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T-Town Becomes Official

January 16, 2002

Historian's Notes

Tulsa is such an Oklahoma icon of big business and metropolitan life that it is odd to think of it starting out as a little Creek trading post.


Debo, A. Tulsa: from creek town to oil capital. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943.

Almanac Transcript

T-town becomes official this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

In North America centuries before the arrival of Europeans the name Tulsa had been used as the title of a Creek town in what is now Alabama. The explorer DeSoto reported visiting Tulsa in the Creek Nation in 1540. In 1836 as the Creeks came west under their forced removal so did the town of Tulsa. Situated in the northern section of their territory in what is now Oklahoma the town of Tulsa became an important center for Creek commerce and culture. The white influence came to Tulsa some 46 years later in 1882 when the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad built tracks and a depot at the town. As more whites entered the area the old Creek town of Tulsa began a transformation into a more typical frontier settlement inhabited by both Native American and White settlers.

Although whites were living, working and operating businesses in Tulsa, they could only do so with the approval of the Creek Nation and the purchase of a trader's license. The purchase of land by whites was strictly forbidden by Creek law and only Creeks could build or improve structures in the town. By 1895 white and native businesses and interests mingled and mixed to create a fairly sizable and successful town. Three newspapers served the town as did a number or restaurants and other businesses. Tulsa was not only a thriving town in its own right, but also served to attract trade, commerce and settlers from a large surrounding area.

It was never doubted that the land upon which Tulsa sat was Creek property but a Federal judge in 1898 re-interpreted statutes to allow for the incorporation of the town. This re-reading of the law was later found to be extremely faulty, but the move was on and no one could or would stop it at the time. Upon the judges ruling Tulsa business leaders, mostly white, got up a petition and submitted it to the courts. It was in this week of 1898 that the town Tulsa was officially incorporated. With the incorporation civic leaders could legally lay out streets and lots, elect officers, establish public schools and provide for city services.

Famed historian Angie Debo states in her writings that "one can say there have been three Tulsas at the same place on the Arkansas: a Creek town with it chiefs and ceremonies, a "foreign" settlement of traders existing by sufferance on Creek soil, and the modern city which came into existence at the turn of the century. Trading post to T-town this week on the Almanac.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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