Perrymans Leave a Fascinating History to Greater Tulsa
By R. COLE PERRYMAN
Editor’s Note: This article is the third in a Centennial year-long series saluting families who were in Oklahoma about the time of statehood and have contributed to the state’s well-being since. The author is a direct descendent of the Perryman family.
Driving around the greater Tulsa area, one cannot help but notice the proliferation of the Perryman name attached to various points of interest and historic areas. A ranch, cemetery, a memorial highway and granite marker indicating the location of the city’s first official post office all carry the Perryman name.
But who exactly were the Perrymans, and why all the attention?
The family’s Tulsa lineage begins in Alabama with Benjamin Perryman, a Creek Indian who in 1828 came to Indian Territory with his six sons and two daughters. Their journey ended, in all likelihood, underneath the sprawling branches of the Council Oak Tree on the east bank of the Arkansas River Bank.
It was Benjamin’s son, Lewis, whose four wives and 16 children helped kick-start the Tulsa branch of the Perryman family, part of the Lower Creek tribe. Three of his sons, issuing from his fourth wife Ellen, became intimately connected with the Tulsa area and a vital impulse in the creation of a bustling new community.
Lewis lived in and around the Tulsa area (first in Muskogee, then in present day Broken Arrow) before establishing an impressive log-frame house and cattle ranch, whose boundaries extended to cover nearly all of what is now Tulsa.
The imposing home/ranch headquarters for Lewis’ ranch was situated north of East 33rd Street and Rockford Avenue and included a trading post that operated successfully up until the Civil War.
Legus Choteau Perryman, born in March of 1938, served as the Principal Chief of the Creek Nation from 1887 to 1895. After representatives from the Federal Government addressed the Muskogee Nation in April of 1894, urging them to negotiate an agreement that would do away with the tribe’s longstanding practice of holding land in common, Legus issued a sage response.
Of the Commission’s requests, he said, “ …we cannot but regard these propositions with distrust and apprehension.” He continued to note that the tribe’s history “will show that we are not averse to necessary changes or advances in our governmental and economic affairs, as the behests of the growing enlightenment of our people may from time to time demand.”
On March 25, 1879, Legus’ brother Josiah Chouteau Perryman oversaw the beginning of official postal service in Tulsa, serving as postmaster for the 200 or-so residents in brother George Beecher Perryman’s ranch house, just north of present day East 41st Street.
George was married to a colorful character, one Rachel Perryman affectionately known by friends and family simply as “Aunt Rachel.” Although there is some discrepancy as to her exact date of birth—a 1927 Tulsa World article dates her birth to 1831, though family sources record a date in April of 1846—there is no doubt Rachel lived a long and interesting life.
Aunt Rachel was known for her generosity and fondness for visitors, especially young children. When chiefs would gather in Okmulgee for peace councils, they were often invited back to Aunt Rachel’s to celebrate with food and drink. She, in fact, kept a well-stocked larder for her myriad unexpected guests, who would more than likely end up staying (at Aunt Rachel’s insistence, of course) for days on end.
She was herself mother to seven children, though she raised, fed and cared for some 30 others, each of which she put through college and helped them later to establish businesses.
Her husband George’s vast property stretched from the Cherokee line north to Wagoner, and the whitewashed farmhouse/post office/trading post he owned soon became known to those it served as the “Perryman White House,” with Aunt Rachel as it’s unofficial First Lady.
It was around this same time that the Perryman’s began using the small plat of land near what is now East 32nd Street and Utica Avenue as a family cemetery. Thirty-six gravestones still remain, identifying various members of the Perryman family (including Josiah and George) and a few friends.
The last interment was done in 1941 (one William Shirk), though it is impossible to tell exactly how many persons were actually buried in the cemetery since the graveyard’s original boundaries extended well beyond today’s fenced-in, corner lot. Because the land was communally owned by the Creek Indians, burials were done “around,” and consequently no exact record exists of the location of many family graves.
Fueled by complaining neighbors and a lack of ability to maintain the property, the cemetery was almost eliminated in 1958 with a petition that would have authorized the removal of the 42 known bodies buried there, declaring the 150-by-150 foot plot a “nuisance and health hazard.”
The cemetery’s maintenance soon became the responsibility of the Tulsa Historical Society, who through private funding refurbished the landmark, adding a fence, a historical marker and landscaping.
Arthur Perryman, grandson of Lewis, built a house about 1900 on the southwest corner of East 31st Street and Utica Avenue, where he lived with his wife Daisy and raised his sons Philip Ward, William Thomas and Robert.
At the time when the Perryman family was living in the house, the cemetery’s boundaries extended to the south end of their lot and was owned and maintained by George, the son of the George who owned the first post office.
The Perryman family owned at least three other homes on 31st Street between Utica and Peoria avenues in the early part of the century, and the family made trips to each other’s homes on a regular basis.
Eventually, however, Arthur moved his family to a new home further south on East 46th Place east of Lewis Avenue about 1930, a location that was then almost completely undeveloped.
Eventually Arthur’s son Philip Ward, a 1938-era graduate of the University of Tulsa law school, built a house next door to his parents where he lived with his wife, June Evelyn Senter and children, Philip Ward Jr. and Pamela.
After attending medical school and completing a surgical residency, Robert settled down in Tulsa with his wife Carolyn and daughters Lisa and Patti.
Although the family history is of interest to the entire family, it was June S. Perryman who served as the unofficial family historian, preserving newspaper clippings, family photos and even civil-war-era letters written by relatives. She even handcrafted her own genealogy chart, which traces the family’s confusing history through some seven generations of Perryman’s and their kin.
The family’s many achievements ultimately helped shape not only the great city of Tulsa, but the neighboring Muskogee Nation as well. The innovative and strong-willed family helped nurture the roots of Tulsa during a time when its future as a big city (let alone the oil capital of the world) was nothing more than a pipe dream.