Great Culture-Crossers I Have Known (or wish I had!)


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Entrance to Woolarac Museum

This is a guest blog post by Carrie Cameron, co-author of Cultural Detective Russia. I assure you I would have been wrangling to get on the guest list for Frank’s annual party! What a mixer those must have been!

What do oil tycoons, American Indians, and bank robbers have in common? I had a chance to find out recently, when I visited the Woolaroc Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, USA. The name “Woolaroc” is composed of the words “woods,” “lakes,” and “rocks.” The museum and surrounding natural park, located in the beautiful hills in the northernmost vestiges of the Ozark Mountains, was a gift to the people from Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum (Phillips 66). The museum is full of extraordinary Indian art and artifacts, as well as cowboy and frontier art and artifacts.

Mr. Phillips was born on a small farm in Nebraska, became a successful businessman, and married the daughter of a bank president. Moving to northern Oklahoma to buy land and drill for oil, he became deeply attached to the countryside, and also close to the Osage tribe living there. He was the first White man adopted into the tribe, a testament to his ability to transcend cultural differences.

He originally built Woolaroc as a personal retreat, to which he invited his wealthy business associates and friends. But perhaps his most remarkable social contribution was to host a grand party once a year to which he invited his business and family friends, his Osage Indian friends, local White settlers and cowboys, local lawmen, and bank robbers and cattle rustlers (who received full amnesty for that day). What a gathering that must have been.image003Phillips’ ability to value the humanity in an extraordinary range of people—rich and poor, White and Native American, businessman and cowboy, and even citizen and outlaw—was exceptional. It reminds us that building cultural bridges is not just about ethnicity or race, but about the many facets that make up our unique identities. Not simply tolerating—but actually thriving—on this kaleidoscope, Mr. Phillips appears to have been a Cultural Detective par excellence!

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