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Press Release

Release Date: March 20, 2014
by Dana Lance

Strong Chickasaw nationalist served four terms

Note: This is the third in a series of articles highlighting the burial place of Chickasaw Governors since removal to Indian Territory.

Only 47 years old when he died, Gov. Benjamin Franklin Overton, the third governor of the Chickasaw Nation, was buried in Overton Cemetery, located about three miles west and one-half mile north of Willis, Okla. 

Born Nov. 2, 1836, in Mississippi, B.F. Overton displayed an early interest in the political affairs of the Chickasaw Nation. He served in both the house and senate of the legislature and was a Chickasaw delegate to Washington, D.C., on numerous occasions.

In 1874, 38-year-old Overton became a candidate for governor, opposing the incumbent Governor Cyrus Harris. Overton had a no-nonsense reputation and was on opposite ends of the political spectrum from Gov. Harris. Both Overton and Gov. Harris, however, were wise politicians. 

Overton won the 1874 election and then was re-elected in 1876. The four terms he served spanned from 1874-76, 1876-78, 1880-82 and 1882-84.

During his tenure, he was known for being strict and getting a lot accomplished. 

Gov. Overton created a tribal militia to thwart stockmen running cattle drives without paying mandatory taxes to the Chickasaw Nation. This action caused a great deal of the lawlessness to cease. 

Gov. Overton always maintained his unwillingness to permit Chickasaws to be denationalized. In his second inaugural message of Sept. 5, 1876, he urged uniting Indian tribes as a necessary step toward the preservation of the American Indian.

Left an orphan early in life, Overton attended Chickasaw Male Academy at Tishomingo, I.T., for about six months. Although he had no formal education, as Governor he advocated improvement of boarding schools and established the Chickasaw neighborhood school system.

Governor Overton married Sarah Clementine Jones, who died Oct. 7, 1869. He then married Mary C. Gaines Burney, who died July 5, 1872. After her death, he married Elizabeth Smith who died Feb. 17, 1876. His last wife was Mattie Carter, whom he married Sept., 12, 1878. 

The tenure of Governor Overton drew to a close in the fall of 1878 and he yielded the governorship to Benjamin C. Burney, who had served as his national treasurer.

In the autumn of 1880, Overton was again was chosen governor of the Chickasaw Nation to succeed the one term of Gov.  Burney. He was re-elected in 1882 and served until 1884.

He died while in his fourth term as governor, Feb. 8, 1884, and was buried in Overton Cemetery, about three miles west and one-half mile north of Willis.

During the construction of Lake Texoma, Gov. Overton’s grave was moved to the New Willis Cemetery in Marshall County, Okla. The cemetery is located on U.S 377, one and one-half miles north of the Roosevelt Bridge. Lake Texoma now covers the old cemetery.  

For more information on Governor Overton or other governors visit Past Governors.