History of Bartlesville & Washington County, Oklahoma

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Washington County Map & History

Washington County is a 425 square mile area in northeastern Oklahoma on the Kansas border. It is the smallest of Oklahoma's 77 counties, but one of the wealthier per capita primarily because of the petroleum business. The county population in 2017 was 51,932. It has a short written history, extending back only two hundred years.

County Sites and Their Origins:
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Washington County

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History Prior to Statehood

The first known humans in the Oklahoma area were the Caddoan Pani, Wichita (Wickita), Tawakoni (Tawakany), and Caddo Indian tribes. Two Osage Indians bands were brought into the county area by a French trader and had driven out the Caddoan tribes by 1805, and established a camp at Silver Lake, with a trail that extended north through present-day downtown Bartlesville and then west into present-day Osage County.

The Osage were removed from the area to a reservation in eastern Kansas from 1825 until 1871. The Cherokee Indians were forcibly removed from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee along the Trail of Tears in 1838 and sent to the northeastern part of Indian Territory or present-day Oklahoma. The Washington County area was thus part of the Cherokee Nation Cooweescoowee District from 1839 until 1906. After siding with the Confederacy during the Civil War the Cherokee were forced to allow other tribes onto their lands. In 1867-68, about a thousand Delaware Indians settled on 160-acre plots in the Cherokee nation, many in this part of the Cooweescoowee District, where they purchased 157,000 acres for $1 an acre. The Osages were allowed to return to the area just west of present-day Washington County in 1871.

White people were not allowed to live in the Cherokee Nation unless they had a trading license, were married or adopted into the tribe, purchased citizenship, or purchased a monthly 50-cent permit from the Indian Nation agent. Most of the founding fathers of Bartlesville and other area towns were white men married to Indian wives. Bartlesville, which would eventually dominate the county, was incorporated in 1897.

Many of the small towns in the county find their origin in the building of the Kansas-Oklahoma and Southwestern Railroad by Jacob Bartles and Col. Porter of Caney, Kansas. They planned a depot and townsite each six miles along the railroad, which was sold in 1899 and became the Santa Fe. The original stops south from Kansas were Owen, Weldon (now Copan), Dewey, Bartlesville, Funston (Matoaka), Otis (now Ochelata), Hobson (now Ramona), Evans (now Vera), Collins (now Collinsville), and Elm Creek (now Owasso). Originally the main attraction for the route was the Collins coal mine south of present-day Collinsville in Tulsa County. As of this writing, that railroad is still in operation as the South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad.

The other major railroad line through the county was the Missouri, Kansas, Texas Railroad (aka the Katy). That route became the Southeast Kansas Railroad but has been abandoned and the tracks have been removed.

The state of Oklahoma was formed in 1907, and this county was named after George Washington. Additional information is available at the official county website and at the RootsWeb Washington County web site.