Discover Bartlesville: Woolaroc; bandit haven, outlaw refuge, and famous home of Frank Phillips

During the roaring 20’s, when flappers and jazz music dominated the scene in the east, Oklahoma was full of wild and rugged roughneck towns.  After the discovery of oil near Bartlesville, rough and rowdy men swarmed to the still young state of Oklahoma.  The era of outlaws and Indians ended as progress spread across the state.

For wealthy oilman Frank Phillips, this was a time of great prosperity.  Still, he was a man of dreams and longed for those turbulent days when outlaws roamed free and the land remained uncultivated.  His great wealth in the oil industry gave Frank a freedom that allowed him to live out these dreams. 

Franks massive ‘Ranch on the Range’, which he named Woolaroc, provided the perfect backdrop for these dreams of bygone eras to come to life.  He threw outlandish parties and regularly invited well-known outlaws and bandits to this sprawling ranch.  All across the west, Woolaroc was known to be a safe haven for anyone seeking escape from the law.

Frank Phillips
Frank Phillips

Frank Phillips and the Legacy behind the Lodge

Frank Phillips was one of the first oilmen to realize the potential of Oklahoma. After spending many years of hard prospecting, he discovered a massive pool of oil, and profited immensely from this untapped resource. In the years that followed, he went on to found the Phillips Petroleum Company. This small Bartlesville business went on to become the global energy enterprise we know today. Along with his other business ventures, it didn’t take long for Phillips to become immensely wealthy.

In the early days after discovering oil, Frank Phillips bought a large amount of land outside of Bartlesville. This land would eventually become known as the Woolaroc Ranch. Because of his fascination with the Wild West, he dreamed of owning a place that reflected his fascination, and it was because of this longing that the Woolaroc Ranch was born.

The Woolaroc Ranch began life as a simple one-room log cabin. Over the years, this small log cabin has been transformed into one of the most unique lodge structures in the United States.

Buffalo at the Woolaroc Ranch
Buffalo at the Woolaroc Ranch
The Woolaroc plane located inside the museum
The Woolaroc plane located inside the museum
Painting at the Woolaroc Ranch
Painting at the Woolaroc Ranch
Belle Starr Statue at the Woolaroc Ranch
Belle Starr Statue at the Woolaroc Ranch

Construction at the ranch began in 1925 with the main room of what would become the lodge.  Over time, this simple one-room building would grow to house eight bedrooms, including a servant’s room.

He called this ranch Woolaroc, a name taken from the woods, lakes, and rocks that surrounded it.  The name was originally intended for the lodge ranch house, but it was so unique that it became the name for the entire Frank Phillips ranch.

Two years later, in 1927, he chose the name Woolaroc for one of the two planes that he sponsored in the Trans-Pacific Dole Flight to Hawaii.  The plane won the $25,000 first prize, and Frank Phillips was so proud of that feat that he brought the Travel Air monoplane back to the Woolaroc Ranch.  After its arrival, he had a one-room sandstone “hanger” built to display his pride and joy. 

Like the lodge house, this one sandstone hanger continued to grow as Frank Phillips continued to add to his collections of artwork and other western memorabilia.  Eventually, this hanger would grow to become the main part of the Woolaroc Museum.

Frank Phillips was so infatuated with western lore that he brought Buffalo and other big game to his ranch.  Many of the decedents of these large beasts still roam across the 3,700-acre grounds of the Woolaroc Ranch.  The buffalo herd dates back to 1926 when Frank had 90 of the animals brought here from South Dakota.

That same year, Frank Phillips also hosted the first cow thieves and outlaws reunion at Clyde Lake.  While many of the stories from those days are long lost, one can imagine the mystery and mayhem that those events brought to the Woolaroc Ranch.

At one time, the Woolaroc Ranch was a thriving retreat for those famous enough to be invited.  In fact, it was here that Frank Philips won and lost the Ringling Brothers Circus in a bet.  Over the next 25 years, he and his wife entertained more than 200,000 guests, including presidents, actors, and outlaws.  Herbert Hoover, Wiley Post, and Harry Truman were just some of the people that Frank and his wife entertained.

The Woolaroc Ranch Today

Hidden away in the rugged Osage Hills of Northeastern Oklahoma, the Woolaroc Ranch remains much as it was during Frank Phillips time.  This large home is an exceptional testament to the oil boom era in which it was built. 

Inside, the walls of the Lodge are ornamented with 97 animal heads and 107 sets of horns.  Many of these were gifts from some of his illustrious visitors, while others were from animals that had died of natural causes.

The Woolaroc Museum plays host to a comprehensive collection of American Western art.  Each room of the Woolaroc Museum is decked out with awe-inspiring paintings and sculptures, many from Frank Philips personal collection.  The exhibits bring to live the early history of the pioneers, the outlaws and Indians, and the rugged cattlemen that called Oklahoma home.

The Woolaroc Museum also hosts an internationally acclaimed collection of colt pistols, as well as the world famous Woolaroc plane.

During the summer months, visitors can experience an authentic 1840’s trader camp.  This camp recreates early settler life in Oklahoma.  Visitors can learn how to throw a tomahawk and fire a black powder musket.

Visiting the Woolaroc Ranch

Located just outside of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Woolaroc is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. Guided tours are conducted daily at 2:00 pm.

For more information on visiting the Woolaroc Ranch, as well as directions and current admissions, visit www.woolaroc.org.

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Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 2 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

I can understand the fascination with the West. Something always look very "romantic" in hindsight. So, at least Phillips did something about it, of course he had the money needed. I just seems that in those days it was easier to become rich, but I am sure it is not the case.

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