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Okmulgee City

Okmulgee City Hall is located at 111 East 4th Street, Okmulgee, OK 74447; phone: 918-758-1101.

Okmulgee as described in 1941 [1]

Okmulgee, seat of Okmulgee County, and capital of the Creek Nation from 1868 until the tribal government was extinguished by the coming of statehood in 1907, emphasizes both its Indian past and its industrial present. It retains its annual Indian powwow and also uses as its slogan, "Where oil flows, gas blows, and glass glows," to point its varied modern qualities.

Silas Smith, a blacksmith, was the first white resident of Okmulgee. He was sent there by the Federal government to help the Creeks secure and keep in order the tools necessary for their farming operations. By 1878, Okmulgee had become an active Indian trade center; the Creeks had recovered from the ravages of war; the people of the farms and ranches were prosperous; the tribal schools were flourishing; and it was decided that the old log Council House must go. It was torn down, and on the site a square two-story-and-cupola stone structure was erected. The new capitol, set in the town square and dominating the fringe of stores around it, served also as a community meeting place and schoolhouse.

In 1894, when the question of allotting Creek lands and coming under a territorial government which would soon be dominated by the whites had been hotly debated in the grounds of the Council House between Indian leaders and representatives of the Federal government, Chief Legus C. Perryman called for a vote. He asked all who opposed allotment to move to the west side of the grounds, and those who favored it to the east. All save one moved west; Moty Tiger alone stepped east and turned to face the three thousand who opposed allotment. When called upon to explain his stand, he said that whatever the Indians did the whites would overwhelm them, and that it would be best to accede to the Federal government's desires and obtain whatever favors they could from the white man's government. Five years later, allotment was accepted and Moty Tiger's stand vindicated. As a modern city, Okmulgee's history began after the Creek tribal lands, in 1899, ceased to be held in communal ownership and were allotted to individuals. That change meant the coming of whites and a great stimulus of trade and commerce. The first bank was opened in 1900, and in the same year train service was begun.

Okmulgee's growth from a trading point with a population of some two hundred to an incorporated municipality, with a mayor and four aldermen, with telephone service to Muskogee, and a determination to dominate the region, was swift after allotment. By the end of 1905, thanks to oil discoveries near by, the city's population had risen to four thousand. Okmulgee citizens call 1907 their year of years. It brought statehood and the first of the gusher oil fields to be opened in its territory. In April a well was brought in that produced five hundred barrels a day; in June a thousand barrel well blew in; and the rush of drillers, lease hounds, speculators, and the platoons of men and women who always follow the developers of an oil field soon boosted the population to six thousand.

By 1910 the surrounding oil region was so well established that a refinery was built; and it is still (1941) the largest employer of labor in Okmulgee, with 325 workers on its payroll.

Until 1916, the old Creek Council House served more or less adequately as the Okmulgee County Courthouse. Then the need for more space became pressing, and a $125,000 bond issue was voted for the construction of a new one. When these bonds were offered for sale, the white guardian of an illiterate Creek woman, Katie Fixico, who had been adjudged by the County Court an incompetent, used $133,379 of her money to buy them. Her wealth had, of course, come out of oil wells drilled on her allotment.

The city is set in a wide valley between low, timber-covered hills. Its spruce business section has spread over the lowland; its residences, parks, and playgrounds are spotted on the view-giving slopes on the northwest, west, and south. To the north and east, the city fades into fertile, level farms.

It is said that in choosing Okmulgee as the site of their capital the Creek Indians assured themselves immunity from cyclones. In justification of their choice, the people who live in the two or three square miles of comfortable homes with porches and shade trees have never yet (1941) been visited by a cyclone, though "twisters" have skirted the region.

Oil was discovered within a half mile of the old Creek Council House, in 1904, and three years later had become a leading factor in the town's growth. Five glassmaking plants have been built during Okmulgee's history, though glassmaking has turned out to be an uncertain business. More stable are its packing plants, cotton processing industries, oil refining business, and market for peanuts and pecans. Nuts from the world's largest native pecan orchard, twenty-five miles west on the Deep Fork of the Canadian River, are marketed in Okmulgee.

The city's period of swiftest growth was what it calls its "golden decade," 1907 to 1918, when oil development reached its peak. By 1930 the population had reached 17,097; the decrease of 6.1 per cent between that date and 1940 may perhaps be accounted for by the waning importance of oil and allied industries, and the shutting down of glass plants which have had troubled industrial careers.

Since 1912, when a new charter was adopted, Okmulgee has had a commission form of government. Its water supply is municipally owned. In the county are ample supplies of fuel oil, natural gas, and coal. The story of Okmulgee goes far back in the history of the Creek Indians and begins long before their removal to what is now Oklahoma. According to tribal tradition, these Indians originated somewhere in the western part of America, and in the course of time migrated to the Alabama-Georgia region, where the white men first found them. Arriving there, the Indians sought as a site for their principal (capital) town a never-failing spring; and having found it they called it Okmulgee, which means "bubbling water." It was there, they say, that the powerful confederation of the tribes of Muskhogean stock was formed to resist the encroachment of whites on Indian lands. In course of time, the white name for one of the tribes—the Creeks—became fixed upon it, although it is still sometimes called Muskogee. From the time of their enforced exile from the east, 1829-36, when twenty thousand were settled in the new Indian Territory, to the building of their Council House at Okmulgee in 1868, the tribal meeting place was at High Springs, near Council Hill, some twenty miles southeast. Factional strife and the almost complete destruction of property in the Civil War led to the selection of the new site, and the name which was sacred to all. Their first capitol was a two-story log structure, with a roofed-over breezeway separating the meeting places of the two branches of the Council, the House of Kings, anciently concerned with civil administration, and the House of Warriors. There, encouraged at first by the United States government, met not only the Creek lawmakers but also the important Inter-tribal Council composed of the head men of the Five Tribes and, in the later years, delegates from the so-called wild western tribes, Comanches, Kiowas, Caddoes, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes. Others that came in the years from 1870 to 1875 included the Sacs and Foxes, Osages, Shawnees, Ottawas, Wyandottes, Quapaws, and Peorias—mainly remnants of once powerful tribes east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio River. At the last meeting, twenty-nine tribes were represented.

This council was discontinued when the United States government refused to finance it further because the delegates had reached the point of proposing to form an Indian Territory according to their own conception and writing out a constitution for its government. When it became certain that the Federal Government would insist upon retaining the veto power on any legislation enacted by this Territory's legislature, there no longer existed a reason for the Council, and the 1875 meeting was the last.

  1. Works Progress Administration, Federal Writers' Program, Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State, American Guide Series, University of Oklahoma Press, 1941.
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