For a community losing its identity, Bruner Hill has some kind of history.
Start with the name: Bruner Hill is named for William G. “Billy” Bruner, a Muscogee (Creek) Indian from Tulsa who gained notoriety when he was sent to an Ohio prison for killing a U.S. marshal only to be pardoned by President William McKinley.
That was in 1897. A free man, Bruner made his way back to Tulsa, where he was allotted 160 acres between Tulsa and Sand Springs and became a tribal leader.
He died in 1952 – but not before ensuring that his legend would live on.
“We had a little old grocery store by his house,” said Jim Palmer. “He’d give kids a nickel” to buy something.
“I called him Uncle Billy. I was a little bitty boy, and I knew him until he died.”
Palmer, 73, and his boyhood pal, Charles “Tad” Higgins, remember their days of youth on Bruner Hill as nothing short of idyllic.
Bare-footed, they climbed the hills, swam the creeks and hunted the wildlife.
“Back in the old days, we didn’t have much money, but we always had a place to live that was taken care of and our parents always saw that there was food on the table,” Higgins said. “We’d run like a bunch of little wild urchins, but we all knew where home was in the evening.”
Palmer and Higgins believe the beginning of the end of those golden days was 1969 – the year U.S. 412 was constructed. A church had to be relocated, and the way they remember, things started to deteriorate.
“The older people died off, the younger people with the exception of a few of us moved out, and it lost its identity,” Palmer said.
It also lost jobs – good-paying jobs at refineries, glass plants, cotton mills and other heavy industries in the area that began shutting their doors.
These days Bruner Hill still has its local church and school, but it’s also plagued with pockets of run-down homes and the quiet despair that runs through communities caught between a glorious past and an uncertain future.
Palmer thinks he knows what will help return the community to its old glory.
“The answer, of course, is for the people to have good-paying jobs,” he said. “Our country needs to start making things instead of being so service industry-oriented.”
It will also take people choosing to stick around, people like Sean Snowden, 31, and Frank Whitlock Jr., 15.
Snowden is raising his sons, Gabe, 11, and Kale, 10, in a simple home beside a creek. The boys are free to roam – as long as they don’t go too far.
“I don’t see any problem with this immediate area,” said Sean Snowden. “I love this area.”
So does Whitlock. In fact, he loves it so much he decided to give a little something back. For his Eagle Scout project, he raised about $2,000 in donations to put benches and a plaque in the community park, called Triangle Park.
The plaque commemorates Billy Bruner, whom Whitlock has heard many stories about from Higgins, his grandfather.
“I have always heard about him since I don’t know how old I was,” Whitlock said. “He was just an interesting man to me, and there was nothing that said he was allotted the 160-acre hill that I live on.”
Bruner Hill has not been left for dead. County Commissioner Karen Keith is working to get dilapidated houses in the neighborhood cleared, and someday she’d like to see sewer service extended to the area.
But all that will take time. Ultimately, the community’s fate is linked to the dreams of young people like Snowden and Whitlock.
Higgins is hopeful.
“I remember this community as being what I consider one of the best places in the world to raise a family, and I would like to see that come back.”
By Kevin Canfield of the Tulsa World
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20111229_16_A1_CUTLIN968202