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History of the Oakies

Posted at 3:23 PM, Mar 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-16 12:23:48-04

Way before Cal State Bakersfield had the opportunity to go to Oklahoma for the NCAA Tournament, Oklahomans among many found refuge in Kern County.

They were called "Oakies." Some have a positive association with the word, "We came from Oklahoma, we were looking for work, and farmers had work. Amd if you were a hard worker then you found work. So my dad was happy about that, he was always proud to work [for a ranch]," Larry Hallum said.

Hallum grew up in Arvin and says he would have liked to be called an Oakie, but his father said he was born in California so he's a CIO, a "California Improved Oakie."

Others in the community were more cautious when they spoke about the term, saying it often related negatively to migrants who came into town for work and were poor.

Hallum said his father was a tenant farmer in Oklahoma and saw the opportunity to make more money in California, so he picked up and moved out with a friend.

They ran out of gas in Arizona and were hired to kill rattlesnakes in a canal for a farmer. "He said every night he quit and every morning he went back to work," Hallum said.

Once they saved enough money to get to California, Hallum sent for his wife and children to travel to Arvin.

"Three days on a greyhound bus with my 18 month old sister. They got to Bakersfield and found a taxi driver, and my mother showed the taxi driver a picture of my dad and Uncle Earl, in front of the bunk houses and said I want to go here," Hallum said.

The taxi driver didn't know where that was but said he would help her find it after learning she had just traveled 1,400 miles over three days with a young child.

Hallum said he's seen the field workers change over the years, and now he thinks of his father when he sees large families walking around town.

Hallum is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and CSUB, and said he will win either way this Friday.