From the roots of this Council Oak, the city of Tulsa sprang.
In 1836, the Lochapoka band of Creek (Muscogee) Indians ended
their Trail of Tears march under the spreading branches of this sapling tree. Of
the 660 who had set out on the journey, only 161 survived. Upon their
re-settlement in Oklahoma territory, the Lochapoka Creek chose this young burr
oak to mark their new “busk ground,” or ceremonial site. Here, they scattered
the ashes from the final ceremonial campfire held in their Alabama homelands
and lit a fresh fire to establish their new home. This burr oak tree where the Lochapokas conducted the tribe’s affairs was Tulsa’s first town hall, church, and courthouse. Records show that the site was in use by the Lochapokas as late as 1896.
The Lochapoka called this site, “talasi,” meaning “Old
Town.” White settlers to the area later mispronounced the word as “tulsa,”
which was is how the city of Tulsa got the name it bears today. In 1915, oilman
Harry Ford Sinclair purchased the site from the Creek Nation. While the Council
Oak was spared that it may serve as the landscaping centerpiece for Sinclair’s
brick mansion, the rest of the Lochapoka allotment was rapidly developed into a
thriving residential community. The ridiculously undervalued lots were snapped
up by the likes of Josh Cosden, Grant Stebbins, and Harry Sinclair’s brother, Earl.
Decades passed, and with them the grandeur of the
neighborhood. The Sinclair house was briefly owned by Oral Roberts, whose evangelical
association razed the mansion before passing the land on to a Texas investor.
The investor planned to raze the Council Oak to build a parking lot, which
would have been a part of Tulsa’s Model Cities urban renewal program. This
latter move created a court case that went all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme
court. During the drawn-out legal proceedings, the property fell into
foreclosure and was put up for auction.
On the day before the auction, H. D. “Nat” Henshaw gathered
a group of concerned Tulsans who understood the importance of preserving this
historical site. The investors gathered a bid and presented it at the sheriff’s
sale. The group’s bid won and the site was spared. On September 29, 1976, the Council Oak was
placed on the Register of Historic Places under Criteria A. This move preserved
the tree and its immediate grounds for the benefit of the Creek Nation and the
public. The city of Tulsa placed the Council Oak under historic preservation
zoning in January of 1992.
Currently, the great Oak is located in a small pocket green
in midtown Tulsa called Council Oak Park. The Park was designed by Yuchi-Creek
architect Richard Thornton. In addition to the Council Oak, a beautiful
commemorative sculpture created and built by Creek sculptor Dan Brook commands park
visitors’ attention. Entitled “Morning Prayer,” the installation is comprised
of 3-4 foot bronze flames atop a base of white marble encased in two terrazzo rims.
The bottom rim is inscribed with the symbol of the Creek Wind Clan, which was
the clan of the priests. The top rim is encircled with the sacred Etalwa Cross
symbol. The rims themselves are shaped like traditional pottery kilns, which
symbolize the trials endured by the Creek people on the Trail of Tears.