Oklahoma was the 46th state to enter the Union on November 16, 1907. Prior to statehood, however, Oklahoma was on the verge of becoming two separate states: the state of Oklahoma and the state of Sequoya.
Controversies raged throughout the 1890’s and the early part of the 1900’s regarding what to do with the territory that is present-day Oklahoma. Conventions were held, resolutions adopted, and delegates selected, but no consensus could be reached [source].
At the national level, opposition arose in Congress from eastern representatives who were concerned that the admission of Oklahoma Territory as a state would overturn their control by increasing the number of representatives from western states. Southern Democratic representatives worried that the territory would enter the Union with a strong Republican following. Others argued that the land was too small to be considered a state and that its resources were too limited [source]. Until 1903, even the Five Tribes and other tribes in Indian Territory had generally opposed all local and national efforts for statehood, whether single or joint with Oklahoma Territory. However, with the end of tribal governments looming on March 4, 1906, as prescribed by the Curtis Act (1898), and facing the prospect of joint statehood, the tribes relented [source]
The tribes’ desire for Indian Territory to be admitted as a single state culminated on August 21, 1905 at the Sequoyah Convention in the Hinton Theater in Muskogee, Creek Nation. Covering a territory that corresponds roughly to the eastern half of today’s State of Oklahoma, the would-be state of Sequoya included land that had been allotted to Native Americans through a variety of treaties following the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 [source].
Native Americans of The Five Civilized Tribes gathered with the goal to create a state government that might replace tribal sovereignty with a rough second best—Indian sovereignty through democratic majority [source].
The convention drafted a constitution, drew up a plan of organization for the government, put together a map showing the counties to be established, and elected delegates to go to the United States Congress to petition for statehood. The name “Sequoyah” was suggested to honor the famous Cherokee who had developed the Cherokee alphabet. On November 7, 1905, voters in the territory approved the constitution and statehood petition by 56,279 to 9,073 [source].
The Sequoyah Convention constitution was not acknowledged by the U.S. Congress due to party politics. Indian Territory was bordered by two southern Democratic states, Arkansas to the east and Texas to the south. President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican himself, wanted joint statehood to eliminate the possibility of a heavily Democratic Indian Territory joining the Union as a state. On June 16, 1906, President Roosevelt signed the Oklahoma Enabling Act, which provided for the writing of a constitution for a state to be formed from the merging of Indian and Oklahoma territories [source].
Want to learn more about Oklahoma and Tulsa history? Visit our Mapping Tulsa exhibit in Tyrrell Hall on the TU campus through December, 2018. Find out more by clicking here.