People Don’t Realize How Awesome The Panhandle Is
So I'm rolling through one of the Lawton social media pages and see something I didn't expect... A tongue-in-cheek meme about Oklahoma's panhandle and the question of what goes on up there. To my surprise, there were only a few comments about just how awesome our panhandle is. Let me elaborate on some of that information for you.
First and foremost, how did Oklahoma get a panhandle? Well, it all started with the formation of Texas as an American state instead of the Republic it once was. If you weren't aware, the Republic of Texas used to be a gargantuan sovereign that sprawled way up into what is now Colorado and Wyoming.
After trying to make it on their own, Texas sought to join the American Union as a state prior to the Civil War, but the laws at that time prevented slaving above the 36°30' parallel. So in a desperate attempt to reach statehood, Texas gave up all of their lands above that point and the country accepted them as the newest state in the US... but it still wasn't a part of Oklahoma.
For forty years, that strip of land was officially called the "Public Land Strip," unofficially called "No Man's Land" where anyone and everyone could use the land for whatever they wanted.
Grazing cattle was the most popular use of the land, and that continued for the most part. There was an equal amount of land in the main body of Oklahoma called the Cherokee Strip. This is the land the Cherokee tribe rented from the government to graze their cattle on it too, but by the late 1880s, the panhandle portion of land came into question when someone wanted to settle it as new territory.
After months of arguing, the courts decided the panhandle wasn't a part of the Cherokee Strip agreement and still technically no one's land. It was to remain designated for use as public land.
While the Homestead Act specifically exempted this land, thousands flocked to the area to settle in with the protection of squatters' rights. The day this squatters' paradise grew big enough, the Cimmaron Territory was born in the panhandle in all of its official legal glory and all, but it was very short-lived.
It only took about four years for Cimmaron Territory to be reclassified and moved into the newly established Oklahoma Territory in 1890. That's when, due to the populations in the panhandle, the government established the three big counties of Beaver, Texas, and Cimarron, and things remained that way until Oklahoma's statehood in 1907.
Now, if you visit the panhandle, yes it's overall pretty flat. It's a part of the Caprock Escarpment. Curiously enough, if pull over on the side of the highway at the right place and look around in a circle, the elevation never changes. It seems perfectly flat for as far as you can see... until you get to one of the awesome hiking canyons throughout or Black Mesa in the far corner.
Black Mesa is beyond an awesome sight to behold. It's part of the Mesa de Maya... A curious land formation created out of the heat and chaos that is Southern Colorado's most famous volcano.
Black Mesa State Park offers some true world-class hiking and trekking, amazing vista views from the highest point in the state, and some very interesting history alongside the panhandle it resides in. It's also the only place in the state you can fish for tiger-muskie in the Sooner State.
So the next time someone says "There's nothing in the panhandle of Oklahoma," educate them. First settled by paleo-Indians, once part of three different countries (Mexico, Republic of Texas, and the USA), freed from slavery, classified as three different territories, was the original "No Man's Land," home of the flattest natural landscape on Earth, revered for the natural mesa a volcano left behind, and home to the wildest fish you can catch in the entire state... There is nothing 'boring' about the Oklahoma panhandle.