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Degrees of Separation

September 12, 2001

Historian's Notes

Oklahoma has an odd shape and I thought that it was about time people found out why!


The Angie Debo Papers are held at OSU's Special Collections & University Archives.

Baird, W. D., & Goble, D. (1994). The Story of Oklahoma. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press

Almanac Transcript

Degrees of separation this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello I’m Steven Kite.

Most people would not argue with the statement that Oklahoma is oddly shaped. The state sticks out long and skinny on the west side, is bent and misshapen on the eastern border, and the bottom border changed constantly for many years with the changing shoreline of the Red River. Most people would probably also agree that the state’s most notable feature, at least where the shape is concerned, is the panhandle. Other states like Texas, Idaho and Nebraska claim to have a panhandle but those weak attempts just can't compare to the handle that is Oklahoma’s.

It was in this week of 1850 that events in Washington, DC helped to create the southern and western border of what is today Oklahoma’s panhandle. The celebrated "Compromise of 1850" officially took effect on September 9th of 1850. The Compromise was a valiant and well thought out attempt to prevent further conflict between slave and free states. Although it helped to maintain peace for some time the Compromise as we now know was ultimately unsuccessful. The Compromise contained many provisions and dealt with many issues one of which was the western border of Texas. Once extending all the way to present day Santa Fe, New Mexico, under the rules of the compromise the western border of Texas would stop at the 103rd meridian. This is what gave us the western border of the panhandle.

Also according to the compromise Texas would cede all land above the 36/30 parallel, thus setting the southern border for the present day panhandle. The eastern border of the panhandle was set when the Cherokee tribe was given the land of northern Indian Territory up to but not including the present day panhandle, and the northern border came into being with the Kansas/Nebraska Act of 1854 when the southern border of Kansas was established at the 37th parallel. Probably without even knowing it, members of congress had created a strip of land that technically belonged to no one.

The minds of politicians at the time were turned towards the conflict with slavery and the friction between North and South, they arguably had no time to worry about a little strip of land stuck out in the middle of what had been deemed "The Great American Desert." This truly was then, a "no-mans-land," free to any people or creature that might wander in. The area was really given its first law and government when it was joined to the Territory of Oklahoma under a provision of the Organic Act of May, 2 1890, but that is a topic for another almanac.

Oklahoma shapes up, this week on the Almanac.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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