The little pewter car
A never-ending series of home repairs uncovers a tiny treasure, and mysteries to be unraveled.
In the darkest misery of my Lord-Lord-will-this-ever-end home repair saga, a happy incident surfaced. Literally.
Patrick, the long-suffering carpenter, emerged from the damp crawlspace with a little pewter toy car in his hand. It had been stuck for years in an old water pipe. I live in Florence Park in an old house built in 1928. No child has lived here for decades.
I posted a photograph of the car on Facebook asking for help in identifying it and had a rush of suggested answers. Most likely, the car is a miniature replica of a 1936 Cord, but other possibilities are Packard, Pierce Arrow, Rolls Royce or Duesenberg. Nostalgia Miniatures’ little pewter cars, packaged in blue boxes, were popular in the 1930s.
Ironically, the original part of my house is as stout as an ox. It’s the room I added in 2001 that has rained woe and repairs on me. I love my home and I like history, and the little car inspired me to research the property with an enthusiasm that amused the people at the abstract company.
I opened the thick abstract of yellowed pages and stepped into history. The first document, signed by future President Millard Fillmore in 1842, identified the tract of land the United States government was conveying to the “Creek (Muskogee) Tribe of Indians” for “so long as they shall exist as a nation.” (Hold this thought because I’ll return to it.) The documents are studded with historic names of importance, including the great Creek Chief Pleasant Porter.
We all know what happened. Federal treaties were breached and the communal lands of the Five Tribes were divided into allotments for individual tribal citizens. In 1907, the land where I live was part of a 120-acre allotment assigned to John W. Perryman, a member of the large
Perryman family that founded Tulsa.
John was a minor, 8 years old, and identified as one-half Creek blood. His mother was full-blood Creek Clarissa Perryman, married to Jack Bell, who was John W.’s stepfather and guardian at the time. By the federal dictates, guardians managed the oil, gas and coal rights of Indian land owners. John and his mother signed documents with an X or a thumbprint. In subsequent documents, the young attorney representing John and Clarissa was P. J. Hurley, who became known to the world as Patrick Hurley, U.S. Secretary of War from 1929-1933.
John and Clarissa lived in Wagoner County, but their Tulsa property churned with legal and financial activities. Oil and gas mining leases were sold, resold and mortgaged for astronomical amounts. The price for one 1914 lease was $55,000, the equivalent of $1.4 million in today’s money. Later, the property was sold at a sheriff’s auction for back taxes, and John had to buy back his own land.
The abstract records show how the property and the wildcat boom catapulted John W. and Clarissa to lives as colorful as characters in a novel. At age 17, John married a 17-year-old girl named Aurelia who immediately sued for divorce and got a substantial financial settlement. Clarissa remarried, and she and her new husband used the property as collateral to buy a new Packard car valued at $6,311. I hope these were not fraudulent marriages.
Sadly, drilling for oil on the property came to naught. For a while, a coal mining company (with a one-mule team wagon) operated on it. This was when coal mining was a going concern in what is now the Tulsa Fairgrounds area. That came to naught, too. By 1923, the property was platted and annexed by the City of Tulsa for homes to be built. The land’s roiling history calmed and in the mid-1930s, when the little car was lost, it was owned by a family named Moffat.
And now, in a great circle of history, the Carpenter v. Murphy case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court will determine if Congress did or did not dissolve the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. If not, my little patch of property in Tulsa, along with 10 other counties, is still Creek Nation.
In the Creek language, there is no word for goodbye. Native speakers say instead hvtvm cehecares: “I will see you again.”
Hello, John W. and Clarissa. I’m caring for your land with hollyhocks and roses.