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Native Americans


City's Native American Roots

French traders and plains-culture Osage tribes occupied the region now surrounding Tulsa when the United States bought the land from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Soon the federal government sought to remove communities of the Five Civilized Tribes-Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole-from their traditional lands in the southeastern United States to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. After violent protest, in 1826 the Osages ceded their land in the Tulsa area to the U.S. government, which in turn gave it to exiled Creeks and Cherokees. Many of the Native Americans who were forced to resettle in Oklahoma brought black slaves with them. In 1836 Archie Yahola, a full-blood Creek, presided over the region's first council meeting, held under an oak tree that came to be known as the Council Oak. The tree still stands in Tulsa's Creek Nation Council Oak Park.

The settlement convened at the Council Oak was first named Tallassee-Lochapoka, for the Alabama regions the Creeks had left behind; eventually it became known as Tulsey-or Tulsee-Town. The name Tulsa became official for the settlement in 1879 with the establishment of the post office, which also marked the beginning of Tulsa as an economic force in the area. When a railroad connection reached Tulsa in 1882, the town began to supply beef and other staples to the East, South, and Midwest. Ranching and farming-mostly by Creeks or Cherokees-flourished. Tulsa grew steadily and became incorporated as a municipality on January 18, 1898.

Oil Spurs White Settlement; Racial Uneasiness Surfaces

In 1901 oil reserves were discovered in Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. Enterprising Tulsans built a toll bridge to connect their city with the oil country, and oil men crossed the river to make Tulsa their home. Despite Indian Territory laws that discouraged white settlement, the region became increasingly open to whites, and Tulsa grew into a business and residential center. Oil gushed again in 1905, this time from the Glenn Pool well. Oil companies built headquarters in Tulsa, bringing families of corporate executives, urban tastes, and money. In 1906 the U.S. Congress passed the Enabling Act, which merged Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory, achieving statehood for Oklahoma and bringing down the last barriers to settlement of the region. The decade of the 1920s was a tumultuous period for Oklahoma as a whole, with oil wells gushing, whites and Native Americans becoming fabulously wealthy, and the Ku Klux Klan boasting close to 100,000 members statewide. A race riot erupted in Tulsa in 1921 that has been described as one of this country's worst incidents of racial violence. Some 300 people died and 35 city blocks of Tulsa's Greenwood section, known as "the Black Wall Street," were destroyed after a black man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a white woman. In 1997 the Oklahoma state legislature named an 11-member Tulsa Race Riot Commission to unearth the facts behind the incident. In early 2000 the commission recommended direct payments to survivors and victims' descendants, scholarships, a tax checkoff program to fund economic development in the mostly black Greenwood district, and a memorial to the dead.

Modern Economy Diversified

Between 1907 and 1930, Tulsa's population grew by 1,900 percent. By the 1920s Tulsa was being called the Oil Capital of the World. But not content to be an oil capital only, Tulsa continued its expansion into other commercial and industrial areas as well. In fact, several of Tulsa's firms had a part in the U.S. moon-thrust endeavor, Project Apollo. Today, oil retains importance but Tulsa primarily relies on aerospace, telecommunications, energy, and environmental engineering/manufacturing for its industrial base. In 1996 Nation's Cities Weekly described Tulsa as "a unique social, cultural and corporate melting pot that somehow maintains a 'downhome' feeling."

Due in large part to planning and intelligent growth, as well as a general demographic shift that has seen continued growth in the southern and southwestern states, Tulsa joins a number of other mid-sized cities enjoying revitalization in the early 21st century. In 2004, based on Tulsa's strides in preparing itself for the new global economy and its opportunities for tourism, business investment, relocation, education, retirement, and better quality of life, the city was selected as one of America's Most Livable Communities by the Partners for Livable Communities in Washington, D.C.

Historical Information: Tulsa Historical Society, 2445 South Peoria, Tulsa, OK 74114; telephone (918)712-9484


The first significant settlements in Tulsa and the surrounding area were made by the Creek and Cherokee Tribes in 1836. The Creeks and Cherokees, along with the Seminoles, Choctaws and Chickasaws (known collectively as the Five Civilized Tribes) were forced to migrate west during the Indian removal of the 1830s. The Creeks, who settled the area in and around Tulsa, were part of the Lochapokas Band of the Creek Indian Tribe, who had made their home in Alabama prior to the Indian removal.

The boundaries of Tulsa included the northern border of Creek Tribal Land and the southern border of Cherokee Tribal Land. Immediately adjacent on Tulsa´s western boundary was Osage Tribal Land. Originally, Tulsa was to be located one-and-one-half miles from its current downtown area in Cherokee Tribal Lands. It was moved when whites settling Tulsa determined that Creek law was more liberal than Cherokee law in allowing non-Indians into the tribal community. Prior to its incorporation, Tulsa was located in the Coweta Area, the northeastern-most district of the Creek Tribal Lands.

Many of the first families in Tulsa were mixed-blood Creek Indians. One of the most prominent families was the Perryman family. Members of the family included Legus C. Perryman, George B. Perryman and Josiah C. Perryman, who each held the office of Principal Chief of the Creek Nation at one time or another. A descendent of the Perryman family, Lilah Lindsey, was the second teacher at the Presbyterian Mission Day School. She also has the distinction of being one of the first Creek women to earn a college degree.

Occupations represented in the Perryman family included merchants, ranchers, civic leaders, and postmen. In 1878, the first post office in Tulsa was located on the Perryman ranch, knows by early Tulsans as the "White House." The White House was located near what is now 38th Street and Trenton Avenue in the southern part of Tulsa. The Perryman Ranch was the largest in the area, and spread from 21st to 71st streets and from the Arkansas River to Lynn Lane in Broken Arrow. George Perryman later moved to a "fanciful two-story house with a cupola," which he built on "High Hill" in the block now occupied by the Tulsa County Courthouse in downtown Tulsa.

Most of the land in Tulsa was owned by just a few Creek families including the Perryman, Owen, Davis, Crowell and Childer families. The Ed Crowell farm was just east of Boston Avenue. In 1882, Robert Childers, a Creek judge of the Coweta Area, moved to Tulsa and built one of the first new homes on Cheyenne Avenue between Archer and Brady Streets. Jeff Archer, a mixed-blood Cherokee, built one of the first stores in Tulsa. It was completed in December of 1882 and described as "a box shack twelve by fourteen feet in size, of rough lumber, with a tent roof."

The Bullette Addition was platted on the farm of George Bullette, a mixed-blood Delaware who arrived in Tulsa in 1882. Bullette was an early Tulsa merchant who built a home on North Norfolk Avenue around 1894. The log house home of William Burgess, a Cherokee Indian, was built south of Standpipe Hill, on the Cherokee side of the line. Chauncey Owen, a white man who married a Creek Indian woman and lived on her allotment just west of downtown Tulsa, sold the city its first park, Owen Park. He arrived in Tulsa in 1874 and is also credited with building the first hotel in Tulsa.

The names of some of the streets and additions located in Tulsa are related to these Indian families, including Owen, Archer, Bullette, and Burgess.

Information from the Tulsa Preservation Commission


Five Civilized Tribes Genealogy Are your Ancestors on the Rolls?
Elizabeth Walker

Many families have passed down oral traditions of Indian ancestry. The stories are wide spread among Oklahomans and people whose ancestors lived in nearby states like, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. It´s not surprising in this part of the country, considering most of present day Oklahoma was literally "Indian Territory" less than a hundred years ago. People often begin their research believing that they are only a generation or two removed from a full-blood Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek (a.k.a Muscogee) or Seminole Indian. Is this even possible? How does a person go about affirming or debunking their family´s stories?

A Very Brief History

The Five Civilized Tribes (those listed above), were called "civilized" by white settlers because they lived in European style settlements as farmers and planters, built stone and brick buildings and even owned slaves. They also dressed in a more European style than the plains Indians and had organized forms of government. Many of them, particularly Cherokee, married people of European descent and so were "mixed bloods" even before 1800. This early inter-marriage also means that a full blood ancestor would be several generations back for people living today-thus debunking many full-blood grandma stories.

Civilized or not, the European settlers saw them as a threat to their plans for westward expansion. As a result, the Five Tribes were removed from their traditional homelands in the eastern United States in a series of forced removals beginning in the 1830s. These forced removals are commonly referred to as, "The Trail of Tears".

At the end of the trail was the promise of tribal land, but within a generation that promise was already being broken. The federal government began a policy of breaking up tribal held lands and allotting lands to individuals. On June 27, 1898, an act of Congress authorized a Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes headed by Senator Henry L. Dawes to determine who was eligible for tribal membership and land allotment. The result of this commission eventually produced what is called, the Dawes Rolls or the Final Rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Are Your Ancestors on the Rolls?

Finding ancestors on the Dawes Rolls is a relatively simple process if you know who you´re looking for, what tribe they are from, and where they were living around 1900. As with any genealogy, you start with yourself and work backwards. Interview living relatives, gather Bible records and any available birth and death certificates. Trace your family on the federal census from 1930 back to 1900. If you find your direct ancestors on the 1900 census in Indian Territory on the Indian Population Schedule (at the end of the regular U.S. Population Schedule), you may be in luck. If your family was living anywhere else, you will not find them listed on the Dawes Rolls.

The Dawes Rolls were taken between 1898-1906 in Indian Territory, basically the eastern half of present day Oklahoma. The rolls only included people who could prove their family had lived with the tribe continuously from removal times.

You can find copies of the Dawes Rolls and related documents in the LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints) Family History Library in Salt Lake City and some genealogy libraries, like the Tulsa City County Library Genealogy Center  and the Muskogee Public Library. There is also an alphabetical index online at Access Genealogy and the entire index and final rolls have recently been scanned and put online by the Ft. Worth branch of the National Archives.

If you use the books in a library or the online rolls at the National Archives you need to know what tribe and category you are looking for. Within each of the 5 tribes there were between 6-8 categories;

Citizens by Blood -These are people who could prove (through previous tribal rolls) that they and/or their family had been living with the tribe since before removal times. Each person was given a blood percentage supposedly based on ancestry but it was not always accurate. This is the largest category within each tribe.

Citizens by Marriage - Whites who were adopted into the tribes due to their marriage (prior to 1895) to a tribal citizen.

New Born Citizens by Blood or Minor Citizens by Blood - Children born after their parents enrolled.

Freedmen - former slaves of the tribes

New Born Freedmen and Minor Freedmen - Born after their parents enrolled.

Delaware Indians adopted by the Cherokee.

As part of the allotment process the Freedmen were adopted into the tribes and were given land allotments but their descendants cannot become citizens or receive any tribal benefits. Some of these Freedmen may have Indian ancestry but they do not have a blood percentage listed in the rolls (like the "By Bloods").

To find your ancestor, start alphabetically with the Dawes Roll Index and write down the roll number you find there. Then check the Final Rolls, to get the Census Card number. The Census Card (on microfilm) will give you information about the family who was living together at that time and will tell what previous rolls they are listed on. In most cases it gives you the names of each person´s parents so you´ll also have information about the preceding generation. The Freedmen cards give the names of the former Indian slaveholders as well.

The Final Rolls only include those individuals who were accepted for enrollment by the Dawes commission. Individuals who had doubtful ("D" cards) or rejected ("R" cards) status are not included on the rolls. These cards have however, been microfilmed and some have been indexed.

Now What?

The application process for the Dawes Rolls created a lot of paper, much of which can be seen in the microfilmed application files available in Tulsa, Muskogee and Oklahoma City. The original application jackets are at the Fort Worth Archives. If the individual was an undisputed Full Blood, the application file may not contain much information but if your ancestor was on a "D" (doubtful) or "R" (rejected) card, or had to provide a lot of documents to prove his or her citizenship, you could be in for a genealogical goldmine. In fact, people who were ultimately denied may have the thickest application files.

Once you have your Dawes Rolls information and can connect each generation from yourself back to that Dawes applicant you can contact the tribe. There are links to all tribal websites from the Tulsa Genealogy Center webpage.

It´s a flawed process but it´s all there is.

It´s common knowledge that the Dawes enrollment process was fraught with errors. It was started in 1896 only to have all those original applications denied. There were whites who bought their place on the rolls so they could get free land and there were some Freedmen descendants with Indian blood who were left out because of intermarriage with former slaves. But it´s the only source available for verifying continuous tribal status and it is the only source accepted by any of the Five Civilized Tribes for obtaining present day citizenship.

The Five Civilized Tribes are sovereign nations and have set these rules as their requirements:

  1. You must prove unbroken lineal descent from an individual on the Final Rolls 3; period.
  2. In order for your ancestor to be on the Final Rolls, they had to be living in Indian Territory, with the tribes, between 1898-1906 3; period.

The only exception to this rule among the Five Tribes is the Eastern Band of Cherokee who did not remove to the West and have lived as a community continuously in North Carolina.

Some Freedmen descendants are attempting to regain what they believe is their heritage. Recent articles like, "Blood Feud" in the September 2005 issue of Wired Magazine claim that DNA can help them prove their Indian heritage. Many white citizens would like to prove their Indian ancestry as well, but unlike other genealogy related DNA studies (like surname Y chromosome studies), the Indian DNA test results are not specific enough. The results can´t identify tribal affiliation, and unfortunately, even if they could, none of the tribes show any indication of changing their requirements to allow DNA results as evidence.

But wait, there´s more

Whether you are able to prove or disprove your Indian ancestry using the Dawes Rolls, there is still a lot more to learn. The following list of books, articles and websites can get you started. In particular, the Indian Pioneer History Collection, which consists of thousands of Works Project Administration interviews with citizens of all races who lived in Oklahoma in the 1930´s, can help bring your family history to life. You can also contact the libraries mentioned through their websites for assistance and research policies.

Elizabeth Walker, Library Associate,
Tulsa City County Library
Genealogy Center

Architechtural Style

Native Americans

Religious History

Oklahoma Green Country