Wilson Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma. He
was the second-born son of Charles and Nora Belle Guthrie. His father – a cowboy, land speculator, and local politician – taught Woody Western songs, Indian songs, and Scottish folk tunes.
His Kansas-born mother, also musically inclined, had an equally
profound effect on Woody.
Slightly built, with
an extremely full and curly head of hair, Woody was a precocious
and unconventional boy from the start. Always a keen observer of
the world around him, the people, music and landscape he was exposed
to made lasting impressions on him.
During his early years
in Oklahoma, Woody experienced the first of a series of immensely
tragic personal losses. With the accidental death of his older sister
Clara, the family's financial ruin, and the institutionalization
and eventual loss of his mother, Woody's family and home life was
In 1920, oil
was discovered nearby and overnight Okemah was transformed into
an "oil boom" town, bringing thousands of workers, gamblers
and hustlers to the once sleepy farm town. Within a few years, the
oil flow suddenly stopped and Okemah suffered a severe economic
turnaround, leaving the town and its inhabitants "busted, disgusted,
and not to be trusted."
From his experiences
in Okemah, Woody’s uniquely wry outlook on life, as well as
his abiding interest in rambling around the country, was formed.
And so, he took to the open road.