My husband's parents are now living in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (a Tulsa suburb). When we visited in December, my father-in-law suggested visiting Woolaroc in Bartlesville - about an hour's drive north.
Woolaroc was the weekend retreat of Frank Phillips, founder of Phillips Petroleum. It sits on the outskirts of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Established in 1925, Woolaroc consists of a 3,700 acre wildlife preserve, a fascinating museum of western and Native American art and artifacts, Phillips' rustic weekend lodge, a family mausoleum, "two living history areas" and a nature trail.
The wildlife preserve which surrounds the Woolaroc Museum and lodge is home to both native and exotic animal species. It has a stark, rugged beauty - the dominant color of the landscape in late December was a burnt orange. Driving the long, narrow road through the preserve, we saw buffalo, several species of elk and deer, goats, and ostriches.
Some of the animals were fenced in specific areas. Others, like the buffalo (or American Bison) seemed to have free roaming range, including the preserve roads.
In addition to the beauty of Woolaroc, the history of the estate is quite interesting. Frank Phillips used the estate as a retreat and guest house spending a lot of time there and entertaining many guests there on a regular basis. His guests included friends, business associates, local Native American tribe leaders, and even gangsters. The comfortable, rustic style of the lodge helped guests feel at home, and helped Phillips close many business deals. To feed his many guests, he had the large dining room in the lodge laid out like a cafeteria rather than a formal dining room.
The lodge is a large log cabin style consisting of a big living room and a dining room that looks more like a cafeteria on the first floor, and eight bedrooms on the second floor.
Although Phillips wasn't a hunter, his lodge walls are covered with animal taxidermy heads ranging from deer and buffalo to zebra, giraffes, lions, elephants, and crocodiles. Apparently Phillips collected animals, including exotic game, for his wildlife preserve. Animals that couldn't adapt and died were preserved and used for the animal heads.
Woolaroc Museum is a large two-story museum that contains the personal collection of Frank Phillips. And it does appear to be more a personal collection than a carefully indexed and edited museum. Phillips' collection was later increased by donations made by members of the Phillips family.
The museum contains primarily western and Native American paintings, sculpture, and artifacts including pottery, bead work, hatchets, and clothing. There are works by several prominent Western artists including Frederick Remington and Charles M. Russell. Scattered through the museum are sculptures of pioneer women. My daughter and I found this exhibit dating from a 1927 contest very compelling. The museum also houses a small doll collection and a huge collection of Colt weapons.
At the end of the day as we were leaving Woolaroc, we saw herds of bison all walking back toward the direction of the lodge. They walked determinedly towards "home" in a long, scattered group. They crossed back and forth across the road and even walked along the road. When we passed by groups of the bison, we were so close to them, we could have reached out the car windows and touched them.
Post Script: A fun place to have lunch when you visit Bartlesville is Dink's Pit Bar-B-Que on Frank Phillips Blvd. It has a homey feel with poster size copies of vintage area photos, friendly waitresses, and good barbecued beef sandwiches. If you go, try out the jalapeno poppers. :-)