Read This: Oklahoma, Foot-loose & Fancy-free

This book is a fan favorite at Oklahoma Policy Institute, and one of the best books on Oklahoma I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  Published in 1949 and written by Angie Debo, Oklahoma: Foot-loose & Fancy-free has a little something for everybody.  Fifteen chapters explore politics, art, entertainment, social and cultural relations, oil & gas, agriculture, transportation, gaming – even football.  It contains an especially rich account of the tribes, nations, and freedmen that settled the territory before statehood.  The preface explains,

I have not written a history, but I am not apologizing for the emphasis on historical background. No psychologist would try to analyze a human personality without careful study of its past. But this is only by way of understanding. 

Angie Debo was a prolific writer and a prominent, though sometimes controversial, student of Oklahoma history. In this volume, she manages to recount and contextualize violent episodes and dangerously regressive tendencies, without sacrificing a genuine appreciation for Oklahomans’ gregarious individualism, creativity, and resilience.  As one writer put it, “Debo was sincere about being factual.”  Here’s a passage I found particularly resonant:

Oklahoma still distrusts, or at best undervalues, the expert. It produces strangely gifted people-and fails to use them. Some trim their ambitions and settle down with a minimum of frustration, not so much wasting their sweetness on the desert air as aiding in reclamation. (How many Pierian springs does it take to reclaim a desert?) More are lured away by salaries and opportunities — it is surprising how many former Oklahomans are found in every kind of intellectual and artistic endeavor. 

Foot-loose and Fancy-free remains relevant today, some sixty years after publication.  Its observations are remarkably prescient.  Debo spotted an early and “natural affinity between aviation and oil,” and thought Oklahomans “as a matter of course are air minded.”  She was wary of the state’s transportation infrastructure, built on rugged terrain and overused for both heavy freight and personal recreation.  And if she were alive today, the swift and successful startup of This Land’s Oklahoma-centric literary endeavor would not have surprised Debo:

[W]e have seen the power, the drive, the joy of the creative forces that center here. No wonder Oklahomans have an urge to write. And no wonder they have not settled down to read. But some day the twain shall meet. Then it will not be necessary for the Rockefeller Foundation to encourage anyone to “interpret Oklahoma.”

Do yourself a favor and buy or borrow this book.  What’s your favorite book about Oklahoma?  Or author?  Let us know in the comment section below – or submit a guest post for our blog.


One thought on “Read This: Oklahoma, Foot-loose & Fancy-free

  1. Your quote of selections from Ms. Debo are ironic to me — I left OK to both become an expert and then a writer that my OK friends do not read. Angie Debo deserves a bronze in the Statehouse and a memorial on OU campus in Norman; perhaps we may evolve when such honor becomes reality.
    enjoying your blog

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