Sen. John McCain’s grandparents came from Cleburne.
His mom, Roberta, [now 106], spilled the truth at a Texas breakfast during the Republican National Convention.
“My mother was born in Cleburne, Texas,” she said, to the room’s surprise.
“Can I claim to be a Texan while I’m here today?”
Myrtle Fletcher (1885-1972) was a Cleburne girl.
She was 16 when she met and married a 25-year-old oil wildcatter from Mississippi.
But McCain’s biography doesn’t say much about those grandparents.
Maybe that’s because grandfather Arch Wright took his new wife across the Red River and went on to become what one newspaper called “the king of eastern Oklahoma gamblers.”
The Oklahoman and The Washington Post have written recently about Arch Wright’s career in Muskogee, known for outlaws and bootleggers.
But historians barely mention that Grandma Myrtle and Granddaddy Arch met in Cleburne.
The city’s long and proud history is stored at the Layland Museum, a meticulously kept collection inside a 104-year-old library.
Curator Ben Hammons said that when he saw Cleburne named, he figured Republicans would come looking for more details.
(Johnson County Republicans didn’t support McCain in the primary. They voted for former Southern Baptist pastor and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.)
When Hammons checked 1890 and 1900 records and directories, he found the Fletchers.
McCain’s grandmother lost her father, Azariah Fletcher, in 1897 when she was 12.
By 1900, she and her mother, Martha Melinda Kidwell Fletcher, were living in a boardinghouse at 208 W. Henderson St. That’s now a parking lot by the city library.
Arch Wright came to town from Mississippi before 1900 and lived at 126 N. Robinson St., now also a parking lot catty-corner from an old Episcopal church.
Although several sources list the Wrights as marrying in Cleburne, that record didn’t turn up.
But there is plenty of history about Arch Wright in Oklahoma.
Before Roberta and twin sister Rowena were born, McCain’s grandfather was jailed in bootlegging raids and busted in gambling roundups. One 1911 news story in the Tulsa World guessed his fortune at “half a million dollars,” the equivalent of $10 million today.
The Post quoted McCain biographer Elizabeth Drew, who wrote Citizen McCain, calling Arch Wright “the man not spoken of.”
McCain’s mother has talked about her father’s generosity and his later life as a retired oil millionaire in Los Angeles but rarely about their family’s days in Texas or Oklahoma.