One of the great ironies of the allotment system was the fact that some of the worst-looking land contained the greatest wealth.
Underneath scrubby hills lay deep pools of crude oil, and tribal members who took those allotments often became fabulously rich. One such individual was a Creek citizen named Enos Wilson.
Born near Okmulgee, Wilson was orphaned at a young age but was adopted by an Okmulgee man named Ed Hart. This man was successful in business and served on the board of directors of the Citizens National Bank.
Unlike many appointed guardians of Indian children, Hart seems to have been a good father to the young Enos. By the time Wilson was in his early teens, he was growing quite wealthy because oil had been found on his allotment. Hart engaged a law firm in Okmulgee to help protect the boy and his fortune from the graft, corruption and theft that was being foisted on many tribal allottees.
The two lawyers were Edgar Noble and Edward Moore, both originally from Missouri. Moore would later serve as a senator for Oklahoma during the 1930s. Hart and the two lawyers agreed that one of the best things for Enos would be a chance to pursue an education outside the state and away from the very real dangers wealthy Indians were facing — kidnapping, extortion and outright murder were not uncommon in the heady days of the oil boom.
In 1915, as the new school year was approaching, Hart received a letter of recommendation from A.S. Wyly, superintendent of Indian Schools in Oklahoma. He had given his approval for Enos Wilson to be enrolled in the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.
Normally students had to be 14 to enter Carlisle, but Enos was only 13. So Wyly suggested that the administrators at Carlisle find a nearby academy that would take Enos for a year and then graduate him into the Indian school. Wilson had more than adequate funds to pay his living expenses if Carlisle would agree to see to his care during the intervening year.
Mr. Noble accompanied Wilson to Carlisle and presented the letter from Superintendent Wyly. The director of the school was agreeable to the plan provided that the commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington would approve it. Noble and Wilson waited at Carlisle while approval was sought and in the meantime the Carlisle officials searched for a primary school that could receive Wilson for his eighth grade school year.
The nearby Mercersburg Academy, a boys’ school, agreed to provide the needed year of schooling so Enos could then attend Carlisle. This was surely a challenging time for young Enos who spoke very little English when he was enrolled.
But he completed his year at Mercersburg and then went on to further his education at Carlisle. This enabled him to reach his age of majority before returning to Oklahoma.
The experience was no doubt difficult in some ways, but it served the purpose of removing him from the dangers faced by many wealthy Indians who were deemed “incompetent” to handle their own affairs.
By all accounts Wilson returned to Okmulgee to live a quiet life. His oil wealth increased to the point that he was dubbed “the world’s richest Indian.” He built a fine mansion called “Peak Castle” about 15 miles outside Okmulgee and proved to be a good and generous neighbor to others.
At the time of his death in 1937, Wilson was mourned by all who knew him.
Reach Jonita Mullins at firstname.lastname@example.org.