklahoma) were ceded to France by Spain through the treaty.

In 1803, with military pressures mounting, Napoleon approved the sale of the entire area to the United States in a deal called the Louisiana Purchase and the United States doubled in size almost overnight.

As settlers from America’s eastern cities spread west, this land we now call Oklahoma has remained (for the most part) Indian territory due to its isolated geographic location. Then in the early 19th century, American the government saw an opportunity to use this Indian Territory as a potential long term home for south Indians and for a long time they literally forced those Indians to migrate there.

History records this infamous part of America’s history, and especially the infamous migration known as the ” Trail of Tears “. The Cherokee Indians as well as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians (and others) were forced to migrate here, and countless Indians died during their rigorous journey.

The Oklahoma area was then officially established as Indian Territory and tribes began to settle in; they farmed the land, supported their families, and for the most part lived in peace as the treaties kept the white pioneers out of their new homeland for a brief moment in time.

Then the American Civil War , cattle movers moving north out of Texas, and railroad expansion quickly changed the status quo of the Indian; land greed took control as settlers (disregarding agreements) were approaching. In 1890 the US Congress established the Territory of Oklahoma and eventually Indian assets were greatly reduced – mostly stolen. In 1907, the Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory were combined to form Oklahoma.

Oklahoma (today) has the largest Indian population in the US, as over 60 tribes call it home; the Apache Indian chief Geronimo is buried here, and through his land, art and culture exhibits (not forgotten) are reflected in numerous historical sites and museums dedicated to the spirit of the Indian.

Today, after surviving the severe drought and depression of the 1930s, Oklahoma is a wonderful mix of modern cities, small towns, cattle ranches and farms, and the exciting, tangible cultures of a bygone day.

In 1995 , when a terrorist bomb killed 168 people in Oklahoma City, the world took notice. Through mourning and tears, Oklahoma and its resilient people have stood tall as they truly personify the enduring spirit of the United States of America.

Oklahoma timeline


  • (1682) French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle claimed Oklahoma France


  • (1803) US acquired most of Oklahoma from France in the Louisiana Purchase
  • (1830s – 1840s) Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole (called the Five Civilized Tribes) were forced to relocate from their homelands (by the US government) to Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory. Thousands of Native Americans died on the bloody marches into Oklahoma.
  • (1842) Indians leaving Seminole (from Florida) moved to Oklahoma
  • (1860s) After the civil war, because the Indians sided with the Confederacy, they faced ruin and forfeiture of their lands
  • (1870s) 25 more tribes moved to Oklahoma to live on federal lands
  • (1872) Railroad crossed Oklahoma and trade routes began to open
  • (1875) At the Battle of the Washita, George Custer defeated the remaining Indian forces, and broadly speaking the Indian wars ended
  • (1889) The American government opened all unassigned lands in Oklahoma to settlement and thousands of settlers crossed the frontier to stake their claims
  • (1890) Oklahoma Territory created, coexisted with Indian Territory


  • (1907) Oklahoma became a state
  • (1930s) Severe drought and national economic depression destroyed most Oklahoma farmers
  • (1959) The ban on alcohol was repealed in the state
  • (1971) McClellen-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System opened, connecting Tulsa (and Oklahoma) to the Mississippi River
  • (1990) Oklahoma became the first state to limit lawmakers’ terms
  • (1995) Terrorist bomb exploded the federal Murrah Building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and damaging hundreds more


  • (2001) Two Oklahoma State basketball players, six staffers, announcers contacted a team killed in a plane crash during a snowstorm in Colorado; Oklahoma City terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, executed
  • (2002) Two Oklahoma State basketball players, six staffers, announcers contacted a team killed in a plane crash during a snowstorm in Colorado; Oklahoma City terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, executed; 12 people killed when barge hit bridge caused collapse into Arkansas River on Interstate 40
  • (2004) Oklahoma City terrorist co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, found guilty on all counts
  • (2008) Tornado hit Picher killed six destroyed a 20-block area (clean-up efforts complicated by the city’s status as one of the most polluted sites in the country)
  • (2010) Tornadoes, downpours, killed two, injured hundreds, damaged more than 1,485 homes and businesses
  • (2011) Tornadoes struck several areas of the state, killing five

Oklahoma History