I’m sure by now you’ve all been thoroughly welcomed to Tulsa, but on the off chance that you have no friends or something, let me be the first to say it: Welcome to Tulsa! We’re an exciting midwestern city with a lot to offer the incoming freshmen, returning sophomores, juniors, and seniors, or venerable graduate students.
Now, despite what some of our more fashionably world-weary peers will tell you, Tulsa is a pretty interesting place. Although a relatively young city, Tulsa has borne witness to a unique slice of American history.
Tulsa got its start as Tallasi, a Lochapoka and Creek settlement. The town was established under the Creek Council Oak Tree. Although the tree is long since gone, a public park and monument to the tree exists in its place at the corner of 18th Street and Cheyenne Avenue.
So maybe I haven’t sold you on Tulsa being cool yet, especially since the first thing I mentioned was an important tree. For a while, Tulsa was simply a Native American settlement in what was then known as Indian Territory, the finish line of the Trail of Tears. After a while, however, white settlers began to move in, as they do. That’s when things got messy.
Tulsa basically became something of a spaghetti western for the first few decades of its history. The Beginning of Tulsa, a chronicle of early Tulsa history written by one of its first citizens, lists fighting cowboys, bounty hunts, gunfights, and treasure discovery along with store openings and church events.
One such event was the ransacking of a local general store by the Dalton gang, a notorious gang of outlaws that operated in the area.
In 1901, oil was discovered in the neighboring Creek town of Red Fork, drawing fortune-seekers from around the country. A few enterprising Tulsans invested in accommodations, and Tulsa quickly became the place to stay and play for oilmen and workers alike.
The ensuing decades saw Tulsa’s population grow to roughly 140,000, as well as the erection of much of Tulsa’s iconic downtown.
Early Tulsa was home to the Greenwood District as well, also known as Black Wall Street. Greenwood was a wealthy, successful African American community, which was a controversial thing to be in the early 20th century. When a black shoe shiner was falsely accused of harassing a white woman in 1921, the resulting outrage led to the Tulsa Race Riot.
Over the course of sixteen hours, Greenwood was almost completely destroyed by a white mob, resulting in an estimated 300 deaths, along with hundreds of destroyed businesses and thousands left homeless. Those responsible for this tragedy were never brought to justice, and it was not until 1996 that steps were taken to establish a reliable record of the events.
But not all Tulsa history is depressing, I promise. For example, in 1924 Cain’s ballroom was built, and it would eventually become the home of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, who played a jazz/country hybrid called Western Swing.
Cain’s is also notable because it hosted one of the last complete Sex Pistols concerts. Sid Vicious even punched a hole in the wall, which is pretty brutal. The concert hall is still standing, and continues to host the likes of Blues Traveler, Glass Animals, Run the Jewels, and even GWAR.
Tulsa is additionally known as the Birthplace of Route 66. In 1925, Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery established the US Highway 66 Association. The great highway runs through what is now 11th street, right next to TU’s campus.
And that’s Tulsa. Sometimes exciting, sometimes depressing, but never, ever boring. So the next time some clove-smoking hipster tries to give you a line about Tulsa being lame, take them down to America’s highway and ask them what they think of that. And if they still say it’s lame, you can always push them in front of a bus. After all, that’s what our crazy-ass cowboy ancestors would have wanted.