Okie is a resident, native, or cultural descendant of Oklahoma.
Like most terms that disparage specific groups, it was first applied
by the dominant cultural group. It is derived from the name of the
state, similar to Texan or Tex for someone from Texas, or Arkie or
Arkansawyer for a native of Arkansas.
In the 1930s in California, the term (often used in contempt) came to
refer to very poor migrants from
Oklahoma (and nearby states). The
Dust Bowl and the "Okie" migration of the 1930s brought in over a
million newly displaced people; many headed to the farm labor jobs
advertised in California's Central Valley.
Dunbar-Ortiz (1996) argues that "Okie" denotes much more than being
from Oklahoma. By 1950, four million individuals, or one quarter of
all persons born in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri, lived
outside the region, primarily in the West. Prominent Okies in the
1930s included Woody Guthrie. Most prominent in the late 1960s and
1970s were country musician
Merle Haggard and writer Gerald Haslam.
1 Great Depression usage
2 Living conditions in California during the Great Depression
3 Modern usage
4 Popular culture
4.4 Other fiction
5 Other uses
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Great Depression usage
"Migrant Mother" by
Dorothea Lange featuring Florence Owens Thompson
In the mid-1930s, during the
Dust Bowl era, large numbers of farmers
fleeing ecological disaster and the Great Depression migrated from the
Great Plains and Southwest regions to California mostly along historic
U.S. Route 66. Californians began calling all migrants by that name,
even though many newcomers were not actually Oklahomans. The migrants
included people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska,
Kansas, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico, but were all referred to as
"Okies" and "Arkies."  More of the migrants were from
any other state, and a total of 15% of the
Oklahoma population left
Ben Reddick, a free-lance journalist and later publisher of the Paso
Robles Daily Press, is credited with first using the term Oakie, in
the mid-1930s, to identify migrant farm workers. He noticed the "OK"
abbreviation (for Oklahoma) on many of the migrants' license plates
and referred to them in his article as "Oakies." The first known usage
was an unpublished private postcard from 1907.
Many West Coast residents and some politically motivated writers used
"Okie" to disparage these poor, white (including those of mixed
American Indian ancestry) migrant workers and their families. The term
became well-known nationwide by John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of
Will Rogers, a famous movie star and political commentator from
Oklahoma remarked jokingly that the Okies moving from
California increased the average intelligence of both states.
Living conditions in California during the Great Depression
Okie families migrated from
Oklahoma to California, they
often were forced to work on large farms to support their families.
Because of the minimal pay, these families were often forced to live
on the outskirts of these farms in shanty houses they built
themselves. These homes were normally set up in groups called Squatter
Camps or Shanty Towns, which were often located near the irrigation
ditches which ran along the outskirts of these farms. Indoor plumbing
was inaccessible to these migrant workers, and so they were forced to
resort to using outhouses. Unfortunately, because of the minimal space
allotted to the migrant workers, their outhouses were normally located
near the irrigation ditches, and some waste would inevitably runoff
into the water. These irrigation ditches provided the
with a water supply. Due to this lack of sanitation in these camps,
disease ran rampant among the migrant workers and their families. Also
contributing to disease was the fact that these Shanty Town homes that
Okie migrant workers lived in had no running water, and because of
their minimal pay medical attention was out of the question. However,
what native Californians failed to realize at the time was that these
Okie migrant farm workers did not always live in the conditions that
Dust Bowl left them in. In fact, often these families had once
owned their own farms and had been able to support themselves. This
had often placed these migrant workers in a relatively comfortable
middle-class situation for these families prior to the devastating
drought (the Dust Bowl) in Oklahoma.
Historian James Gregory has explored the long-term impact of the Okies
on California society. He notes that in The Grapes of Wrath, novelist
John Steinbeck saw the migrants becoming active union and New Deal
agitators demanding higher wages and better housing conditions.
Steinbeck did not foresee that most Okies would move into well-paid
jobs in war industries in the 1940s. The children and grandchildren of
Okies seldom returned to
Oklahoma or farming, and are now concentrated
in California's cities and suburbs. Long-term cultural impacts include
a commitment to evangelical Protestantism, a love of country music,
political conservatism, and strong support for traditional moral and
It has been said that some Oklahomans who stayed and lived through the
Dust Bowl see the
Okie migrants as quitters who fled Oklahoma. Most
Oklahoma natives are as proud of their Okies who made good in
California as are the Okies themselves – and of the Arkies, West
Texans, and others who were cast in with them.
In the later half of the 20th century, there became increasing
evidence that any pejorative meaning of the term
Okie was changing;
former and present Okies began to apply the label as a badge of honor
and symbol of the
Okie survivor attitude.
In one example, Republican
Oklahoma Governor Dewey F. Bartlett
launched a campaign in the 1960s to popularize
Okie as a positive term
for Oklahomans; however, the Democrats used the campaign, and the
fact that Bartlett was born in Ohio, as a political tool against
him, and further degraded the term for some time.
In 1968, Governor Bartlett made Reddick, the originator of the
California usage, an honorary Okie. And in the early 1970s, Merle
Haggard's country song
Okie from Muskogee was a hit on national
Also during the 1970s, the term
Okie became familiar to most
Californians as a prototype of a subcultural group, just like the
resurgence of Southern American regionalism and renewal of ethnic
American (Irish American,
Italian American or Polish American)
identities in the Northeast and Midwest states at the time.
In the early 1990s the
California Department of Transportation
California Department of Transportation refused
to allow the name of the "
Okie Girl" restaurant to appear on a
roadside sign on Interstate 5, arguing that the restaurant's name
insulted Oklahomans; only after protracted controversy (and a letter
from the Governor of Oklahoma) did the agency relent.
Since the 1990s, the children and grandchildren of Okies in California
changed the meaning of
Okie to a self-title of pride in obtaining
success, as well to challenge what they felt was snobbery or "the last
group to make fun of" in the state's urban area cultures.
While some Oklahomans refer to themselves as Okies without prejudice,
and it is often used jocularly; in a manner similar to the use of
Hoosier by Indianans,
Yankee by Northeasterners, or "Cracker" by
native Floridians, none of whom consider these terms particularly
insulting when applied to themselves. Others still find the term
John Tyler Hammons used the phrase "I'm proud to be an
Okie from Muskogee" as the successful theme of his 2008 mayoral
campaign. He was 19 years old at the time.
John Steinbeck's 1939 novel
The Grapes of Wrath
The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize
for its controversial characterization of the
and journey to California.
In James Blish's
Cities in Flight
Cities in Flight science fiction series, the term
"Okie" was applied in a similar context to entire cities that, thanks
to an anti-gravity device, take flight to the stars in order to escape
an economic collapse on Earth. Working as a migrant labor force, these
cities act as cultural pollinators, spreading technology and knowledge
throughout the expanding human civilization. The later novels focus on
the travels of
New York City
New York City as one such
Okie city, though there are
In On the Road, the road novel by
Jack Kerouac – written between
1948 and 1949, although not published until 1957 – the term appears
to refer to some of the people the main character, a New York author,
meets in one of his trips around the United States.
In the novel Paint it Black by Janet Fitch, the protagonist (an LA
punk-rocker in the early 1980s) thinks of herself and her family as
Frank Bergon's 2011 novel, Jesse's Ghost, draws attention to today's
sons and daughters of the California Okies portrayed in Steinbeck's
The Grapes of Wrath.
In Hunter S. Thompson's semi-autobiographical novel Fear and Loathing
in Las Vegas, Thompson describes an incident in the beginning of the
novel where he and
Oscar Zeta Acosta (under the pseudonyms of Raoul
Duke and Dr. Gonzo respectively) pick up a hitchhiker on the way to
Las Vegas, whom Thompson describes as a "poor
Buck Owens (1976).
Okie – Doye O’Dell/Rudy Sooter (1948) – "Dear Okie, if you
see Arkie, tell ’im Tex’s got a job for him out in Californy."
Okie Goin’ Home –
Merl Lindsay and the
Oakie Boogie – Jack Guthrie and His Oklahomans (1947) – considered
by many to be the first Rock & Roll song.
J. J. Cale
J. J. Cale (1974).
Okie From Muskogee" – a song by
Merle Haggard from the 1969 album
of the same name
"Okie" – a song by
Patrick Sky a parody of the above, from his 1973
album Songs that made America Famous
Oklahoma Swing-by Reba McEntire and Vince Gill
Okie Skies – The Bays Brothers (2004).
Okies in California – Doye O'Odell (1949).
Okie – Terry Fell.
Okie – Al Vaughn.
Okie – Stompin' Tom Connors
April The 14th Part I & Ruination day Part II "And the Okies fled.
And the great emancipater" (Time-The Revelator – Gillian Welch.
"Israelites & Okies" a song from The Lost Dogs (Album Old Angel
– Terry Taylor  (2010 Fools of the World).
Cahill, Charlie. Point Blank Poetry:
Okie Country Cowboy Poems.
Midwest City, OK: CF Cahill, 1991. LoC Control Number: 92179243
Okie Chronicles. Cincinnati: David Robert Books,
2005. ISBN 1-932339-87-6
McDaniel, Wilma Elizabeth. California
Okie Poet Laureate. All works.
Rose, Dorothy. Dustbowl
Okie Exodus. Seven Buffaloes Press, 1987.
Charles, Henry P. That dumbest Okie, and other short stories:
Oklahoma! "The land of honest men and slender women." Wetzel, c1952.
Cuelho, Artie, Jr. At the Rainbow's End: A Dustbowl Collection of
Prose and Poetry of the
Okie Migration to the San Joaquin Valley. Big
Timber, Montana: Seven Buffaloes Press, 1982. ISBN 0-916380-25-4
Haslam, Gerald. Okies: Selected Stories. Santa Barbara, California:
Peregrine Smith, Inc, 1975. ISBN 0-87905-042-X
Hudson, Lois Phillips. Reapers of the Dust. Minnesota Historical
Society Press, 1984. ISBN 0-87351-177-8
Okie P47D artwork
Call OKIE is a non-profit organization created to oversee underground
utilities and excavations in the state of Oklahoma. It was created in
response to the
Oklahoma Underground Facilities Damage Prevention Act
enacted in 1981.
Okie was the name of two P-47 fighter/bombers piloted by Maj. Quince
L. Brown of the 84th Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, during
World War II. Brown was one of the 8th Army Air Forces' first aces and
credited with 14.333 victories. His first P-47D was noted for its
distinctive artwork. He was killed during his second combat tour.
Brown's hometown was Bristow, Oklahoma, and he was inducted into the
Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame in 1994.
Oklahoma Israel Exchange) is an independent non-profit
organization established to coordinate economic and cultural
activities between the state of
Oklahoma and the state of Israel. It
was created 1992 by
Oklahoma Governor David Walters.
Okie Derby is the world's largest proficiency air rally. It is
sponsored annually by the
Oklahoma Chapter of the Ninety-Nines
(International Organization of Women Pilots).
An OKIE pin, a promotional souvenir developed by Governor Dewey
Bartlett, (and an
Oklahoma flag), was placed in the
Apollo 10 lunar
module Snoopy by Commander Thomas P. Stafford before it was sent into
orbit around the sun.
The battleship USS
Oklahoma was affectionately called "Okie" (or
"Okey") by her crew until her loss in 1941, after being sunk at Pearl
Harbor and salvaged.
Grapes of Wrath
^ Allison, Clinton B. "
Okie Narratives." White Reign: Deploying
Whiteness in America (2000) p. 229.
^ Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, "One or Two Things I Know about Us: Rethinking
the Image and Role of the 'Okies'," Canadian Papers in Rural History
1996 10: 15–43
^ Pryor, Alton (October 27, 2012). Little Known Tales in Oklahoma
History. Stagecoach Publishing. p. 55. The migrants included
people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas,
Texas, Colorado and New Mexico, but were all referred to as "Okies"
^ Stewart, Roy P. "Postal Card Proves Sooners Were 'Okies' Way Back In
1907," The Daily Oklahoman, December 20, 1968, p. 9, col. 2. "Now
comes Mrs. Agnes Hooks of Thomas with a postal card mailed at
Newcastle, Ind. in 1907, address to a Miss Agness Kirkbridge, with the
Okie – Will see you next Monday night." Signed:
Myrtle M. Pence. Mrs. Hooks says Agness Kirkbridge was an aunt of
hers. The Kirkbridge family came to
Oklahoma Territory in 1904 and
settled south of Custer City.
^ DeAngelis, Gina (2003). "Baked Out and Broke: The
Cobblestone. 24 (4).
^ Curtis, James (1986). "Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, and the
Culture of the Great Depression". Winterthur Portfolio. 1 (21):
1–20. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ James N. Gregory, "
Dust Bowl Legacies: The
Okie Impact on
California, 1939–1989," California History (1989) 68#3 pp 74–85.
^ James N. Gregory, American Exodus: The
Dust Bowl Migration and Okie
Culture in California (1998)
^ Haslam, The Other California, p. 107: "Says Jim Young, chancellor of
Bakersfield College, 'I'm proud of my folks and everyone else who came
out here and were called Okies, and who made new lives for
themselves.' Young, of course, symbolizes well why others in the
Central Valley are so proud to claim that term Okie.
^ "State to Print '
Okie Dough'," The Daily Oklahoman, Thursday, 27
October 1955, p. 20, col. 3: "A new type of money, designed to boost
Oklahomans' pride in the Sooner state, soon will be off the press as
part of the Greater
Oklahoma City Forward committee's program. Known
Okie Dough," the script will also be useful in braging [sic] in
the other 47 states."
^ Editorial, "Speaking of Okies," The Daily Oklahoman, June 6, 1970,
p. 8, col. 1: "Bartlett did not invent the term. He simple recognized
its existence in the vocabulary – and gambled that nothing was more
likely to erase its stigma than letting outsiders know Sooners
themselves rather liked being called Okies."
^ "Democrat Gets In Plug for Donkey," The Daily Oklahoman, Friday,
June 2, 1970, p. 3. col. 1: "In a release last week, Kennedy [State
Democratic Chairman J.C. Kennedy] charged, the pins were campaign
buttons for Gov. Bartlett. He demanded Monday that state employees be
instructed to view all
Okie type paraphernalia as political material
and that it be treated in accordance with state rules and regulations
governing such matters."
^ David Colker, "Los Angeles County News in Brief: Quake Delivers
Knockout Punch to
Okie Girl Eatery," Los Angeles Times, February 2,
1994, Part B, p. 2.
^ Windschuttle, "Steinbeck's Myth of the Okies": "Unfortunately for
the reputation of the author John Steinbeck, however, there is now an
accumulation of sufficient historical, demographic, and climatic data
about the 1930s to show that almost everything about the elaborate
picture created in the novel
The Grapes of Wrath
The Grapes of Wrath is either outright
false or exaggerated beyond belief."
^ Igler, The Human Tradition in California, p. 144: "Charles Schindo,
Dust Bowl Migrants in the American Imagination (1997), contended
Steinbeck and his fellow 1930s liberals were elitists who
Okie experience and then imposed that leftist
misinterpretation on the American consciousness."
^ •–•Okanagan Okie•–• Archived February 11, 2012, at the
Oklahoma One-Call System, Inc.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2003-05-12. Retrieved
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2004-11-03. Retrieved
Oklahoma Israel Exchange
^ Young, Jim, "Apollo Carries Sooner Cargo", The Daily Oklahoman,
Monday May 19, 1969, p. 1 col. 1: "Plans call for one flag and one
Okie pin to be placed in orbit around the sun when astonauts abandon
their lunar module prior to their return to earth."
Oklahoma on the
National Park Service
National Park Service website Archived June 17,
2007, at the Wayback Machine.
^ USS Oklahoma
Gregory, James N. American Exodus: The
Dust Bowl Migration and Okie
Culture in California. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Haslam, Gerald W. The Other California: The Great Central Valley in
Life and Letters. University of Nevada Press, 1993.
Igler, David; Clark Davis. The Human Tradition in California. Rowman
& Littlefield, 2002. ISBN 0-8420-5027-2
La Chapelle, Peter. Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country
Music, and Migration to Southern California. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2007. ISBN 0520248899
Lange, Dorothea; Paul S. Taylor. An American Exodus: A Record of Human
Morgan, Dan. Rising in the West: The True Story of an "Okie" Family
from the Great Depression through the Regan Years. New York: Knopf,
1992. ISBN 0-394-57453-2
Ortiz, Roxanne Dunbar. Red Dirt: Growing up Okie. New York: Verso,
1997. ISBN 1-85984-856-7
Ortiz, Roxanne Dunbar. "One or Two Things I Know about Us: Rethinking
the Image and Role of the 'Okies'," Canadian Papers in Rural History
1996 10: 15–43
Shindo, Charles J.
Dust Bowl Migrants in the American Imagination.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997.
Sonneman, Toby F. Fruit Fields in My Blood:
Okie Migrants in the West.
Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1992.
Weisiger, Marsha L. Land of Plenty: Oklahomans in the Cotton Fields of
Arizona, 1933–1942. Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1995.
Windschuttle, Keith. "Steinbeck's Myth of the Okies". The New
Criterion, Vol. 20, No. 10, June 2002
What Happened to Okies After "The Grapes of Wrath"
Okie Legacy – ezine
Okie Knowledge" Quiz from the official web page of
Embrace your "inner Okie"