Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1981


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 4, Fall 1981, pp. 270-71.


Copyright 1981 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


At the time of its adoption, the Oklahoma state constitution of 1907 was widely regarded as the epitome of advanced progressivism. Yet that auspicious beginning has scarcely been matched by the state's later history, in which leading motifs have been corruption, demagoguery, and control-not always unchallenged, but largely successfully maintained-by vested private interests. The virtue of the present work lies in its providing clues to explain this apparent paradox. Its defect is Goble's failure to grapple with this question-or even to recognize that a problem exists.

In part, the difficulty is a result of the book's chronological limits. Goble focuses upon less than two decades: from the opening of the western half of the state in 1889 to the adoption of the constitution. But the more fundamental shortcoming is that he fails to apply the same critical analysis to the rhetoric of Oklahoma progressivism that he does to the values held by the founding settlers.

Goble does an excellent job of showing the entrepreneurial and commercial motivations of those who settled the Oklahoma Territory; the central role played by town-site speculation with the accompanying feverish competition to attract railroads in the territory's development; and the ascendancy of the more successful and aggressive merchants and wheeler-dealers. Politics revolved partly around the factional struggle within the Republican party over federal patronage, partly around the struggle by rival communities for a share of the largess available from the territorial government, such as county seat designations and public institutions. Similarly impressive is his account of how in the eastern half of the state-the so-called Indian Territory-a minority of enterprising mixed-blood and adopted whites succeeded behind the facade of tribal ownership in monopolizing the land and its resources for their own profit; how the resulting economic growth led to an influx of non-Indians who soon outnumbered the tribesmen and whose anomalous legal status led to increasing pressure on Congress to terminate the tribal governments and communal land ownership; and how, after those goals had been attained, unscrupulous "grafters" stripped the Indians and freedmen of much of their land allotments. Drawing upon the insights of William A. Williams and James Willard Hurst, Goble presents a graphic picture of the "Boomer" mentality prevailing among late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Oklahomans. The central metaphor of what he terms their "Weltanschauung of youthful competitive capitalism" was "a vast, impersonal marketplace" in which free competition automatically guaranteed moral progress and economic growth. Accordingly, the dominant ethos called for the removal of those restraints upon "individual creative energies" that restricted the pursuit of private gain (pp. 38-39).