“Cowboys and Indians” takes on new meaning if you call Oklahoma home. The 19th largest state in the nation in terms of land area, the Sooner State has 38 federally-recognized American Indian tribes, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations. Coined the “Five Civilized Tribes” by white colonial settlers, these nations inhabited the Southeastern U.S. before they were forcibly relocated to what is now Oklahoma during the “Trail of Tears,” the federal government’s “Indian Removal” initiative of the early 19th century. Today, at over 7% of the state’s more than 3.8 million residents, Oklahoma has the fourth highest percentage of American Indians in the country after Alaska, New Mexico and South Dakota.
No such statistic exists for cowboys, but they’re also an important influence on the state. It started when Texan cowboys crossing through Oklahoma to reach Kansas’ railroads to sell cattle to the East Coast realized Oklahoma’s Great Plains regions would be a prime site for cattle ranching. When they weren't working, these cowboys competed in rodeos, which are still part of the state's sports culture today. Oklahoma City (OKC) is home to the International Finals Rodeo (IFR) every January, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the largest indoor rodeo arena in the world, the Lazy E Arena in the suburb of Guthrie. Famously, it was the Lazy E that hosted “Bullnanza” in 1988, an event that led to the creation of the popular Professional Bull Riders (PBR) circuit. Rodeos are even serious competitive sports at the high school and collegiate level in Oklahoma.
As of early 2016, the median household income in Oklahoma was $45,339 – roughly $8,000 less than the U.S. median – with approximately 16% of the population living below the poverty line. 73% of Oklahomans are white, 9% are Hispanic, 7% are American Indian, 7% are black, 7% are multiracial and 1% are Asian. In terms of educational attainment, 86% of state residents are high school graduates while 23% have undergraduate degrees. The largest state university, the University of Oklahoma in the OKC suburb of Norman, has more than 21,000 undergrads and was ranked #108 among national universities by U.S. News & World Report in 2015.
Because Oklahoma is one of the top five producers of natural gas in the nation, the state’s economy and job market often fluctuates along with energy trends. In 2015, Oklahoma was home to five Fortune 500 companies - Chesapeake Energy, Williams Companies, Devon Energy, Oneok and NGL Energy Partners – and strikingly, all five are in involved in energy production. It’s no surprise then that approximately a quarter of all employed state residents work for the energy industry, either directly or indirectly. Representing a newer energy sector, the state’ two dozen and counting wind farms accounted for roughly 4,000 jobs in 2014. Other leading industries in the state include information technology (notably, there are over 70 data centers); financial services; transportation and distribution; agriculture and biosciences; and aerospace and defense.
Located in the center of the state, OKC, the state’s capital and largest city, has a metro area population of over 1.3 million. A little less than two hours to the northeast, the second largest city, Tulsa, has more than 960,00 people in its metro area. Yet much of the rest of the state is rural, giving the state overall the 15th lowest population density in the country.
In early 2016, the median home value statewide was $121,999 – roughly $60,000 below the U.S. median – while the median rental price was $845. OKC was only slightly higher, with a median home value of $145,560, while Tulsa was in between with a median home value of $131,809. Putting this enviable affordability into perspective, seven of the 10 most expensive cities or suburbs in the state still had median home values below $200,000. Thanks in part to its reasonable real estate costs, Oklahoma had the fourth lowest cost of living in the U.S. in 2015, with below average pricing for every category including utilities, healthcare and groceries.