Additions to Okfuskee County Free Cemetery

The History of Okfuskee Free Cemetery 

~ Established December 02, 1910 ~ 

Compiled and written by R. David Walker 

You can't begin talking about the Okfuskee Free Cemetery without first explaining a little bit about Okfuskee Township the community. Okfuskee is located in Oklahoma about 11 miles North and 2 miles East of the town of Okemah, the town where Woody Guthrie the folk singer grew up. Woody once spoke of Okfuskee in one of his songs. Okfuskee is located in Okfuskee County but the Okfuskee Community had the name when it was still Indian Territory before Oklahoma became a state and before the county ever existed. Okfuskee County was formed in 1907. The Okfuskee Community was established September 07, 1891. In 1893, the Dawes Commission was established to handle the affairs of the Five Civilized Tribes and later the Creek Indians would be allotted land where Okfuskee is located. In 1896 a Post Office was established, then in 1902, the Stottle and Gamblin General Store. Later, on May 23, 1906, the Farmers Bank of Okfuskee, Indian Territory was opened soon to be followed by Okfuskee State Bank of Okfuskee, Indian Territory on February 26, 1907.  

This is the point of where we can start tracking the actual land that the Okfuskee Free Cemetery is currently located on. The cemetery is located in the Northeast Quarter of the Southwest Quarter of Section 14, Township 13N and Range 10 East, in Okfuskee County (Lat. 3536'6.33"N  Long. 9613'13.01"W). 

In 1897, an agreement was made with the Creek Indians to allot each of them 160 acres of land which some of this would be located in the Okfuskee area. The land the Okfuskee Free Cemetery is located on was first allotted to a Creek Indian man named Colberson Johnson on June 29, 1900. Unfortunately, Colberson died August 12, 1902 before he could take possession of his allotted land. His allotment would then go to his wife whose name was Millie Johnson and who also received an allotment of 160 acres. Millie actually received title to Colberson's allotted land on April 21, 1905. From this time until the last part of 1910 the land like much of the land in the area was bought and sold multiple times to banks, land companies, and individuals. On December 02, 1910, the land was purchased by J.A. (Jesse Asberry) "Bud" Collins and  his wife Macy Lou (Renfro) Collins. They were nice enough to donate two acres in the Northeast corner of the Southwest Quarter of the section to be used as The Okfuskee Free Cemetery. According to correspondence with their relatives, Bud and Macy's wish was for this to always remain a free cemetery.  

In 1923, the state legislature passed a one-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline, becoming the thirty-eighth state to do so. The Highway Department and the counties shared in the revenue fund for construction and maintenance. Until about 1928 there were no maintained roads in the Okfuskee area so to get to the cemetery you had to go down a trail that brought you in to the cemetery from the west side. This trail is documented on an 1897 map of township lines off a U.S. Geological Survey. The inscriptions on the headstones are on the west side of the headstones indicating the original cemetery faced the west which is in agreement with some of the local residents. In 1928, a maintained road was finished, US 27 between Okmulgee and Okfuskee but not yet going to Okemah.  

The land around the two acre Okfuskee Free Cemetery was sold multiple times and finally ended up on October 18, 1952 belonging to George C. Beidleman. On August 11, 1954, the original two acre cemetery was about to have it's first expansion. George C. Beidleman donated enough extra land to make the cemetery a total of 5.06 acres. He also had the fore thought to appoint three trustees to watch over it. The trustees were Paul Haydon, Alger Gormly, and Bythel Loney all from the area.

In 1958 J.A. "Bud" Collins died at the age of 81 years. In 1964, his wife Macy Lou (Renfro) Collins died at the age of 76, both of whom are buried in the Okfuskee Free Cemetery that they had donated 48 years prior to J.A. "Bud" Collins death. 

On July 15, 1981, the three trustees of the Okfuskee Free Cemetery decided to sign over a 30 foot right of way easement to Okfuskee County for a county road to go through the cemetery as an access road for people who come to visit and would also allow Okfuskee County to legally maintain the road.  

On February 6, 2002, trustee Alger Gormly passed away at the age of 85. Alger played a big part in keeping the cemetery maintained over the years. He was followed in death a few years later by another trustee Bythel Loney who passed away in California at the age of 70 on May 24, 2009.  

After Alger's death his wife Opal Gormly contacted Gallen Walker about taking over Alger's maintenance of the cemetery. Gallen agreed to take on the maintenance and with the help of his wife Carol they have been very generous with their own time taking care of the mowing and maintenance of the Okfuskee Free Cemetery since the passing of Alger Gormly. Bill Walker also helps in the brush hogging of the road from the highway and large areas inside the cemetery. 

On January 26, 2015, the cemetery experienced another expansion of 1.14 acres of land to the west to assure it would be available for many more years to come. This land was donated by the latest owners of the land beside the Okfuskee Free Cemetery who are Paula A. Fitzgerald and Linda J. Ramey both daughters of John R. Thomas from whom they received the land.  

The only trustee of the cemetery still alive was Paul Haydon the son of Grover Haydon the founder of the small town 2 miles to the west of Okfuskee called Haydonville. Paul  realized  there was a need to get more trustees appointed. On January 20, 2015 Paul Haydon assigned 5 more trustees to take his place and assure that the Okfuskee Free Cemetery would be taken care of for future families. These new trustees are Gallen Walker, Mike Yocham, Greg Scott, Bryan Walker, and Paul Walker all from the Okfuskee area. 

At the time of the writing of this article the Okfuskee Free Cemetery is over 104 years old. In all the times I have been to the cemetery over the many years it has always been kept in very nice condition. This is only possible when you have good people in Okfuskee and the surrounding area that have contributed their personal time and money to keep it from ending up like many old cemeteries do. There are many maintenance costs to running even a free cemetery so a fund has been set up for anyone wanting to donate to the cemetery at the BancFirst Bank in Okemah, Oklahoma. 

To do this research on the Okfuskee Free Cemetery I have learned a lot about the people and the history of Okfuskee Community itself. Information for this writing was an accumulation of face to face conversations of individuals that were living in the Okfuskee Community, research on the internet,  Micro fiche from The Okfuskee County History Center, many trips to the Okemah Courthouse for land records, and conversations with relatives of J.. and Macy Collins. 

Contact Info:   R. David Walker  (walkerrd@suddenlink.net)    January 26, 2015

The following furnished by Jim Robertson
 

1. The rectangular sandstone was my grandfather John Wilkerson Robertson; b. April 17, 1874; Paint Rock Valley, Jackson County, AL.. d. Feb 15, 1941 in Coalton, OK. I took this information from his Oklahoma death certificate. His parents were James M. Robertson and Mary [MATHEWS] Robertson
 
2. The other (triangular sandstone) was his son-in-law (by his 4th marriage): Roy Charlton; b. March 15, 1899; d. May 22, 1925. His parents were ?Charlton and Maria Francis [BAKER] Charlton. Maria Francis Charlton was John Robertson's fourth wife.