theadanews.com - Ada, Oklahoma

February 11, 2014

Final resting place of Gov. Colbert still a question

By Dana Lance Chickasaw Nation
www.theadanews.com

Ada — The exact burial place of the second governor of the Chickasaw Nation, Governor Daugherty (Winchester) Colbert, is somewhat of a mystery.

Former Gov. Winchester Colbert served the Chickasaw Nation for three terms - 1858-1860, 1862-1864 and 1864-1866. He led the tribe through tumultuous times that included the runup to Civil War and the actual War Between the States.  

While his leadership during this difficult time is certain, there appears to be some question about the precise burial place of the distinguished governor, whose appearance and fashion is often compared to Abraham Lincoln.

A 1940 biography of Winchester Colbert tells how the former Governor in 1866 sold his home near Oil Springs in the Chickasaw Nation and moved to Atoka County, Choctaw Nation. 

Gov. Colbert and his wife, Annica (Kemp) Colbert, later returned to the Chickasaw Nation and made their home with their son Humphrey Colbert on property located about 2 miles west of “the present town of Frisco, Johnston County.”

The article, written by John Bartlett Meserve, went on to say when the Governor died in 1880, he was buried in a family cemetery in a crudely marked grave on the property near Frisco.

His widow, Annica, returned to the home in Oil Springs. She died in 1884 and was buried in the family graveyard at Oil Springs.

Information about Colbert Cemetery published by the Pontotoc County Historical and Genealogical Society fixes the grave of son Humphrey Colbert. The account includes a story of the son who asked to be buried next to his father, and of his father’s grave being subsequently bulldozed and covered with cement.  

Other accounts on geology websites, such as deancrocker.com, lists Gov. Colbert’s place of death as Atoka County.

Pontotoc County Connection

Other evidence suggests Gov. Colbert’s grave was actually located in Pontotoc County, Okla.

Writing about the first oil produced in Oklahoma, historian and Choctaw Muriel H. Wright (1889-1975) describes an 1872 meeting at Gov. Colbert’s home.  Excerpts of the 1926 article describe a meeting among certain citizens of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations at Gov. Colbert’s home in old Pontotoc County, Chickasaw Nation, in February 1872.

Other accounts seem to indicate the town of Frisco was located between Fittstown and Stonewall in Pontotoc County and was the original Stonewall townsite. It was renamed Frisco when the present town of Stonewall was moved about 3 miles directly east to its present location, according to the 1942 article “Reminiscences of Old Stonewall” by George W. Burris.  

Beyond that, there is some question regarding Humphrey Colbert’s tombstone and whether it actually marks his grave since the headstones and possibly the bodies were moved from their original position prior to the construction of a reservoir.

Although the exact burial place of Gov. Colbert may remain a mystery, his legacy as an important Chickasaw leader is well documented.

Winchester Colbert’s legacy as a leader began long before he became governor.

Born in the Chickasaw homelands in 1810, Winchester Colbert was the youngest member of the Levi Colbert family. He was fluent in Chickasaw, Choctaw and English.

Like his cousin, the Chickasaw Nation’s first Governor Cyrus Harris, he served as a diplomat for the Chickasaw Nation.

At the age of 16, he served as a Chickasaw representative in Washington, D.C.

After relocating to Indian Territory, Winchester Colbert worked diligently as a diplomat to establish the Chickasaw tribe’s sovereignty.

He had a hand in framing the 1855 treaty that recognized the Chickasaw Nation as an independent nation rather than a district within the Choctaw Nation.

In 1856, he played a prominent role in framing the Chickasaw Constitution and served as one of the first Chickasaw legislators under that constitution.

During the Civil War years when the Chickasaw Nation sided with the South and chaos reigned over much of the region, Governor Colbert was forced to seek refuge in the Red River Valley of North Texas for a time. He fled to avoid becoming a causality of war, according to Dr. Phillip Morgan’s book “Riding Out the Storm,” as the North’s “take no prisoner’s mantra” would mean the future Chickasaw Governor’s assassination, a demoralizing and crippling blow to the Confederate forces south of the Canadian and Arkansas Rivers.   

Gov. Colbert returned to the Chickasaw Nation in the fall of 1864, and the Chickasaw Nation became the last of the Five Tribes to surrender July 14, 1865.

In October of that year, Gov. Colbert addressed the first session of the Chickasaw Council to convene since the beginning of the Civil War, advising them to “bring about the manumission of slaves at the earliest practicable period...”

The Chickasaw Nation entered the war as an independent ally of the Confederacy and Gov. Colbert headed the delegation to Washington that negotiated a separate final treaty with the U.S. government April 28, 1866.

Later that year, Gov. Colbert left office as Cyrus Harris resumed the office.

During his life, Winchester Colbert married five times and had at least 15 children.

He died in 1880 at age 70.

Gov. Colbert was inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame in 2008.  His Hall of Fame marker can be found at the Chickasaw Honor Garden, located at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Okla.

Note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the burial place of Chickasaw Governors since removal to Indian Territory.