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400 Years Of Freethought
Samuel Porter Putnam
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Jon Meacham
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
Philip Pullman, Jacob Grimm
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson
Jennifer Michael Hecht
The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America
Paul E. Johnson, Sean Wilentz

Closing the Frontier: Radical Response in Oklahoma, 1889-1923

Closing the Frontier: Radical Response in Oklahoma, 1889-1923 - John Thompson Thompson was apparently motivated to write this history of his home state by the discovery that riots his grandmother remembered from her youth “did not coincide with the history textbooks.” (xii) Thompson begins with Webb’s Great Frontier, which he says was “inextricably bound” with corporate capitalism. (3) Sweeping Braudel, Wallerstein, Turner, Billington, Gates, and Bogue into the net as elaborators (albeit sometimes unconsciously) of the Great Frontier thesis, Thompson claims the speed of development in search of quick profits was the key to disaster in Oklahoma, both in the arid west and the more industrial east. Thompson’s claim is interesting, because he extends it beyond simple land speculation and oil development. Competition among speculators and developers, he says, “prompted bribery and fraud and helped corrupt the political and judicial institutions of new societies.” (5) It is not the freeholder or small-time bandit who really benefited from the lawlessness that lasted until statehood in 1907, Thompson says, but large-scale capitalists from the east. They were able to operate without checks during the territorial stage, and once they seized control of state government, they institutionalized their dominance. The result has been hidden by Dust Bowl histories, which blame Oklahoma’s 440,000 migrant refugees on ecological disaster. Thompson says “Despite the common misconception that Oklahomans were ‘dusted out and tractored out,’ an estimated 97 percent of the net population loss occurred in the eastern half of the state, which was not crippled by dust and underwent almost no farm mechanization. These migrants were instead dislocated by landlords, merchants, and bankers.” (218)Populism, Socialism, and Neopopulism were much more prevalent, and developed to a much higher degree of sophistication in Oklahoma, Thompson says, due to the confluence of pioneer values of “individualism, cooperation, and democracy,” and the abuses heaped on the Oklahoma poor by capitalists. (8) “In 1904, Standard Oil controlled 84 percent of the nation’s oil production,” and much of that oil came from its Oklahoma subsidiary, Prairie Oil and Gas. (64) Possibly the bigger point, which is not evident here because there is no antebellum counterpoint, is that this is the end of the frontier period, and the conditions are very much different from those encountered by migrants at the beginning a century earlier. Again (I keep coming back to this), I think the big change is in capital and credit consolidation under Lincoln.“From 1925 to 1930 the driest county in the state averaged more than nineteen inches of rain a year.” (217) This goes a long way to explaining why credulous people from elsewhere believed they could make a go there. It doesn’t explain why the rest of Oklahoma society let it happen, though. Thompson says the downfall of the socialists in Oklahoma was the Russian revolution: “The flexibility that had been the strength of the old Socialist party was replaced by the dogmatism of the new Communist party.” (221) This is an interesting idea in the larger national context, but I’m not sure it’s a satisfying answer locally.