TVLSE, Oklahoma – Downtown Tulsa is home to the Creek Nation Council Oak Park, location of the Council Oak Tree. Locvpokv Tribal Town leaders in the 1830s selected the tree as the location to place the coals and ash from their sacred fires they brought with them during removal. The Mvskoke people had a custom of naming locations they settled in Indian territory after Tribal towns and villages in their homelands. They called the town that sprung up around the Council Oak “Tulahasse”, which means “old town”, after a significant village complex in the Creek Confederation. The name was shortened to Tallasi and eventually became Tulsa.
The original site was later broken up by the allotment process, and the parcels where the Oak resided were bought by Tulsa oilman, Harry Sinclair. The Oak grew free from jeopardy on the grounds of the Sinclair mansion for many years until 1968 when a Texas businessman named J. Paul Little sought to have the tract zoned for a parking lot. Little had agreed to preserve the tree if a parking lot was developed, but protests from residents of the area put the move on hold. The protestors had a plan to trade city-owned land in the Boulder Park area for the tract that held the Council Oak. The protestors, led by John Harvey, had also secured the support of W. E. (Dode) McIntosh, who was Principal Chief of the Creek Nation at the time. Little formally agreed to the proposed deal, but on December 14, 1971 a group of landowners near Boulder Park filed suit in District Court, alleging that the city did not have the authority to carry out the trade and the plan would depreciate the value of their property. On July 7, 1972 Judge William Means ruled that the City did have the authority to do the trade, but another wrinkle had appeared.
While everyone waited for Means decision, it was discovered that two separate Texas banks held mortgages on the Council Oak property and the deed could not be delivered due to a threatened foreclosure. Alamo National Bank of San Antonio claimed that Little was behind in payments on his $65,000 dollar mortgage. Security State Bank of Piersall Texas held a mortgage for $150,000 on the same property. This meant that in order for the trade to happen, the foreclosure would have to be sorted, and the land would have to be bought by a party that was still willing to swap it for the Boulder Park parcel. The land was eventually cleared for a Sheriff ’s sale and was purchased on October 2, 1973 by a group of Tulsa real estate developers for $114,350. The purchasing group consisted of Nat Henshaw, Noel Eden, and Ira Crews. The group had made the deal with the express purpose of saving the Council Oak, and the swap was back on.
On February 19, 1974 the Tulsa City Commission formally traded deeds, and the city took ownership of the Council Oak site. On September 29, 1976, after a review of the submitted application, the Creek Council Tree site was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In January of 1980, the City placed lightning rods in the Council Oak to protect the tree from damage. Later that year in May a beautification project was started that resulted in the installation of a sprinkler system, landscaping and a wrought iron fence. On October 26, 1986, a ceremony was held to commemorate the Council Oak, where Muscogee Creek Nation Principal Chief Claude Cox and other city and state officials declared the day to be Creek Nation Council Oak Tree Day. This became an annual event on the site that continues on to the present. The Council Oak Tree still resides in its original location today.
A local homeowner’s association, Tulsa Riverview Neighborhood Association has proposed ideas as to how to update the park with restored plaques, lighting and landscape work.
According the the association’s president, Chris McCabe, the park has fallen into disrepair. “To me, what I’ve come to be disappointed in not only I didn’t know the story but the city of Tulsa in general, most of our citizens don’t know the story and over the years, the six years that I’ve lived here, just to see the park come into disrepair. Which to me I don’t know how else to interpret that, a lack of concern from the city, a lack of honoring that sacred spot.”
McCabe states that the monuments on the site need repairs. Plaques telling the history of the site are faded or corroded and unreadable, and lights meant to illuminate the park are broken.
McCabe has contacted the Muscogee Creek Nation Cultural Preservation Department as well as the Principal Chief’s Office with the hopes of collaborating with the Nation on the project, but as of the publication of this article has not received a response.
In addition the Association has published an open letter to anyone who is a stakeholder in the Council Oak Park, which details their intentions and plans. Mvskoke Media has published the letter in the Mvskoke News in an effort to get the information out to all citizens who might be interested in participating in this project.