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Bartlesville History

Bartlesville history photos.

The Beginning

Back in 1870, when northeast Oklahoma was home to mostly the Osage, Cherokee and Delaware, an Indian trader name Nelson Carr opened a trading post on the north side of the Caney River. And so the legend of Bartlesville began.


In 1873, Jacob Bartles – a Civil War veteran who saw an opportunity in Indian Territory - bought the mill from Carr and expanded the facility into a flour mill and eventually a general store and home for his family. Bartles was married to the Delaware Indian Chief Charles Journeycake’s daughter, Nannie Journeycake Pratt. His marriage allowed him to be a business owner in Indian Territory.


William Johnstone and George Keeler also came to the area in the early 1870’s. Both gentlemen took Delaware Indian brides. After working for Bartles, the two struck out on their own and built a general store on the south side of the river.

Within a few years the area around the Johnstone-Keeler store had grown to include other businesses and dwellings. The population grew to nearly 200 as settlers moved to the area. Bridges and railroads came to town, along with merchants, a drugstore and a school. In 1897, Barltesville, Indian Territory, was incorporated, taking the name from its early settler and businessman.

As the city grew south of the Caney River, Bartles was disappointed by his failure to secure the railroad station on the north side of the river. He moved his store three miles north to what is present day Dewey, named after Admiral George Dewey whose victory at Manila Bay was current news.

The Boom

Old photo of an oil field with many derricks.

It was Keeler who found another key to Bartlesville’s future—oil. Keeler had noticed rainbow sheens on the area creeks and believed that there was an untapped oil supply beneath the Caney basin. Keeler was right. On April 15, 1897, the first commercial oil well in what is now the state of Oklahoma—the Nellie Johnstone No. 1—blew in as a gusher. Nellie Johnstone was the Delaware maiden who owned the land where the well was discovered. Attracted by the oil boom, Frank and L.E. Phillips, two brothers raised on an Iowa farm, came to Bartlesville in 1904. They hit a gusher north of Bartlesville, followed by 80 straight producers. The two founded Phillips Petroleum Company in 1917. It grew to become Bartlesville’s largest employer and one of the nations top oil companies.

Armais Arutunoff, a Russian immigrant, was another Bartlesville pioneer. At the urging of the Phillips brothers, Arutunoff came to the community with his invention, the submersible pump—an electric pump that pumped oil from deep in the ground. His efforts eventually became REDA Pump Company.