Oklahoma Historical Society researcher Michael Hightower relies on territorial newspapers, correspondence and telegrams to explore Wild West capitalism in his book “Banking in Oklahoma before Statehood,” which is due in October from the University of Oklahoma Press.
Hightower's second book on this subject, “Banking in Oklahoma, 1907-2000,” will be published in fall 2014, based largely on interviews with statewide bankers. The book's topics include Oklahoma City's designation as headquarters for the Tenth District Federal Reserve Bank, the Great Depression, the Penn Square Bank debacle, the 1980s energy bust and the 1990s road to recovery.
“There is no question that banks have made a huge difference in the development and expansion of retail, manufacturing, oil, agriculture and all other types of business in Oklahoma,” said Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical society. “Michael Hightower has explained this in detail, and we at OHS have been proud to work with him on both books.”
In “Statehood,” Hightower describes the red-hot competition between bankers determined to stake claims to corner lots. The First National Bank of Guthrie reported resources of $108,728.48 on May 1, 1889 — not bad for a bank in business for less than two weeks, said Hightower. FNB Guthrie was the first bank in the newly settled region to receive a national bank charter.
In 1889, FNB Guthrie became one of the first banks to join the BancFirst organization. Its charter (No. 4348) is displayed in the BancFirst Support Center that occupies the old Tradesmen's Bank Building in Oklahoma City.
“Prior to the creation of real banks, merchant-bankers operated de facto banks by designating banking areas with chicken wire cages,” said Hightower. “Some folks decided they were more or less in the banking business, so why not apply for a charter?”
With the extension of federal authority into the region, Oklahoma Territory charters were issued by the territorial secretary in Guthrie, and national charters came from the comptroller of the currency in Washington, DC. American Indian Territory charters were issued by the comptroller of the currency, because there was no territorial government to regulate banks.
In 1887, P.S. Hoffman, J.B. Charles and E.L. Conklin were traders at the Sac and Fox Agency, according to a letter from Conklin. They extended credit, accepted deposits and cashed checks, but they needed banking facilities to obtain cash needed to pay government checks to American Indians. The trio received a certificate for the Bank of Hoffman Charles & Conklin in January 1898. Their bank eventually was chartered as the Union National Bank of Chandler.
“Meanwhile, banks were popping up like proverbial mushrooms in the newly settled region,” said Hightower. “After the First National Bank of Guthrie charter, the First National Bank of Muskogee was organized by Robert L. Owen and chartered on Aug. 1, 1889, under No. 4385. Owen later represented Oklahoma in the U.S. Senate.”
In the Chickasaw Nation, J.F. Anderson in Ardmore organized the J.F. Anderson & Son Bank on Aug. 17, 1889, with paid-in capital of $3,200. Anderson's bank eventually was chartered as the First National Bank of Ardmore to become the fourth national bank in present-day Oklahoma. Two years later, the First National Bank of Vinita (charter No. 4704) and the First National Bank of El Reno (4830) extended the federal banking system's reach into the Twin Territories.
After the Cheyenne Arapaho Land Run on April 19, 1892, Julius Loosen founded the First Bank of Okarche. Loosen, his wife Adele, his son Franz H. and B.F. Buffington received the first territorial bank charter in Oklahoma Territory on Jan. 11, 1893. They started with $3,000 in capital, increased to $5,000, and within a year had $10,000 in capital.
The First National Bank and Trust Co. of Tulsa was opened on July 29, 1895, by cattleman Jay Forsythe of Vinita, his brother-in-law B.F. Colley and son-in-law C.W. Brown. The bank eventually became known as “The Oilman's Bank” after oil was discovered at Red Fork, a few miles southwest of Tulsa.
In what is now Oklahoma City, A.W. Dunham was appointed by the Railway Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway to take charge of the Oklahoma Station on Feb. 20, 1888 — well before the Land Run of 1889. The express agency took care of money orders and transporting money and valuables, including the payroll at Fort Reno and activities at American Indian agencies. Dunham recalled an incident when a cavalry escort failed to show up.
No safety in safe
A little safe offered no real protection, so Dunham concealed the money in old rubber boots and rubbish underneath the counter, close to his sleeping space.
“The next time you have trouble logging onto your account or become frustrated at the drive-thru bank,” said Hightower, “just think of Mr. Dunham's old rubber boots and the humble ancestors of Oklahoma's mighty banking industry.”
Hightower's second book, focusing on statehood through the 20th century, “will illuminate a banking and business era that has affected almost everyone in Oklahoma today,” said Blackburn. Hightower envisions a third book, “Banking in Oklahoma by Region,” in 2015.