The Native American Heritage

Oklahoma’s Native American population is the largest in the nation—252,420 at the 1990 census. Several indigenous cultures existed in the area before the first European visited in 1541. Francisco Coronado almost certainly crossed Oklahoma in that year, and Hernando De Soto may have visited E Oklahoma. Later Juan de Oñate passed through W Oklahoma, and some other Spanish explorers and traders and French traders from Louisiana visited the region, but there was no development of the area.

Tribes of the Plains cultures—Osage, Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache—dominated the west; the Wichita and other relatively sedentary tribes lived farther east. It is asserted that the first European trading post was established at Salina by the Chouteau family of St. Louis before the territory was transferred to the United States by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, but the land remained in control of the sparse and nomadic native population. For the most part only traders, official explorers (notably Stephen H. Long), and scientific and curious travelers (among them Washington Irving and George Catlin) came into the present-day state.