One of my favorite places too..
Welcome back. The year was 1925 and the Governor of Oklahoma was Martin L. Trapp who presided over a booming but sometimes lawless state. In Osage County, The Osage tribe was making national headlines with their new-found oil wealth but this was also the period of the so-called “reign of terror” when a series of Osage murders took place. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society thirty oil boomtowns were founded between 1906 and 1928, attracting not only workers but bootleggers, prostitutes, thieves and violent criminals, In addition to the Osage, the oil boom was making millionaires out of many people who came to the area to try their luck.
Griff Graham was driving out in the remote Osage County Hills southwest of Bartlesville with his close friend Frank Phillips who was one of those newly minted millionaires. Graham had been the first Washington County sheriff and had retired in 1918. Phillips had several oil leases going in the area at the time and lot 185 was one of them. He had purchased the lot a few years earlier and there was a rough log cabin on the property overlooking a small lake called Rock Creek. No one knew who had built the crude structure which had been used occasionally by some of Frank’s work crews but was mostly unoccupied and Frank loved it.
Construction of a new road to the cabin through the rough Osage Hills was accomplished by hand along with the clearing of the blackjack oak trees that covered the landscape. Six horse teams dragged the ground as men with axes and shovels cleared a path to what would become a world class art museum and tourist destination.
By now you may have guessed that I’m talking about Woolaroc but back then it was quite different. A simple cabin with two rock towers that supported an iron gate at the entrance was the humble beginning of what would be Phillips’ ranch. Near the cabin was a windmill which provided water not only for people but also for the horses that many still rode.
There were also a lot of outlaws roaming the area where Phillips built his retreat so he hired Griff Graham to protect what he called his “favorite place in the whole world.” Over time hundreds of men were hired to construct Woolaroc including neighbors, townspeople and even Phillips Petroleum Company staff. Everyone contributed to the project and as a thank you in 1927 a tradition was born. The thank you party was a big success and the next year this picnic that Frank Phillips had thought up to reward his workers grew to include celebrities and outlaws. Frank issued a promise that if no trouble was started no one would be arrested during the event even if they had outstanding warrants.
Oklahoma’s business and civic leaders as well as Phillips’ employees and their families rubbed shoulders with folks like Pawnee Bill, Osage Chief Bacon Rind and bank robber Henry Wells. They all came to see the exotic animals that Phillips was raising on the ranch and eat BBQwhile being entertained by some of the best musicians in the area. Over the years Zack Miller of the 101 Ranch, Will Rogers, Presidents and movie stars would all be among the guests at the ranch. Nowadays the tradition of the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion has become a major fundraiser for support of Woolaroc and friends the event is coming up this Saturday so this is a great chance to take a trip back in time to Frank Phillips’ country home. If you want to learn more about Woolaroc I would highly recommend that you check out Gale Kane’s book Frank’s Fancy which is available in the museum gift shop.
Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….