A Brief History of Wewoka, Oklahoma
Highlights from one of Oklahoma’s oldest and most historic communities
One of the oldest and most historic communities in Oklahoma, the city of Wewoka was settled in January of 1849 by the great Freedman leader, John Horse, and a band of his followers. Seeking safety and autonomy from the Creek Nation, they established a community located at the falls of a small stream, lying in the fertile lands between the North and South Canadian Rivers. The steady rush of water over the falls gave rise to the name We-Wo-Ka – meaning “Barking Water” in the Mvskoke (Seminole) language.
Situated at the gateway to the expanding Western Frontier, Wewoka hosted many important historical figures in its early days, including the intrepid Phil Sheridan and the ill-fated George Armstrong Custer. Adventurer Washington Irving also passed through Wewoka during his exploration of the Western Prairie.
Following the conclusion of the American Civil War, members of the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole) were forced to sign new treaties with the federal government, reallocating their tribal lands. The Seminoles relocated to this area, established their final home in Indian Territory and selected Wewoka as their capital. Thereafter, many settlers came to the Seminole Nation to establish businesses or build lives for their families in the small, quiet community by the falls. The town-site was opened initially for the benefit of the Seminoles, but later was opened to others. The title was perfected by an Act of Congress. A property lot drawing took place in November 1902, which gave to each of those holding a ticket a choice of either two residential lots or one business lot. Chances were sold all over the world: in China, England, South Africa and many in Canada.
The old wooden Capitol building, which so long served the Seminoles, became a United States Government courthouse during those days when the government held court in Wewoka prior to statehood. Subsequently, the building served as courthouse for Seminole County following Oklahoma’s creation as a state in 1907. It was in this clapboard building that the Seminoles made their laws. There too, they carried them out. Legal trials took place before the Council, and upon conviction, the guilty was either seated at the foot of the Execution Tree and shot to death; or tied to the Whipping Tree and whipped according to the edict of the court.
The Execution Tree, cut down in the 1920s, now exists as a part of the Permanent Collection of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, its bullet holes and blood stains recording for posterity the severity of Seminole justice. The Whipping Tree still stands on the grounds of the modern Seminole County Courthouse. Here, over a century ago, the culprit had his hands and feet tied together, the hands tied over the lower branch of the now old tree (the great branch stretching out southward today) and between his feet was placed a rail or pole. The whipping was done by Lighthorsemen; and the groans and the cries of the victim could be heard for many blocks.
During the days of Seminole rule, the Federal government shipped gold bullion, silver and paper money, direct to A. J. Brown, the Seminole Nation Treasurer at Wewoka. He paid the funds directly to the tribesmen. It was an inspiring sight to see the wagon drawn by the Seminole Nation's swiftest horses and guarded by five or six Lighthorsemen, with ready carbines in their hands, meet the shipments of money; and see the horses dash at breakneck speed from the little old depot to the waiting vaults of the old Wewoka Trading Company Building, on the north end of Wewoka Avenue.
The Wewoka Trading Company was one of the pioneer business concerns of the Indian Territory. It was established in the 1880’s by John F. Brown, Chief of the Seminole Nation; his brother, Andrew J. Brown, Seminole Nation Treasurer; and Courtland L. Long. It rose in importance until it was rated as one of the greatest commercial undertakings of the Southwest. At one time, it was valued by Dunn & Bradstreet at well over one million dollars. The gigantic store, which covered nearly a full city block, carried everything from a knitting needle to a threshing machine. This company made its own paper money, known by the Seminoles as "Choka Sodka." The scrip (or script) was prepared in Canada and signed by C. L. Long, secretary of the Trading Company and either John F. Brown or A. J. Brown as President or Vice President. It was redeemable in goods at the big store of the company.
During the Oklahoma Constitutional convention, Seminole County was carved out of the old Seminole Nation and three miles of the Creek Nation, running from the North Canadian River south along the east side of the county, to three miles south of Wewoka. The old Creek-Seminole National line was the very eastern line of what is known as Muskogee Avenue located just behind the Seminole Nation Museum. East of that line was the Creek Nation; west was Seminole Nation.
In March 1923, oil was discovered a mile and a half southeast of Wewoka. A new era came to the town. What had once been a small, country establishment, commenced its development into a small city. Since that time, progress has never ceased! B. H. Smith, now of Philadelphia, was the one who first discovered oil in Seminole County, although as far back as 1901, drilling machinery was operating on the town-site of Wewoka, in a quest for the “black gold”.
In July 1907, oil was discovered in the 1200 foot horizon and produced in vast quantities; yet no other wells produced. Around the same time, the Wewoka Trading Company was offered a half million dollars for their holdings and declined. In December of 1925, Magnolia Petroleum Company, in a well two-miles south of town, discovered oil in the Wilcox sand. This gave rise to oil development in other portions of Seminole County, perhaps the greatest Seminole Oil Field ever, with unprecedented barrels of flowing oil - and millions of dollars in wealth!