Out of the Heartland
"NOT QUITE THE TWANG OF THE MIDWEST NOR THE DRAWL OF THE DEEP SOUTH, but a composite of both," an observer once said of the Oklahoma and Texas accents she heard in California. 1 Something similar might be said of the culture and identity of the people the Dust Bowl migration brought to California. Their states of origin -- Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri -- are best understood as border states marking the limits of the South as it shades into the West and Midwest. This is where the great regions of the American heartland come together.
Actually, the four-state area lacks a clearly defined regional identity. Residents profess a variety of loyalties. Arkansans generally agree on their ties to the South, but Missourians cannot decide whether their state belongs to the Midwest or the South, Oklahomans alternately consider themselves Southwesterners or Midwesterners, while Texans will accept either the Southwest or the South. 2
Much of the difficulty of regional identification is traceable to the settlement history of the area. Southerners were the leading population element in all four states, but strong representations of Northerners and European immigrants along with particular economic structures helped to limit Southern influences in certain places. A combined force of lowland Southerners moving up the Mississippi Valley and uplanders pushing west from Kentucky and Tennessee began the settlement of