In these lyrics, Guthrie celebrates his home state while recognizing the major Native American tribes—Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole—that were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands to the so-called Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Guthrie always understood the dignity of acknowledging names, and he intended to honor the tribes in these lines. When Guthrie was in the military, however, his cousin Jack Guthrie recorded the song, omitting the tribes’ names in his 1945 version. That recording would become the most popular version of “Oklahoma Hills” and was designated the state’s official folk song in 2001.

“In Those Oklahoma Hills Where I Was Born”
Handwritten lyrics with drawing, ca. 1936–37


Woody Guthrie: I was born there on July 14th, 1912, the year that President Woodrow Wilson was nominated… Well, they come in there from Texas in the early day. My dad got to Oklahoma right at statehood time and right after statehood. He was the first clerk of the country court in Okemah, Oklahoma after statehood. Wild and wooly days.

I was a little bit different from… I wasn’t in the class that John Steinbeck called the Okies because my dad to start with, was worth about thirty-five or forty thousand dollars and he had everything hunky-dory and then he started havin’ a little bad luck. In fact, our whole family had a little bit of it. I don’t know whether it is worth talkin’ about or not. I never do talk it much….

Steve Earle: “A little bad luck” was an understatement. The new family home burned down a month after it was built. Woody’s sister Clara died in a second fire. Charley almost died in yet a third fire. And Woody’s mother harbored the inherited gene of Huntington’s disease that would soon take her life and eventually the lives of Woody and two of his children. However, in the face of hardship and loss, Woody found his way forward.

Woody Guthrie: I kind of took to the road, I hit the road one day, the first day that I ever hit the highway, to be what’s called a ramblin’ man or a hobo or a tramp, was in 1927.