An Okie From Muskogee

As someone who grew up during the decade of the 1960’s, I am paying attention when I hear those on the Left talking of the events which took place 50 years ago. I was born in Dallas, Texas, but my family moved to Fairfax County, Virginia, when I was four. I lived in Northern Virginia during that decade. At the beginning of the 1960’s, most all children my age lived in a home where we were raised by both of our biological parents, who were married to each other. At the time my mother died two and a half years ago, my parents had been married for 73 years. She was a full-time wife and mother, as most mothers at the time were. That was her full-time job. Robert L. Dabney properly predicted the decline of today’s society as a result of the woman leaving the home in his essay “Women’s Rights Women.”

We Baby Boomers were the children of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Generation. There are some who think that this was the greatest generation in all of history, but I think that it was only the greatest generation of its century. It was they who lived through the Great Depression and fought World War II. When I was growing up, World War II was “the war” to us because everyone’s father was a veteran of it. I always looked up to the men of my father’s generation as the real heroes, and as the late ‘60’s came, I looked at those of my own generation as spoiled brats.

After what my father and the others of his generation had suffered through, I was appalled by the disrespect which the others of my generation showed to our servicemen who were fighting and dying in Vietnam and by their burning of their country’s flag and their draft cards. I did not burn my draft card from that war and I still have it. I spoke with one Vietnam War veteran in the 1980’s who told me that once when he was coming home on leave during that war, he and his fellow soldiers had to leave the base by the back way because some anti-war protesters who heard that some soldiers were coming home were in front of the base protesting and doing such things as throwing eggs.

Thankfully, President Ronald W. Reagan brought back respect for our military. I am grateful that our veterans of that war are now getting the respect that they deserve as a result. Former President Barack H. Obama said, “And one of the most painful chapters of our history was Vietnam, most particularly how we treated our troops. You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving our country with valor.” And President Donald J. Trump, Sr. has said, “Throughout the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, and every March 29 thereafter, we will honor all those who answered our Nation’s call to duty. We vow to never again confuse personal disapproval of war with prejudice against those who honorably wear the uniform of our Armed Forces.” March 29 is National Vietnam War Veterans Day. This also reminds me of the current disrespect for Confederate veterans and monuments to them.

I also liked the music of my parents’ generation better than that of my own. My mother had majored in music and brought us up on classical music and other good music. Every Saturday night, when The Lawrence Welk Show was on, the television in our house was tuned in to it. Lawrence Welk kept the Big Band music of my parents’ generation alive for many years. His show ran on television until 1980. I always liked the television show My Three Sons, but once it changed its time to run at the same time as The Lawrence Welk Show I could never watch it again. I got outvoted every time in my household by my parents and siblings. I was always a minority of one. I saw clips from The Lawrence Welk Show at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma the last time I was there.

I never did like the rock and roll music which my generation listened to. Dr. David A. Noebel correctly stated that it represented and advocated “drugs, sex, and revolution.” He was the one who awakened me to this. He exposed this in his book The Marxist Minstrels: A Handbook on Communist Subversion of Music (Tulsa: American Christian College Press, 1974). It is well worth reading if you can get hold of a copy. The debauchery which this music and all else the hippie culture represented was exhibited 50 years ago in San Francisco and Woodstock. Drug abuse and illicit sex were open in both places.

We are hearing a lot now about the approaching 50th anniversary of Woodstock. But as I remember that time, I am thinking of another 50th anniversary which happened at close to the same time. On July 17, 1969, country music singer Merle Haggard (1937-2016) recorded his song “Okie from Muskogee.” It became the anti-protest song of the Vietnam War and it was his answer to this degeneracy which was occurring at that time. Its lyrics, except for the line about white lightning, represented the way I felt then and still represent the way I feel now. This is the way the song went:

We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee
We don’t take our trips on LSD
We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street
We like livin’ right, and bein’ free

We don’t make a party out of lovin’
We like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo
We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do

And I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse
And white lightnin’s still the biggest thrill of all

Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear
Beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen
Football’s still the roughest thing on campus
And the kids here still respect the college dean

And I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse
And white lightnin’s still the biggest thrill of all

And white lightnin’s still the biggest thrill of all
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA

I had to look up what pitching woo meant. It means flirting. The song was released on September 29 of that year. It reached Number 1 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart on November 15 and remained there four weeks. It also reached Number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. I was never a fan of most of Haggard’s songs, nor of him personally, but I sure did, and still do, like this song. Unfortunately, he back peddled some after he got flack for this song. It received a great many attacks from the Left. His views on things also liberalized later in life. It was certain that he would get attacked for this song. I am sorry that he bent under pressure because it certainly stood for what was right and against what was wrong in its time except, of course, for the part about white lightning. Two other songs he wrote which were in the same vein and which I like are “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (1969) and “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me” (1972, about a prisoner of war in North Vietnam). He performed these songs with the group the Strangers.

Muskogee is in Eastern Oklahoma. It was near Checotah, Haggard’s father’s home town. The elder Haggard was one of the Dust Bowl refugees during the Depression and moved to California before Merle was born, as did many Oklahomans during the Depression. Many of them, including the Haggard family, retained their identity as Oklahomans and were called “Okies.” Four years after this song came out, I attended college in Tulsa, which is just up Route 351 from Muskogee.

Oklahoma is a very conservative state. During the War Between the States, it was Indian Territory, which was one of only two territories to adhere to the Confederacy instead of the Union. The Five Civilized Tribes, who lived there, were the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole. These five tribes and the Osage sided with the Confederacy when the war came because of their treatment by the Federal Government. Indian Territory had been the end of the Trail of Tears for them when they had been removed from their native lands.

These Native Americans formed a Confederate force under the command of Brigadier General Stand Watie, who was a Cherokee. They fought the Union forces in Indian Territory during the entire four years of the war. Watie was the only general officer on both sides during that war who was not white and he was the last Confederate general to surrender. His contribution during the war was very significant because if he and his Confederate Indians had not fought the Unionists in Indian Territory, the Union forces could have just walked into Northern Texas and waged war and depredation there. Texas was spared from invasion during the war, except along its Gulf Coast, as a result.

Oklahoma was also settled by many Confederate veterans after the war. It was one of the Southern States to pay Confederate veterans pensions and it had a Confederate veterans’ home in McAlester. This contributes to the state’s conservative character. “Okie from Muskogee” was intended to reflect that.

So, this month, if someone tells you about the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, tell them about the 50th anniversary of “Okie from Muskogee.” Merle Haggard was one of the first inductees at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee.

About Timothy A. Duskin

Timothy A. Duskin is from Northern Virginia. He has a B.A. degree in history from American Christian College, Tulsa, Oklahoma and a M.A. degree in international relations from the University of Oklahoma. He worked for 22 years as an Archives Technician at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He has also worked as a Writer for the U.S. Taxpayers’ Alliance in Vienna, Virginia and as a Research Assistant for the Plymouth Rock Foundation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He has a strong interest in and devotion to history and is active in a number of historical organizations. More from Timothy A. Duskin

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