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RISTER, CARL COKE (1889-1955)

An historian of the Southwest who also wrote prolifically on Oklahoma-related topics, Carl Coke Rister was a native Texan born June 30, 1889, at Hayrick, in Coke County. Educated in Texas, Rister received a bachelor's degree from Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University) and then studied briefly at the University of California at Berkeley under Herbert Eugene Bolton before entering George Washington University, where he received master's and Ph.D. degrees in history. An excellent athlete, Rister considered a career in professional baseball but gave it up for the life of an historian.

After teaching at Hardin-Simmons for nearly four years, Rister accepted a position in the history department in the University of Oklahoma (OU). During his tenure he advanced to full professor and research professor and became chair of the department in 1944. While at OU, Rister researched and wrote ten books and numerous articles. He mined a number of Oklahoma topics, publishing Land Hunger: David L. Payne and the Oklahoma Boomers (1942), No Man's Land (1948), and several articles in The Chronicles of Oklahoma. His contribution to historical literature, however, lay in broader studies of the Southwest as a region.

An important movement in humanities circles in the academic world of the 1920s and 1930s, Regionalism found fertile soil at OU. There a cadre of scholars emphasized historical, literary, artistic, and scientific developments in Oklahoma and surrounding area, just as other scholars were doing on campuses in the Midwest and elsewhere in the West. Rister's Regionalist contemporaries at OU included Stanley Vestal (Walter S. Campbell) of the English department, E. E. Dale of the history department, Oscar Jacobson of the art department, Paul B. Sears of the botany department, and folklorist B. A. Botkin. Bringing their work together as a genre, Joseph A. Brandt, director of the University of Oklahoma Press since its 1928 inception, provided the scholars a publishing venue that still endures. Rister included Oklahoma in his studies of the Southwest as a region, which he roughly defined as western Kansas, eastern Colorado, western Oklahoma, western Texas, and eastern New Mexico. These works included The Southwestern Frontier (1928), The Greater Southwest (1934), Western America (1941, a widely used college textbook co-authored with Leroy Hafen), and Southern Plainsmen (1938, a study of folklife that used much Oklahoma material). His 1949 book Oil! Titan of the Southwest remains a significant contribution to oil field history.

Rister left OU to join the history faculty in Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) in 1951. His exceptional career was cut short by a fatal heart attack at Rotan, Texas, on April 16, 1955.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: William H. Leckie, "Carl Coke Rister," Great Plains Journal 18 (1979). Richard Lowitt, "Regionalism at the University of Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 73 (Summer 1995). Janet Neugebauer, "Texas Tech's First Distinguished Professor," Texas Tech in Retrospect (March-April 1995). Rupert N. Richardson, "A Dedication to the Memory of Carl Coke Rister, 1889-1955," Arizona and the West 14 (Winter 1972).

Dianna Everett

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