September 4, 2016

Oklahoma – The Sooner State with Author and Tour Guide, Jeff Provine

The moniker “Sooner” is plastered all over the central Oklahoma. In addition to t-shirts and park names, numerous businesses attach it to their titles from Sooner Laundry to Sooner State Bank. If ever a football fan decked out in crimson and cream shouts “Boomer,” it is custom for the whole crowd within earshot to reply a roaring “Sooner!” With such modern gusto, it is surprising to many that the term “sooner” was originally derogatory.

I discussed the Land Run in a previous post on 50 Authors from 50 States and how it led to millions of acres of raw prairie being instantly populated through the biggest races in the history of the world. The law was clear that the dash would start from the borders at noon. Anyone already in the territory legally, such as
deputy marshals or railroad employees, would be ineligible to stake a claim for free land

Then there were those who sneaked into the territory and hid out, whether jumping from trains passing through or dodging the US Army patrols at the border under the fading moonlight. Some of these were found out and booted from the territory, but many others successfully popped up from the creek-side bulrushes after the noon blast from cannons to stake a claim.

These “sooners” who came “sooner” than allowed generally grabbed the best land with their unfair advantage, and so they would be viewed with disgust for a generation. Not only did it have the social bite of being called a “cheat,” accusations of soonerism could lead to very real legal issues. If it could be shown in court that a defendant had been in the territory illegally, the guilty party would lose ownership of the land they had claimed despite any the time spent proving it up.

Yet the coming generations adopted the word “sooner” in a whole new aspect. Instead of a cheat, a Sooner became an “energetic individual who travels ahead of the human procession,” a follower of the ideals of Progressivism through hard work and opportunity. This torrent of optimism seized the spirit of the early twentieth century and continues to this day.

In my recent release, Hellfire (Tirgearr Publishing, June 8)¸ I tinkered with history and horror to explore the darker side of progress. Its alternate history timeline begins with the discovery of Newton’s Catalyst, a
crystalline powder that makes fire burn hotter than it should. Initially it’s a parlor trick, a chemical oddity at best, but as the Industrial Revolution comes around, the catalyst becomes a crucial part of technological development. Without being so burdened by fuel, steamships are smaller and faster, trains more plentiful, and airships rise into the skies. Nowhere on earth are the developments better seen than in Gloriana, the state founded by Aaron Burr’s colony west of the Mississippi.

There is a price to everything. Many people are suspicious about the catalyst, which gives off a sulfuric stench. Those who spend their lives near catalyst-burning fires say they can hear evil whispers amid the crackles, driving them to Stoker’s Madness. In 1856, railroad fireman Nate Kemp discovers the secret of the catalyst: its extra heat is leeched from Hell itself, and now bigger things are beginning to come through.Watch the book trailer here: 

As a Thank You for stopping by, Jeff offers an Ebook copy of Hellfire in one winner's choice of .mobi, .epub, or .pdf Comment to win.  Leave your contact info.  
Jeff Provine is a curriculum developer in Oklahoma. He leads hometown ghost tours and has written three collections of local folklore. For more of his alternate history, check out his This Day in Alternate History blog. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffprovine and on
(Info provided by author)


  1. How very strange the timing of this nicely written post about a state that I thought quite lovely when I got to visit. The thing is that just yesterday there was this earthquake. The folks in OK seem to love their environment except for that pesky oil and gas industry. At any rate, fortunately, there wasn't too much damage and only a few minor injuries. Hopefully they will rethink the pumping of water into the ground and remember that the earth doesn't belong to us; it's on lone from our great-grandchildren.

  2. I knew the reason for 'sooner' but didn't hadn't followed through on the journey from derogatory to honored. The land rush is the catalyst for many a story.


  3. Agreed Doris! I wrote one--sort of. It starts with 2 people on their way who are detoured...and end up in Nebraska.

  4. See how much you can learn by reading this blog? I knew about the term Sooner, or so I thought. Jeff has given a broader meaning to the term. Enjoyed the read. Another state with lots of history.

  5. The first thing I thought of when I saw this post and the trailer for your book is the recent events of the Oklahoma earthquakes. I've heard the term "sooners" quite often for the University of Oklahoma football team. I knew there was some history there (a bleak memory from college), but I'd forgotten what that history was. This was interesting.

  6. What an awesome story idea!

    I just visited Oklahoma for the first time this summer, although only a little slice of it. I had mentioned the nickname in my new humor book, but thanks to you I now know where it came from.


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