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Willis, Marshall County, Oklahoma: An Erased Town

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

Beautiful tombstone of Ella Colbert, Wife of Holmes Colbert (1869 to 1896), Willis Cemetery, Marshall County, Oklahoma. Due to the imagery, I wonder if she died in childbirth?

The Willis Cemetery sits just off US 377 north of Lake Texoma in Marshall County, Oklahoma. This is the only remain of the former town of Willis. Willis is an old town; it was first settled by a Chickasaw family in the 1840s, where they operated a ferry crossing the Red River. By the 1920s, the town of Willis was fairly large, with eight stores and a preacher who had a side business as a casket maker (an entrepreneurial chap!).

In the mid-1940s, the Dension Dam was built to provide water and hydro-electric power to southern Oklahoma and northern Texas. Because of the many rivers that fed the Red from Oklahoma, Oklahomans lost three times as much land as the Texans did. The community of Willis lost its ferry, its downtown… pretty much everything that made the town, a town, except for the re-located cemetery.

Willis is written in all caps in this 1905 map of the territory, indicating its relative prominence. Notice that two ferries operated in close proximity to each other by Willis, Marshall County, Oklahoma (LOC).
A 1948 Oklahoma highway department map doesn’t even show Willis, Marshall County, Oklahoma anymore – its vital link between Oklahoma and Texas was erased by the lake.
Hand carved tombstone in the Willis Cemetery (Marshall County, Oklahoma) reads: Rachal Junetia Looney / Borned Nov 19, 1925/ Died Sept 12, 1930.
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Lanny Taylor
Lanny Taylor
Jun 17

My mother-in-law, Vera Irene Taylor and my husband Robert Lee Taylor are buried there. There are a lot of Taylor's there. I always thought the statue of Ella Colbert was so beautiful! I asked Vera years ago if she knew what happened to Ella. She said that she got an infection after her baby was born, just before Penicillin was invented, and died of it. Her husband had the statue put there, in her memory. It may have been imported. My name is Lanny Taylor

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