College sports fans are hard-pressed to find a nickname that is as unique and as linked to a state's history as a Sooner. The University of Oklahoma is the only school known as Sooners.
The origins of Oklahoma's nickname stretch back to the Civil War era. The Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, provided that a legal settler could claim 160 acres of public land, and those who lived on and improved the claim for five years could receive title.
"Boomers" were settlers who favored the opening of unassigned lands in the Oklahoma Territory and lobbied the U.S. government to this end. Promoting the "Boomer's Paradise," early advocates of settlement in the Unassigned Lands began what is referred to as the "Boomer Movement.
The Boomer Movement gained new momentum in 1886 and 1887 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway constructed a line that ran right through the Unassigned Lands. Rail stations at Guthrie, Edmond, Oklahoma (City), Verbeck (Moore), and Norman, created when the line was built, offered high potential for townsites.
At this time political pressure was exerted to open up the Unassigned Lands to settlement. In 1889 an amendment to the Indian Appropriations Bill allowed President Benjamin Harrison to proclaim the Unassigned Lands open for settlement.
At high noon on April 22, 1889, legal aspirants would be able to enter the Oklahoma Territory and choose 160 acres of land. The event soon became known as the "Oklahoma Land Run" or "Land Run of 1889". Settlers from across the globe, seeking free land, made their way to Oklahoma Territory to stake their claim to a new life.
The great dramatic moment came when, at the stroke of noon, starting signals were given at the many points of entry. In some instances it was given by a blue-clad military officer firing his pistol or by his trumpeter, at times by a citizen firing his rifle in the air, or, as at Fort Reno, by the boom of a cannon. All produced the same results -- a tumultuous avalanche of wagons and horsemen surging forward all in one breathtaking instant.
April 22, 1889, was a day of chaos, excitement, and utter confusion. But it was nonetheless a significant day in national history, one that gave birth to new hope for thousands of Americans and became an iconic image in the history of the west.
One of the few rules to claiming a lot of land was that all participants were to start at the same time. Those who went too soon were called "Sooners". Sooners were often deputy marshals, land surveyors, railroad employees, and others who were able to legally enter the territory early to mark out choice pieces of land for themselves or others.
As time went on, "Sooner" came to be a synonym of Progressivism. The Sooner was an "energetic individual who travels ahead of the human procession." He was prosperous, ambitious, competent, a "can-do" individual. And Oklahoma was the Sooner State, the land of opportunity, enterprise and economic expansion, very much in the Progressive spirit that engulfed the old South in the 1920s.
OU athletics teams were called Rough Riders or Boomers for 10 years before the current Sooner nickname emerged in 1908. The university actually derived the name from a pep club called 'The Sooner Rooters.'
Today, the thunderous chants of "Boomer! Sooner!" roll across the Oklahoma landscape. The success of University of Oklahoma athletics teams over the years has made the nickname synonymous with winning.
Rushes to Statehood: Oklahoma Land Run
The Oklahoma Historical Society