Tulsa, Oklahoma – Oil Capital of the World

Route 66 in Tulsa, Oklahoma by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Route 66 in Tulsa, Oklahoma by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.


Trail of Tears painting by Robert Lindneux

Trail of Tears painting by Robert Lindneux

Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the midst of Indian Territory, was first settled by Native Americans in 1836 when they were forcibly made to relocate along the infamous Trail of Tears. The CreekSeminoleCherokeeQuapawSenecaShawnee, and other tribes were all made to surrender their lands east of the Mississippi River after the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830.

Each of the larger tribes were given extensive land holdings and the Indians began new lives as farmers, trappers, and ranchers. For many, the journey ended beneath the branches of the Council Oak Tree, located on the east side of the Arkansas River.

Some called their settlement Tallahassee, while others used the Creek Indian word “Tulsy” which meant “old town.” For the next 25 years, they would lead a peaceful life in a primarily untamed wilderness with only a few white settlers in the area.

An Indian and steamboat on the Arkansas River near Tulsa, Oklahoma

An Indian and steamboat on the Arkansas River near Tulsa, Oklahoma

In 1846, Lewis Perryman, who was part Creek Indian, built a log cabin trading post near what is now 33rd Street and South Rockford Avenue. Perryman’s business was quite successful in the rugged frontier until the Civil War, when many residents fled the area.

When the war broke out the United States abandoned Indian Territory sending its troops to war against the Confederate forces. The Creek Indians were torn as to which side to support. Many of them believed that they should move north into Kansas where they could seek protection. However, when they gathered up their families and possessions they were attacked by a force of Texas Cavalry and Confederate Indians. The Battle of Round Mountain was fought northwest of Tulsa where the Cimarron River flows into the Arkansas River. Two other battles were fought north of Tulsa including the Chustenahlah and Chursto-Talasah. The surviving Union Indians moved into Kansas near the Fort Scott area.

Eventually, the Creek Indians enlisted 1,575 men in the Confederate armies and 1,675 men in the Union forces. After the end of the Civil War, the Creek Indians returned to their homes in the Tulsa area. A United States census taken in 1867 showed that the Tulsa area had a population of 264 Creek.

After the Civil War, numerous outlaws began to take refuge in Indian Territory, as it was not yet subject to any white man’s jurisdiction. Wrecking the relative peace of the civilized tribes in the area, Indian Territory soon became known as a very bad place, where desperadoes thought the laws did not apply to them and terror reigned.

Judge Isaac Parker

Judge Isaac Parker. Click for prints, downloads and products.

Attempting to tame the wild frontier, President Grant appointed Judge Isaac Parker to rule over the federal district court for the Western District of Arkansas, in Fort Smith. This district had jurisdiction over the Indian Territory, and when Parker’s tenure began in 1875 he quickly enforced the law against the many criminals who had taken over Oklahoma. Before long, his efforts would earn him the nick-name of “The Hanging Judge,” as order was restored to the area.

As more and more white settlers began to move into Indian Territory the government would break its “permanent” arrangement with the Native Americans. The tribes were forced to accept a number of new treaties which further limited the amount of land each of them held.

In the fall of 1878, the Post Office Department extended its service from Fort Smith, Arkansas to the Sac and Fox agency in Indian Territory, where a post office was located inside the Perryman Ranch.

Another post office was officially established on March 25, 1879, near what would later become 41st Street and Trenton Avenue in Tulsa. Josiah Perryman became the first postmaster to the town’s 200 residents.

White settlers continued to push forward into the territory and in 1882 the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad extended its line to Tulsa to serve the cattle business. A stockyard, with cattle-loading pens and chutes, was built near the tracks, and cattle were driven from the Indian Nations and Texas to be shipped to Northern and Eastern markets.

In no time at all, the railroad surveyor began to lay out a number of streets near the railroad tracks. In the beginning, because Tulsa was located in the Creek Nation, it had no legal government or taxes, no public schools, water systems or street regulations, and Tulsa was considered a wide-open town.

Tulsa, Oklahoma 1896

Tulsa, Oklahoma 1896

In the spring of 1883, the post office was moved from the Perryman ranch to the Perryman store, located on what would later become the southwest corner of First and Main Streets. Later when J.M. Hall was appointed to succeed Josiah Perryman as Postmaster in December 1885, Mr. Hall moved the office to the Hall Brothers’ Store located on the west side of Main Street just south of the Frisco tracks.

In 1889 the unassigned lands in Indian Territory were opened to white settlers and the flood of people were soon nick-named the “boomers.”

In 1895 a Federal Judge of the first United States court in Indian Territory ruled that Tulsa had the right to incorporate. Tulsa’s business leaders immediately got together to draw a petition for incorporation. Though it took some time, Tulsa, with its population of 1,100 residents, was incorporated on January 18, 1898.

Tulsa Oil Well Postcard-1910

With the discovery of oil in 1901, Tulsa changed from a cow-town to a boomtown. At the nearby community of Red Fork, a giant oil deposit was found and wildcatters and investors began to flood the city of Tulsa, bringing along their families and settling in. New neighborhoods were soon established on the north side of the Arkansas River and the town began to spread out in all directions from downtown.

Four years later, in 1905, a new, even larger oil discovery was made in nearby Glenn Pool that would later lead to Tulsa ’s golden age of the 1920s and its title as the “Oil Capital of the World.” Many early oil companies chose Tulsa for their home base.

By 1920, Tulsa was called home to almost 100,000 people and 400 different oil companies. The booming town boasted two daily newspapers, four telegraph companies, more than 10,000 telephones, seven banks, 200 attorneys and more than 150 doctors, as well as numerous other businesses.

Though the 1920s looked very promising for the burgeoning city, it would soon see one of the most gruesome and devastating race riots in U.S. history.

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