It is situated on the Arkansas River between the Osage Hills and the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in northeast Oklahoma, a region of the state known as "Green Country". Considered the cultural and arts center of Oklahoma, Tulsa houses two art museums, full-time professional opera and ballet companies, and one of the nation's largest concentrations of art deco architecture. The city has been called one of America's most livable large cities by Partners for Livable Communities,Forbes, and Relocate America.FDi Magazine in 2009 ranked the city no. 8 in the U.S. for cities of the future. In 2012, Tulsa was ranked among the top 50 best cities in the United States by BusinessWeek. People from Tulsa are called "Tulsans".
The area where Tulsa now exists is considered Indian Territory, on the land of the Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Wahzhazhe Ma zha (Osage), Muscogee (Creek), and Caddo tribes, among others, before it was first formally settled by the Lochapoka and Creek tribes in 1836. They established a small settlement under the Creek Council Oak Tree at the present-day intersection of Cheyenne Avenue and 18th Street. This area and this tree reminded Chief Tukabahchi and his small group of the Trail of Tears survivors of the bend in the river and their previous Creek Council Oak Tree back in the Tallassee, Alabama area. They named their new settlement Tallasi, meaning "old town" in the Creek language, which later became "Tulsa". The area around Tulsa was also settled by members of the other so-called "Five Civilized Tribes" who had been relocated to Oklahoma from the Southern United States. Most of modern Tulsa is located in the Creek Nation, with parts located in the Cherokee and Osage Nations.
Although Oklahoma was not yet a state during the Civil War, the Tulsa area saw its share of fighting. The Battle of Chusto-Talasah took place on the north side of Tulsa and several battles and skirmishes took place in nearby counties. After the War, the tribes signed Reconstruction treaties with the federal government that in some cases required substantial land concessions. In the years after the Civil War and around the turn of the century, the area along the Arkansas River that is now Tulsa was periodically home to or visited by a series of colorful outlaws, including the legendary Wild Bunch, the Dalton Gang, and Little Britches.
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma, including much of Tulsa, falls in the category of Indian Country, reshaping much of the legal jurisdiction in the region. The Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole tribal communities welcomed the decision as a long-fought for victory.
In the early 20th century, Tulsa was home to the "Black Wall Street", one of the most prosperous Black communities in the United States at the time. Located in the Greenwood neighborhood, it was the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre, said to be "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history", in which mobs of White Tulsans killed black Tulsans, looted and robbed the black community, and burned down homes and businesses. Sixteen hours of massacring on May 31 and June 1, 1921, ended only when National Guardsmen were brought in by the Governor. An official report later claimed that 23 Black and 16 White citizens were killed, but other estimates suggest as many as 300 people died, most of them Black. Over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, and an estimated 1000 Black people were left homeless as 35 city blocks, composed of 1,256 residences, were destroyed by fire. Property damage was estimated at $1.8 million. Efforts to obtain reparations for survivors of the violence have been unsuccessful, but the events were re-examined by the city and state in the early 21st century, acknowledging the terrible actions that had taken place.
In 1925, Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery, known as the "Father of Route 66," began his campaign to create a road linking Chicago to Los Angeles by establishing the U.S. Highway 66 Association in Tulsa, earning the city the nickname the "Birthplace of Route 66". Once completed, U.S. Route 66 took an important role in Tulsa's development as the city served as a popular rest stop for travelers, who were greeted by Route 66 icons such as the Meadow Gold Sign and the Blue Whale of Catoosa. During this period, Bob Wills and his group, The Texas Playboys, began their long performing stint at a small ballroom in downtown Tulsa. In 1935, Cain's Ballroom became the base for the group, which is largely credited for creating Western Swing music. The venue continued to attract famous musicians through its history, and is still in operation today.
For the rest of the mid-20th century, the city had a master plan to construct parks, churches, museums, rose gardens, improved infrastructure, and increased national advertising. The Spavinaw Dam, built during this era to accommodate the city's water needs, was considered one of the largest public works projects of the era. In the 1950s, Time magazine dubbed Tulsa as "America's Most Beautiful City."
A national recession greatly affected the city's economy in 1982, as areas of Texas and Oklahoma heavily dependent on oil suffered the freefall in gas prices due to a glut, and a mass exodus of oil industries. Tulsa, heavily dependent on the oil industry, was one of the hardest-hit cities by the fall of oil prices. By 1992, the state's economy had fully recovered, but leaders worked to expand into sectors unrelated to oil and energy.
On April 20, 1997, mechanical failures on the Wildcat roller coaster at Bell's Amusement Park caused a car near the top of a chain hill to disengage and roll backwards, colliding with another coaster. The accident killed one fourteen-year-old and injured six others. It was disassembled following the accident.