In the search for victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, scientists and historians found a mass grave at Oaklawn Cemetery.
The mass grave was found in October 2020 in the southwestern part of Oaklawn Cemetery, in what scientists and researchers call the "Original 18" area.
News 9/News On 6 was given a close look at the research that led experts to the area where remains were found. The records give experts clues about who might be buried there.
The Original 18 area is not far from headstones for Eddie Lockard and Reuben Everett. They are known massacre victims, but experts are not sure if their bodies are in fact buried under their headstones. Reuben is one of the "Original 18."
To study the Original 18, historical researcher Betsy Warner said start with a Tulsa Tribune article from June 2, 1921, which reports bodies were held at two funeral homes, until someone could dig the graves.
"This article tells us there were 18 bodies destined to go to Oaklawn and nobody was taking them,” Warner said.
Here is a list of exactly who Warner said the "Original 18" are:
There are nine names on the list, and the rest are unidentified.
All of them, even the unknown, have death certificates saying they are buried at Oaklawn.
"Even now, I can sit and read these and learn new things every day,” Warner said while looking at documents she has in her Tulsa home.
Warner showed us the records on Curly Walker and Ed Howard.
Walker’s death certificate said he died from a gunshot wound on June 1. His WWI draft card shows his birthday, address, and notes he had a wife and sister. Newspaper clippings report he had a criminal history.
"Curley had quite a lot of press up to this. He had been known for stealing diamond rings,” Warner said.
Howard’s death certificate also said he died of a gunshot wound on June 1, 1921. Warner also has a copy of his marriage license from 1917. Newspaper stories outline the legal battle his wife fought after he was killed, and everything she owned was burned in the massacre. Records also talk about his career.
"He was a barber for many years. He rented a spot, at, I believe it was 107 North Greenwood. I think he lived upstairs, and he ran a barber shop downstairs,” Warner said.
Ed is also listed in a century-old Tulsa city directory.
"His wife's name was Mary. Safety First Loan Company. That's the business he had started with Mr. Gurley,” Warner said, reading from the directory.
Another one of the 18 is a stillborn baby boy.
His death certificate notes he was buried at Oaklawn. The 2001 state commissioned report offers this insight about him:
"The wife had just had a baby that had died at birth. She had put it in a shoe box and was waiting until morning to bury it when the riot broke out." It goes on to explain the boy was lost in the chaos and turned into police on June 1. Police then brought the body to the Stanley-McCune funeral home, according to the report. The report says, "…the story of this tiny victim provides a poignant glimpse of the madness that prevailed on that terrible day."
Warner is now combing through the historic details, picking up the research from her dad, Dick Warner. He spent years studying the massacre to help with the state commissioned report.
"My dad read the newspapers and he worked alongside with Clyde Snow on this, because they were determined to try and figure out if they could -- who anybody was and where they might be,” she said.
Warner said her dad, who died in 2009, tracked down funeral home records connected to the names in newspaper articles about the massacre. Combine that with other records, like the death certificates renowned scientist Clyde Snow obtained, and details about who these people were are revealed.
"I don't know how much of their skeleton will tell that story. But I'm here to find out,” Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield said. She is a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida.
Stubblefield is on the team, with Warner, that discovered the mass grave a few months ago. It is still too soon to determine whether the remains found in the mass grave are connected to the massacre, but going forward, Stubblefield believes they are in the right spot to uncover some answers.
"If we complete our next excavation, complete the whole excavation, I am confident we'll have enough information available to know whether they are race massacre victims or not,” she said. “Maybe even, but no guarantees, maybe even which ones are, as opposed to are not, because it looks like there are different types of burials."
While her work will focus on studying the remains and looking for signs of trauma like burning or gunshot wounds, the human toll will not be lost on her.
"Above all, it's really -- I want them as individuals, not to be the anonymous dead,” Stubblefield said.
In the days following the massacre, more deaths were reported beyond what is now considered the "Original 18." Death estimates vary between the 30s and several hundred.
This story is part of News 9/News On 6's year-long commitment to cover the race massacre centennial. Click here to read more stories about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.