Virgil Talbot established a library and local history museum in 1990
The small town of Colcord, Okla., is in the northeast corner of Oklahoma and very near the Missouri and Arkansas state lines. Like so many towns in Oklahoma, its birth came from settlers coming to the Indian territory.
Originally, in the 1890s, the town began as the community of Row, several miles north of where Colcord is located.
The community grew and included a bank, a school, a hotel and other businesses. Then, in 1905, a post office was established. Two years later, Oklahoma became a state and Row grew as restrictions on both Native Americans and settlers were lifted. Then, in the 1920s, a gravel road, which later became Oklahoma State Highway 116, was built and connected Gentry, Ark., to Kansas, Okla. The problem was that the new road was one mile south of Row, a significant distance in those days.
Charlie Burbage, a rural mail carrier, understood human nature. He owned land just south of the new road and organized almost 65 acres into a template for a town.
That new community, “Little Tulsa” to the locals, became what is known today as Colcord. Not surprisingly, the shift of businesses and people to a “town” nearer the road was full of hard feelings and conflicts, the most serious, according to legend, was moving the post office from Row to Colcord in the middle of the night.
In 1928, the town officially named itself Colcord in gratitude of Charles Francis Colcord, who owned a large ranch west of both towns, employed many local residents and was, therefore, important to the local economy. His civic interest even purchased the first football uniforms for the high school.
Local resident Virgil Talbot (1927-1998) believed in saving history. He belonged to several historical societies and though was adopted by Cherokees, was the first non-Native American to belong to the Cherokee National Historical Society. His dream was to establish a library and museum with emphasis on Cherokee and local history, including materials from Northeast Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas. Beginning with his ever-growing personal collection at his home on Flint Creek in Delaware County, Virgil opened the Talbot Library and Museum in 1990 on a donated 2-acre property in Colcord. The main library/museum building was totally constructed by volunteer labor.
“Many visitors come from out-of-state, as well as locally, to use our Walkingstick Research Library because our library contains many rare materials on Cherokee and other local history and genealogy,” Donna Clark, volunteer and secretary of the museum’s Board of Trustees, said.
While Talbot’s is a research library with no materials available for checkout, connecting people with the past, both personal and general, is one of their goals. Board member Teresa Allcorn remembers a few years ago, when a couple came in from out of state to research the wife’s father, a policeman in the small town of Watts, Okla., in the 1920s. She hadn’t known him as a child and was looking for any scrap of information that would connect her with him.
“We happened to have an obscure book written by A. D. Lester describing daily life of Watts in the early 20s,” Teresa said. “As the woman looked through the book, she shrieked saying she had found him. Literally in tears, she read of her father and his job as the policeman. She left that day knowing more than she ever had about her father, and we were left knowing that our mission preserving bits of history is worth the effort.”
The facility is rightfully proud of being totally self-supporting, which means with no federal, state or local funding. It is run by a 12-member board with members volunteering at the museum as well, taking care of the grounds, the exhibits and other organizational tasks. Donna has volunteered at the museum for 25 years, with her deep interest in genealogy and research as her initial motivation. The Talbot Bookstore, an important part of the museum’s income, contains new and used books, covering Cherokee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas history and genealogy. These books are available for purchase on their website. Additionally, The Talbot Library and Museum has also published the T.L.&M Genealogy magazine since 1996 with two issues per year the current publication rate.
“Grace Puffinbarger has been our loyal office assistant for 18 years and our only paid employee,” Donna explained. “We couldn’t have done this without her.”
The research library is located in the main building, which also holds artifacts and displays, including kitchen antiques and Cherokee artifacts, such as moccasins, baskets and small handmade leather dolls. Another of the many collections is a group of saddles, including side saddles and a cavalry saddle, placed immediately in front of a large 1936 map.
Other buildings with displays are the restored Springtown (Arkansas) Schoolhouse with a beautifully preserved autographed quilt collection as one of its displays; the Adair Building, which serves as an antique farm machinery shed; and a Post Office building with Colcord’s original Post Office boxes and window. The two other buildings are a blacksmith shop and a grocery store.
In a typical year the museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with guided tours available by appointment for groups including school children.
Colcord annually celebrates its history on the first Saturday in June with “Old Settlers Day.” Events include a parade with floats, horseback riders and a Chamber of Commerce food venue whose offerings vary year by year. Talbot Library and Museum uses the event as a very important fundraiser by hosting a book and bake sale with hamburger dinners available as well. The Colcord Rodeo is held the same weekend and was the only event able to be held this year. Another annual fundraising event is serving as book vendors during the Cherokee Nation Annual National Holiday which normally occurs on Labor Day weekend in Tahlequah.
“Working in this facility is a pleasure because history is important, and showing others bits of that history is a privilege,” Donna said.