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Bartlesville City

Washington County, Oklahoma

Bartlesville City Hall is located at 401 South Johnstone Avenue, Bartlesville, OK 73003.
Phone: 918‑338‑4282.


Bartlesville as Described in 1941 [1]

Bartlesville, seat of Washington County, is the center of a productive agricultural region and headquarters for important oil interests. The city claims a greater percentage of college graduates among its inhabitants than any other city in Oklahoma. University men have been drawn to Bartlesville in large numbers by the U.S. Bureau of Mines experimental station and laboratory, with sixty workers; the Philips Petroleum Company's research laboratories employs 190. Bartlesville is home to four important major oil companies as well as the office and factory of a company that supplies unique oil well equipment.

Bartlesville is a spreading, tree-shaded city of wide streets, with an air of newness and prosperity. Its eastern end occupies a loop of the Caney River, a section that is sometimes flooded, but the main part of the city lies on high ground to the west.

Natural gas, incident to the production of oil, became available and its cheapness as fuel was the deciding factor in bringing a zinc smelter to the southwestern edge of town in 1906. Two more smelters were built, and then a pottery for making the retorts used in the zinc smelting process. Uncertainty in the market for zinc, however, caused many partial or complete shutdowns of the smelters, and they seldom ran to capacity.

Founder, and for a considerable time chief owner, a trader named Jake Bartles, was the 3rd white man to move into Coo-wee-scoo-wee District of the old Cherokee Nation. The town, named for him, had its birth in 1877 when Bartles quit his original store location at Silver Lake, six miles to the southeast, at that time the site of the Osage Indian Agency, and built what is now the northeastern quarter of the city.

An enterprising pioneer, Bartles had married the daughter of Charles Journeycake, a consecrated native preacher and chief of one remnant of the Delaware tribe of Indians that had been granted equal rights in the Cherokee Nation. This had given him, as an "adopted" citizen, the right to live and trade among the Cherokees. Then, in order to catch the trade of the Osage Indians here (to who a reservation—carved out of Cherokee lands—had been given 5 years before), removed to what he thought was the edge of that reservation. It turned out, later, that the border was several miles to the west, but Bartles stuck to his mill and store on the Caney, and within a year he had hauled in a dynamo and was producing the first electric light to glow in Oklahoma.

Bartles prospered. When in 1880, Jim French and his 2 stepsons drove down from Kansas with wagons and 4-mule teams to establish the first freight line in that section of Indian Territory, the store and camp had become a town.

Another pioneer, Nelson Carr, a white man from Kansas who married into the Cherokee tribe, had preceded Bartles on the Caney and had constructed a small grist mill in 1868. But he sold out to Bartles and disappeared from local history.

Two other early comers are given almost equal credit with Bartles for flaming the town's life spark into a steady blaze; William Johnstone and George B. Keeler, partners, opened a store across the river from Bartles in 1884 and became vigorous rivals of the founder for the Indian trade. Keeler, though a young man, had experience with the old Chocteau trading dynasty, was an expert in sign language, and spoke Osage fluently. For a time he had served as clerk in Bartles' store. Keeler's partner, Johnstone, had also married into the Journeycake family and had also clerked in Bartles' store. Before the coming of oil, the partners were occupied with storekeeping, cattle, and saw mills. Walnut lumber from the Caney and Verdigris River bottoms was turned out by the mills and had a good market. After the town began to grow they erected buildings and rented them. The first telephone line, linking the two stores with Caney, Kansas, was built in 1897.

After it became possible, in 1898, for townsites to be platted and lots sold, these pioneers reincorporated the settlement, which they had previously organized under Arkansas law. It was not until 1898 that a railroad (the Santa Fe) came to town. It built on the grade surveyed and leveled from Caney, Kansas, 20 miles to the north, by Bartles' men. When the tracks were laid, the inveterate town-building Bartles moved north 4 miles to establish the town of Dewey. To that site he hauled his original store and residence from Silver Lake, and also the newer 2-story residence he had built near his mill on the Caney River.

A second railroad, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas, came to Bartlesville in 1903. By this time the extensive shallow oil field had become important from the eastern Osage border to, and beyond, the Verdigris River. Then the first deep oil-bearing stratum in the Mid-Continent field was discovered and called the Bartlesville sand. In 1901 H. V. Foster established the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, which, under the more familiar title ITIO, 27 years later brought in the discovery well at Oklahoma City and developed into one of the major companies maintaining its chief offices at Bartlesville.

  1. Workers of the Federal Writers' Program, Works Progress Administration in the State of Oklahoma, Harold O. Hunter, Commissioner, Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1941.
  2. wiki.familysearch.org, Dawes Commission Enrollment Records for Five U.S. Indian Tribes, accessed May, 2011.