Historic Okmulgee: How Oil Tycoons Created one of Oklahoma's Wealthiest Towns

Okmulgee's history is rich with both triumph and tragedy. From the rebirth of the Creek Indian and the many state changing decisions made in Creek Counsel House, to the tragedies of the Great Depression, this series will outline the key events that brought this small town national prestige.  Before you leave, be sure to check out the other pages in the Okmulgee History series.

Okmulgee History 1910-1919: Oil Tycoons, Vaudville Plays, and a City on the Rise

During this time, Okmulgee grew into it's own. Gone were the days when Okmulgee was known as Indian Territory, but rather, it was now a bustling town full of opportunity. As it was all across the United States, Okmulgee was still a blend of old and new. New cars and horse drawn popcorn stands lined the streets of downtown Okmulgee. Outlaws and bandits still roamed the countryside, while slick suited businessmen bustled around downtown.

Downtown Okmulgee from top of commerce building.
Downtown Okmulgee from top of commerce building.
Okmulgee millionaires at play.
Okmulgee millionaires at play.
Oil Fields in Okmulgee.
Oil Fields in Okmulgee.

Daily Life in Okmulgee 1910-1919

The town streets were busy with delivery wagons - ice wagons, little goat drawn wagons the traveling photographer had to take pictures of children, farmer's wagons, the jewel tea card which smelled of pungent spices, teamsters' wagons with pipe to the oil fiends and grocery delivery wagons. Okmulgee even had a hurdy gurdy man. "He came completely equipped with a music box on a prop pole and a little monkey on a chain all dressed up in a red and gold suit with a little red cap.

Picnics and outings were the order of the day. One young "social set" took bag and baggage, "together with the choicest edibles of the season and a colored cook to do the manual labor" and headed out for dripping springs for a week of rollicking in the country.

The Okmulgee County Courthouse was completed in 1918, with marble walls and floors. The bonds for the court house had been sold to Katie Fixico, a wealthy Creek Indian, whose house has long housed the restaurant known as "The Southern Mansion."

Many people became Oil tycoons, hitting big payoffs from local wells. Oil had changed the complexion of the entire country. Numerous fields had sprouted around Okmulgee. Okmulgee producers and Refining Company was organized in 1916. In Okmulgee alone there were 9 firms which repaired or manufactured oil field equipment.

Okmulgee Timeline 1910-1919

1910

  • Okmulgee and Coalton Railway (later known as Okmulgee Northern) began laying track to ferry coal between the two cities. Oil and Coal were major sources of income during this time and times to come.
  • First hospital established in Okmulgee
  • On April 12th, after a long politic battle, beginning with first submission in 1907, the Okmulgee streetcar began running. The cars between downtown ran and the Frisco depot. On July 4th, the cars carried over 4000 passengers, at a nickel a ride - to Lambert's amusement park (Lake Park) at the south end of Ohio Street.


1917

  • Poe-Hart gang ended its career in a shootout in the deep fork bottoms near old Nuyaka mission.


1918

  • On February 18th, the first Okmulgean to enlist in WWI was Lee Raymond Long. He landed in France and on may 28, he took part in the first American offensive of the war at Cantigny. Long was shot and killed by German snipers on May 30 - one of the first casualties of the war.
  • William Howard Taft visits Okmulgee
  • Petroleum building completed
  • Okmulgee county courthouse completed.
  • Women's suffrage approved


1919

  • Dr J.E Bercaw and Doctors Berry, Mitchener and Hole founded the Okmulgee Clinic, a two story brick building at 319 West 5th.
  • Oil Production in the county from October to December was 45,000 barrels a day. Oil refineries had become big business in the county. In addition to oil and coal, there were four major glass factories in Okmulgee.


Historic Photos of Oklahoma
Historic Photos of Oklahoma

Oklahoma has an excellent photographic record, largely because the twin territories developed along the same general timeline as modern photography itself. Historic Photos of Oklahoma is not an illustrated history of Oklahoma, nor is it an attempt at a visual chronology of the state. Rather, the photographs included here tell the story of this diverse group of people called Oklahomans as witnessed in their faces, the homes they cherished, and the streets they traveled.

Just as viewing a succession of school photos reveals the periods of beauty and awkwardness, innocence and maturity, and hardship and joy in a child's life, the reader of this book will see the tragedy of Indian removal, the exuberance of land runs, the shame of segregation, the anguish of the Depression, and the optimism for the future in Oklahoma. In between are glimpses of how we used to live, work, and play in the forty-sixth state of the Union.

 
Historical Atlas of Oklahoma
Historical Atlas of Oklahoma

The Historical Atlas of Oklahoma has been an indispensable reference for longer than four decades. Issued on the eve of the Oklahoma Centennial, this fourth edition of the atlas is much more than an updated version. Oklahoma authors Charles Robert Goins and Danney Goble are joined by seventeen contributing scholars (including natural and physical scientists) and other professionals to present 119 topics. To explore each, one or more maps with explanatory legends, tables, and graphs are paired with an interpretive essay.

 
Roadside History of Oklahoma (Roadside History (Paperback))
Roadside History of Oklahoma (Roadside History (Paperback))

Roadside History of Oklahoma invites tourists and residents alike to use the state's highways as avenues connecting the present with the past. Drive along the stage route used by the Butterfield Overland Mail, or follow the Chisholm Trail as the first cowboys did after the Civil War when they drove cattle to railheads in Kansas, or cross the state on "America's Main Street," Route 66.

 
Street view of Downtown Okmulgee.
Street view of Downtown Okmulgee.
Oil Well - Preston Pool.
Oil Well - Preston Pool.
The Parkinson Hotel in Downtown Okmulgee.
The Parkinson Hotel in Downtown Okmulgee.

Stories of Okmulgee 1910-1919

In 1910, a new inexpensive way to operate a theater was introduced in Okmulgee on June 4. It was a sort of forerunner of the drive-in theater, being roofless, but having four walls. This type of theater was called an “Air Dome”, and the one in Okmulgee was located on the west side of Morton Street across from the Council House. Needless to say, showings were held only in the summer, and in good, clear weather.



The Parkinson Hotel

The Parkinson Hotel was the result of a joint effort of community leaders such as Jim Parkinson, L.S. Skelton, Judge W. W. Witten, and banker David M. Smith.

The Second floor parlor was elaborately furnished in mahogany, carpeted in red, and boasted an Everett Grand Piano, while the upper rooms were equipped with a bed, wardrobe, hot and cold water, and a panoramic view of the city.

Furnishings for the kitchen cost $2,500.00, with chefs, bakers, and assistant cooks being brought from Kansas City, and dining room girls from St. Louis.



A Big Visitor

In 1913, William Howard Taft, 27th president of the United States, came to Henryetta to visit his friend, W.B. Hudson, father of Jim Hudson. At that time, Hudson lived at the present site of the Dr. W.M. Haynes home. Taft slept in the southeast bedroom. It took a sturdy bed, for Taft weighed 352 pounds at the time.



Ankle Watch Craze Reaches Okmulgee

The Ankle watch, the fashion craze among society women of the east, has reached Okmulgee and has started a sensation. The first appearance of the ankle watch was on a streetcar yesterday, and was worn by a pretty Okmulgee girl.

Wearing a new abbreviated skirt and a gold watch clasped about her left ankle, she boarded a car for lake Park yesterday to see the fair. The car was well filled with other fair visitors.

Soon after she sat down the woman tilted her left foot forward and glanced down at the watch. So did the other passengers. When the car stopped at the Frisco tracks she took a second look at the watch – and so did the others.

The new ankle watch is designed to supplant the wrist watch, and how far it will go in Okmulgee remains to be seen. Judging from the experience of the woman yesterday the embarrassment of the style will be its greatest handicap.



Parkinson Offers Court House Site

The court house matter was given a great boost today by the offer by Mr. Parkinson last night of the site known as the Parkinson site to the county free of cost to be used as a site for the proposed new court house. The offer was tendered today to the commissioners by agents of Mr. Parkinson. Of course the commissioners have not acted upon the offer as yet. It is said unless some other offer is made which is preferable, which is not thought to be likely, there is no doubt that the site will be accepted. The lot is at the corner of Seminole and Seventh Street and is 140X150. It is smaller than the Baker-Aleander lot, but it is said to be the exact size of the site on which the Tulsa court house stands. While the Tulsa site is generally complained of as being too small, it is yet pointed out that our court house will be not byconsiderable so large a one as Tulsa’s. The site offer by Mr. Parkinson is regarded as simplifying the court house bond proposition greatly.


The primary funding for the Okmulgee County Court House was furnished by an Indian woman – Katie Fixico. Originally, it was to have been a four story, white stone structure with a six-sided dome centered on the roof and four clocks facing each of the four directions. Plans were changed, however, in favor of the present structure. The Court House was dedicated in 1918, two months after William Howard Taft visited Okmulgee.

The Orpheum Theater as it looks today.
The Orpheum Theater as it looks today.

The Orpheum Theater

The following information is from cinematreasures.org.  Special thanks to Symco for his great research.

"The Orpheum opened Aug. 23, 1920. The opening picture, called a photoplay at that time, was "Eyes of Youth", with Clara Kimball Young. Also featured on the opening program was a pipe organ concert, and a 12-unit stage show produced by the Vanderbilt University Glee Club of Nashville, TN.

"Construction started in 1919, which is the date on the cornerstone, but it actually opened in 1920. It was built by L. H. D Cook, and its name initially was the Cook Theatre, which is in raised terra cotta at the top of the facade. CT, for Cook Theatre, is repeated on small terra shields over poster frames in the lobby, and is also on an oval shield at the top of the proscenium arch.

"Orpheum Vaudeville was featured, and within two months of opening, Mr. Cook was using both the Orpheum and Cook names in parallel, with the name 'Cook' in smaller print. In less than a year, he officially changed the theatre's name to the Orpheum, and installed an elaborate new double-sided electric sign with the name 'Orpheum' in bright incandescent lights, beneath a crown of lights known as waterburst lighting. The waterburst effect was produced by a motorized electromechanical flasher housed in a steel cabinet inside the building.

"According to a retired stagehand, the main stage curtain opened both vertically, and side-to-side, using a curtain motor that flew. Conversion from stage to screen could be done in 45 seconds.

"Ownership of the theatre was separated from ownership of the building, and Griffith Brothers Theatres, which evolved into Griffith Amusement Co., and then into Video Independent Theatres, purchased the theatre, ca. 1924. Keith/Albee/Orpheum never owned it. The building was sold in tiny fractional interests to Greek people, many of whom lived in Greece, and didn't pay their share of taxes or maintenance. It took several years, and the help of the Greek ambassador, to consolidate the fractured ownership.

"Martin Theatres got it in 1982 by absorbing the Video Theatres circuit. Martin was soon re-named Carmike Cinemas, who operated it into 1991. An independent operator bought the theatre from Carmike, and then bought the building from the landlord.

"Video Theatres enclosed the balcony and converted it into two theatres in 1974.

"As to architectural features that are covered, occasionally a new treasure is discovered. The most recent discovery was two circular plaster embellishments in the plain portion of the ceiling that was over cheap seats in the upper balcony, and is now covered by a suspended ceiling.

"The remains of upper orchestra box seats were discovered behind false plaster walls at the side of the stage. The false walls were removed, and destroyed decorative plaster was reconstructed by a retired Hollywood craftsman."

Architect: Leon B. Senter
Style: Spanish Baroque Revival
Seats: Originally 1200; now 550.
Date of Opening: 1920
Screens: 2 - Its balcony was enclosed in 1974 for the second screen.
Ownership: Independent
Function: In commercial operation, playing first-run movies

Click here to read all the information about the Orpheum Theater.


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Comments 6 comments

harmonfam4 6 years ago

Do you have any more information on Katie Fixico? I did a google search and found she was also called Freeman, but could not find any other background or history.

Thanks!


Urbane Chaos profile image

Urbane Chaos 6 years ago from Wister, Oklahoma Author

Harmon, I did have a little information, but it was all lost during the move. I ran across her name several times while at the Okmulgee geneological center though. I'd suggest giving them a visit (or a call, if it's too far away) and they'd be able to tell you more than I could.

Good luck with it!


Janice (Kinser) DeRamus 5 years ago

I was raised on the "Old Barnsdal Refinery Property" South of Okmulgee. I am trying to locate a picture of this Refinery. Does anyone have a picture of it, or know of someone who might have one. Thanks


Urbane Chaos profile image

Urbane Chaos 5 years ago from Wister, Oklahoma Author

Janice,

I did a brief search through what I have to see if I could find anything, but didn't come up with anything yet.

To verify, the correct spelling of the company is "Barnsdal" and not "Barnsdall"? I was able to find references to both in Okmulgee, but I'm not sure if it's a mis-spelling or not. In order to find old photos, I'll need to know more about the company. I found references to "Barnsdal Oil Corporation", is this the correct name of the company? Also, if you have any NILS(National Integrated Land System) data then that would help.

I found a couple links that may help:

http://www.archive.org/stream/reportonprogress1944... (Search the page for "Barnsdal"

http://old.caspenergy.com/19/oilidustry_e.html (Search for same - includes presidents names that offered assistance to overseas oil wells. Many times, by searching the persons name for photos you can come across photos of places they visited/worked)

Those were the only two solid leads I found on the "Barnsdal Oil Corp.", but again, I'm not sure of the correct spelling.

A couple resources to try:

First, as always, check the Okmulgee Genealogical Society for information. Many times they have old records not found anywhere else.

Second, and this is where I get a large majority of leads, search through Google Books (http://books.google.com/books) for any related information. There were several old Oil and Gas Journals from the early 1900's that mentioned Okmulgee oil fields/companies. Most of these old journals include pictures. If you can find the exact date that the company was started in Okmulgee, then they should have a picture in that years journal.

Third, search the Google news archive (http://news.google.com/archivesearch). This brings up old newspapers/articles/court documents that were published previously. For example, go to that page and type in "Okmulgee", then click on "1900", that will zoom in to the years 1900 to 1920. Click again on one of the years and that will zoom in further. Many times, these old archives hold the key to finding what you're looking for.

Many times, especially in the early 1900's, things weren't always as they appeared to be. While searching for information on different articles, I've had to try a hundred different ways until I found what I was looking for.

Hopefully this helps, at least a little. I'll keep an eye out for any information I can find - one never knows when a new, fascinating story can develop.

I wish you the best!


Jim 4 years ago

Does anyone know which architect designed the golf course at the Okmulgee Country Club? I know that Bobby Jones and Chick Evans played an exhibition match at its opening in 1920. They would not have come to play just any course. Based on the original 9 hole layout, it looked like a Perry Maxwell but research does not show this.


Joyce Godwin Grubbs 2 years ago

As Okmulgee is my hometown I always love learning more about it. I certainly enjoyed the materials of this article. Though I moved away after grade school, in my adult life I chose to locate some of the suspense novels I wrote in Morris and Okmulgee. You never forget your roots and they certainly do influence your life's path.

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