From the 1830’s until 1890, Oklahoma was known as the Indian Territory. Here, in a land of forested hills and mountains and grassy flatlands and prairies, the Indian tribes which had been removed from the American south found their final homes. Over time, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole were joined by tribes relocated from other regions. There was no established government there and it became a place set apart. It was “the Territory.”
No decisive battles occurred in the Territory during the Civil War, but the armies and renegade gangs from both sides were a constant presence, leaving the region desolated. It was fertile ground for the lawlessness which characterized the American west in the 1870’s and 1880’s. It is here that the story of True Grit unfolds.
The focus of most of the action in the novel is in the southeastern corner of the Territory -- in the Choctaw Nation. The rough topography of the Winding Stair range of the Ouchita Mountains provides a backdrop for the story that becomes almost a character in itself. The novel reflects major forces in the history and development of the late 19th century in Indian Territory: the range cattle industry, the extension of railroad lines, the growth of its communities, and the ever-present lawlessness. We will explore them all in upcoming issues of Word Magazine.