Oklahoma, the forty-sixth state to be admitted to the Union, is bounded on the north by Colorado and Kansas, on the east by Arkansas and Missouri, on the south by the Red River separating it from Texas, and on the west by Texas and New Mexico. It includes what was formerly Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory, lying in the south central division of the United States between 33° and 37° North lat. and between 94° and 103° West long. Its extreme length from north to south is about 210 miles, and from east to west about 450 miles. Its has an area of 73,910 square miles. Oklahoma is bountifully blessed with streams, although, exactly speaking, there is not a navigable stream in the state. The rivers flow from the north-west to the south-east. With the exception of the mountain districts the entire surface of the state is just rolling enough to render its scenery beautiful. The climate is delightful. Escaping as it does the extremes of heat and cold, it is fitted for agricultural purposes even during the winter season. An irregular chain of knobs or buttes, entering Oklahoma from Missouri and Arkansas on the east, extends through the southern part of the state to the western boundary, in a manner connecting the Ozark range with the eastern plateau of the Rocky Mountains. The groups, as they range westward across the state, are the Kiamichi, Arbuckle, and Wichita Mountains and the Antelope Hills. The highest mountain, 2600 feet above sea-level, is the Sugar Loaf peak.
The report of the government census bureau relative to the special census of Oklahoma, taken in 1907, shows that the State had in that year a total population of 1,414,177, of whom 733,062 lived in what was prior to statehood called the Indian Territory. There were 1,226,930 whites; 112,160 negroes; 75,012 Indians. Since 1907 the influx of people has been enormous. The white people in Oklahoma represent every nationality, having come from every state in the union and from every country since the opening in 1889.
The value of the agricultural output for 1907 was $231,512,903. The principal crops are cotton, corn, and wheat, the production in 1908 being as follows: cotton 492,272 bales; corn 95,230,442 bushels; wheat 17,017,887 bushels. In that year Oklahoma ranked sixth in cotton production, eighth in corn, thirteenth in wheat, and first in petroleum products. The oil fields of Oklahoma are now the most productive in the world, there being produced in 1908, 50,455,628 barrels. In 1909 the production of natural gas amounted to 54,000,000,000 cubic feet. Coal has been mined extensively for a number of years; the production in 1909 was 3,092,240 tons, the number of men employed in this one industry being 14,580. Gold, lead, zinc, asphalt, gypsum, and other minerals are mined in paying quantities. Oklahoma has deposits of Portland cement-stone that are said to be inexhaustible. There are two large cement mills in the state, each operating with a capacity of 5000 barrels per day. In 1908 there were 5,695.36 miles of railway in the state, exclusive of yard tracks and sidings; the total taxable valuation of same amounted to $174,649,682. During the year beginning 1 July, 1907, and ending 30 June, 1908, there were built in Oklahoma 107.89 miles of railroad. There are thirteen railroad companies operating in the state.
The State University, located at Norman, was founded in 1892 by an act of the legislature of the Territory of Oklahoma. The value of the university lands is estimated at $3,670,000. For 1908-9 the number of teachers in the institution was 84; enrollment was 790. Other state institutions are three normal schools, located at Edmond, Alva, and Weatherford; the Agricultural and Mechanical College at Stillwater; the university preparatory school at Tonkawa; a school for the deaf at Sulpher; an institute for the blind at Wagoner; the Whitaker Orphans' Home in Pryor Creek; five district agricultural schools, one in each judicial district of the state. There were about 10,000 teachers employed in the public schools of the state, 1908-9, the enrolment of students being about 400,000; the total appropriation for educational purposes during this time was about $500,000.
In 1540 Francisco Vasque de Coronado, commanding 300 Spaniards, crossed with Indian guides the Great Plains region to the eastward and northward from Mexico. In the course of their journey these Spaniards were the first white men to set foot on the soil of Oklahoma. Coronado traversed the western part of what is now Oklahoma, while at the same time de Soto discovered and partially explored the eastern portion of the state. In 1611 a Spanish expedition was sent east to the Wichita Mountains. From that time on until 1629, Padre Juan de Sales and other Spanish missionaries laboured among the tribes of that region. La Salle in 1682 took possession of the territory, of which the State of Oklahoma is now a part, in the name of Louis XIV, and in honour of that monarch named it Louisiana. Prior to the Louisiana Purchase, Bienville, accompanied by Washington Irving, had visited and related the wonderful beauty of the region now known as Oklahoma. In 1816 the Government conceived the project of dividing the region now embraced in the state into Indian reservations. This plan was carried out, but at the close of the Civil War the Seminoles, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws were induced to transfer back to the Government 14,000,000 acres of this land at 15 to 30 cents per acre. Of these lands the Oklahoma that was opened to settlement in 1889, by proclamation of the President of the United States, embraced 1,392,611 acres ceded by the Creeks, and 495,094 acres ceded by the Seminoles in 1866. The lands so ceded were the western portions of their reservations, including Oklahoma ("the home of the red man"). The Government's object in obtaining the lands was to "colonize friendly Indians and freedom thereon". Captain David L. Payne and his "boomers" declared the territory was thus public land and open to the squatter-settlement. Payne and his followers made several attempts to settle on Oklahoma soil, but the United States troops drove out the colonists. Much credit is due Payne and his followers for their many attempts at colonization; for they caused the lands of Oklahoma to be opened for white settlement. Finally in 1888 the Springer Bill, which provided for the opening of Oklahoma to settlement, although defeated in the senate, opened the way to partial success, and in Congress it was attached as a rider to the Indian Appropriation Bill, and was thus carried. On 2 March, 1889, the Bill opening Oklahoma was signed by President Cleveland; and on 22 March, President Harrison issued the proclamation that the land would be opened to settlement at 12 o'clock noon, 22 April, 1889. The day previous to the opening it was estimated that ten thousand people were at Arkansas City awaiting the signal. Large numbers were also at Hunnewell, Caldwell, and other points along the south line of Kansas. Fifteen trains carried people into the territory from Arkansas City that morning. On foot, horseback, in wagons, and carriages people entered the promised land all along the Kansas border. Other thousands entered Oklahoma from the south, crossing the South Canadian at Purcell. The town of Lexington was perhaps the first village established. Two million acres of land were thrown open to settlement and on that eventful day cities and towns and a new commonwealth were created in a wilderness within twenty-four hours. On 6 June, 1890, Congress created the Territory of Oklahoma with six original counties. Nineteen other counties were from time to time created prior to statehood by the various acts of Congress which provided for the opening of different Indian reservations within the territory. On 16 September, 1893, the Cherokee Strip was opened for settlement. This was a strip of land extending from the Cherokee Nation west to "No Man's Land" and Texas, being about 58 miles wide and containing an area of 6,014,293 acres. This had once been guaranteed to the Cherokee Indians as a perpetual hunting outlet to the western border of the United States. The last great opening in Oklahoma occurred in December, 1906, when 505,000 acres of land, which had been reserved from the Comanche and Apache lands for pasturage, were sold in tracts of 160 acres to the highest bidders by the Government. In this wise 2500 farms were opened to white settlement.
Oklahoma and Indian Territories became a state on 16 November, 1907. On 20 November, 1906, pursuant to the enabling act passed by Congress, the constitutional convention assembled at Guthrie and closed its labours on 6 July, 1907. The constitution was adopted by a vote of the people on 17 September, 1907, and at the same election the officers of the new state were elected. The inauguration was held in Guthrie on 16 November, 1907.
When the Congress of the United States passed what is known as the enabling act, enabling the people of Oklahoma and of Indian Territory to form a constitution and be admitted to the Union, it was provided in said act: "That perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured and that no inhabitant of the State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship and that polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited". The Constitution of the State provides for the freedom of worship in the same language as quoted above but provides further: "No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights". Under the statute law of Oklahoma it is a misdemeanour for any one to attempt, by means of threats or violence, to compel any person to adopt, practise, or profess any particular form of religious belief. It is also a crime under the law for any person to wilfully prevent, by threats or violence, another person from performing any lawful act enjoined upon or recommended to such person by the religion which he professes. Every person who wilfully disturbs, interrupts, or disquiets any assemblage of people met for religious worship, by uttering profane discourse, or making unnecessary noise within or near the place of meeting, or obstructing the free passage to such place of religious meeting, is guilty of a misdemeanour. The laws of Oklahoma provide that: "The first day of the week being by very general consent set apart for rest and religious uses, the law makes a crime to be done on that day certain acts deemed useless and serious interruptions of the repose and religious liberty of the community"; and the following are the acts forbidden on Sunday: servile labour; public sports; trades, manufacturing and mechanical employments; public traffic; serving process, unless authorized by law so to do.
Oaths can be administered only by certain judicial officers and their clerks authorized by law, and persons conscientiously opposed to swearing are allowed merely to affirm but are amenable to the penalties of perjury. Oaths can be taken only when authorized by law. Under the state law blasphemy consists in wantonly uttering or publishing words, casting contumelious reproach or profane ridicule upon God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Holy Scripture, or the Christian or any other religion. Blasphemy is a misdemeanour. Profane swearing as defined by the state law is: "Any use of the name of God, or Jesus Christ, or the Holy Ghost either in imprecating divine vengeance upon the utterer or any other person, or in light, trifling or irreverent speech." It is punishable by fine, for each offence. It is customary to convene the Legislature of the State with prayer, but the law makes no provision for it. Every Sunday and Christmas are legal holidays. There is no statute law regarding the seal of confession, nor has there ever been a decision of the Supreme Court regarding it. Churches may be incorporated under the laws of Oklahoma and the greatest latitude is given such corporations. They may own or hold as much real property as is necessary for the objects of the association, may sell or mortgage property, and the title to any property held by any bishop in trust for the use and benefit of such congregation shall be vested in his successor or successors in office. The law provides for a fee of $2.00 to the Secretary of State for incorporating any religious corporation. All the property and mortgages on property used exclusively for religious or charitable purposes are exempt from taxation. The clergy are exempt from jury and military service under the laws of the state.
Any unmarried male of the age of twenty-one or upwards and any unmarried female of the age of eighteen or upwards, if not related by blood nearer than second cousins, are capable of contracting and consenting to marriage. The contracting parties are required to secure a licence after filing an application sworn to before the county judge by a person legally competent to make and take oath. The marriage ceremony may be solemnized by any judge, justice of the peace, or any priest or clergyman. The minister is required to make the proper indorsement on the licence and transmit same to the county judge. All Indian marriages, under Indian customs, prior to 1897 have been declared legal and all Indian divorces among Indians, according to their customs, prior to that year have been declared legal. Since 1897 Indians have had to comply with the laws of the state regarding marriage and divorce. Prior to 1893 the law required a residence of only ninety days in order to file petition for a divorce. The state laws now require a residence of one year prior to filing petition and there are ten grounds or causes upon which a divorce may be granted, such as abandonment, extreme cruelty, drunkenness, adultery, impotency, gross neglect of duty etc. A judgment of divorce is final and conclusive and operates as a dissolution of the marriage contract as to both husband and wife. Neither party to the divorce can marry within six months from the date of the decree.
Prior to statehood the sale of liquor in the Indian Territory was prohibited by United States law. Oklahoma Territory was not governed by that law and liquor was sold in all parts of Oklahoma. The enabling act that Congress passed provided for statewide prohibition and the constitutional convention made provision for a prohibitory clause which was voted upon by the people of the state, but voted upon separately from the constitution. The prohibition clause carried, and since statehood Oklahoma has been a prohibition state. The new state has begun to construct modern buildings for its prisons and reformatories, and has passed many laws for regulation of same. A law that was enacted and included in the constitution provided for the office of commissioner of charities and corrections, and since statehood the office has been filled by a Catholic woman.
The laws regarding wills and testaments in this state differ very little from the general statutory provisions of other states. Property can be devised practically any way that the testator desires; there is no bar to charitable bequests and the law requires that the property be distributed according to the intention of the party making the bequest. Cemetery corporations may hold real property, not exceeding eight acres, for the sole purpose of a burial ground and are given all the powers necessary to carry out the purposes of the corporation, and any cemetery organized or controlled by any fraternal organization or congregation shall be controlled and managed as provided by their rules and by-laws. All the property so held is wholly exempt from taxation, assessments, lien, attachment, and sale upon execution.
What is now the Diocese of Oklahoma was formerly the Vicariate Apostolic of Indian Territory. The diocese comprises the entire State of Oklahoma. Prior to the opening of Oklahoma in 1889 there were only a few missions and scarcely any churches. At the present time (1910) there are within the state 53 churches with resident priests and 71 missions with churches, 300 stations attended occasionally and 12 chapels, 60 secular priests and 34 Benedictines, 14 of whom are in the missions. The Benedictine Fathers were the first missionaries and they established themselves at Sacred Heart Abbey in Pottawatomie County in 1880. The first prefect-Apostolic was the Rt. Rev. Isidore Robot, O.S.B., his appointment dating from 1877. Catholicism in Oklahoma owes much to his persevering efforts. A native of France, he introduced the Benedictine order in the Indian country, choosing the home of the Pottawatomie Indians as the centre of his missionary labours. At this time a few Catholics other than the Pottawatomie and Osage Indians were scattered over this vast country. Soon after Robot's appointment as prefect Apostolic he had the foundations of Sacred Heart College and St. Mary's Academy well established, the latter under the care of the Sisters of Mercy. These institutions have grown and prospered. Father M. Bernard Murphy was the first American to join the Benedictine order and from 1877 was the constant companion and co-worker of Father Robot until the latter's death. Father Robot fulfilled his charge well and laid a solid foundation upon which others were to build as the great state developed. He died 15 February, 1887, and his humble grave is in the little Campo Santo at Sacred Heart Abbey. Well did he say: "Going, I went forth weeping, sowing the word of God; coming, they will come rejoicing, bearing the sheaves."
The second prefect Apostolic was Rt. Rev. Ignatius Jean, O.S.B., whose appointment followed immediately after the death of Father Robot. Father Jean resigned in April, 1890. From the coming of Father Robot, Oklahoma and Indian Territories had been a prefecture Apostolic, but by the Bull of 29 May, 1891, it was erected into a vicariate Apostolic. The Right Rev. Bishop Meerschaert was the first vicar Apostolic of Indian Territory, being consecrated in Natchez, Miss. On 23 August, 1905, by a brief of Pius X the vicariate was erected into the Diocese of Oklahoma with the see in Oklahoma City. Prior to this time the see had been in Guthrie. The Right Reverend Bishop Theophile Meerschaert, the first Bishop of Oklahoma, was born at Roussignies, Belgium. He studied at the American College, Louvain, Belgium, finishing his course there. Coming to America in 1872 he laboured in the Diocese of Natchez, Miss., until 1891. By his example and his labours he has endeared himself to his own flock, and also to fair-minded non-Catholics. When his administration began, his labours were difficult and perplexing; he was compelled to travel long distances and weary miles on horseback, railroad facilities being very meagre and accommodations poor. In those days Mass was celebrated many times in dugouts, no house being available, and churches were very few and only in the larger towns. Development has come with the multitudes of people who have come to this new country to make homes, bringing with them the best ideas of the old states from which they came. The labours of the bishop have been manifold on account of the great influx of people, but the Church has kept pace with all the other developments under his guidance and perseverance, until at the present time (1910) there are within the diocese about 32,000 Catholics and 86 priests (22 from Belgium, 12 from Holland, 15 from France, 12 from Germany, 3 from Ireland, 1 from Canada, 1 Indian, and 20 American priests). The majority of these priests were educated at Louvain, Strasburg, or Rome. There are two parishes for non-English speaking Catholics in the diocese, one Polish at Harrah and one German at Okarche. The parochial schools are conducted by both Brothers and Sisters, some few by lay-teachers. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart and the Christian Brothers have schools within the diocese. The sisterhoods within the diocese are: Sisters of Mercy (mother-house in Oklahoma City), Sisters of Divine Providence (mother-house in San Antonio, Texas), Sisters of St. Francis, Sisters of St. Benedict, and Sisters of the Precious Blood. There are thirty-six schools for white children, fifteen for Indians, two for coloured children; thirty-six parishes with schools; one industrial school; two colleges for boys: St. Joseph's College at Muskogee, under the direction of Brothers of the Sacred Heart, and the College of the Sacred Heart under the direction of the Benedictine Fathers. There are eight academies for young ladies, the principal ones being Mt. St. Mary's Academy at Oklahoma City conducted by the Sisters of Mercy and the academy at Guthrie conducted by the Benedictine Sisters. There is one seminary for students of the Benedictine order. There are in the diocese 14 Benedictine Brothers, 5 Christian Brothers, 8 Brothers of the Sacred Heart, and 234 Sisters in the various congregations. The novitiates are: Sisters of Mercy at Oklahoma City, Benedictine Sisters at Guthrie, and Benedictine Fathers at Sacred Heart. St. Anthony's Hospital at Oklahoma City is conducted by the Sisters of St. Francis.
Oklahoma City, the metropolis, with a population of about 65,000 (1910) has one church, St. Joseph's Cathedral, the pastor of which, Rev. B Mutsaers, D.D., has two assistants: Rev. John Gruenewald and Rev. Victor Van Durme. Muskogee has a population of 25,000 and one church, Rev. Jos. Van Hulse pastor; Enid has a population of 20,000 and one church, Very Rev. Gustave Dupreitere, vicar-general, pastor. Other cities having one church and a resident priest are Shawnee, Tulsa, El Reno, Guthrie, Chickasha, and McAlester. There are three churches and two schools for negroes, the latter attended by 120 children.
Most of the Indians within the diocese are Baptists and Methodists. Some of the Pottawatomies are Catholics, among the Choctaws there are a great many, and the Osage tribe in the northern part of the state is entirely Catholic. The spiritual interests of the Osage Indians are attended to by Rev. Edward Van Waesberghe at Pawhuska. There are Indian Mission Schools at Purcell, Anadarko, Chickasha, Antlers, Pawhuska, Gray Horse, Quawpaw, Ardmore, Muskogee, and Vinita. 1590 Indian pupils attend these mission schools. These schools are supported by money coming from Rev. Mother Katherine Drexel, the Indian Bureau at Washington, D. C., and from Catholic residents of the state. Much credit is due Rev. Isidore Ricklin, O.S.B., of Anadarko, Rev. Edw. Van Waesberghe of Pawhuska, Rev. Hubert Van Rechem, and Rev. F. S. Teyssier of Antlers, all of whom have laboured many years in the Indian Missions.
In regard to the immigrants the Italians, Bohemians, Germans, Syrians, Mexicans, and French form settlements; but the people of other nationalities assimilate because they are not numerous enough to form settlements and for the further reason that by assimilation they can learn the English language more rapidly. From the time of the opening of Oklahoma in 1889 many Catholics have moved into this diocese. At the present time (1910) there is a good class of Catholics in the diocese and many practical Catholics are constantly coming form all parts of the world. There are retreats for clergy every two years and ecclesiastical conferences are called every four months. In 1908 there were baptisms, white children 1248, adults 327, Indians 172, negroes 9; marriages 290; confirmations 1185. The Catholic population of the diocese on 31 Dec., 1908, numbered about 33,472, of which 29,613 were whites, 3463 Indians, 396 negroes.
Hill, A History of the State of Oklahoma (Chicago, 1908); Rock, History of Oklahoma (Wichita, 1890); Tindall, Makers of Oklahoma (Guthrie, 1905); Thoburn and Holcomb, A History of Oklahoma (San Francisco, 1908); The Oklahoman Annual Almanac, and Industrial Record (Oklahoma City, 1909).
APA citation. (1911). Oklahoma. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11230c.htm
MLA citation. "Oklahoma." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11230c.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Tim Urban.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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