The Story of Tulsa

by This Land


The following is an anonymous document from the Governor John Walton Papers, on file in the Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma, Norman. Reprinted with permission.

This is “The Story of Tulsa.”

That is to say, a part of the story.

The whole story of Tulsa will never be told. Men flee from savagery and torture. Scores of Tulsa’s victims fled. The average man is pretty apt to change his address after his skin is whipped until it is raw and then he is threatened with death if he tells. That is exactly what has happened in Tulsa, not once, but many times. Say 50 times, or 100 times or perhaps 200 times, in a little more than a year.

It is June, 1923. You live a little way outside Tulsa. You have a wife, two grown boys and three smaller children. The mother is soon to become a mother again. It is midnight. Twenty men gather outside your home. They begin shooting. They shoot out all the window lights. You huddle your family together on the floor. A bullet strikes within an inch of your baby’s head. There are shouts from the outside to come on out. You crawl to the door. You open it. Seven or eight men rush in. They grab you. They grab your wife. They beat you over the head with a revolver. They command your wife to stand. She swoon. They beat your boys. You boys are “charged” with making a little “choc.” Your assailants tear up your mattress. They set fire to it. With an oath and a threat they turn and leave. Your neighbor has seen the trouble. He telephones the sheriff’s office. No response. He telephones the police. Two men come on a motor cycle. They stop at the side of a car parked near the house. There are a few whispered words. The officers go back to the city. The night’s work is done. Three days later a child is pre-maturely born into the world.

The wet rope is out of style. In Tulsa they use a leather strap. It is aboutnthree (sic) inches wide, perhaps four feet long. The end of the strap is “cat tailed”—sliced into three strips. Fifty lashes will tame the strongest man. A mile and a quarter southeast of Alsuma is Tulsa County’s most famous whipping pasture. Strong men stagger away, ruined for life.

This is only the beginning of the “Story of Tulsa.” What is said here is based upon the sworn testimony taken by the military court, before whom more than 500 witnesses have given more that 1200 pages of testimony.

Now let one of the victims speak for himself. About fifty such victims have told their story.

This man has never been arrested. An investigation shows him to be a citizen of excellent character. Not long ago he was a member of a township school board. He favored a new school head. In his own words, this is what happened:

“As I walked out of the school house, I saw four tough looking men. One of them said, ‘I would like to see you for a few minutes’, and he started to grab me. I hit him right in the face and then another man came after me and I hit him too and there was a large man standing behind me and he hit me with the handle of his six-shooter. He hit me on the right side of the head and on the forehead. I was two months healing up. He also kicked me in the right side over the kidney and I have been have trouble ever since.

“When I came to I was in the car and they had a handkerchief tied over my eyes. One of the men asked me what kind of rough stuff I was pulling on this school board. I told him nothing and he said ‘we will learn you by the time you get through with us’. When we got down in the woods they took me to a tree and warned me that if I ever told I would never be able to say anything more. They would talk to me awhile and then they would go over and talk to someone else a little distance off. They said I would have to vote as they told me and I said I would, and finally they said. ‘Well you have been a pretty good fellow and we will just take you back. We hardly ever do this but we will take you back’. They left me in the road about a half mile from the school house.”

Another victim speaks. He is an elderly gentleman, a respected citizen of the community in which he lives. He did not like the way the local school was being run. At all times, he acted within his rights as an American citizen. This is what happened to him in his own words:

“A number of men seized me from behind, one of them repeating, ‘we want you’. A scuffle followed during which my wife was thrown to the ground. A man threw a big pistol against me, something went over my head, either a sack or a coat. They took me to the whipping pasture at Alsuma. They whipped me first and then told me it was because I signed the school petition. They hit me about thirty licks before they said a word. They then changed and another man gave me about 15 licks. After that they asked me if in signing that petition I did wrong and I said ‘no.’ They swore and gave me 15 more licks and they asked me the same question again and I said, ‘Well if you fellows say I did, I did.’ Then they left me.”

The military court of inquiry has taken reams of testimony similar to the above. In every case thus far examined, except two which have not proceeded very far, the evidence has led straight to the doorstep of the Invisible Empire known as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Not an “alien” has been accused, not a breath of suspicion against a single Tulsa citizen except members of that imperial organization.

But that is aide. This is a description of another whipping by an eye-witness—a man who was a member of the Klan and who is now a prominent citizen of Tulsa County. It is part of his sworn confession.

“Sometime that night I was notified by a man who I think was _______ that there would be a party in the pasture that night. I didn’t get around until rather late and as well as I can remember went out with _________. We didn’t get there until about 11 o’clock and there was a great crowd of men there and a large number of cars. The men were all disguised with old hats and old coats with handkerchiefs tied around their faces over there eyes. I think there were about 150 men there—I think not less—maybe more. They had two prisoners there standing near a telephone pole. The one that was whipped first was told to leave the country. The lights from the cars shown directly upon the prisoners. A man from some other town talked to the prisoners. I didn’t know him, you see they usually have a man from some other Klan—a stranger in the community—to take charge. It is well arranged.”

Chivalrous America will be interested in the next case. The woman who is now about to speak was whipped the same night that her husband was whipped. This is how she describes her experience:

“Three persons came up to the house. We were sleeping on the back porch. The said, ‘Open the door.’ My husband let them in and they came to my bed and told me to get up and I asked them why I had to get up and they jerked me out of bed in my nightclothes into the middle of the floor. I told them to wait until I could get my dress and they said I didn’t need any dress. When I reached to get my dress one man threw a gun on me. I grabbed a quilt and wrapped it around me and they handcuffed us both, put us in a car and blindfolded us. Pretty soon they took my husband out of the car and left two men to guard me. I called the parties and asked them not to hurt him and they said they were going to make a man out of him and that the United States government had given them the right to act in any way they saw fit. I didn’t see my husband but I heard him holler and heard the licks. Then the brought him back and took me. They asked me if I would like to join the Ku Klux Klan. I told them I didn’t want to join the Klan but I wished some one in the bunch would help me. When I said this I heard someone talking and recognized ______________. I said ‘Please _____________, help me’ and he said, ‘You are God damn right it is me’. They said I had been selling Choc beer. I told them we had quit making it after we got arrested and paid a fine and that the house was open and they would go and see and I said God knew I was telling the truth, and they said, ‘God, Hell!’ They then told me to squat down and I told them I had a broken knee and couldn’t and someone made the statement, ‘We will whip her standing up’. They took the quilt away from around me and I just had on my night gown and they began whipping me and I began screaming and they put their hands over my mouth and I fell unconscious. I didn’t know anything more until I was back in the car and when I came to I was all wet with blood and someone had a hold of my pulse and someone asked if my heart was beating. After I had come back to my senses they asked me if I wanted a drink of water and I told them my jaws were all locked and I couldn’t drink. They blind-folded me again and brought me back home. I was sick at that time and haven’t been well since.”

Such is the first chapter of the “Story of Tulsa.” Through the 1200 pages of testimony runs the same brutal refrain. It’s always the Klan or some members of the Klan. No arrests have ever been made until the military court convened. Except in one or two instances where the police called and immediately returned to the station, no investigation has been made of any one of these and the dozens of other cases now under investigation. This is according to the sworn testimony.

From time to time, other chapters of the “Story of Tulsa” will be told and other phases of the conflict between the Visible and Invisible government made known.