Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Encyclopedia Homepage
Search all Volumes
Disclaimer and Usage
© Copyright 2003

Table of Contents Search All Entries Home

LITTLE DIXIE

"Little Dixie" denotes southeastern Oklahoma and its close social, cultural, and above all, political connections to the American South. Although commonly used, the term is rarely if ever precisely defined geographically. The Third Congressional District, which first elected Carl Albert to Congress in 1946, composes the heart of the region. The district encompassed Atoka, Bryan, Carter, Choctaw, Johnston, Latimer, Le Flore, Love, McCurtain, Marshall, Murray, Pittsburg, and Pushmataha counties. Redistricting in 1966 68 added Coal, Cotton, Garvin, Haskell, Hughes, Jefferson, Pontotoc, Seminole, and Stephens counties to the Third District. These nine might be considered the outlying counties of Little Dixie.

The character of the region began to emerge in the mid-1830s with the arrival of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes in southeastern Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory. Both had thoroughly appropriated southern customs, including slavery. The two tribes were the most resolute Confederate allies among the Five Civilized Tribes during the Civil War. Further, throughout the nineteenth century whites, mainly southern, migrated legally and illegally into Oklahoma. By 1900, 87 percent of white settlers in the Indian Territory (eastern Oklahoma) were southerners. Late-nineteenth-century immigrants from the Midwest perceived the southeastern part of present Oklahoma as a southern enclave and tended to settle elsewhere.

Geographers assert that distinctly southern qualities manifest more strongly in Little Dixie than in the remainder of the state. The region's predominant church affiliation has been Southern Baptist. Southern expressions, such as branch (for stream), snap beans, and toad frog are common among residents; and a proliferation of fried foods and southern American Indian wild onion dinners speak of southern culture. Little Dixie also contains architectural elements typical of the Upland South, perhaps initially brought by the Five Civilized Tribes. Dog-trot log cabins, courthouse squares, and gravesheds in cemeteries all reflect Ozark or Appalachian hill country culture.

Several southern social and demographic attributes characterize Little Dixie as well. The population is substantially white. Cotton was historically the dominant crop, and the region has remained substantially rural. Typical of the South, mules outnumbered horses in 1920. Poverty, persisting at least to the end of the twentieth century, is also pervasive (Little Dixie residents made less than one-half of the United States median household income in 1999). There are exceptions to this profile. A smaller percentage of African Americans than would be associated with the South live in the region. Instead, American Indians, including a significant number of biracial residents, are the predominant minority. Further, in the first part of the twentieth century there was a larger percentage of foreign-born whites (brought in by coal mining) than would be typical of southern populations.

Finally, more than anything, Little Dixie is identifiable as a consistently Democratic stronghold. Voter registration is overwhelmingly Democrat, and Democratic candidates are almost always easy victors in virtually any race. It is quite conceivable that the former Third District (in 2000 it became a part of the Second District) is more solidly Democratic than most parts of "the Solid South."

SEE ALSO: CULTURAL REGIONS, FOLKLIFE, SPEECH PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carl Albert, with Danney Goble, Little Giant: The Life and Times of Speaker Carl Albert (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990). Jennifer Jennings Collins, "The War on Poverty in Little Dixie: A Case Study of the Antipoverty Program in Rural Oklahoma, 1965-1974" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 2001). Michael Doran, "The Origins of Culture Areas in Oklahoma, 1830-1900" (Ph.D. diss., University of Oregon, 1974). Raymond D. Gastil, Cultural Regions of the United States (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975). Bruce Southard, "Elements of Midwestern Speech in Oklahoma," in "Heartland" English: Variation and Transition in the American Midwest, ed. Timothy C. Frazer (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993).

William H. Mullins

© Oklahoma Historical Society

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site