By Walter Ferguson
To pay a tribute to Charley Colcord is to pay a tribute to an epoch; to tell him good-bye is to say farewell to an age. To review the crowded hours of his useful life is to see and feel in retrospect the colorful pageant of western drama and pioneer romance. So conspicuous as a symbol of the old order, so typical of the builders on a firm foundation and so outstanding as a trail blazer into uncharted wilds and unknown prairies as he was, a period of history seems wrapped in his shroud.
The story of Charley Colcord is an animate chronicle of a great American state. More completely and more emphatically than any other man of this generation his name is etched in enduring fame on the corner-stone of Oklahoma's memory. As the lathe of time turns on, more and more will those who follow in his footsteps learn to appreciate the heritage he left, and to meditate at the shrine of his memory. As the story of his life unfolds and future generations learn of his works Charley Colcord will take his place among Oklahoma immortals and the vacant niche in the Hall of Fame in Washington should receive him in enduring marble to take his rightful place among the pioneers and the empire builders of American Commonwealths.
The dramatic life of Colcord and the picturesque saga of Oklahoma began and grew together. Down the long trail they traveled but never separated. Their allegiance to each other was founded in faith and while one has reached the end of the trail the other goes on fondly remembering and deeply grateful. Oklahoma deeply misses her favorite son who meant so much in the days of her youth, but vivid recollection of his superb courage, his sublime faith and his burning affection are engraved forever on the heart of the Twin-Territories which he helped to mould into a proud American state.
When Colcord first saw Oklahoma there was little of promise of the state that was to be. To scan the barren prairies and to push through the tangled woods required an almost supernatural gift to vision an empire.
In fancy I can see Colonel Colcord as a youth leaving the last rim of civilization and plunging into the ford at Doan's Crossing with hundreds of long-horned steers, milling wildly in the flood of the Red River—headed for the unknown in the old Chickasaw Nation. I can see that weary trail breaking new paths through an uncharted domain to the banks of the Washita, where floods halted them, wild Indians harassed them and vicious stampedes at midnight threatened both life and property. I can see him again rushing the herds through the midst of the shifting sands of the South Canadian, and after sleepless days in the saddle, swimming the herd in the crimson flood of the winding Cimarron.
Next in fancy imagine him stretched in repose, with the stars for a blanket and his saddle under his head—the herd bedded down on the banks of the Arkansas, with the rail heads in striking distance, recounting the long days on the trail—storing up memories of the land through which he had passed, and dreaming of the empire which he was to help to build. The trails that Charley Colcord and his kind built through the Chickasaw Nation and the Cherokee Strip—the Washita, Canadian and Cimarron that they conquered in their path, were the first dim traces of a civilization which was a burning challenge to the Last Frontier.
Such resolute and determined men as Colcord decreed that the frontier, the wilderness and the buffalo dotted plains must give way to the plow; proud cities must rise on the sites near the waterholes, where herds were bedded down on their trek to the hell-roaring Kansas towns. Colcord broke dim trails through the matted buffalo grass, which are now paved highways from north to south. While crooning lullabies to milling herds to soothe them from an ever present desire to stampede, wonderful dreams of future splendor were unfolded before his eyes. He saw with a vision that few men possess—an empire of steel and concrete and barbed wire and forestation. He determined to be a vital, dominant factor in its creation.
When the last of the legal entanglements were cleared up, the Indian treaties abrogated and it was determined the last frontier would surrender to the plow, Colcord cast his lot with the Boomers, who peopled old Oklahoma in a day. Before the sun had set on a crowd, tented sprawling in the bend of the
Canadian, Colcord was the leading citizen of Oklahoma City. When he came to the end of the trail—in Fairlawn, he had held the title of First Citizen of Oklahoma City for an unbroken span—only five years less than a half century, and had added to it the glittery lustre of the title "First Citizen of Oklahoma."
Plunging into the activities attendant upon the building of a primitive civilization among the wildflowers and the wild life, Colcord cast his lot with law and order. Sensing that only determined and fearless men could wrest the destiny of the future from the wild and lawless element who were seeking to terrorize the homesteaders and discourage the effort to bring firesides to no-man's land, Colcord became the outstanding captain to marshal and organize resistance to banditry and license.
The effort to wrest control of the new territory from the vicious element who wanted the old order to continue, for the benefit of those who wanted to build homes and rear families in security and peace, was not a thing to be accomplished in a day—or without tremendous sacrifice and indomitable physical courage. There was no established order save a semi-martial law which a handful of Federal troops lazily and intermittently enforced, a sort of vigilante arrangement, organized by the better element, centered on Colonel Colcord as the leader of this signal challenge to the old order.
They did not arm him with proclamations, but rather with a Colt six-shooter, which Colcord was always reluctant—but never afraid to use. As the first Chief of Police of Oklahoma City, enlightened by his experience in the hell-roaring towns of Abilene, Ellsworth, Hays City and Wichita, he knew what to watch for to prevent the lawless order gaining the upper hand. As a result, Oklahoma City launched her career with vastly less of the reign of terror that most towns the old frontier knew. With the organization of peaceful, ordered government in the town where his primitive home was located, he was called into the larger service as United States Marshal to subdue the hell-towns of the old Cherokee Strip.
With these roaring towns tamed, the beacon lights of civilization ablaze throughout the promised land, hearth fires lighted
in countless new homes, Colonel Colcord dedicated himself to metropolitanism. He built for a permanency and not for froth of cowtown booms. Looking down the streak of dust that was called Broadway, he saw the squalor of the crude saloon and honkatonk. From the chili joints and greasy-spoon eating houses came anything but an inspiration for a city. The clink of gross glassware and the rattle of poker chips did not sound like the builder's hammer. The lounging cowboy and the sleek gambler seemed ill fitted to use in the mold of civic enterprise.
Gathering about him some kindred spirits, fired with a like ambition, inspiring them to an almost religious fervor, he unfolded a vision of a great city in the hazy clouds of tomorrow that would be the metropolitan center of a vast state.
At that time the whole of the Indian Territory had to be acquired. The Cherokee Strip was a cattle ranch and the Cherokee and Arapaho country was an Indian reservation. The Kiowa and Comanche country which was to prove such an abundant feeder for the future city, was the "Big Pasture." To see his dream come true all of these elements must be woven into one state if Oklahoma City was to be the center. Under the obvious plan it was but twenty miles from the border.
Colonel Colcord lived to see the domain of the Choctaw, the empire of the Creek, the pastures of the southwest and the vast reaches of the Cherokee Strip, with many other far-flung acres, welded into a single state, and the great city he loved and lived for was within twenty miles of the center rather than the border. Single statehood, the union of the Twin Territories made of Oklahoma City a metropolis in 1907, but the brain-child was born in 1889 in the mind of Colonel Colcord.
Determined to spare no effort that would result in the expansion of a great city, Colonel Colcord was one of the builders of the first good hotel in his home town. Shortly before the Last Round-Up, he was the prime builder of the last great tavern. When he built the structure which bears his name, it was a daring enterprise, but also a stalwart challenge—a definite line dividing a village and a city. Throughout forty-five years the influence
of Colonel Colcord never varied. He was the undisputed leader in every civic enterprise designed to contribute to the expansion of his city. Twenty years ago he was one of the most potent influences in removing the state capital to the city he loved so well. Oklahoma City is naming a park in his honor, but it would not be amiss to change the designation of the city to his name.
In the virile, aggressive period of his life he expanded his activities so as to leave his permanent impress on the dominant industry of the state and to become a pioneer in the discovery of the product for which Oklahoma is really famous. Prior to the discovery of oil a few miles south of Sapulpa there were some small discoveries of petroleum and some minor explorations.
With the advent of the Glenn Pool, Oklahoma became a major oil state, and the discovery well was drilled by three men—one of whom was Charlie Colcord. The opening of Glenn Pool marked the beginning of modern, and metropolitan Tulsa, so Colonel Colcord may be ranked as one of the founders of the Oil Capital as well as the State Capital.
The closing days of his life were crowned with a signal service to the state he loved. For many years he was President of the Oklahoma Historical Society and earnestly and faithfully sought to preserve the colorful history he had helped to make. He loved the romance, the traditions and the legends of the Oklahoma of yesterday. The beautiful Historical Society building on the capitol grounds is one of the many monuments to him.
We may pay loving tribute to his memory today with futile words. They express in a small degree our sorrow at his passing and our deep appreciation of his splendid life. However, the tribute that impressed me most of all was at his funeral service. With beautiful music, with eloquent words, amidst a profusion of flowers, a last farewell to the plainsman, the pioneer, the builder, was being said. A grizzled frontiersman lifted his arm to brush away a tear, and Chris Madsen, the greatest marshal of all time, silently but eloquently rendered the supreme tribute.