Fairfax, Oklahoma History

fairfax map

"This information was gathered from various sites throughout the Internet. The numbers behind the sentences correspond to the web page I got the information from during my research. It is a conglomeration of information that has it's resources on the corresponding webpages. Please visit those web pages as the people there have done hard work in making history more available to all of us.

Paul Reeves

At the bottom of the page are 'Places of Interest' where I have captured some of the history of the local area.

Southwest of Pawhuska, this town is the site of the grave of Chief Ne-kah-wah-she-tun-kah, the last Osage chief to be provided a traditional tribal burial ceremony. As the "Oklahoma Historical Tour Guide" reports, "Unfortunately this included placing a human scalp in the grave. A Wichita chief was selected for this 'honor.' The taking of the scalp in 1923 understandably caused a rather nasty intertribal incident and the U.S. government banned any future scalp-hunting."[2] Fairfax, was founded in 1903 in the southwestern section of the Osage Indian Reservation (now known Osage County).[4]

Fairfax, was founded in 1903 in the southwestern section of the Osage Indian Reservation (now known Osage County).[5]

When the Santa Fe Railway was built through this area, a group of Trader-Merchants at Grayhorse IT, located two miles east of the proposed railroad, asked for a station to be located on the line. The businessmen, seeing the advantage of having a town on the railroad, moved their businesses from Grayhorse to the station site. The name chosen for the station by the railroad was Coda but residents thought that sounded too 'wild west'. L.A. Wismeyer, founder of Fairfax, has spent many days in Washington D.C. on business concerning the townsite. He and his wife stayed at the Hotel Fairfax. They suggested Fairfax as a name for the new town. The residents of the new community liked the name and with railroad company permission the name was changed to Fairfax.[4] One theory says the community was named for Lord Fairfax of Virginia. Another says it was named for the Hotel Fairfax in Washington, DC.[6]

Fairfax is located in the fertile Arkansas River valley. It lies on rolling land at an elevation of 845 feet above sea level. There are also creek and river bottomlands. The hills make excellent cattle and livestock grazing of native bluestem and the bottomlands afford good farming. Hidden under the fertile soil, early settlers found "black gold" better know as oil! These discoveries made Fairfax a hub of agricultural and oil activity.[5]

The convergence of highways, electric power and gas lines at Fairfax create a center of modern living with unhampered development space. The Indian Electric Cooperative, a member owned utility, contributes to some of the lowest electrical rates in the nation. The municipally owned gas and water system supplies dependable cooling and heating fuel. Access to highways 18, 20, and 60 provide smooth flow of materials and people.[5]

A couple of newspapers have been published in Fairfax, including The Fairfax Chief, which started in the 1920's and is still being published today, and the Fairfax Banner which started in 1910 and it is unknown when it ceased publication.[7]

Maria and Marjorie Tallchief - Osage sisters from Fairfax were two of five famed Oklahoma Indian ballerinas who appeared with the world's top ballet companies.[2]

Born a mixed-blood named Betty Marie Tall Chief, daughter of an Osage father and Scotch-Irish mother, Maria Tallchief spent eight years in the Indian lands of northeastern Oklahoma. She was born in the small town of Fairfax, Oklahoma in 1925. Like so many Oklahomans, her family moved to Los Angeles in 1933. She enjoyed music and dancing, and practiced being a star -- a considerably challenging dream for a Native American child in those days.[3]

Reporting her story would be interesting, regardless of her accomplishments. She would surely have fascinating experiences as she looked back at her mixed Indian and European heritage, her eight years in the Osage Hills north of Tulsa, her journey to California and life among the many people in Los Angeles. After all, those were the days when people became rich with oil fields and poor with dusty crops. Of her childhood she wrote, "I was a good student and fit in at Sacred Heart (Catholic School). But in many ways, I was a typical Indian girl -- shy, docile, introverted. I loved being outdoors and spent most of my time wandering around my big front yard, where there was an old swing and a garden. I'd also ramble around the grounds of our summer cottage hunting for arrowheads in the grass. Finding one made me shiver with excitement. Mostly, I longed to be in the pasture, running around where the horses were..."[3]

But, there's more. She became a "Woman of Two Worlds."

The Osage Nation became rich from the oil found beneath their land. Young Betty Marie vacationed with her family in Colorado Springs, where she attended a ballet lesson at the Broadmore Hotel.[3]

She followed her dream to be a ballerina. Studying with Bronislava Nijinska for five years led to a nervous appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. Madame Nijinska's philosophy of discipline made sense to Tallchief. "When you sleep, sleep like ballerina. Even on street waiting for bus, stand like ballerina." Betty Marie continued to work hard and mastered technical skills well beyond her years. A refined professional, Maria Tallchief, as she called herself, left Los Angeles at the age of 17 and auditioned in New York City. She joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and quickly rose to the status of featured soloist. Choreographer, George Balanchine wrote several of his most famous works for her and the two briefly married. She performed for the New York City Ballet from 1947 to 1960, where Balanchine was the principal choreographer. Her performance of Balanchine's Firebird in 1949 and their earlier collaboration at the Paris Opera elevated Maria Tallchief onto the world stage. She received high praise from critics for her performances in France and Russia.[3]

Much of the world had never seen anything like Maria Tallchief. Admired by millions, she became America's preeminent dancer, a Prima Ballerina, and in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower declared her "Woman of the Year." When the Governor of Oklahoma honored her that same year for her international achievements and her proud Native American identity, Maria Tallchief was named Wa-Xthe-Thomba, "Woman of Two Worlds." She continued to dance with the American Ballet Theatre through 1965, when her retirement saddened the artistic world. Throughout her career, Maria Tallchief managed an intense rehearsal and performance schedule, and taught at the School for American Ballet in New York City. Following her retirement, she continued to give her creative talents to the art by directing at the Lyric Opera Ballet of Chicago. With her sister Marjorie, she founded the Chicago City Ballet in 1981 and served as its artistic director through 1987.[3]

Maria Tallchief was honored as one of America's most revered artists by the Kennedy Center in 1996, along with prize-winning playwright Edward Albee and music legend Benny Carter. But all of her fame and glory never changed her understanding of her culture. She always admired the Osage ceremonial dances and the ways of her ancestors. She reported being upset by teasing that she and other Native American children suffered.[3]

She researched the history and origin of her tribe, learning how they came to reside in Oklahoma. Of the terror her tribe and her own relatives experienced she wrote, "Cousin Pearl was an orphan, and our family was concerned for her well-being. When she was small, her house had been firebombed and everyone inside killed, murdered for their headrights (oil royalties paid to each member of the Osage Nation). Pearl's situation was not uncommon. In the 1920s, villainous White men married into Osage families, then poisoned their wives or shot them in order to get their money, another example of the slaughter of Indians that is a notorious chapter of U.S. history."[3]

Tallchief's ideals and many accomplishments have strong influence on young scholars today. A 10-year-old student from Burbank, California, who enjoys sharing the same first name with the famous dancer, wrote to Maria Tallchief, "You made a great impact on the world and on me with your great talent." In a school report published on the Internet, a fourth grade student named Veronica wrote, "She is still alive right this minute and inspiring young people to do ballet."[3]

Noble County - 101 Ranch - Vince Dillon,
Official 101 Ranch Photographer

As a young man Vince Dillon and his father boarded the first train from Arkansas City, Kansas into the Cherokee Strip. They settled near Ponca City and Vince spent several years at the trading post at White Eagle where he learned the language of the Ponca Indians and became a friend and a white man in whom they trusted.

Vince then spent several years with his father on an island in the Arkansas river living the nomadic life that is the nature lover's utopia. Their home was a tent and they gained a livelihood from the fertile soil that had settled in the river bed and from the large supply of fish.

The Miller Brothers hired Vince to take a group of 138 Ponca Indians to Jamestown, Virginia. This remained as a high spot in his entire life and a large 10 gallon hat with the word Jamestown on the inner band was among his most prized possessions and which he wore to many functions that were held at the ranch in later years.

Vince was a registered pharmacist and for five years he practiced pharmacy at Fort Smith, Arkansas. He then moved to Fairfax, Oklahoma to live with his father and to establish a reputation as a photographer. It was from his father that he acquired the art of the trade and, until his death in 1931, he served as the official photographer for the 101 Ranch.[8]



Estimates vary but approximately twenty-four Osage Indians died violent or suspicious deaths during the early 1920s. The majority of these crimes occurred in or near Fairfax and were rarely investigated by local authorities; some were never solved. (The deaths of some alleged victims who lacked discernable wounds were simply ascribed to "indigestion," "peculiar wasting illness[es]," or "causes unknown.") The killings subsided after the arrest of William K. Hale in 1926. A native of Greenville, Texas, Hale, the self-proclaimed "King of the Osage Hills," was perhaps Osage County's most powerful figure. An affluent rancher with banking and business interests, he held political power and was active in Osage affairs. He was also the mastermind of a plot to acquire Osage wealth through murder.

In 1923, at the height of the Osage oil boom, the Osage tribe earned more than $30 million in revenue. Under the Osage Allotment Act of 1906 all subsurface minerals within the Osage Nation Reservation (present Osage County, Oklahoma) were tribally owned and held in trust by the U.S. government. Osage mineral leases earned royalties that were paid to the tribe as a whole, with each allottee receiving one equal share, or headright, of the payments. A headright was hereditary and passed to a deceased allottee's immediate legal heir(s). One did not have to be an Osage to inherit an Osage headright.

William K. Hale encouraged his subservient nephew Ernest Burkhart to marry Mollie Kyle, an allotted full-blood Osage. Her mother, Lizzie Q. Kyle, resided with Mollie and Ernest in Fairfax. At the time of Lizzie's death in July 1921 (poison was suspected), she possessed three full headrights in addition to her own, having inherited those of her deceased first husband and two daughters. Lizzie had recently lost another daughter, Anna Brown, who had been shot to death during the early hours of May 22, 1921. Henry Roan, Lizzie's nephew, met a similar fate in January 1923. (It should be noted that Hale was the beneficiary of Roan's $25,000 life insurance policy). And, on March 10, 1923, Lizzie's daughter Rita Smith, Rita's husband William E. "Bill" Smith, and their housekeeper Nettie Brookshire died when their Fairfax home was destroyed by an explosion. With Rita's death, Mollie and Ernest Burkhart inherited a fortune from her mother's and sisters' estates. Had there been no intervention, in all probability Mollie, who was already ill from poison, and Ernest would have soon died, with the manipulative Hale receiving the Kyle-Burkhart estate.

In March 1923 an alarmed Osage Tribal Council sought U.S. government intervention in the growing number of Osage murders, including those of Joe Grayhorse, William Stepson, Anna Sanford, and others outside the Kyle family. In response, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (today's Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI) sent agents to Osage County. Among them were special undercover officers who took the lead in the investigations. Their focus was the Roan murder that had occurred on restricted Indian land, giving federal authorities jurisdiction in the case. The agents met regularly to compare observations and noted the reoccurring names of William K. Hale, Ernest Burkhart, and John Ramsey.

Under interrogation Ernest Burkhart tied Ramsey to the Roan murder, and Ramsey, a local farmer-cowboy, admitted Hale had hired him to kill Roan. Ramsey also confessed his involvement in the Smith murders and not only implicated Hale as the ringleader in that crime too, but Henry Grammar and Asa "Ace" Kirby as well. (It should come as no surprise that Grammar and Kirby, both notorious individuals in their own right, died under separate but suspicious circumstances soon after the Smith murders.) Convinced of their case, the federal agents, assisted by state officers, took Hale, Burkhart, and Ramsey into custody in January 1926, and in April charged Kelsie Morrison and Byron Burkhart, Ernest Burkhart's brother, with the murder of Anna Brown. Ramsey later recanted his confession, while Hale maintained his innocence.

Between June 1926 and November 1929 the defendants were tried in state and federal courts at Guthrie, Oklahoma City, Pawhuska, and Bartlesville. The trials, with their deadlocked juries, appeals, and overturned verdicts, received national newspaper and magazine coverage. In June 1926 Ernest Burkhart pleaded guilty and received a life sentence in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester for the murder of William E. Smith. Turning state's evidence, Burkhart testified against Hale and Ramsey, who, in January and November 1929, respectively, were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, for the murder of Henry Roan. A petty criminal, Kelsie Morrison admitted he had killed Anna Brown at Hale's request. Morrison was already serving time in November 1926 when he received a life sentence for Brown's murder. Byron Burkhart, Morrison's accomplice, turned state's evidence and was not tried for the crime.

Despite Osage protests Hale, Ramsey, and Ernest Burkart, were eventually paroled. More surprising, Burkhart received a full pardon from Oklahoma governor Henry Bellmon in 1965. To prevent another "Reign of Terror," as this dark period in Osage tribal history is often referred, after 1925 federal law prohibited non-Osages from inheriting the headrights of tribal members possessing more than one-half Osage blood.



Places of Interest:

© Lord Gazmuth 2012