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Saints, Sinners and Astronauts

Bison

Oklahoma became the 46th state to join the Union on November 16, 1907.  But, since long before its official statehood, the territory has played an important role in the development of the United States.  Today, this tradition continues.  From Indian heritage and artistic pioneers to land runs and oil booms, Oklahoma is a state whose past is unlike any other.  With an eclectic mix of culture and traditions, the state boasts a broad range of luminary figures as well as impactful events that have made its narrative one of the most intriguing in the nation.  The Metropolitan Library System hosts an extensive collection of Oklahoma History resources and materials available for viewing in its Oklahoma Collection located at the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library.  Plan a visit soon to connect with the state’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. 

In the meantime, below are a few selections found in the collection chronicling some of the legends that have made their indelible mark on the land and have helped to create the state’s diverse back story.

 

Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshall Bass Reeves by Art T. Burton

With a keen ability to speak several Native American languages as well as an extensive familiarity with Indian territories, Bass Reeves was the first African-American appointed to serve as Deputy U.S. Marshall west of the Mississippi River. Throughout a career that spanned 32 years serving in Native American Territory, Mr. Reeves earned a reputation for being fearless. Despite killing fourteen outlaws and arresting over 3,000 felons he was never shot. An imposing figure at 6’2″, Reeves always rode atop a large white stallion, quickly becoming renowned for his courage and resourcefulness in bringing to justice marauding desperadoes in the territory. Reeves prided himself as a sharp dresser, with his boots consistently polished to a gleaming shine. However, when the purpose served him, he was a master of disguises and often utilized aliases. Sometimes appearing as a cowboy, farmer, gunslinger, or outlaw, he always wore two Colt pistols, butt forward for a fast draw. Ambidextrous and known to be deadly, quick and accurate with a pistol, Deputy Marshall Reeves rarely missed his mark. The tales of his captures are legendary, filled with intrigue, imagination and courage. As a result of his exploits, Bass Reeves is today considered to be one of the most outstanding frontier heroes in United States History. In fact, many argue there is evidence that Mr. Reeves may have been the inspiration for the now classic radio and television series "The Lone Ranger", with several key similarities between the character and the real legend. Black Gun, Silver Star is the incredible story of Mr. Reeves, a man whose tenacity and strength compelled him to become one of the most intriguing and distinguished figures in United States History.

We Have Capture by Thomas P. Stafford

Having flown two crucial Gemini missions, piloted a lunar module to within a few miles of the moon’s surface and served as a vital crew member on the historic ASTP mission, Tom Stafford’s accomplishments have certainly earned him the right to be counted among the most influential spacefarers in history. Born on September 17, 1930 in Weatherford, Oklahoma, Stafford would rise from humble beginnings on his family’s farm to great heights, 50,000 feet above the moon to be precise. From an early age, he displayed a fascination with aviation, an interest that would grow into a passion and take him to the U.S. Naval Academy then on to the US Air Force where he would enroll in the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School. There, his love of flying would translate into major success. Feats such as attaining the highest speed ever reached by a test pilot would soon make him a selection among the second group of NASA astronauts chosen in September, 1962. Participating in the Gemini and Apollo projects, Stafford would make critical contributions to the development of American Space capability in the pioneering era of the 1960s and 70s and go on to play key roles in defining space policy for the United States. Although he would begin his military and NASA career as an avowed enemy of the Soviet Union, Stafford would eventually become the commander of the flight famed for the “handshake in space” with Commander Alexei Leonov, opening the door for American and Russian cooperation in space. He was among the first group of Americans to work at the cosmonaut training center, and also the first to visit Baikonur, the top-secret Soviet launch center, in 1974, soon becoming America’s unofficial space ambassador to the Soviet Union during the darkest days of the Cold War. We Have Capture traces the trajectory of the rise of this American hero who would grow to personify the broadest spirit of exploration and cooperation.

If you're interested in astronauts and space exploration, don't miss a special opportunity to meet astronaut Shannon Lucid at the Bethany Library during the program Mission to Mir Twenty Year Celebration.

Behold the Walls by Clara Luper

Clara Mae Luper was born in rural Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, to Ezell and Isabell Shepard on May 3, 1923. Raised in the town of Hoffman, she attended all-black schools and was bussed several miles to Grayson High School where she graduated in a class of five. After attaining a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in history from segregated Langston University, Luper became the first African American student to enroll in the graduate history department at the University of Oklahoma, earning a master’s degree in 1951. Deeply influenced by visionary figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. Luper would serve as the advisor for the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council, eventually establishing her place as one of the earliest and most influential leaders in the civil rights movement in 1950’s Oklahoma. On Tuesday afternoon, August 19, 1958, Luper, along with her son, daughter and a group of Youth Council members, entered the segregated Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City asking to be served. As expected, the group was initially refused service and the police were called. Although met with increasing hostility and even threatened, no one in the group was arrested. Two days later, Katz corporate management in Kansas City desegregated its lunch counters in three states. From 1958 to 1964 Mrs. Luper assumed a major role in the fight to end segregation in Oklahoma, leading campaigns to gain open housing and employment opportunities as well as equal banking and voting rights for African-Americans within the state. Along with the NAACP Youth Council, she helped integrate hundreds of restaurants, cafes, theaters, hotels, and churches, including such notable Oklahoma City establishments as the Split-T drive-in and the Skirvin Hotel. Behold the Walls is Clara Luper’s riveting first-hand account of the campaign and struggle for civil rights in Oklahoma City during the 1960s.

When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory by Mary Jane Ward

In the minds of many Americans, the Civil War was a clear-cut military conflict waged by two opposing armies. However, the realities of this war, like those of all great wars, are far more convoluted. When the people of the Indian Territory found themselves caught in the midst of clashes between the Unionist North and the Confederate South, they were presented with no way of escaping the violence and no alternative but to suffer its consequences. Leaving huge swathes of the countryside devastated and costing Indian nations millions of acres of land, the scope of the war in Indian Territory touched the lives of almost every resident, killing not only a great number of soldiers but many civilians as well. Had the affected tribes in the Territory been able to align fully with either the North or the South, they might have escaped the worst consequences of living in contested terrain. But, the same cultural fissures that ran through American society as a whole afflicted Indian societies as well. Many tribal members were forced to side with either Union regiments or Confederate contingents, battling enemies, often from their own nations, and leaving many dead in the aftermath. Others were forced to join the waves of migration set off by the coming of the war, fleeing to neighboring Kansas, the Red River Valley and Texas. Eventually, post-war land cessions forced upon Indian nations formerly allied with the Confederacy allowed the removal of still more tribes to the Indian Territory, leaving millions of acres open for homesteads, railroads, and development in at least ten states. When the Wolf Came is the rich, full, and terrible story of the war’s impact not just on Indians who resided in Indian Territory, but also those who resided throughout the American West.

A Matter of Black and White: The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel-Fisher by Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher

Originally from Chickasha, Oklahoma, Ada Lois Sipuel-Fisher was born the daughter of a minister and would grow to become a key figure in the Civil Rights movement within her home state. Initially, it was Fisher’s brother who planned to challenge segregationist policies of the University of Oklahoma. However, it was not meant to be as he instead decided to attend Howard University Law School in order to not delay his career further by protracted litigation. But, the seed of inspiration had been planted and Ada was willing to delay her legal career in order to oppose the injustices of segregation. In 1946, she applied for admission into the University of Oklahoma law school, challenging the state's segregation laws in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer. She was denied because of race. This was the beginning of a valiant two year battle in which Mrs. Sipuel-Fisher would fight to see her case taken all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In 1948, after a long and arduous effort, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla. that the state of Oklahoma must provide African-American students instruction equal to that provided to white pupils. With Thurgood Marshall, acting as the head NAACP lawyer for the case that would act as a precursor for Brown v. Board of Education, it was a unanimous ruling. Finally, in 1949, Sipuel-Fisher was admitted to the University of Oklahoma law school becoming the first African American woman to attend an all white law school in the South. She graduated in 1951 with a Master's degree, and began practicing law in her hometown of Chickasha the next year. A Matter of Black and White is Ada Lois Sipuel-Fisher’s rich personal account of her courageous battle to gain an education and the landmark case that would lay the foundation for the eventual desegregation of schools in America.

American Indian Ballerinas by Lili Cockerille Livingston

During a 1982 interview with the New York News Service, American Indian ballerina Yvonne Chouteau commented on the role her Native American heritage had played in her successful career as a dancer for some of the world’s most prestigious companies. "The Indian people are very artistic as a whole," Chouteau was reported to have said. "We are also very non-verbal, and so I think dance is a perfect expression of the Indian soul." Perhaps it was a similar spirit that helped propel three other young women forward to perfect their art and join Choteau in becoming key figures in Oklahoma's "Five Moons", a collective of graceful and elegant dancers hailing from diverse Native American backgrounds. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Maria Tallchief, Rosella Hightower, Marjorie Tallchief, and Yvonne Chouteau rose to prominence during the 1940’s to 1960’s and would go on to achieve international fame and worldwide acclaim. Growing up learning traditional American Indian dances and eventually combining these skills with those required for ballet, each performer would become uniquely responsible for changing the image of the art form in her own way. But, it wasn’t just skill and technique that helped these dancers to succeed. The four Oklahoma-born ballerinas also had the spirit and passion credited to their American Indian heritage and Oklahoma roots that would allow them to impact the dance world as never before. American Indian Ballerinas traces the diverse careers of these four women, revealing the proud heritage each holds in their heart and illustrating how the tribal backgrounds of each influenced their development as artists and their unique performing styles.

Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd by Michael Wallis

The trials of being a farmer in Depression-era Oklahoma were myriad. People throughout the Dust Bowl were struggling to put food on the table. Hardscrabble farmers in the region no longer found their plots profitable. Banks had begun pressuring impoverished residents to surrender their land for the expansion of commercial farming. Citizens had done everything they could to maintain possession of their homes even holding off the bank's tractors with shot guns, daring them to take what was rightfully theirs. But, lives were still being irreparably shattered with no end in sight. Out of this deprivation grew the legend of "Sagebrush Robin Hood". Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd was raised in the small farming community of Akins, located close to the Cookson Hills, a region which would later become his refuge from the law. It is alleged that Floyd would hold up the banks that were robbing the poorer classes and, before making off with the loot, destroy or steal the mortgages to local farms so that banks could no longer take the land. It is also said he would then use his ill gotten gains to buy food, distributing it to members of the community who so desperately needed it. In return, the clannish folk of the area would provide Floyd with sustenance, protection and an underground communication system. In 1931 and 1932 “Pretty Boy” Floyd robbed so many banks in the region that insurance rates doubled. But, before long his deeds would land him on the list of the FBI's original "public enemies." Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd is the biography of one of America's most notorious criminals, following him from his coming of age, when there were no jobs and no food, to his descent into a life of petty crime, bootlegging and murder.

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