By: Roseanne McKee
Re-published with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise
The Dewey Hotel, built by Jacob “Jake” Bartles, for whom the city of Bartlesville is named, provides a glimpse into Oklahoma’s pioneering days. This part one of two articles based on an interview with members of the Washington County Historical Society.
To tell the story of the Dewey Hotel, one must first know the story of Jake Bartles, who built the hotel. According to Sarah Thompson, a Washington County Historical Society Archivist, Bartles, who lived from 1842 to 1908, first lived in the East. His father ran the first telegraph line in New York.
The family moved to Kansas when Jake was ten. He grew up and got married in Kansas before moving to Oklahoma Territory, where he established a trading post at Silver Lake, southwest of what is now Bartlesville. There was a settlement there and so he had ready customers.
“To be a white man in Oklahoma, you had to be married to an Indian to do business,” explained Washington County Historical Society Archivist, Sarah Thompson. Bartles was already married to a member of the Delaware Tribe, Nannie, but the couple had not had a Delaware wedding, and so their marriage was not recognized by the tribe.
“They had a second Delaware ceremony, so that he could do business here,” Thompson explained.
Nannie Journeycake Bartles had been married once before, but her farmer husband died at the age of 24, leaving Nannie a widow with three young daughters.
Jake Bartles then married Nannie and brought her back to Oklahoma territory, where she had 60 acres from the Delaware Tribe, Thompson said. The couple had two sons together, Charles, who died as an infant, and Joseph, who lived to be 81.
The story is that Jake Bartles, who initially settled in what is now Bartlesville, left and moved to Dewey when the railroad was built too far from his trading post for him to benefit from its construction. He had wanted it to be built on the north side of the river, but it was built on the south side. This prompted Bartles to move.
Once in Dewey, Bartles moved his general store from Bartlesville to Dewey to the location where the Tom Mix Museum now stands. Across the street from the store, he built the first modern bank building in the territory in 1903, Thompson explained.
“He sold the bank building in 1908 before he passed away,” Thompson said. “I think it’s older than any of the buildings in Bartlesville.”
He also had general stores in Bartlesville, Pawhuska and Nowata, Thompson said.
“Farmers could get clothes, groceries, farm equipment, tools, carriage parts, furniture, lumber; it was the Walmart of its time.
“We have one of the cash registers and receipt books,” she added. “He even had coupon books.”
Thompson continued: “Jake was a wonderful entrepreneur but the legacy of the son was that he took care of the Fourth of July Rodeo, said to be the third largest in the United States. He ran it and promoted it. It became such a well-known rodeo, that the participants had to reserve an invitation.
Joe Bartles organized the rodeo to please his father, Jake. Initially, the rodeo was held to honor the remaining living soldiers from Jake’s civil war regiment.
“He fought on the Union side. He went in as a private and came out a colonel,” Thompson said.
The arena was at the Washington County Fairgrounds on 60 acres of land given to the city by Jake Bartles. Later, the Dewey Schools were built there, Dewey Hotel Manager Jack Fleharty said.
“He had the first Rodeo in 1908 for his regiment and the last one was held in 1950, the year the bleachers fell down during the event.
“A local gentleman who was there said there were horses tied to the [support] poles and when the kids set off fireworks, they pulled the poles and the bleachers fell injuring several.
“Twenty to thirty thousand people came for the rodeos,” Thompson said.
Jake Bartles built the Dewey Hotel in 1900, when his son, Joe, was 25 years old.
The hotel, which had living quarters for Jake and Nannie Bartles, was sort of a retirement place for them, Thompson explained.
Unfortunately, Jake Bartles died in 1908 at the age of 66.
“That is when the trouble started – when Jake passed away,” Thompson said. “They went to probate court and they gave one-half to Joseph and one-half to Nannie. Joe later borrowed against his half and put the property in jeopardy. There were several court cases with two banks that resulted.
“After Nannie passed away in 1925, the hotel was sold at a sheriff’s sale.”
To learn what happened next, read my column in next week’s Sunday Bartlesville E-E.