Snippets From
Tulsa Spirit
# 3

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Chapter 5 - The Work Ethic: Alive and Well by Ellen Sue Blakey

<Pg 66> Oklahoma was a wild, challenging land - the last western frontier - that needed to be tamed and tapped before it could be civilized. Those who came - and stayed - had to be survivors. They knew what they wanted - independence and opportunity - and they wanted it enough to work for it.

<Pg 69> As early as 1830, Jewish businessmen from Arkansas traveled into the area to trade with the Indians. But it was not until the 1880s that the first non-Indians moved into the territory to try their hand at business. Chauncey Owen pitched a tent on a hill near the Arkansas River and brought supplies from his nearby ranch to sell to the local people. As the railroad moved into the area, he and his wife served meals to the construction crews.

Many of the track layers, brakemen, engineers and surveyors found the land to their liking. They simply pitched their tents at the end of the line, brought in their families and stayed, though the land still belonged to the Indians.

The first real store building - a mere 12x14 feet - was put up by Thomas Jefferson Archer in the winter of 1882. That year, the Hall Brothers - James was a railroad construction crewman and Harry was a contractor - also opened a tent store alongside the railroad on the west side of Main. They built a new store in 1883, as did the Perryman Brothers. That year, in addition to the railroad buildings, Tulsa boasted a livery stable, drugstore, lumber yard, tent boardinghouse, barbershop, coal mine, cemetery and post office. Two doctors joined the growing business community shortly. The stores served the Indian nations, the small group of mixed whites in the area (including the renegade outlaws who passed through frequently), the cowboys and the ranchers nearby.

As a sort of corollary to the Homestead Act, the government decided to open the Territory to white settlers (despite its promises to the Indians). The Oklahoma Land Runs were a matter of sheer guts - whoever could get there the fastest got the land. It was the final hope for many who had failed elsewhere. Everyone got an even start at the sound of a gun - except those who left nothing to chance and chose to avoid the rush by sneaking across the line early.

<Pg 71> The little town of Tulsa mushroomed. There was the Brady Shoe Company and F P Goynes' Tulsa Drug Store. Bud Wallace's meat market dressed out such local varieties as deer, bear and antelope. C B Lynch's store advertised "Staple and Fancy Groceries, Queensware Boots and Shoes." There was a lawyer, a flour mill, an ice factory/meat refrigeration plant and the First National Bank of Tulsa.

In the East, wage cuts were becoming a daily occurrence, strikes were common across the county ... But the enterprising little town seemed unaffected by the economic depression. The law of supply and demand operated in the favor of the entrepreneur on the frontier. Labor was scarce; thus wages were high and commodities dear. The frontier was looking better and better to more and more people.

Then Oklahoma struck oil. Within one decade, the entire structure of the city and its labor force changed. Up until then, those who lived and worked in Tulsa generally fell into two classes - those who owned small businesses offering one or two services or commodities, and those who worked directly for the owner.

By 1905, the whole timbre of the town had taken a turn. Oil companies abounded ... they were followed closely by other services - investments, equipment manufacturing firms, oil field lumber companies, transportation companies, steel building construction. There was even a five-story skyscraper (First National Bank) to attest to the town's prosperity - and it had drinking fountains on every floor. The city was so busy in 1908 that Tulsa placed fifth in the nation for the amount of business done in the post office.

...money flowed so easily that even the blacks from the Greenwood area found jobs. No matter that they worked mostly as porters or shoeshiners; they were making $25 and $50 a day in tips.

<Pg 73>In the 1920s the State became the 28th to enact a minimum wage law ... it was a new departure in the field of labor legislation because it applied not only to women and minors but to men as well. No other state's law had extended coverage to men.

... Oct 1920, the stock market crashed ... <Pg 74> If conditions were grim in Tulsa, they were even more so in the outlying rural areas where farmers were hit by Depression coupled with drought and dust storms. Hundreds of hard-working farmers had made the land run or had purchased their property from the Indian owner, found themselves wiped out. Family pride dwindled. Some drifted to the city to join the lines hunting for work. Others went to California were promises were big and the cupboard of reality was bare.

<Pg 75> ... More than 7,000 Tulsans found themselves willing to work but were without a job. Soup lines stretched along the 11th Street Bridge in West Tulsa. There were 27 different make-work projects funded by the federal WPA in the area, among them the Bird Creek channel, which created jobs for 97 Tulsans who eagerly cleared the creek.

<Pg 83> [newspapers] ....It all began, sort of, with the Indian Republican, published irregularly in the late 19th century. It was Tulsa's first newspaper and preceded the Tulsa Chief and the Tulsa Democrat, both weeklies.

Daily publication began on September 27, 1904, when the Tulsa Democrat became the Tulsa Daily Democrat. That newspaper became the Democrat Tribune in 1917 when it was bought by Richard Lloyd Jones; three years later, he changed the name to the Tulsa Tribune.

The Tulsa World began operation on September 14, 1905 under the reigns of Eugene Lorton, evolving from the Tulsa Chief via the Republican.

The Oklahoma Eagle, a weekly owned by the Goodwin family, is one of the longest running and most prominent minority newspapers in the nation.

<Pg 84> Tulsa radio began in 1925, when KFRU, a Bristow radio station, was moved by oilman W G Skelly. The station's new call letters, KVOO, stood for Voice of Oklahoma.

Television began on October 15, 1949 when KOTV began showing its test pattern, its original tower sitting high atop the National Bank of Tulsa building.

Chapter 6 - Government by Honesty by John Hamill

<Pg 86> ....Tulsa's [government] somehow works. And it does so despite laboring under a form of government which is no longer included in urban studies textbooks. Most cities discarded years ago the city commission form of government, a system popular at the turn of the century when Tulsa adopted it. But Tulsans, apparently displaying satisfaction at the way their city is run, or out of a unique form of civic pride, which preserves a relic of city management for the examination of future generations, have thus far refused to change, modify, throw out or revise their city charter.

"Tulsa's government is unique," sums up on longtime observer, "if for no other reason than it is a poor system that runs well."

The fact that it runs at all would be a great comfort to early day Tulsans. After J M Hall, L M Poe and Col. Ed Calkins (Poe and Calkins each later served as mayors) rode a carriage to federal court at Muskogee to secure the city's charter, the Indian Republican, an occasional weekly newspaper, described it thusly:

"The Indian Republican believes that a better and brighter day has thus dawned for Tulsa. Conditions had become intolerable here and something had to be done. When the United States Commission, especially a high-class jurist like Judge Elijah Tollett, is forced to leave Tulsa because of fear for his life at the hands of a band of outlaws, when it is not safe at night to light up a store or residence without having the light shot out, when stores are blow up and their proprietor, one of our foremost citizens; killed was Jeff Archer, and some fronts broken out as was Tate Brady's, when our kangaroo city marshal, chosen by the vigilance committee, Tom Stufflebeam, gets drunk and falls in the river and would have drowned if it had not been for Burl Cox, when bands of outlaws roam the hills on every side of town, it's time good citizens who expect to build a city here and raise their families <Pg 87> rise in their might and assert their rights."

It could have been worse. The outlaws who roamed the hills on every side of town could have been sweeping down on the town. But, they had an unspoken and unwritten pact not to attack Tulsa. J M Hall noted, in an early history of Tulsa, "The Dalton boys ... never molested anyone in Tulsa, but committed systematic robberies elsewhere."

Tulsa's attraction to less desirable citizens came about because no important trading points existed within a radius of about 60 miles, and the closest "justice" was found in the Federal court at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

"It was dangerous, too, for one private citizen to report another to the federal authorities," Hall recalled. "If the sentence gave promise of being anything heavier than a jail term, retaliation was quite certain. The accused man would often kill the witness against him."

Law and what order there was came from U.S. marshals who varied in competency. One of the coolest was Bass Reeves; a witness to one event later recorded, "Bass Reeves, a Negro deputy marshal, was one of the most noted officers of the early days. He was fearless. One night Bass went into the Hall store followed by a crowd of cowboys and others. The writer was talking to Reeves when a white man came in having all the appearance of an outlaw. Reeves asked him to give up his guns. The man threw his hands on them and Reeves did the same with his. The white man didn't draw, but he refused to surrender the weapons.

'You are a white man and I am a Negro,' Reeves said <Pg 90> quietly, 'White men do not like to give up to a Negro. You give your guns to Mr Hall and when you are ready to leave town he will give them back to you'. The white man complied."

...Tulsa managed for ten years - from the time of its chartering until 1908 - without a city commission. During that period, the city was run by a mayor, eight councilmen (freeholders), a city engineer, a city attorney, a city clerk and a chief of police. The city clerk officiated as a police judge. Then in 1908, the Board of Freeholders, two from each of the city's four wards, drafter a new charger which would divide the governing responsibilities for the city of about 8,000 among six "businessmen". It was the commission form of government, and at the time quite popular.

... W E Rhodes ... last mayor under the old form of city government <there is a lengthy article about Mayor Rhodes and what he accomplished>

The Tulsa World said about Rhodes ... "Too honest to successfully play the political game and surrender his honest convictions, he was retired at the end of one term as mayor but his record as one of the city's wisest executives still stands unchallenged."

<Pg 91> ...took the steps to ensure that Tulsa would be more than simply a rough and ready oil town. Its second mayor under the commission form of government, Judge L J Martin and his chief of police, H L Newblock, saw to that.

"Only ran for one term as mayor, that was in 1910," Martin would recall in 1946. "Probably couldn't have been re-elected anyway ... made too many enemies among the big shot gambles.

"We ran 'em out of town, though, clear out past the city limits," Martin said, bringing back memories of chasing off Main Street the gambling and bootleg dens preached against as early as 1883.

"You know the biggest problem I faced was not with the gamblers ... who offered bribes ... then threats. It was with <Pg 94> some of the big businessmen who wanted the establishments to stay. They got up a long petition to that effect."

Martin then exercised the kind of political ploy that could be admired by the most savvy of today's politicians.

"For awhile I was a little worried. Cleaning up was going to be a lot harder if I had to fight them too.

"Know what I finally did? I called the leaders in and told them that I'd be glad to look over their petition and have the list of names published in the paper! That was the end of that."

<Pg 95> ... Tulsa was known as a brash little town, especially when its citizens would hold up trains in Muskogee for as long as half an hour. Tulsa also annoyed its neighbors, which it regarded as rivals, when it bragged about its population. For instance, the Spirit reported in April, 1923.

"The official announcement came from the Census Bureau in Washington that Tulsa has a population of more than one hundred thousand people and is larger than Oklahoma City. Naturally there wa great satisfaction expressed locally when the news was given to the public and there should be some adverse comments from the presses of the State Capital was also to be expected."

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