Philbrook and Philmont(e)

Welcome back. In 1927 Waite Phillips built two beautiful homes, Villa Philbrook and Villa Philmonte both of which were designed by architect Edmond Buehler Delk. In Tulsa Philbrook is located at 2727 South Rockford Road and looks similar to the home Waite and his wife Genevieve built in New Mexico. The exterior of Villa Philbrook is distinguished by fancy wrought iron fencing and the grounds feature stone fountains and reflecting pools set in lush gardens that were laid out by Waite himself. The interior has floors of marble, teak, walnut and oak with elaborate European silk curtains hanging above giant windows. There are stucco ceilings in the library, the study and the music room and on the walls are hand painted murals of dancing maidens.

With Genevieve’s direction the main part of Villa Philbrook is European in style but Waite had his man cave on the lower level or basement if you could call it that. A big American Indian art collector, Waite filled the rooms with tribal rugs and mounts of buffalo, elk and mountain lions he had shot. He didn’t have to worry about space for his collections because architect Delk had completed his other house, Villa Philmonte in New Mexico soon after.
Designed in a style that was similar to his Tulsa home but without as much square footage, Villa Philmonte had a massive yard. With close to three hundred thousand acres at an elevation of around six thousand five hundred feet above sea level, sitting on his porch looking out at the mountains Waite could see as far up as ten thousand feet to peaks that were covered in snow, some all year around. He told his friends and business associates that there was no place on earth like it and many of them came to visit. Villa Philmonte also reflected Genevieve’s interest in European style as well as Waite’s love of Native American and western art.

Reading up more on Waite in the Boy Scout library located just a few blocks from the villa I learned that he had been fascinated by the history of this area that had once been part of an enormous land grant from Mexico. He loved to tell houseguests about an old cabin that had been right where the villa was now located and that Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill, Jesse James and a slew of other well-known western characters had actually slept in the area. Will Rogers and Wiley Post were bound to have heard these stories when they stopped over for a visit on their way to Alaska in 1935. Waite took one of the last photos of the two in the gardens at the villa before their tragic deaths a few days later.

Charles Dawes who was Vice President in Calvin Coolidge’s administration came to Philmonte regularly as did well known Tulsan Bill Skelly, oil man E.W. Marland and big brother Frank. When he was interviewed by author Michael Wallis for the book Beyond the Hills, the Journey of Waite Phillips, Waite’s son Chope recalled that many of the major figures of the time came to visit the family at Villa Philmonte during the seventeen years they lived there.
Unfortunately for all of us Chope, Waite and Genevieve are gone now but friends Villa Philmonte is not and that’s where I’ve been staying on and off for the last few months. Not in a cabin or tent but right in the same room Will stayed in. Right where the famous actress Yvonne DeCarlo unpacked her suitcase. The same room where Frank and Jane would have dressed for diner. With the old swimming pool right out my window I can almost hear Waite and Frank talking oil while Jane and Genevieve discuss the latest Paris fashions. Yes I’m in historic room #7 at the Philmonte mansion in Cimarron, New Mexico and I might just stay for a while.

Here’s the local snow report. Central New Mexico continues to be dry and the lack of precipitation is making it rough on the ski areas. As for wildlife sighting, I can see elk, deer and turkey right outside my window. No bear but lots of buffalo on Ted Turner’s big ranch which is just five or six miles away.
Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……

More About Lawton, OK and Fort Sill

Welcome back. Although Lawton, Oklahoma has come and gone for me way too quickly, I’m for sure coming back to see more of this town. From last week’s column you learned that Geronimo is buried here and I discovered that he is not the only Indian chief in the cemetery in Lawton. The Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, Kiowa Chief Santana and several others are also buried here, some under the Henry Post Army Airfield but that my friends is for another story.

If you’re not a regular reader you may wonder where I get my information and in Lawton I found that there are three museums which are a great resource for local history. The Museum of the Great Plains is all about the early days of the town and its settlements. The Fort Sill Museum is a must see as well and sits right where the original fort was. The old guardhouse and barracks along with many of the other old buildings are all listed as National Historic Landmarks. The Comanche National Museum is of course all about the Comanche tribe, past and present. In addition to their own collections, the museum frequently hosts traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Trust me, all three museums are well worth your time.

When I had a little time to tour the town I found that Lawton’s park system is quite a deal and from what I saw a real thing of beauty. They have eighty-yes eighty- parks and recreational areas within the city limits. There are also three big lakes close by all of which offer boating, swimming, fishing and camping. Over 94,000 people live in the Lawton area and they support three newspapers, a half dozen radio stations, three major TV stations and a monthly magazine.

Numerous prominent people have come from Lawton including a fellow I was lucky enough to meet a few years ago, the late Comanche code talker Charlie Chibity. The famous actress Joan Crawford and NBA basketball great Stacy King are also from here. Want to learn more about the Plains Indian wars or maybe see the graves of Geronimo and Quanah Parker or take a tour of old Fort Sill? It’s all in Lawton and if you can’t tell, I definitely recommend a visit.

AS for me, this week and next I’ll be deep in the Sangre de Christo Mountains where now that hunting season is mostly over I hope to get a chance to spot more wildlife. Bear, mountain lion, elk and deer all live here and so will I. Not to hunt but to write another true story which I hope you will find as interesting as my last book. With no TV or internet and just limited radio reception, this place in February isn’t for everyone but for my purposes its perfect and the people I do see love it here in the clean high altitude mountain air. Next week, more on my location, a weather report, local skiing conditions and wildlife sightings.

Till then, I’ll see ya down the road……

Discovering Lawton, OK and Fort Sill

So many places to go and so much to learn….

Welcome back. A big trade show at the Tulsa Fairgrounds brought me home for the weekend and I’m here to tell you that on Saturday the parking lot there which is massive was full. Shows of every kind filled the buildings and with the big boat and travel going on this week I expect they’ll have another huge crowd. As for me, I’m headed down to southwest Oklahoma to check out some history in the town of Lawton.

I’m sure many of you know that Lawton is home to Fort Sill but it is really the other way around. This old fort was first established back in 1869 when all the land was still known as Indian Territory and it was built by General Phillip Sheridan for protection from hostile Indian tribes who were resisting the westward expansion of settlements. After it was completed the fort became an important base for military operations. Six cavalry regiments and a bunch of early frontier scouts with names that everyone recognizes led the way. Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok and the 10th Cavalry, who were also called buffalo soldiers, all stayed at Fort Sill and played a major role in settling the west. The 10th Cavalry was led by Henry O. Flipper who was the first black man to graduate from West Point.

In 1894 the famous Apache warrior Geronimo was captured and housed outside of the fort along with three hundred and forty members of his tribe. A few years later Geronimo would go on tour with Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show traveling coast to coast. Geronimo died at Fort Sill in 1909 and is buried in the cemetery there. I hope to bring you more on Geronimo, the day he met President Theodore Roosevelt, the bloody Ghost Dance uprising and more after my stay.

The history that I’ve read so far tells me that the town of Lawton was founded on August 6, 1901 many years after the fort was completed. By this time the Indian tribes had been settled on reservations and the fort, which at one time was close to being abandoned, had become a field artillery base. Through the years the fort has served as an officer training school, an air service training school and nowadays is also an aviation center.
Fort Sill’s important role in aviation began in 1917 when an airfield was built housing the first Balloon Squadron that was stationed there. During World War I balloon squadrons were sent to Europe where they were used to observe enemy activities. From what I’ve found out, the balloons were tethered to trucks and towed with the men inside them. It is worth noting that the commander of the unit from Fort Sill was General Banksdale Hawlett, Jr. who would later play a key role during the Cuban Missile Crisis as a part of President Kennedy’s advisory team. As an aviation base the fort continues to play a role in the protection of our country today.

This time next week I’ll also be taking you on the road to another historical place in the southwest corner of Oklahoma where I seldom travel and then I’ll be going up to I-40 west into New Mexico. Through the motel town of Tucumcari to Santa Rosa, followed by Cline’s Corner and then north. Its remote out there with plenty of antelope and you know the early travelers to the area had it rough. I love reading about those early day travelers and plan to bring you some of their history as well next week.

Till then, I’ll see ya down the road……