Welcome to Tatums!
The town of Tatums was founded under the leadership of Marshall B. Tatums and his wife Mary when they were approved for a post office in Indian Territory, in 1895. Tatums is one of the few black towns not established along a railway. Residents started a church and a school right away. Later, a school building was constructed by the Julius Rosenwald Fund in 1926. Like others in the community, the Tatums family ran a business with a small grocery store in their home. The Spigner family had established a boarding house or hotel to some in 1899. The hotel was located along the Doaksville- Ft. Arbuckle- Ft. Sill trail which would later become Oklahoma state highway 7. This was the main route connecting Ft. Arbuckle about 13 miles east and Fort Sill a little more than 50 miles west. The Buffalo Soldiers were once stationed at each fort. Tatums is located 17 miles west of Davis from Interstate 35, only 2 hours north of Dallas, TX. Other businesses established in the community were a Blacksmith shop in 1900, Cotton Gin in 1910, and a Motorcar Garage in 1918. Big Bethel Baptist church was built in 1919. It still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Contractors flooded the area in the 1920s as oil wells began to be drilled. The silent film Black Gold was captured in the town in 1927. L.B. Tatums, the town marshal and founder, starred in the film. The script was based on the true story of townspeople fighting to secure oil rights from fraudulent contractors. It would be the last of 3 films shot in Oklahoma by Richard E. Norman. The Black Gold script and camera may soon be on display in the town. They are currently being housed in the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in California. Richard Norman was a director from Jacksonville, Florida who traveled to Oklahoma to chase down the World-Famous Black Cowboy Bill Pickett. The Crimson Skull, a story based on Pickett, was filmed in the black town of Boley by Norman in 1921. Pickett’s brother played him in the lead role. The Bulldogger was filmed in Boley during the same time. These films were some of the first to cast African Americans in a positive stereotype. Norman Studios is preserved as a national park in Jacksonville, Florida.
In 1932, Tatums experienced some excitement when infamous outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd stayed a few days in town. The boarding house, though black owned, offered rooms to whites. Floyd would encounter the Carter County sheriff, but would go unnoticed leaving town just before “Wanted” posters bearing his face went up at the post office. The boarding house staff realized who he was once he had left. Another school was built in 1936, this time by the Works Progress Administration. Desegregation would contribute to the decline of the town in the 1960s. Tatums residents would go on to fight all the way to the supreme court for the rights of their children at the all-white school in Fox, Oklahoma. This, however, did not keep any of the resources or funding for the Tatums school from being transferred to Fox so the school closed down. About 150 residents live in the town today. Tatums is the final destination on the 13 Black Towns Tour located at the bottom of the Black Leg. Tatums is my town. ~YBM