Starting in 1824, Sequoyah, the creator of the Cherokee syllabary, and his family moved from Alabama to northwest Arkansas and finally to Skin Bayou near Fort Gibson in what is now Oklahoma in 1829. The final move followed an 1828 treaty that led to the removal of 600 Cherokee families from Arkansas.
“Originally, Sequoyah was to settle on Lee’s Creek, but instead he relocated his family nine miles further south on Skin Bayou,” said Jerry Dobbs, who manages Sequoyah’s Cabin near Sallisaw for the Oklahoma Historical Society. The reason Sequoyah moved to Skin Bayou is not known, but Dobbs said it is suspected that “hostility over the removal forced him to withdraw to a secluded location until tempers abated.” He lived there until his death in 1843.
“Sequoyah was one of the first immigrants to settle in historic homes preserved in Oklahoma,” said Dr. Bob Blackburn, director of OHS. “Visitors can enjoy these homes and learn how families often survived the difficulties of pioneer immigration to play dramatic roles in the development of Oklahoma.”
Other 19th century preserved homes include the George M. Murrell Home, built in 1845 in Park Hill and called the “Hunter’s Home” for Murrell’s interest in fox hunting and now a National Historic Landmark, and the Sod House Museum, built with sod bricks in 1894 by Marshall McCully near what is now Aline in Alfalfa County and operated by OHS.
Preserved early 20th century Oklahoma homes open to visitors include the Henry Overholser Mansion in Oklahoma City, completed in 1903 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970; the Fred Drummond Home in Hominy, built in 1905, purchased by OHS in 1980 and placed on the National Register in 1980; and Frank Phillips’ 26-room neoclassical home in Bartlesville, completed in 1909 and donated to OHS in 1973.
George Murrell was born to a prominent Lynchburg, Va., family in 1808. He moved to Athens, Tenn., where he pursued mercantile interests and married Minerva Ross of a wealthy and influential Cherokee family in 1834, said David Fowler of the OHS staff. Her father, Lewis Ross, was the brother of John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to his death in 1866.
When the Cherokees were forced to move west on the “Trail of Tears” in 1838-39, George Murrell and his family came to Indian Territory. Murrell and his father-in-law established a mercantile business in Park Hill and later moved it to Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation.
McCully, a Scottish immigrant, staked his claim in the Cherokee Outlet Land Run of 1893. He built his two-room “soddy” and increased his homestead from 160 to 240 acres. The McCully family lived in the sod house until 1909, when he built a two-room house. He used the “soddy” for storage until 1963.
Henry Overholser put himself through business school in Cincinnati. He earned wealth in various businesses in Indiana, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin before coming to Oklahoma City a few days after the Land Run of 1889, said Lisa Escalon, coordinator of the Overholser Mansion.
He brought supplies and erected six buildings on Grand (now Sheridan) Avenue. He also built the Grand Avenue Hotel (Oklahoma City’s first hotel). Within a month he was elected president of the new Board of Trade, which became the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. Overholser built Oklahoma City’s first Federal Court House, the Overholser Opera House and became known as the “Father of Oklahoma City,” said Escalon.
Overholser purchased three Oklahoma City lots in the area now known as Heritage Hills in 1901. He completed a 20-room Queen Anne-style brick and stone mansion with at 405 NW 15th St. in Oklahoma City in 1903.
Fred Drummond, also a Scottish immigrant, had worked with cattle in Texas and as a clerk for a St. Louis mercantile firm before moving to Pawhuska in 1886. He married Addie Gentner of Coffeyville, Kan., in 1890 and bought a partnership in the mercantile company. Drummond formed the Hominy Trading Co. in 1904 and expanded his operations to include ranching, banking and real estate while he and Addie built their three-story neoclassical style house in Hominy.
Frank Phillips, an Iowa barber turned salesman, and his brother Lee entered the oil business in 1903 and drilled their first gusher in 1905 near Dewey. Frank completed his 26-room neoclassical Bartlesville home in 1909.
They organized the Citizens Bank and Trust, then purchased the Bartlesville National Bank and merged the two in 1911. They consolidated their holdings and incorporated the Phillips Petroleum Co. in Bartlesville in 1917.
“The developers of all of these preciously preserved historic properties,” said Blackburn, “continued to lead the development of what is now Oklahoma in their own ways. Their leadership is important to us to this day, so we encourage visitors to enjoy their historic homes and learn about the importance of their leadership to us more than a century later.”
Max J. Nichols worked as a sports writer, editor, columnist and public relations director for more than forty-eight years with the Associated Press in New York, the Minneapolis Star in Minnesota, and The Daily Oklahoman, The Journal Record in Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Historical Society. Now retired, Max has continued his monthly columns for the Historical Society and The Journal Record from New York City.