Remember Phillips 66 gas stations?
Well, Frank Phillips made his money in the oil business and he thought about building a big east coast mansion like his friends the Rockefellers and Carnegies. Instead he bought a big hunk of Oklahoma land and put up a western style lodge, but one with eastern style amenities. He called the lodge Woolaroc, and shortly built an adjacent museum to house his extensive collection of western, Native American, and pre-Columbian artifacts.
We puzzled over the name of Phillips’ ranch, thinking it must be a Native American word until a docent told us no, it came from Frank’s love of the WOOds, LAkes, and ROCks of his beloved acreage. In its industrial heyday, it hosted many of the illustrious names of the U.S. boom in oil, gas, steel, and manufacturing. Anxious to impress his Eastern business friends with the spirit of the West, Phillipps hosted a barbeque in 1927 that included tycoons, lawmen, Native Americans, ranchers, and several notorious outlaws. The rules required all guns to be checked at the gate and that no one could be arrested while on the property. The “Cow Thieves & Outlaws Reunion,” as it was called, was an instant success and continued for many years.
Nowadays, Woolaroc is a museum and animal sanctuary. A few exotic animals roam the grounds, among them ostriches and water buffalo, but mostly it’s a rehabilitation facility for native bison, antelope, raptors, and small mammals. The big show is the museum. It has a stellar collection of Fredrick Remington sculptures and Charlie Russell paintings. Of “Kid” Russell, as he was called, it was said that he could paint a sunset just a bit better than God. We were also intrigued to see Russell sculptures and Remington paintings. Those guys could do it all!
While the museum was a showcase of archaeological items and cultural treasures, it was also a sad reminder of a time in which a single man with vast capital could plunder the treasures of half a continent. The artifacts are beautifully displayed, and the extensive grounds have walking paths and a variety of animal habitats. There’s a nice large picnic area near the entrance.
Woolaroc is a bit south of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, many miles from I-40, the nearest interstate, but handy to U.S. 60 on the Osage Indian Reservation. The reservation has a small casino with a small RV park, where you can hook up to water and electric for free if you check in at the information desk. There are lots of other things to see.
Among the regulars at the outlaw barbecue were the Miller brothers who owned the 101 Ranch not too far from here. It was the gathering place for many performers in the Wild West shows, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Pawnee Bill, and May Lillie. Local lore says that on a moonlit night, if you sit by the foundation of the old ranch house, you can hear the ghosts of the cowboys singing around the fire.