As early as 10,000 years ago, Oklahoma was the hunting ground for various nomadic and seminomadic Indian tribes. Around 4,000 years ago, agriculture was introduced. When European explorers arrived in the 16th century, the region was occupied by several nomadic Plains tribes—notably Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indians—and a number of village-dwelling tribes, including the Caddo, Wichita, and Pawnee.

The first Europeans to enter what is now Oklahoma were Spanish explorers—Coronado to the west in 1541 and De Soto to the east in 1542. In 1682 La Salle claimed the area for France, and, except for the Panhandle, it became part of Louisiana, which passed to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The western limits of the area, settled by treaty in 1819, left the Panhandle in the possession of Spain, which controlled the area to the south and west of Oklahoma.