Creek Immigrant Gave Us Our Town Name

Sapulpa was named after a prominent Creek Indian, and we got our beginnings in a land called Indian Territory.

By the Treaty of 1826, 1,200 Creeks of Southeastern United States were required to emigrate to the western lands assigned to their nation. At first they settled mostly on the eastern side of Indian Territory. About 1833 the Creeks began to move west along the Arkansas River. Among them, from Oschee, Alabama, was a young man whom we now call ‘Chief’ Sapulpa.

Sapulpa (only one name) was born of full-blooded, lower Creek parentage in the state of Alabama. The exact date of his birth varies from 1812 to 1824. However, since Sapulpa gave his age as forty when he enlisted in the Confederate Army, it is assumed that he was born in 1824.

He was left an orphan when very young, and he and his three sisters were reared by his father’s two brothers.

According to his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, his name, Sapulpa, came about by accident. He had only one name, she said, and that was ‘Sepulchre’. In older times the Indians generally were given names to signify some event or happening. The religious groups sought names from the Bible.

Later when the Indian agents wrote the names of Indians, the names were written as the agents heard them. When the Dawes Commission enrolled the Indians in order to allot them land, they wrote his name ‘Sul-bul-ber,’ and this evolved into ‘Sapulpa.’ (A copy of Sapulpa’s discharge from the Confederate army lists his name as ‘Sus-pul-ber’). Another theory is that if the accent was placed on the second syllable of ‘Sepulcher,’ the name could have been pronounced ‘Se-pul-cher’.

Sapulpa was one of those annoyed young man constantly in conflict with government officers. One story he told and which has been often repeated was of the time the soldiers were chasing him with dogs. Sapulpa came to a creek which was in the undisputed control of a huge alligator.

He could not turn back, so he made a desperate jump over both the alligator and the creek. The hounds and soldiers were not so fortunate in the confrontation with the alligator and gave up the chase. So, as Sapulpa told his grandchildren, the native of the swamps saved the native of the woods from his enemies.

Sapulpa was well-educated, well-traveled and had a knowledge of the white man’s language. In St. Augustine, Florida, he made friends among the white people. On his last trip to the city his white friends persuaded him to go with them to Charleston, South Carolina. From there he continued by boat to New Orleans. Knowing that many of his friends were living in the Creek Nation in Indian Territory, and not desiring to renew his trials with (dogs and) government officers, he decided to continue up the river to Fort Smith. He arrived in the Creek Nation some time after the Indian migration of 1836.

One account tells us that Sapulpa and Ispocogee, being leader of one of the 77 tribal towns in Alabama, left the council fires in Ocmulkee (now Okmulgee) and started council fires three miles south of what is now Sapulpa town.

His Indian instincts showed him specific reasons for stopping here. The town site is like the bottom of a huge saucer with low hills making the rim. He reasoned that the surrounding hills would keep the place safe from tornados, and they did until the 1940s when one struck the southwest corner of town and again in the 1950s when one struck North Heights Hill, which is actually on the rim of the saucer.

This reason might have been only speculation on the part of his descendants, but the next reason is valid. Plenty of water is needed for a settlement, as well as plentiful grazing for livestock. The grass in the bowl of the saucer was as high as a horse’s back and ground was fertile in the valleys for farming. He settled first overlooking the confluence of Polecat and Rock creeks.

Around 1850, Sapulpa opened a store in connection with a blacksmith shop at his home. He sold coffee, sugar, tobacco, dry goods, flour, spices and other articles too numerous to mention. He had to haul his goods in by team and pack horses from Fort Smith and the old agency, located about seven or eight miles northwest of Muskogee.

When the Civil War broke out, Sapulpa lent $1,000 in gold to the Confederate cause. He joined the Creek Regiment of the Confederate Army, in which he rose to the rank of first lieutenant.

Family history has it that he stayed in the Army until after the Battle of Elk Creek near Checotah, Okla., where he was wounded. His discharge states that he, Sus-Pul-Ber, born in the old Creek Nation in the state of Alabama, age 40 years, five feet eight inches high, dark complexion, black eyes, black hair, and a farmer by occupation, was enlisted on April 1, 1863. He was discharged July 1, 1864.

After returning to this area following his discharge, Sapulpa moved his home one-half mile up the hill from its former location. His first home was burned during the Civil War.

In 1872 he established another store, larger than the former one. This store was also near the cattle trail that cut across from the Chisholm Trail to Eastern Kansas shipping points. This time he bought and hauled his merchandise from Coffeyville, Kansas; but again, difficulty of transporting the goods caused him to close out.

Sapulpa devoted his later years in life to his large ranch, located ten miles south of Sapulpa.
Sapulpa was married three times. His first wife was Tenofe. They had no children. His second wife, Na-Kitty, bore him seven children: James, Hannah, John, Sarah, Lucy, and two whose names are unknown. By his third wife, Cho-pok-sa (English name Mary) he had Moses, Yarna, Samuel, William, Rhoda, Rebecca and Nicey.

‘Chief’, as he was called, though he was never a chief, lived about a year after the coming of the railroad to this area. He died March 17, 1887, and is buried in the Sapulpa Family Cemetery, located in the 1000 block of South Division in Sapulpa. This cemetery is maintained by the Nancy Green Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.

Taken from an article: Oklahoma—Land of the Red Man. [Provided by Sapulpa Historical Society.]
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