Jason Salsman/Multimedia Producer
Writer Russell Cobb sheds light on history behind $465 million Tulsa park
TULSA, Oklahoma — To most folks that are brushed up on their Tulsa and Muscogee (Creek) histories, the name Tuckabache carries great significance.
In some circles he is even referred to as a “founding citizen of Tulsa.”
But to a great deal of people living in the Maple Ridge neighborhood, he’s just “the dead Indian that’s clouding their title to the land.”
This according to Russell Cobb, a writer and academic that grew up in the neighborhood where Tuckabache settled after his journey on the Trail of Tears and lived in a cabin at the intersection of what is Cincinnati and Hazel Boulevard today.
Cobb has done extensive research on the famous Creek for an editorial he recently penned titled ‘The story of Tuckabache, the first people to gather at Gathering Place and the land swindles that took their land’ that was published in the ‘Tulsa World.’
“I’ve talked to people that have lived there (Maple Ridge) for 40 years that know nothing about Tuckabache,” Cobb said during a recent appearance on ‘MvskokeVision.’ “They say ‘we just know that in our deed to the property there’s a cloud.’ ”
Cobb, who is currently a associate professor of modern languages and cultural studies at the University of Alberta in Canada, details the hoopla surrounding the new 100-acre Gathering Place and the seemingly ignored history of the land on which it sits.
At $465 million, Gathering Place is the product of the largest private donation to a public park in American history, spearheaded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
The website www.gatheringplace.org, says that it is ‘designed to welcome all Tulsans to a vibrant and inclusive public space that engages, educates and excites.’
However, there is no mention on the site of the history of the land on which it sits. In fact, a Google search of Gathering Place and Tuckabache together will only yield you two published works of information, both from Cobb.
He’s seemingly the only one telling the story.
“This is such a passionate issue for me because I grew up a block from Gathering Place,” Cobb said. “It was a real experience to learn the origins of that land and who it belonged to and the longer history. Because I knew nothing about it growing up, no one ever spoke of it at all.”
Cobb was working on an initial story on Gathering Place for Tulsa’s ‘This Land Press’ in the winter of 2016 when he met J.D. Colbert, a former MCN cabinet official and Tuckabache historian.
“He said you may want to look into a guy named Tuckabache,” Cobb said. “I started to research Tuckabache and his roots into the land and that led me on a longer quest to find out more about allotment and the dissolution of the tribal nations around the time of statehood. It’s so shocking to me to know that I didn’t learn that in school. I was shocked and then also concerned.”
What concerned Cobb was the expectation that a financial contribution was need for a nod to the Muscogee (Creek) history of the area to be included in the park.
In the ‘This Land’ piece he wrote titled ‘Brave New Park,’ Cobb detailed that Colbert had discussions with the Kaiser Foundation to discuss a tribal presence at the park, but he estimated it would take a contribution of $10 million to be on par with the other major sponsors such as ONEOK and Chapman Foundations.
‘Little could Tuckabache have imagined that one day the white man would ask his tribe for millions of dollars to help fund a park where he had finally found a home after the Trail of Tears,’ Cobb wrote.
According to Cobb, he has talked with the park’s Executive Director Jeff Stava and Stava indicated that there have been ongoing conversations with tribes as well as a private ceremony held with tribal elders to bless the park.
Stava also told Cobb that he would like something at the park more “meaningful” than just a plaque or historical marker.
“I thought that was promising, but here’s the thing…we’ve had this park in the works since 2014,” Cobb said. “It’s getting ready to open in a few days, like why is that not ready to go?”
He asked this question next to the logistical challenges of other park installations.
“They’ve been able to secure multi-million dollar donations, have created state-of-the-art play structures in Germany and had them shipped over, why are we just now starting to get down and talk about what do we do about the fact that this land for generations pertained to Tuckabache?” he said.
Cobb said that he and other indigenous people that he has talked to feel that a good starting point may be to honor what is now called the Midland Valley Trail.
The trail’s path is formed from the tracks of what was the MKT Railroad line. Cobb wrote that perhaps the one regret of Tuckabache’s life was granting an easement on his land for the railroad to be built.
“He really resented that and tried to fight it in court,” Cobb said. “They basically swindled him in court. He didn’t speak English so he didn’t know what he was leasing, and that happened a lot. He would try to fight that in court and he lost.”
Cobb said the railway went through where the tribal leader used to hunt and fish and suggested that perhaps it should be called Tuckabache Trail.
As an educator, Cobb is disheartened by the fact that so much information and true history has not been recognized and taught.
However, he continues to try and address this and is working on a book for the University of Nebraska Press that will be out next year, which details the sordid past of Oklahoma and the land swindles that shaped the present state today.
Cobb said he sees some progress, and that maybe things are improving little by little.
“I think we’re taking the first baby steps forward and that’s promising,” he said. “For example, like a lot of people in Maple Ridge, I went to Robert E. Lee Elementary School and that’s now been renamed in honor of the Council Oak tree.”
He said younger generations and education are a big part of this improvement and institutional acceptance would further it.
“A writer once said when you start to learn about Oklahoma history and the crimes that took place that are foundational to our state, it changes the way you relate to yourself and your own identity,” Cobb said. “I think it’s really important for the Gathering Place to acknowledge that history so we incrementally move this process forward.”
Gathering Place will open to the public Sept. 8.1 comment