If you arrived here via a search engine please readIntroduction
Chapter 7, City of Diverse Peoples by Ellen Sue Blakey
<Pg 99> ... diversity is nothing new. Tulsa began as Lochapoka, a Creek Indian settlement complete with tribal representatives, stores, schools, a short-lived pony express station and a post office. The Indian playing field for matched games of Indian ball was near what is now 6th and Main.
The racial population was mixed even then. One of the first settlers was a Mexican (probably captured in childhood by Comanches, ransomed and adopted by Creeks), his Creek wife and their mixed-blood children. A mixed-blood Cherokee by the name of Thomas Jefferson Archer opened the first store in 1883 - a box shack with a tent roof.
The first whites were transients - running from the law, some singly, some in gangs. They would stay a day, perhaps a month, then move on again, rarely causing trouble in the town that gave them sanctuary. The first white settlers were businessmen and their families. The Perryman brothers, Creeks who owned a store and ran the post office, took in a white partner and two white clerks. Those whites who owned their own businesses always employed at least one educated young Creek to serve as interpreter.
Then there were the freedmen - former black slaves of the Creek tribe who were given tribal rights after the Civil War. Although relations between the freedmen and their former Indian owners were sometimes strained, they often established roots in the same area and sometimes intermarried with the Indians.
As the railroad infiltrated the territory, the white population began to grow. At first, it was the railroad men and a few of their families who stayed after the tracks ere built. Then there were the cowboys - white, black, Indian and Mexican - who worked the cattle ranges. On the rare occasions they came to town, they like to make their presence known with a little innocent gunplay.
With the land runs, the population became even more diverse. Some who came to start small businesses were Russian, Jewish or Oriental. Others who came to find fresh soil and make a fresh start were descendants of the English/Scottish/Irish immigrants who had originally settled in the Appalachians and the Ozarks.
Blacks from the South and East were lured to the area by advertisements in national magazines and newspapers of a promised land where they could escape the absentee ownership/slum/rental cycle in which they were often locked. Many moved into the new-created black communities of Boley, Taft, Red Bird or Tullahassee, but others stayed in Tulsa, settling in the lowland community of Greenwood.
.... [discussing early churches] Active Creek Christian churches were in the Broken Arrow and Coweta neighborhoods, and missions were nearby.
... During the early days, women raised money for the churches by serving suppers. Cowboys on nearby ranges - hungry for home cooking - rode in, bought liberally and stayed for whatever evening program was planned. They often attended the church services just to hear the music.
<Pg 100> ... By 1900, there were two basic groups in the Tulsa area - those who saw Tulsa as a potentially stable town for their family and those with short-term interest, the lawless elements and hangers-on, gamblers and prostitutes attracted to the smell of fresh money in a frontier town.
...The women with families were determined to civilize the town and turned to establishing cultural activities as well as religious activities. The Ruskin Art Club was formed in 1900 "to study art as a means of self-culture." The first band (all male, of course) was organized in June 1902...
In 1904, the Hyechka (Creek word meaning music) Club was formed. This women's group was a factor in the heritage of music in Tulsa. During the next two decades, well-known musicians ranging from soloists to instrumentalists, organists to opera stars made their appearance in Tulsa courtesy of the Hyechka Club.
In 1905 The Tuesday Book Club was formed ...for the advancement of culture, art and science and the study of vital questions of the day.
... 1906 .. the Tulsa Woman's Club was organized .. to promote science, education, philanthropy, literature and art ..
<Pg 101> [discussing the discovery of oil] ...Women naturally turned to the cultural and social events so many of them could now afford. As one author wrote, "There was nothing money couldn't buy; the best schools, the best hospital, the tallest buildings, the widest streets, the grandest museums. In an orgy of benevolent spending, they bent the twig and the influence of that would endure long after their wells had ceased to pump and their names grew dim in history."
The decade was marked by the formation of the Tulsa <Pg 103> Shakespeare club, Drama League, Woman's Suffrage Association, Apollo Club (men's choral group), Cadman Club (woman's choral group), Wednesday Morning Musicale and Tulsa Male Chorus. Henry Kendall College, a Presbyterian institution at Muskogee, was moved to Tulsa in 1907 to provide the first institution of higher education in the city.
In the mixed community of North Tulsa (as Greenwood area became known), the same cycle of events occurred. The Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1905. Women formed the Young Woman's Christian Club, YMCA for North Tulsa, Girls Reserve Club, North Tulsa Cultural and Civic Club, Cosmospolitan Club and Lansing Street Church of Christ. The first black high school opened in 1912 with six students.
By 1918, Oklahoma's black population was first in the U.S. in ownership of real estate, personal property and educational progress. Most of the black businesses were centered on Greenwood Ave, north of Archer, an area sometimes known as "Little Africa," but also known across the national as the "Negro Wall Street of America." It was not a slum. There was no absentee ownership by whites or others. Greenwood was a largely black community with people in charge of their own destiny. It included a number of businesses owned by minority groups as well. One Mexican was well-known for his chili parlor, and Indians owed or operated several others.
Like the white community, it had its darker side. The rate of illiteracy in the area remained high, and narcotics addiction was a major problem.
Around the turn of the decade into the '20s, the Ku Klux Klan constructed its headquarters building in Tulsa. Racial tensions mounted in July of 1921, and Tulsa was marred by a race war that ended in major disaster for the black community. [lengthy article on the Race Riot follows]
Chapter 8 Tulsa's Friendly Neighbors by Jim Downing
<Pg 108> ... In the beginning there was the railroad, Tulsa had no bigger or better start in life than Dawson, Alsuma or Red fork. In the <Pg 109> 1890s, all the towns hereabouts were mere fly specks, the trading centers for the convenience of the farming or ranching folks, with nothing in particularly to distinguish them from each other except geographical arrangement.
Roads, what roads there were in the new country, went straight across the land, from one logical point to another - or to the nearest ferry.
(Dawson, Alsuma and Red Fork, incidentally, have long been absorbed and now lie far inside the built-up city.)
It is interesting to muse over the question of why the little places continued to exist at all, when the Tulsa giant began taking over. There is one inarguable fact, that when transport was by horse and wagon, a 20-mile trip was about all that could be accomplished in a day if a man was to get any business done.
The bare necessities of frontier living were supplied fairly close to home. Every town worthy of the name had a hotel or two - primitive though they might have been - to bed down the settler caught away from home by darkness.
A town within reach was a vital asset when the would-be immigrants in Missouri, West Virginia or Alabama looked at available land in the new Territory. The towns offered the merchants a place to trade necessities for farm produce and to supply what could not be grown.
The towns had the blacksmith shop, the cotton gins, the railheads, the general stores with everything from horse collars to sewing thread, from stock feed to piece goods, from coal oil lanterns to chill medicine. The doctors, if any, would live in these towns.
It is generally true, and particularly so in Tulsa county, that most of the towns of any importance (or of any prospects) were on the railroads, after the turn of the century. The rails were the lifelines.
Towns established before the railroad came were in trouble if the road builders elected to by-pass them. Whether or not, they pulled up stakes and moved to the rails.
Bixby and Broken Arrow are two examples. Bixby, named for Tams Bixby, the chairman of the Dawes Commission, ... had a growing business district - of frame buildings to be sure - before 1900. It had been a trading center of sorts for a decade or more before that.
When the Midland Valley railroad built its line through from Muskogee to Tulsa along the Arkansas River, the company demanded a kind of tribute from the town to locate a depot within the platted townsite. (Railroads were notorious for such practices in the early days.) When the Bixbians refused to come up with the bribe, Midland Valley slanted the road slightly north toward the river, platted and sold its own townsite and built the depot a half mile away from the existing business district.
There was no recourse; merchants and business people gave in. The shops, stores and offices in the old town were uprooted and moved to the new Main Street - not at all remarkably the intersection of Dawes and Armstrong, Dawes Commission names. Today, the widest street in the city, still called Main, is residential and site of the elementary schools.
<Pg 110> The town of Elam, named for a man named Male, was established before 1900 in southeastern Tulsa county. When the railroad came through three miles to the north the practical pioneers put skids under their buildings and dragged them cross county to the rails. They changed the name to Broken Arrow.
The town of Weer, also a thriving cotton farming community, in the southeastern corner of the county did not move and the foundations of its business buildings are hidden in the jackoaks today.
... What gave teh surrounding towns a lease on life was the fact that all through those days, roads were poor and transportation was difficult. It was a day's journey, roundtrip, from almost any country town to the growing giant. People ten to shop and do business close to home. They certainly didn't make the long haul into Tulsa unless it was unavoidable.
By the time the roads had been hard-surfaced and autos had taken over from the horse and buggy, the towns had handily established themselves, never to be supplanted.
... The nearer towns suffered though. Dawson was an important coal mining and shipping point from the earliest days. In the teens it ws still three miles east of Tulsa city limits. But Tulsa, up against the river on the west and hemmed somewhat by the hills on the north, grew inexorably east and south and little Dawson went into decline. It was swallowed up in the 1940s and now is far inside the eastern city limits.
Carbondale, Red Fork and West Tulsa met the same fate. Jenks managed to hang onto its individuality but today it is confronted by the glittering giant at the other end of the Arkansas River bridge and has had to fence itself in by strip annexations to keep from being surrounded.
Alsuma, a community on the railroad from Tulsa to Broken Arrow, one of the county's few mostly black settlements, was absorbed in the 60s and one has to remember where it was in order to pick it out of the clutter along Garnett Road today.
Tulsa Spirit Index
Back to Tulsa Home Page
Contact: Linda Haas Davenport