Some places seem to remain largely fixed in time despite the constant changes that occur in the world around them. The narrow strip of land, affectionately known as the Oklahoma Panhandle, is just one of those places. Even today, the Oklahoma Panhandle evokes vivid images of the Dust Bowl era, of homesteading pioneers venturing into the Great Plains by wagon, of hard labor by farmers trying to eek out a living on the prairie, and of strong people like the fictional Joad family from The Grapes of Wrath, who were forced to move further westward in search of a better life.
Once known as “No-Man’s Land,” “Public Land,” “Public Strip Land,” or “Cimarron Territory,” the Oklahoma Panhandle is a slender 34.5 mile by 167 mile tract of prairie wedged between Texas and Kansas and extends as far west as New Mexico. As of the 2020 Census, a mere 28,729 people lived in this 5,686 square mile land area (or five people per square mile). According to en.wikipedia.org, the most populous communities of the Oklahoma Panhandle in 2020 were:
- Guymon = 12,836
- Hooker = 1,802
- Beaver = 1,290
- Boise City = 1,166
Agriculture (especially wheat and sorghum), energy production (oil, gas, and wind), as well as sand and gravel mining are primary economic drivers for the Panhandle, as they have been, with the exception of wind energy, for the past century. As a result, the three counties comprising the Panhandle are often subject to the rise and fall of crop and commodity prices set in distant financial and political power centers.
The Panhandle is a remarkable place where one can find abandoned farm buildings slowly crumbling on the windswept plains, while miles of power poles mark the outermost limit of modern infrastructure set against distant barren vistas. It is a place where discarded farm machinery eternally rest amongst the fields they once harvested, as enormous modern machines till the soil nearby.
The Oklahoma Panhandle is not bisected by any busy Interstate Highways, but by several federal and state highways, as well as freight railroads streaking across the prairie. The asphalt byways allow visitors close-up views of this hardscrabble country, of tiny towns and small cities where grain silos and water towers punctuate the skies, and of the hardy folks who occupy this unique patch of American landscape.
Everyone in our country should try to visit the Oklahoma Panhandle at least once to better understand the challenges that our ancestors faced while crossing the continent and while building the United States. We have traveled across this solemn land several times over the past few months. It is a unique and vivid adventure that you will long remember and it will greatly increase your appreciation for those who settled here, those who endured here, and those who now reside and toil here. Peace!
If the Oklahoma Panhandle and the Great Plains interest you, here are several book options to consider that are available on Amazon.com.* This blog author has read The Grapes of Wrath (fiction) and The Worst Hard Time (non-fiction) – both are excellent reads.
*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using the above links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.