Thomas Gilcrease

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Thomas Gilcrease
Thomas Gilcrease.jpg
BornWilliam Thomas Gilcrease
(1890-02-08)February 8, 1890
Robeline, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana
Died May 6, 1962(1962-05-06) (aged 72)
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Nationality U.S.A.
Occupation Oilman
Years active 1922 - 1962
Known for Founder of Gilcrease Museum

William Thomas Gilcrease (18901962) was an American oilman, art collector and philanthropist. During his lifetime, Gilcrease collected more than 10,000 artworks, 250,000 Native American artifacts and 100,000 rare books and documents, including the only surviving certified copy of the Declaration of Independence. He was the founder of Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma and his oil company

United States Declaration of Independence announcement by which the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and thus founded the United States

The United States Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. The Declaration announced that the Thirteen Colonies at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain would regard themselves as thirteen independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule. With the Declaration, these new states took a collective first step toward forming the United States of America. The declaration was signed by representatives from New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Gilcrease Museum Art Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Gilcrease Museum is a museum located northwest of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. The museum houses the world's largest, most comprehensive collection of art of the American West, as well as a growing collection of art and artifacts from Central and South America. The museum is named for Thomas Gilcrease, an oil man and avid art collector, who began the collection. He deeded the collection, as well as the building and property, to the City of Tulsa in 1958. Since July 1, 2008, Gilcrease Museum has been managed by a public-private partnership of the City of Tulsa and the University of Tulsa.

Tulsa, Oklahoma City in Oklahoma, United States

Tulsa is the second-largest city in the state of Oklahoma and 47th-most populous city in the United States. As of July 2016, the population was 403,505, an increase of 10,591 over that reported in the 2010 Census. It is the principal municipality of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area, a region with 981,005 residents in the MSA and 1,151,172 in the CSA. The city serves as the county seat of Tulsa County, the most densely populated county in Oklahoma, with urban development extending into Osage, Rogers, and Wagoner counties.



Early life

Gilcrease was the son of William Lee Gilcrease and Mary "Elizabeth" (Vowell) Gilcrease, and was born in Robeline, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana on February 8, 1890. Mary "Elizabeth" (Vowell) Gilcrease was of Creek ancestry and a member of the Creek Nation, and shortly after the birth, the family moved to Indian Territory to take advantage of the 160-acre (0.65 km2) allotments in the Creek Nation. The family lived on Creek Nation tribal lands near Eufaula, Oklahoma. Gilcrease's father ran a cotton gin in the nearby community of Mounds, Oklahoma. As a boy, he was often called "Indian Tom." [1]

Louisiana State of the United States of America

Louisiana is a state in the Deep South region of the South Central United States. It is the 31st most extensive and the 25th most populous of the 50 United States. Louisiana is bordered by the state of Texas to the west, Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. A large part of its eastern boundary is demarcated by the Mississippi River. Louisiana is the only U.S. state with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are equivalent to counties. The state's capital is Baton Rouge, and its largest city is New Orleans.

Indian Territory U.S. 17th-, 18th- and early-20th-century territory set aside by the United States Government for the relocation of the indigenous peoples of the Americas

As general terms, Indian Territory, the Indian Territories, or Indian country describe an evolving land area set aside by the United States Government for the relocation of Native Americans who held aboriginal title to their land. In general, the tribes ceded land they occupied in exchange for land grants in 1803. The concept of an Indian Territory was an outcome of the 18th- and 19th-century policy of Indian removal. After the Civil War (1861–1865), the policy of the government was one of assimilation.

Eufaula, Oklahoma City in Oklahoma, United States

Eufaula is a city in and county seat of McIntosh County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 2,813 at the 2010 census, an increase of 6.6 percent from 2,639 in 2000. Eufaula is in the southern part of the county, 30 miles (48 km) north of McAlester and 32 miles (51 km) south of Muskogee.

Tom's early education was limited and took place in one-room schools in Indian Territory. He then attended Bacone College, where his most influential teacher was Alexander Posey, [lower-alpha 1] who taught his students the arts, sciences, writing, and, most importantly, their American Indian heritage. The latter included learning about the Trail of Tears and important Indian leaders, such as Sequoyah and Sitting Bull; about how to make bows and arrows and to hunt, and about the operations of the Creek National Council at Okmulgee. After Bacone College, he enrolled in the Kansas State Teacher's College (renamed in 1974 as Emporia State University) at Emporia, Kansas. [1]

Bacone College

Bacone College, formerly Bacone Indian University, is a private four-year liberal arts college in Muskogee, Oklahoma, United States. Founded in 1880 as the Indian University by Almon C. Bacone, Bacone College is the oldest continuously operated institution of higher education in Oklahoma. The college has strong historic ties to various tribal nations, including the Cherokee Nation and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and also to the American Baptist Churches USA.

Alexander Posey Muscogee Creek poet, journalist, humorist, and politician from Indian Territory

Alexander Lawrence Posey was an American poet, humorist, journalist, and politician in the Creek Nation. He founded the Eufaula Indian Journal in 1901, the first Native American daily newspaper. For several years he published editorial letters known as the Fus Fixico Letters, written by a fictional figure who commented pointedly about Muscogee Nation, Indian Territory, and United States politics during the period of the dissolution of tribal governments and communal lands. He served as secretary to the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention and drafted much of the constitution for its proposed Native American state, but Congress rejected the proposal. Posey died young, drowned while trying to cross the flooding North Canadian River in Oklahoma.

Sequoyah Cherokee silversmith and creator of the Cherokee syllabary

Sequoyah (c.1770—1843), was an American and Cherokee silversmith. In 1821 he completed his independent creation of a Cherokee syllabary, making reading and writing in Cherokee possible. This was one of the very few times in recorded history that a member of a pre-literate people created an original, effective writing system. After seeing its worth, the people of the Cherokee Nation rapidly began to use his syllabary and officially adopted it in 1825. Their literacy rate quickly surpassed that of surrounding European-American settlers.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the federal government dissolved the Indian Nations land by distributing parcels into private ownership. At age nine, Gilcrease's 1/8 Creek heritage entitled him to receive 160 acres (650,000 m²) located about twenty miles (32 km) southwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1905, drillers struck oil in the area. His land, sitting astride the huge Glenn Pool Reserve, made Gilcrease a multi-millionaire by the time he was twenty. [lower-alpha 2] Though he struggled early in his career, he proved to be an astute businessman. He founded the Gilcrease Oil Company in 1922, and with early successes, was able to purchase more land. Gilcrease established his company headquarters in San Antonio, Texas in 1937 and also maintained an office in Europe. In 1949, the headquarters of the company moved to Tulsa.


On August 22, 1908, Gilcrease married Belle M. Harlow, a member of the Osage tribe. [1] He fathered two sons with Belle: William Thomas Gilcrease, Jr., who was born on July 23, 1909 in Oklahoma and died on March 16, 1967 in Nacogdoches, Nacogdoches County, Texas, and Barton Eugene Gilcrease, who was born on April 12, 1911 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and died on September 25, 1991 in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas. The couple's marriage ended in divorce in 1924. On September 3, 1928, he married 19-year-old Norma Des Cygnet Smallwood, the former Miss Tulsa and Miss America 1926 and . [3]

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.

Texas State of the United States of America

Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, while the Gulf of Mexico is to the southeast.

San Antonio City in Texas, United States

San Antonio, officially the City of San Antonio, is the seventh-most populous city in the United States, and the second-most populous city in both Texas and the Southern United States, with more than 1.5 million residents. Founded as a Spanish mission and colonial outpost in 1718, the city became the first chartered civil settlement in present-day Texas in 1731. The area was still part of the Spanish Empire, and later of the Mexican Republic. Today it is the state's oldest municipality.

Thomas Gilcrease, Sr. and Norma (Smallwood) Gilcrease were the parents of one daughter, Des Cygne Lamour Gilcrease. [1] She was born on June 12, 1929, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Thomas Gilcrease, Sr. filed for divorce in October, 1933, for extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty. He alleged that the couple had been happily married for two years, until Norma's mother, Mahala Dickerson had moved into the house with them and alienated the affections of both Norma and the couple's daughter. He wanted the mother-in-law removed from the property. [4] The Gilcrease-Smallwood marriage ended in divorce on May 2, 1934. [3] Initially, the divorce provided for $72,000 alimony, payable at the rate of $200 per month, but with a provision that all payments would cease if Norma were to remarry. Norma balked at the provision against remarriage, so the court set alimony at $15,000, to be paid at $250 per month. [4] [lower-alpha 3]

During the 1920s and 1930s Gilcrease became inspired by the collections of European art museums. He began to collect oil paintings and other artifacts of the American West in 1922. The Gilcrease collection expanded over the next 20 years, with the majority obtained after 1939.

In 1946, Gilcrease was honored by the Sioux Nation, made an honorary tribal member and given the name Wicarpi Wakatuya, which means "High Star".

Declining oil prices in the 1950s created financial difficulties for Gilcrease. Although his oil income was not insubstantial, major collection purchases limited his cash flow and placed him in a position of being unable to meet his current debt. Concerned about the integrity of his collection, Gilcrease offered it for sale as a unit in 1954. Swift action by the people of Tulsa enabled the debt to be covered by a local bond issue, and the collection remained in Oklahoma.

Thomas Gilcrease died of a heart attack on May 6, 1962. After a funeral service based on traditional Indian rites, he was buried in a mausoleum on the grounds of his estate, where his mother was buried after her death on June 11, 1935.

Art collection

Charles M. Russell, "When Sioux and Blackfeet Meet", 1903. Watercolor and opaque watercolor on paper. Gilcrease Museum collection Charles M. Russell, When Sioux and Blackfeet Meet, 1903. Watercolor and opaque watercolor on paper. Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma.jpg
Charles M. Russell, "When Sioux and Blackfeet Meet", 1903. Watercolor and opaque watercolor on paper. Gilcrease Museum collection

The Gilcrease collection of traditional art, Native American art, artifacts and documents was acquired over a lifetime. Gilcrease began to collect oil paintings and other artifacts of the American West in 1922. At a time when few were interested in Native American art or artifacts of the American West, Gilcrease supported a number of Oklahoma Indian artists, including Woody Crumbo, Acee Blue Eagle, and Willard Stone, each of whom created works held in the collection.

In 1943, Gilcrease moved to San Antonio and opened the Museum of the American Indian, also known as the Gilcrease Museum. However, the San Antonio site failed to attract a large number of visitors. In 1947, he purchased the entire collection of the late Phillip Gillette Cole, an avid New York collector. The collection contained twenty-seven bronzes and forty-six paintings by Charles Marion Russell, seventeen bronzes and twelve paintings by Frederic Remington, photographs by Edward Curtis, and documents and correspondence of well known figures in the American West.

Gilcrease hired architect Alexandre Hogue to design a museum to be placed on Oklahoma property he had purchased in 1914. In 1949, he opened the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art on this estate. During the remainder of his life Gilcrease lived in an adjacent home, built of native sandstone. The rock home, dating from approximately 1912, had been extensively remodeled over the years and was surrounded by a garden specializing in plants used by the Indians.

In 1954, fearing that Gilcrease Museum would be sold and leave Tulsa, a small group of citizens organized a bond election. Tulsa's citizens approved, by a 3-to-1 margin, the $2.25 million bond issue which paid Gilcrease's outstanding debts. In response, Gilcrease deeded his entire collection to the City of Tulsa in 1955, and conveyed the museum buildings and grounds to the city in 1958. In addition, Gilcrease committed oil property revenue to Tulsa for museum maintenance until the bond was fully repaid.

After the transfer of the collection, Gilcrease continued to fund archaeological excavations and acquire additional materials. These materials were bequeathed to the museum upon his death in Tulsa on May 6, 1962. Gilcrease's funeral was conducted in an Indian style, with Chief Wolf Robe Hunt of the Acoma Reservation in New Mexico leading the prayer, after which, arrows were shot into the air to protect Gilcrease's spirit from evil during its travel to the happy hunting ground (Sha-Pa-Po) and corn meal was sprinkled at the site to provide food for the spirit's journey. Gilcrease's body was buried in a mausoleum on the grounds of his home and museum. [1]

The Gilcrease Institute

The Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, now called the Gilcrease Museum, holds what is considered among the world's largest and most comprehensive collections of fine art, artifacts, and archives dealing with the American West. Located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Institute grounds display 23 acres (93,000 m2) of thematic gardens showcasing the gardening styles of different time periods in the American West.


  1. Alexander Posey (1873 - 1908) was a notable person in modern Creek history; among other achievements, he was elected secretary of the 1906 Sequoyah Constitutional Convention, a prelude to the creation of the State of Oklahoma, and wrote most of the Sequoyah Constitution that was produced by the convention. [2]
  2. He had 32 producing wells on his allotment by 1917. [1]
  3. Thomas never remarried. Norma married George H. Bruce, a Wichita oilman, in 1936 and continued to live in Wichita until she died of undisclosed illness on May 8, 1966. Their only child, Des Cygne, eventually married a San Antonio oilman, Corwin D. Denney. She also became a member of the board of the Gilcrease Museum, until she died in an automobile accident in 1968. [4]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Self, Burl E. "Gilcrease, William Thomas (1890 - 1962)," Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  2. Mullins, Jonita. "Muskogee County." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed November 8, 2016
  3. 1 2 Jackson, Debbie and Hilary Pittman. "Throwback Tulsa: Ex-Miss America's divorce case scandalized Tulsa in '34," Tulsa World, May 28, 2015. Accessed May 28, 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 Lester, Terrell. "Reigning Queen // Former Tulsan Won 1926 Miss America Title." Tulsa World. April 6, 1997. Accessed November 6, 2016.