- Cultural Record Keepers:Norman W. Brillhart Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries’ Western History Collections
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Private library bookplates are designed to reflect the interests of the book owners and often symbolize their life's work with simple drawings or emblems. The Norman W. Brillhart Collection bookplate is a good example of this simplicity of design. The 18.5-by-15-cm plate shows a map that depicts the route Brillhart believed Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer followed during the Battle of the Little Big Horn River in 1876. This graphic depiction of Custer's route summarizes Brillhart's lifetime of reading, travel, and research devoted to the controversial subject of Custer and the Little Big Horn.
The Norman W. Brillhart Collection, held by the University of Oklahoma Libraries' Western History Collections, is comprised of rare books and special material on George Armstrong Custer, the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn River. All of the major works necessary for research on Custer and the Little Big Horn are in [End Page 512] Brillhart's collection, as are many lesser-known works that offer supporting documentation and alternative theories on the battle. Brillhart's objective approach to researching his central interest is reflected by the diversity of materials in his collection. He carefully acquired a wide array of materials on Custer's background and in-depth analyses of his actions in the West as well as information on other western historical figures with whom Custer associated. Brillhart also collected research materials on the Native Americans affected by the Battle of the Little Big Horn River, reflecting an unusual and advanced viewpoint for a mid-twentieth-century historical collector.
Norman W. Brillhart was born in 1895 in Bowie, Texas, but lived his adult life primarily in Madill, Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1917 with a bachelor's degree in geology and received a McGraw Fellowship in geology for further study at Cornell University. His stay at Cornell, however, was cut short when the United States entered World War I in 1917; Brillhart withdrew from classes and joined the U.S. Army. After serving as a second lieutenant in the Sixty-third Engineers in France and Germany he returned to Oklahoma and began his career as a geologist for several oil companies. Between 1919 and 1930 he worked for Empire Gas and Fuel Company of Bartlesville, Reiter-Foster Oil of Tulsa, Simms Oil Company of Dallas, and Cranfill-Reynolds Oil Company of Cisco, Texas. He then became an independent oil producer and worked with T. H. McCasland of Duncan, Oklahoma, in other phases of the oil business.1 In 1924 Brillhart married Mildred Colby of Madill, Oklahoma. The couple was active in church and civic affairs and in the promotion of education.
Brillhart enjoyed success with his oil and gas interests and branched out into other business ventures in Oklahoma and Texas, including serving as president and chairman of the board of the First National Bank of Madill and as a member of the First National Bank of Denison, Texas. Brillhart also served several terms on the University of Oklahoma Athletic Council, was a president of the OU Dads Association, and was a member of the board of the Confederate Home in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Among the many honors accorded him were the Distinguished Service Citation from the University of Oklahoma in 1951 and a lifetime membership in the Ardmore Geological Society.2
Brillhart remained closely associated with the University of Oklahoma throughout his career, and much of the Brillharts' generosity was directed toward the university. Their earliest significant gift to the university was the donation of 2.5 acres of lakefront property and an unfinished building on Lake Texoma for a fisheries station in 1949.3 [End Page 513] This gift developed into OU's Biological Research Station, which has grown to 30 acres, plus 282 acres leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an ecological research area. Today it is a flourishingbiological field station for experiments by OU students and faculty in the...