Located in southern Bryan County, Colbert lies on State Highway 91, near its intersection with U.S. Highway 69/75. The establishment of Fort Washita in 1844 and Armstrong Academy in 1850 preceded Colbert's founding. A post office was established with Walter D. Collins as postmaster on November 17, 1853.
The town's name honored Benjamin Franklin Colbert of the Colbert family, descendants of a Scottish family who had intermarried into the Chickasaw Nation. In 1848 Colbert moved to the area to build a home on the Red River. A wealthy cotton farmer, he owned twenty-five slaves. In 1853 he secured permission from the tribe to run a ferry across the Red River. In 1858 the community became a stop for the Butterfield Overland Mail. Colbert agreed to transport the stages and passengers over the river for free and to maintain the road. The line stopped first at Nail's Crossing on the Blue River and then at Carriage Point or Fisher's Station, named for Fisher Durant, the Choctaw who ran the station, before entering Colbert from the west.
The ferry operated until B. F. Colbert later sold his interest in the ferry to the Red River Bridge Company. At the ferry site in 1892 the company completed a toll bridge, but it was destroyed by a flood in 1908. In 1915 the company rebuilt the bridge and by the 1920s charged seventy-five cents per vehicle. Later, a proposal for a free bridge occasioned the Red River Bridge War. Because of a federal injunction filed by the Red River Bridge Company against the Texas Highway Commission, Texas Gov. William W. Sterling ordered the Texas Rangers to prevent the opening, prompting Oklahoma Gov. William H. Murray to call out the National Guard. In 1931 the federal courts settled the issue, after the Texas legislature passed a bill that allowed the bridge company to sue the state.
In 1872 the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway, or Katy, built through Colbert to Denison, Texas. Attracted by cotton and peanut farming, settlers moved to the area in greater numbers. In 1899 the town was platted by the Dawes Commission. In 1906 the First National Bank was organized by Dr. W. H. McCarley, a physician. The Colbert Times served as the community's newspaper in the 1910s. In 1940 the town had a population of 602, which rose to 671 in 1960, and by 1980 stood at 1,122. Nearby Lake Texoma creates an inflow of tourist dollars to bolster the economy. The Colbert's Ferry site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 72001057). The 2000 census reported 1,065 inhabitants.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. Richard Fossey, "The Red River Bridge Conflict: A Minor Skirmish in the War Against Depression," Red River Valley Historical Review 1 (Autumn 1974). Archie P. McDonald, "The Texas Road," Red River Valley Historical Review 6 (Summer 1981). Ruth Ann Overbeck, "Colbert's Ferry," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 57 (Summer 1979). Muriel H. Wright, "Historic Sites on the Old Stage Line from Fort Smith to Red River," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 11 (June 1933).
James C. Milligan
© Oklahoma Historical Society