My mom, dad and my grandson and I went on a big adventure on March 17, 2017, that at took us across the Washita, not to the north this time, but to the east. We were in search of the grave and home place of Martin Colbert, a part-Chickasaw rancher who was closely associated with the founding of the town of Bradley. Martin was the half-brother of Texanna (Colbert) Bradley, the wife of Winter Payne Bradley, the actual founder of the town of Bradley. Colbert was also a contemporary of other area residents including Frank Murray of Erin Springs, Theo Fitzpatrick of Roaring Creek, Red Alexander of Alex and the Moncrief family of Moncrief’s Crossing. Even though Colbert lived across the Washita, an early history of the area would not be complete without including him.
With only scant directions from Jay Mann, we took the back roads and found an expansive view of the Washita looking north of the Bradley bridge. We continued east on North Boundary Road until we came to County Line Road. Heading north, we eased into McClain County and made our way to the home of BJ Branch, a very nice guy familiar to many area residents. Just as Jay said he would, Mr. Branch pointed out the landmarks that would lead us to the grave of Martin Colbert, also called the Rising Grave. Before the burial site was renovated by the Chickasaw Nation, the tombstone canted in a manner that gave the impression that the grave was rising from the ground.
Once at our destination, my grandson and I wiggled under the fence, me breathing a sign of relief that I still seemed capable at my age of impersonating a snake. Only bleeding a bit, we headed out for a lone tree on a rise in a sea of prairie pasture. Just yards from the stunted tree, surrounded by the huge Oklahoma sky and a commanding view of the entire countryside, we found this impressive monument shown enclosed by a sturdy, painted drilling pipe fence and miles from any known cemetery.
The lonely monument marking the final resting place of Martin Colbert, only 49 years of age when he died in 1899, sets at the head of the burial plot, looking west. An engraved foot stone graces the east end of the plot, detailing Colbert’s lineage for all eternity. The inscription on the foot stone is inaccurate in that it credits Martin with founding the town of Colbert, Oklahoma. His father, Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Colbert actually established this village several years before Martin’s birth.
Martin Colbert’s ornate Indian Territory home was located only 50 feet southeast of his grave.
My grandson spun around like a windmill under the blue sky as I pondered what life was like just east of the Washita on the sharp edge of a new century. The land was rough, much as it is today. The range was only beginning to be fenced and the romance of the American cowboy was barely starting to wane. Allotment had not yet begun in earnest and Martin Colbert and his distant neighbors…Murray, Fitzpatrick and Alexander…were the kings of all they surveyed. The world was surely a much larger place, just as it appeared today at the top of our world beside a 117-year-old grave.