OKLAHOMA! The Farmer, the Cowman, and why they couldn’t get along.

“One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,
But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.”

 – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

Oklahoma!, playing at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival June 1-22, weaves many story lines into a grand overview of life on the range in the wild west. From love stories to bitter rivalries, the show provides a snapshot into a crucial time in western history, as the Oklahoma territory teeters on the edge of achieving statehood.

Although there are several conflicts happening in the show, one of the biggest is between the farmers and the cowboys. In 1906, when events in the show Oklahoma! are taking place, there were plenty of reasons farmers and cowboys didn’t want to be friends. We thought we’d take a closer look at the sources of the conflict, and why they’re such a central theme in the musical.

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Disputes over land and water rights were the most common reason for fights. Cowboys were used to having the whole territory available for them to drive huge herds of cattle, so when farmers settled near water sources and claimed areas for their own herds of cattle or sheep, there was an understandable amount of hostility. The farmers, on the other hand, would fence in territory and then have all their efforts trampled by cowboys and their droves of cattle, which was also frustrating.

Oklahoma_MGRT-20160531-282-2This blending was definitely not an easy process. The resentment between the two groups of pioneers even escalated to full blown fights in many western states, which are referred to as the “Sheep Wars.” In the musical, this conflict between cowmen and farmers is also represented in Jud and Curly’s battle for Laurey’s affection. Jud, a surly hired hand, and Curly, a free-spirited cowboy, portray the greater struggle happening between the two divisions of western pioneers in the early 1900s.

While the farmer represents the westward march of civilization and the stability that brings, the cowboys reference back to a wilder, more carefree (albeit uncertain) time period. When laws were made that restricted grazing rights, although it reduced the amount of freedom settlers and cowboys had on the “open range,” it also greatly lessened the fighting between the free roaming cowboys and the stationary farmers.

The pioneers in that time period weren’t as lucky as the ones in the musical Oklahoma!, who had Aunt Eller to give them advice. It took years of struggling before a system was devised that allowed both farmers and cowmen to get along, but they eventually found out for themselves that “Territory folks should stick together, Territory folks should all be pals!”

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For tickets and information about Oklahoma! visit: FingerLakesMTF.com
or call 1-800-457-8897!

All photos credited to Ron Heerkens Jr Photography.

Sources used in this blog:

https://www.apstudynotes.org/us-history/topics/cattle-frontiers-and-farming/

http://www.filmsufi.com/2016/01/oklahoma-fred-zinnemann-1955.html

 

 

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