Thomas Gilcrease And His Western Museum


At this point Tom Gilcrease had nearly eight more years to live, but they were anticlimactic years, tinged not a little with melancholy. The museum had been saved, but it was no longer his. The terms of his debt to Tulsa were easy, but his great collecting days were over. Still, Gilcrease did what he could for the museum that stood so tantalizingly close to his house. At the age of sixty-five he took up archeology and began going on amateur digs, searching for Indian arrowheads, blades, and relics to bring back to the museum in further payment of his inexhaustible debt to “his people.” He called himself a “tired old Indian,” and when he died on May 6, 1962, Indians joined with a Methodist minister in presiding over his funeral service. After the Christian obsequies were over, a Pueblo Indian chief sang a sacred song and said a prayer before the hundreds of people gathered in the hot sun on the hilltop lawn. Then the chief shot an arrow into the Western sky to protect the dead man’s spirit on its way to the happy hunting ground. Present at the scene was a young boy unversed in Indian lore but deeply versed in American helpfulness. He raced down the hill to retrieve the arrow and proudly brought it back to the mourners on the hilltop. That cultural mixup shattered the spell, but it provided a wonderfully apt memorial to the late Thomas Gilcrease, a strange amalgam of Tulsa oilman, modern philanthropist, and Creek Indian.