The sun smiles down on Oklahoma more often than not, watching farmers making hay while it shines.
Welcome signs in the communities of Big Cabin (population 254) in Craig County and Inola (population 1,826) in Rogers County each announce that travelers are entering the Hay Capital of the World.
Big Cabin and Inola: self-proclaimed Hay Capitals of the World
False. For those concerned with numbers, it is worth noting that neither produces record-setting harvests. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas is the top hay-making state, producing 10.35 million tons in 2017. Oklahoma was fifth overall – behind Nebraska, Kansas and California – producing 5.988 million tons.
Both Craig and Rogers are among 12 of the state’s 77 counties producing more than 100,000 tons of hay each year. But they aren’t even tops in Oklahoma: At last count, LeFlore County produced 8,600 tons of alfalfa and 142,200 tons of other hay per year, for a total of 150,800 tons.
For those concerned with stamps of approval, the 125-year-old National Hay Association does not recognize an official Hay Capital.
But enough with facts; how did these two Oklahoma towns lay claim to the title Hay Capital of the World? Because someone decided … well, why not?
The town of Big Cabin came up with the idea first, 77 years ago. An oft-repeated story, reported by the Craig County Heritage Association and cited in The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, notes that in 1942, “a local farmer claimed that more hay had been shipped from Big Cabin between 1883 and 1910 than any other town in the United States.” He took it upon himself to call the town, population right around 250, "the Hay Capital of the World.”
Years later, a similar idea was pondered 40 miles away in Inola. Mayor Tommy Dyer told a reporter from The New York Times how it took hold: “A bunch of guys were sitting around drinking coffee one day and they got to talking about Rooster Day over at Broken Arrow. They said, ‘If Broken Arrow can have a rooster day, why can't we have a hay day?’ So we started calling ourselves the hay capital of the world. So far, nobody has contested it.”
Well, except for all those who have. But the celebrations continue in Inola, and the city features its Hay Capital of the World claim in promotions from its city seal to the motto stretching the length of its homepage.
Dyer, who served as mayor of Inola from 1965-79, remembers the Hay Days heydays and their bale-tossing contests, days-long BBQ, and beans and slaw dished up from 30-gallon vats for thousands of visitors.
The tradition, which began in 1962, continues to draw the community together every June with events including a parade, frog-jumping contest, turtle races, street dance and crowning of the Hay Day Queen.
Editor’s note: Oklahoma is rich with history, lore and fun facts … but some of them aren’t quite factual. In this series, M.J. Alexander hunts for the accuracy – or lack thereof – behind some of our state’s stories.