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Oklahoma

When the Lithuanian mass migration to the USA began ~1865, Oklahoma was still the Indian Territory.

However, in the decades afterward, it has been colonized and developed by the Americans. Coal mining began. Higher salaries attracted Lithuanian miners from Pennsylvania to those far-away regions.

The center of the coal mining was around the town of Hartshorne (also in Wilburton, McAlester, etc.). In these towns, Lithuanian communities developed – however, they were not large or cohesive enough to build their own churches or clubs.

Thus, currently, the Lithuanians of Oklahoma are reminded solely by inscriptions. Most of such inscriptions are located in the Holy Rosary Catholic Cemetery of Hartshorne. It has an area where all the graves are those of Lithuanians (at around 34.86192725312656, -95.55367835119232), however, it is not anyhow marked and other Lithuanian graves appear all over the cemetery. Tombstones are large just as they are in Lithuania. Epitaphs describe the birth and death dates and locations, as well as the Lithuanian fraternal organizations the deceased were members of (these organizations often helped to pay for the funeral).

A line of old Lithuanian graves in Elmwood Cemetery of Hartshorne

A line of old Lithuanian graves in Elmwood Cemetery of Hartshorne

There are Lithuanian graves in the area‘s other cemeteries but they are not concentrated – e.g. Calvary cemetery of Wilburton.

A Lithuanian grave in Oklahoma

A Lithuanian grave in Oklahoma

In front of the Wilburton Calvary cemetery entrance (on the opposite side of the road) there was a separate Lithuanian non-religious cemetery (owned by the Lithuanian Alliance in America). However, merely a sole gravestone with Lithuanian symbols survives there in what is now a meadow. Much of the original burials may have been under what is now the road. This cemetery would have likely been forgotten if not for the research by Vilnius Žalpys from Portland, Oregon. Even today, it is beyond a barbed-wire fence.

The former location of the Lithuanian cemetery behind a barbed wire fence

The former location of the Lithuanian cemetery behind a barbed wire fence. The sole remaining gravestone (with Lithuanian coat of arms) is marked by posts.

In 1981, the Hartshorne school has been renamed Buzidragis Middle School after a Lithuanian Buzidragis who served as that school‘s principal for 25 years. He was not a descendent of the Oklahoma miners, however – rather, he moved from Lowell, Massachusetts, where he was born to a Lithuanian family. His name is written on the school facade, on a stone next to a tree planted for him. His picture is in the hall near the school entrance. According to the locals, Buzidragis was loved by the people of the town for being just and he didn't evaluate people based on their race. Buzidragis family's original Lithuanian surname was Bažadragis.

Buzidragis Middle School

Buzidragis Middle School

Lithuanian names also appear on the Coal Miners Memorial Plaza in McAlester which lists miners killed in many accidents of the area where coal mines were especially unsafe. The memorial lists all the victims behind a statue of a miner.

Coal Miners Memorial Plaza in McAlester

Coal Miners Memorial Plaza in McAlester

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