- ABOUT US
In good ways and bad, one name has defined Oklahomans for most of our history. Follow this controversial word as it transforms from a Dust Bowl slur to a twenty-first century badge of honor.
By Brian Ted Jones
Published January/February 2016
It’s a cool September evening in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District, one of many places a person can buy dozens of products—mugs, wall hangings, bumper stickers—all proudly emblazoned with the word Okie. People of all ages walk Northwest Sixteenth Street sporting T-shirts and even tattoos proclaiming it. It feels safe to assume that right now, in every time zone, on every continent, there’s an Okie.
At an Irish-style pub called Saints is a woman with dark red hair, black-framed glasses, a blue dress, and red cowboy boots. She carries a guitar case. Her name’s Carter Sampson, she’s a singer and songwriter, and she’s playing here tonight.
Carter drinks an Oklahoma City-brewed COOP Native Amber and occasionally slides her hand into her boot cuff as she tells her life story. An Oklahoman with at least six generations of Okies on both sides of her family, she picked up a guitar at age fifteen and never set it down. In high school, she covered the Cranberries and sang original songs about Star Wars in a band called Plain Jane. Since then, she’s put in time at coffee shops and open mics. She plays about once a year at the Blue Door, a folk music venue nearby. She frequently appears at Okemah’s annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival and year-round throughout the state. In April 2015, she won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest—at Wilkesboro, North Carolina’s MerleFest, no less. She also came in fourth place at the 2015 Telluride Troubadour songwriting competition and was a showcase finalist at that year’s Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado.
Tonight, as the crowd draws in, Carter talks about the song “I Am Yours” from her 2014 EP Thirty Three. It’s a song about love, grief, and the shocking speed of time’s passage.
“The seventeenth of April passed me by / I went all day without a tear in my eye / And somewhere in some town the church bells rang / I was so busy I didn’t hear anything / Then I saw your smile on my tiny screen / And I cried like I did that night that it rained / I thought that you were leaving but what did I know / Oh my God that was thirty years ago.”
The song is about her grandmother.
“I was maybe three or four,” Carter says. “I remember standing at this window. There was this huge Oklahoma thunderstorm outside.”
Her grandmother was leaving Oklahoma City for Duncan in an effort to get home before the storm got worse.
“I think my mom was walking her out,” Carter says. “It was pouring down rain and thunder.”
Carter remembers pure fear and panic at the sight of the storm, the kind of memory that’s practically an Oklahoman’s birthright. Now, she sings those lines with the wisdom of an old soul, a wanderer, someone who’s seen the world and knows the beauty and the heartache of it all.
While living in Arkansas, she composed “Queen of Oklahoma,” which appeared on her 2011 album Mockingbird Sing. It’s a fairy tale told to a girl by herself. The song came to her in a moment of homesickness.
“If I had me a pony / and open air for miles and miles / I’d stick a feather in my hair / and see about tomorrow without any cares / If I was the Queen of Oklahoma / yes I could ride the wind / I’d have the tribes on my side and stars to guide / Me on my Dust Bowl throne / in the land where the buffalo roam.”
A girl with a feather in her hair and no one around to see it—that’s perfectly Oklahoman. There ought to be a word for someone like that—for the kind of person who loves the land like a dear old friend, who knows the wealth of its company and feels at home with it, who feels a sense of belonging in the middle of an empty prairie. There ought to be a word for the kind of person who knows the fear of a thunderstorm or a dust storm, who knows there isn’t anything to be done when the sky comes rolling down but get in the cellar and pick up what’s left when the wind stops roaring. There ought to be a word for the kind of person who pitches in after the tornado, after the flood, the kind of person who likes living right, being free, standing tall—and who’d step in if there was ever a fight so hungry people could eat.