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Photo: Courtesy of The Daily Oklahoman

Early Tulsa: Gangs and Lawlessness

Perhaps because Tulsa did not have a bank until 1895, no organized raids ever descended upon the city. Outlaws engaged in horse stealing, robbed trains and held up stores in the country surrounding the new city. Members of the Glass gang, the Barnett gang, the Cook gang, the Buck gang, the Dalton gang and the Doolin gang were known on the streets of Tulsa, but there was a kind of gentleman’s agreement between the outlaws and the city. The outlaws spared the town and the town granted the criminals immunity. No spectacular arrests were staged in early Tulsa.

During the first building of modern Tulsa in the 1880s and1890s, Tulsa was devoid of United States law. Because Tulsa was in Creek Nation it was subject to Creek law, which applied only to tribal citizens. Thus as Angie Debo put it, “Every man was his own law in protecting his property and the right to carry on his business…”

Tulsa’s rough and sometimes-violent nature expressed itself in many ways. In 1894, a drunken mixed-blood from a prominent family walked into Archer’s store demanding ammunition. In the argument that pursued, the customer’s gun went off and the bullet struck a keg of powder. The explosion injured Archer so badly that he died a few weeks later.


As featured in “Tulsa: Where the Streets Were Paved with Gold" written by Clyda R. Franks and published by Arcadia Publishing, best known for its iconic "Images of America" series, which chronicles the history of small towns and downtowns across the country.