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Gilcrease History
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Gilcrease House & Museum

1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road

Tulsa, Oklahoma 74127

(918) 596-2700

 

William Thomas Gilcrease was born February 8, 1890 in Robeline, Natchitoches Parish, LA to William Lee and Mary Elizabeth (Vowell). Shortly after his birth the Gilcrease Family moved to Indian Territory. Due to his mothers Creek Indian ancestry the family lived on the Creek Nation tribal land, where Thomas grew to adulthood. The federal government at the turn of the century disbanded the Indian Tribes and distributed their tribal lands to private ownership.

At the age of 16 Thomas, who had dropped the name of William, sued the government for his majority rights and was awarded his tribal membership entitlement of 160 Acres in Glenpool, OK located twenty miles south of Tulsa. Several years after his allotment, the land became part of one of Oklahoma largest oil fields. By the age of 21, Thomas had proved himself an astute businessman accumulating great wealth.

August 22, 1908 Thomas married Belle Harlow, a member of the Osage tribe, in Harrisonville, Missouri. The union of the couple produced two sons, the first Thomas Jr. born in 1909 and the second Barton Eugene in 1911.

The Gilcrease House was being erected December 1913 and Thomas saw it as he was driving by. He liked it so well he went up and made an offer on the property. The offer was accepted and on December 26, 1913 he purchased the land and the house from the owners, Flowers & Carrie Nelson. The Nelsons acquired the property on Dec 13, 1909 from Grover & Pearl Mackey. The 80 Acres where Gilcrease stands today was called "Black Dog Township".

This house became commonly referred to as "Toms Place", "The Little Stone House on the Hill" and "The House on the Hill".

Flowers Nelson, who was a Tulsa Lawyer, built the old rock house. He and his wife Carrie built the house out of native Sandstone and Thomas really liked it.

There was a garage and barn on the land. No renovations were made to the house due to Mr. Gilcrease travelling excessively. He hired Cephas Stout ("Chief") in 1927 to start remodeling and updating.

In 1941 Tom told Chief that he wanted to convert one of the barns into a storehouse for his artwork and artifacts. Tom referred to the barn as "His Gallery" and the garage as "His Library". The museum was only a dream at that point.

The 1920's and 30's proved to be very eventful in Thomass life. He traveled through Europe extensively during this time and visited European Museums, which is what inspired him to create his collection. In 1922, Thomas founded Gilcrease Oil, acquired his first oil painting and was sued for Divorce by his wife of 14 years. In February of 1924 Mr. Gilcrease entered into an agreement with W.O. Ligon Jr. and his wife Ada Blanche for them to purchase 13 of the 80 acres of land, at a cost of $60,000.00. This transaction was by contract and deed, but the deed was never recorded. In 1928 Mr. & Mrs. Ligon defaulted on the payments of the contract and foreclosure proceedings were initiated. During these 4 years the Ligons had lived in the house as Thomas traveled abroad. A compromise was made by trade and the land was given back to Thomas on April 9, 1928.

On September 3, 1928 Thomas married Norma Smallwood, the first Oklahoman to be crowned Miss America in 1926. Miss Smallwood was much his junior being the same age as his first born son, Thomas Jr. This union produced a daughter Des Cygne in 1929 and like the first marriage ended in divorce on October 3, 1933.

By the time Gilcrease established his office for Gilcrease Oil in San Antonio, Texas and an office in Europe in 1937 he had greatly expanded his holdings.

It was not until after 1939 that his art collection had amassed. Pride in his Indian American heritage and interest in the history of the American West provided the focus of this collection.

The first Gilcrease Museum opened at his oil companys headquarters in San Antonio in 1943. This same year he established the little stone house into a orphanage for qualified Indian Children of the 5 Civilized Tribes. He converted the second floor of the stone house by adding more rooms for the girls and built a second building for the boys. The garage was utilized as a technical training center for the kids. The supervisors for the orphanage was his brother-in-law and sister, Mr. & Mrs. Logan, they resided on the first floor of the stone house. In 1946 he was made an honorary tribal member of the Sioux (Lakota) and was given the name Wicarpi Wakatuya, which means "High Star".

Within a few years Mr. Gilcrease returned to Tulsa to live full time bringing not only his oil company but his growing art collection as well. Collection of art depicting the American West did not yet enjoy wide appeal the Gilcrease Collection grew rapidly.

In 1949 Gilcrease opened a gallery to the public for viewing on his Tulsa Estate. During the early 1950s he had acquired numerous works of art, artifacts and documents, but the decline of oil prices made it difficult to finance major purchases. Insurmountable debts faced Mr. Gilcrease and force him to offer his entire collection for sale to keep it intact. In 1954, a small group of citizens fearing the Gilcrease Museum would leave Tulsa, organized a bond election which was approved by Tulsans by a 3 to 1 margin, this bond issue satisfied Mr. Gilcrease debts. Thomas Gilcrease deeded his collection to the City of Tulsa in 1955 and in 1958 the Gilcrease Foundation conveyed the museum building and grounds to the City. In addition Gilcrease committed oil property revenue to Tulsa for assistance in maintaining the property until the 2.5 million-dollar bond was fully repaid.

In the years following the transfer of his collection Thomas funded an archaeological excavation and acquired additional materials for his collection.

Thomas lived in the little stone house exclusively from 1949 until he suffered a heart attack in the home in 1962. It is unknown if he died while in the home or while in route to the local hospital. At the time of his death Thomas bequeathed to the museum the material he had collected during his final years. Thomas is buried in a mausoleum on the Grounds of the Gilcrease Museum.

The Gilcrease house is a square shaped structure, which originally was made up of 9 rooms. It has wood, native Sandstone siding with a Veranda running in front of the lower level and on the upper story.  There are 4 large bedroom on the 2nd floor and 1 large master bedroom on the 1st floor. The home was the Gilcrease family residence from 1914 to 1962. There was an exception during the time in 1920 and 1940 when it was rented out when Mr. Gilcrease was traveling extensively. No information is available on the tenants during that time other than the Ligon's.  He returned to his Tulsa home in 1940 and resided there until his death in May, 1962.

Mr. Gilcreases favorite place was the gardens of the site. He loved to listen to the birds and the 'red ones' were his favorite. (Cardinals?) He commonly made a reference to "Red Birds song" and "Song of the Coyote" which were the melodies the birds greeted him with each morning and evening.

More information can be found at http://www.gilcrease.org