BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: The many roles of Arthur Neal Leecraft
“A. N. Leecraft, the merchant prince of Colbert, was in the city today, taking in the livestock and seed train." Durant Daily Democrat, 1911
The 1880 census shows Arthur Neal Leecraft living in Denison with his mother and at the tender age of thirteen he listed his occupation as “clerk in store”. According to his Dawes testimony he worked at Stowe & Myers Mercantile in White Bead (Garvin County) from May 1, 1883 to October 1, 1885.
In January of 1893 he married Lela Maupin. Arthur and Lela were actually married twice- once at the Presbyterian church in Denison and once under an oak tree on Chickasaw land. Arthur and his bride resided in Denison for a year before settling in Colbert where he established the Leecraft General Mercantile. Arthur stayed away for long periods of time doing his civic duty, so it was managed by his son, Bertram. Leecraft’s sold everything from farm wagons to women’s hats and soon gained a reputation for excellence.
A. N. served as a Chickasaw delegate from Panola County and his early business experience served him well in a variety of situations. We can also assume by his many speaking engagements that he must have been an outstanding orator. In 1906 he was summoned to Washington by the governor of the Chickasaw Nation to speak before Congress on behalf of the coal lands.
When the First National Bank of Colbert was organized in 1905 Arthur was first vice-president and also served on the board of directors. He remained on the board for many years.
A.N. was very involved in the Presbyterian church, serving as an elder, and later on the board of directors of the Presbyterian College. He and his wife attended plays and other events at the college while their daughter was a student.
A. N. was also involved in the Masons, Odd Fellows, and Woodmen of the World organizations. When the Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory Odd Fellows consolidated, he was grand master of the new lodge.
A. N. was often asked to speak at dedications or to introduce special guests, frequently stepping in when the governor wasn’t available for an event. He introduced Senator Thomas P. Gore when he visited Colbert in 1910. In 1916 he gave the welcoming address for the International Sheriff’s Association meeting. In 1931 he was master of ceremonies for the formal opening of the Red River bridge. A. N. also held a variety of positions in Oklahoma’s government including secretary of the state board of affairs, representative, and state treasurer.
Arthur’s wife, Lelah, died in July of 1921 after a stroke and “lingering illness”. She was only forty-five years old.
In October 1921 A. N. spoke at the dedication of the Brooks Institute in Hartshorne, reminding people that “With all our aeroplanes and automobiles and lightning express trains, we can not forget the old covered wagon which made all these things possible.” Certainly, A. N. never forgot where he started, and in December he went home to Colbert for a few days to help Bertram with the Leecraft Mercantile’s annual inventory. While there he met with many of his friends who urged him to run for governor and pledged to campaign for him.
Arthur Neal Leecraft spent many more years in public service before his death in August of 1943. One would be hard-pressed to list all of his contributions to Colbert, to Bryan County, and to Oklahoma.
Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.