WHILE ENERGY concerns have focused public attention on current supplies of oil and gas, a weekend trip from Tulsa to several northeastern Oklahoma oil and ranch towns provides some fascinating insights into how oil barons spent their money in the heyday of the Oklahoma oil boom - the 1920s.
A first stop after leaving Tulsa International Airport is the Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, 10 miles west of the airport on Highway 11. The galleries are on the grounds of the Gilcrease estate at the northwest edge of Tulsa in the Osage Hills. The site offers a sweeping view of Tulsa's towering skyline, including the new 50-story Williams Center tower, headquarters of the Williams Companies, an oil and construction conglomerate.
Thomas Gilcrease, whose mother was a quarter-blook Creek, drew as his Indian allotment land at the heart of the Indian Territory's firt great oil strike. Building on this luck with some shrewd lease trading and drilling in the new southwest fields, Gilcrease amassed a fortune. Beginning in 1925 with extensive trips to Europe, he acquired one of the world's finest frontier art collections devoted to American history, particularly of the West.
Prominent in the galleries are the bronzes of Frederic Remington and the paintings of Charles Russell, the West's two greatest cowboy artists. Particularly notable is a large collection of oil and watercolor studies of frontier characters by Olaf Seltzer and the artist's studio. The gallery also has a fine collection of Thomas Moran western landscapes, and recent works by American Indian and Southwestern painters.It was opened in 1942 on the grounds of the Gilcrease home, a modest sandstone structure now used for offices. The gallery is now the property of the city of Tulsa, having been given to the city in 1955 after careful supervision by Thomas Gilcrease.
Forty miles north of Tulsa and 10 miles off Highway 11 on Route 123 is Woolaroc, a combination wildlife refuge, lodge and museum that was the ranch home of Frand Phillips, founder of the Phillips Petroleum Company. A man of varied tastes, Phillips always found that his best moments were at his ranch only 15 miles from the company headquarters in Bartlesville. Woolaroc - an acronymn for woods, lakes and rocks - once consisted of more than 14,000 acres, most of which was sold at Phillips' death. It still contains 3,500 acres enclosed to restrain the buffalo, deer, antelope and longhorn cattle that roam the ranch and can be viewed while driving to the museum and ranch house.
In the 1920s, Phillips brought in wild game parks. The range of temperatures on the Osage Hills proved too much for most of them, but their heads are preserved in the lodge house. The rustic lodge is built of pine logs consisting of a 75-foot-long cathedral room with trophies, Indian blankets, rugs and artifacts.
The museum contains an excellent collection of Indian blankets and the superb collection of Indian artifacts from the Spiro mound in eastern Oklahoma, which was the greatest treasure lode of pre-Columbian Indian artifacts ever found. Phillips took an active role in financing the archeological digs at Spiro, and the results were the impetus for establishing the museum.
In Bartlesville, the Phillips in-town home is also open to the public. This 26-room house with imported woods and marbles is among Oklahoma's showplaces. Bartlesville also boasts a Frank Lloyd Wright skyscraper, the Price Tower, headquarters of the Price Pipeline Company. An angular architectural jewel of concrete and copper, it is based on Wright's 1930 design for an 18-story apartment building for New York City, St. Mark's Tower, which was never executed but represented the best of Wright's revolutionary thinking on skyscraper architecture. A larger but more traditional skyscraper houses the Phillips international headquarters.
A few miles west of Bartlesville on Highway 60 is the Osage Hills State Park, which offers hiking trails and cabins for overnight stays. Rates are modest, as is true at most small town hotels and motels in Oklahoma, ranging under $20 for a double. Hotel rates in Tulsa and Oklahoma City are higher.
Fifteen miles further west in the Osage Indian lands is the Osage tribal capital of Pawhuska. Worth a brief stop on Grandview Avenue is a tribal museum that provides a good view of the Osage country. Because of the oil found on their land the Osages are among America's richest Indians, and the Department of Interior Osage Agency near the museum in Pawhuska administers the program in trust for them.
One of the country's few authentic Indian restaurants is in Pawhuska and it's worth a meal. The Ha-pah-shu-tse features fry bread, meat pies, Indian red corn soup and another soup made from roots of water lilies.
The 45 miles of Highway 60 west between Pawhuska and Ponca City provide an unbroken beeline through oilwell dotted ranch lands uncluttered by commercial establishments. Signs point to the Codding and Drummond ranches, to the north across the prairie.
Ponca City, like Bartlesville, is one of Oklahoma's finest small towns, made prosperous by the oil business. The home of the founder of the largest oil company in Ponca City, Ernest W. Marland, is the last stop on our tour. Marland built the home, a palatial mansion more likely to be found in Newport than Ponca City, between 1925 and 1928 for $5.5 million. By the time the mansion was built his first wife had died and he had married her niece who, with her brother, George, had been adopted by the Marlands. The marriage caused a minor scandal and required that the adoption be annulled. The Marlands and George lived in the mansion and their living quarters are part of the open rooms.
Marland founded the Marland Oil Company in 1911, and operated it on the assumption that his wealth would never cease to grow. Originally the estate consisted of 2,500 acres containing five lakes, a game refuge, a nine-hole golf course and polo grounds. The mansion is modeled after the Davanzatti Palace in Florence and the grounds are from the Hampton Court design. There are 55 rooms, including a hunt room where Marland assembled his friends before fox hunting. Hand-painted ceilings and hand-blown glass adorn the mansion.
Marland lost his company to J. P. Morgan in 1928, and it was renamed the Continental Oil Company. He then entered politics, becoming a congressman in 1932 in the Roosevelt landslide. In 1934 he was elected governor, serving until 1938. The inaugural ball was held at the mansion. He made two unsuccessful Senate races in 1936 and 1938, and sold the mansion to a Roman Catholic order in 1941. It was operated by two different religious orders until the city bought it in 1975 and opened it to the public in 1976. Efforts continue to return more original furnishings to the home and the guest house where the Marlands lived after the mansion was sold.
Marland made an indelible mark on his city. He was a soft touch for every church and civic effort and an early believer in health care, bonuses and educational opportunities for employees. The first Marland home is also a public building now used as a cultural center for the city, and his gift of the Pioneer Woman, a bronze statue by Bryant Baker, stands a mile from the entrance to the home.
This depiction of a woman and her son typifying the pioneer spirit was dedicated in 1930 with humorist Will Rogers as the principal speaker. Marland had lost most of his fortune by then, and, unbeknownst to Marland, the event was underwritten by Lew Wentz, a rival Ponca City oilman and politician. A small museum adjoining the monument celebrates the 1893 "run" into the Cherokee strip, the greatest single opening of land to settlement. Models of the statue, showing the different approaches of the competing sculptors, can be seen at the Woolaroc museum.
Traveling south along Highway 177 to join the Cimmaron Turnpike on the return to Tulsa, one passes the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch, home of the great Wild West shows of the 1930s and an Oklahoma cowboy center. The Millers leased the ranch from the Ponca Indians; it was the site of Marland's first major oil strike, "Willie Cries." Efforts are under way to restore the ranch house.
Some other attractions that may be visited in and around Tulsa:
Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, off 31st Street; home of another member of the Phillips family. Outstanding collection of Indian pots as well as representative European and Oriental collections.
Pawnee Bill Museum, Pawnee; 11 miles off Cimmaron Turnpike returning to Tulsa from Ponca City. Artifacts and home of one of the West's great showmen, a contemporary of Buffalo Bill Cody.
Will Rogers Museum, Claremore, 20 miles northeast of Tulsa on Route 66. Memorabilia from the life of Rogers.
Tsa La Gi, Tahlequah, 50 miles southeast of Tulsa on Highway 55. Cherokee Indian Cultural Center and Theater.