Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who was Itawamba Mingo?

Who was Itawamba Mingo?

Major Levi Colbert was known as “Itawamba Mingo” which means Wooden Bench Chief or Wooden Bench King; he was the son of James Logan Colbert and younger brother of George Colbert.  Levi was born in 1759 and died June 2, 1834, at Buzzard Roost Spring, Colbert County, Alabama, at 74 years of age.  He lived near Cotton Gin Port, Mississippi, and was buried at Buzzard Roost in Colbert County, Alabama.  

Levi Colbert was possibly the wealthiest and most powerful of the Colbert family.  He lived just west of Cotton Gin Port located in Monroe County, Mississippi.  He owned four thousand cattle, five hundred horses, a large herd of sheep, and several head of swine.  At one time, Levi had a part interest in Colbert’s Ferry on the Natchez Trace which was said to have been worth $20,000 annually; Levi's brother George Colbert was the principle owner and operator of the ferry.

In the 1818 census report, Levi was listed as a resident of the Chickasaw Nation in Mississippi; he was Chief of the Chickasaw Nation, Mississippi, before 1834. Levi's will was probated in Monroe County, Mississippi on November 24, 1835.  Levi Colbert died soon after the Chickasaw Treaty of 1834 was signed.  He had served with the United States troops under General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans; he was recognized as an important counselor to his Chickasaw people.  Levi Colbert had 25 children with 14 sons and 11 daughters; however, he may have had more children and probably there were more than three wives.

Levi married at least three times.  1) His first marriage was to Ishtimmarharlechar, who was listed as a resident of the Chickasaw Nation in Mississippi on the 1818 census report .  2) His second marriage was to Temusharhoctay 'Dollie' (Schtimmarshashoctay) who was born before 1780 and was listed as a resident of the Chickasaw Nation in Mississippi in the 1818 census report.  3) His third marriage was to Mintahoyo House of Imatapo who was born before 1799 and died after 1839. She was listed as a resident in the 1818 census report in Chickasaw Roll; and on May 24, 1834, but she was a resident of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory in the 1839 census report.

Cotton Gin Port was located at major Chickasaw trail crossings of the Tombigbee River close to the home of Levi Colbert, Itawamba Mingo.  The large Chickasaw town located at the site sat on the bluff west of the river.  One trail which crossed the Tombigbee River at Cotton Gin Port was known as Gaines Trace and was surveyed from Melton’s Bluff on the Tennessee River in present-day Lawrence County, Alabama by the Captain Edmund Pendelton Gaines of the United States Army beginning in December 1807.  Another fork of Gaines Trace ran to Colbert’s Ferry on the Tennessee River in present-day Colbert County, Alabama.  Gaines Trace was laid out as an early road along the Chickasaw trail that crossed the Tombigbee at the Cotton Gin Port.  In 1816, the Chickasaws ceded their territory east of the Tombigbee and southeast of Gaines Trace to the United States.  In addition, the High Town Path and Old Chickasaw Trail crossed the Tombigbee River at Cotton Gin Port.

In about 1801, the United States government agreed to build a cotton gin on the west side of the river for the Chickasaw who lived on the bluff above the crossing.  The Americans hoped to improve relations with the Chickasaw who had been allies of the English, and to encourage the growing of cotton.  According to one legend, the cotton gin was a gift from George Washington to one of the Colbert Chickasaw chiefs.

After the passage of the Indian Civilization Act in 1801, the United States government established a cotton gin on the west side of the river in an attempt to convert the Chickasaws into peaceful farmers and to win the support of the tribe that had long been allied with the English.  The United States built the cotton gin on the site of the Old French Fort starting about around 1802 because the bluff was a good boat landing place.  Although documents do not indicate clearly that a cotton gin was constructed by the United States Government for the Chickasaws at Cotton Gin Port, many think that the gin was part of the treaty of December 1801 authorizing Natchez Trace.

The exact location of the cotton gin is suspect, but it was probably built on the high bluffs southwest of the Old French Fort where a number of Indian trails converged.  Some people claim that the cotton gin was constructed within the old fort site.

The cotton gin saw little use since it was burned in a few months of being constructed; it is believed that a raiding band of Choctaw Indians burned the gin because they did not get one.  Other historians say the Chickasaw burned it themselves; other sources say that a jealous husband burned it because his wife liked the operator.  Finally, some historians speculate the cotton gin burned because of an accident.

Levi Colbert or Itawamba mingo was the best known and the most influential of the brothers. While he used broken English and was devoid of education himself, he seems to have believed in schools and gave all of his numerous sons an education. His title Itawamba, means "Bench Chief” and was given him as a reward for distinguished services rendered the tribe against their enemies the Creeks. Levi was a merchant. His sons were named Martin, Charles, Alex, Adam, Lemuel, Daugherty, Elijah, Commodore, and Lewis. His four daughters were called Charity, Mariah, Phalishta and Asa. We find his name mentioned in the treaty of 1816 with the Chickasaws as the recipient of $150 cash, and two forty acre tracts of land, two and one-half miles below Cotton Gin Port, on the Tombigbee River (Warren, 1904).

Horatio Bardman Cushman (1899) was born in the Choctaw Nation about 1824, and lived among the Choctaws and Chickasaws for some 75years.  With first-hand knowledge, Cushman gave a detailed report on Levi Colbert as follows: Major Levi Colbert resided near a place then known as Cotton Gin Port.  He was truly a man wise in the councils of his Nation and valiant in defense of his Nation's rights. In early manhood, or rather in boyhood, he was elevated by an act of gallantry to the high position of "Ittawamba micco," as has been so oft published by different writers, and meaning, as given in the wisdom of their interpretation, "Bench Chief, or King of the Wooden Bench." There is no such; word in the Chickasaw language as "Itta wamba micco," and it can be but the fabrication of imaginative ignorance. The Chickasaw words for Bench Chief (if there ever was such a personage among them) would be, “Aiobinili (a seat) falaia (long) Miko Ai-ome-bih-ne-lih-far-li-yah Meenkoh, The chief on the long seat -or bench—in our phraseology, The chief in the Chair of State.

Major Levi Colbert's act of gallantry, by which he was at once elevated to the high position of chief, consisted in having defeated, when but a youth a war party of Muscogees who had invaded the Chickasaw Nation, at a time when all the warriors of the invaded district were away from home on a hunting excursion.  Young Levi at once collected the old men and boys and formed them into a war company and started for the depredating Creeks, whom he successfully drew into an artfully planned ambuscade, by which all the Muscogees were slain, not one being left to return to his own country and tell of their complete destruction.  The little stream upon whose banks the battle took place was afterwards called (so says a writer in one of his published articles) "Yahnubly," and gives its signification as "All killed"; bill unfortunately for his erudition, no such word is known in the Chickasaw language.  There is, however, the word yanubih (pro. yarn-ub-ih) in their language but its signification is iron-wood.  While the Chickasaw words for "All killed" (same as the Choctaw) are momaubih; the land or place where all were killed.

When the warriors returned from their hunt and learned of the battle and to whom the safety of their families was due, and also the honor of the victory, a council was immediately called and the young hero summoned to attend; when he appeared and the statement of facts had been laid before them, they, without a dissenting voice, and as men who quickly discerned true merit and knew how to appreciate it, elevated him to the responsible position of a chief in their Nation.

The following publication appeared a few years ago as a valuable piece of Chickasaw history:  "Ittawamba was the name of an office. The word signifies King of the Wooden Bench. The individual who held the high title was elected by the national council. A part of the imposing ceremony by which the officer elected was initiated was as follows:  At a given signal he jumped from a wooden bench to the floor in the hall of state where the magnates of the Nation sat in conclave.  At the moment his feet touched the earth the whole of tire assembly exclaimed Ittawamba!  The honored individual who heard this voice became the second magistrate of the Nation. Thus he received the orders of Chickasaw Knighthood, Ittawamba micco, or Bench Chief…But be what "Ittawamba" may, nevertheless the young initiate, Levi Colbert, after his initiation into its wonderful mysteries, proved himself worthy to be not only a "king of the wooden bench," but also, by his talents, purity of principles, energy and force of character, a king upon a regal throne to bear rule over a nation.  For several years he shaped the policy, and presided over the destinies of the Chickasaw people with wisdom and discretion.

On the 27th and, 28th of September, 1830, the Choctaws, by a treaty with John Coffee and John Eaton, United States commissioners, ceded their lands, east of the Mississippi River to the United States.  Major Levi Colbert, having heard what they had done, immediately called upon his friend, Mr. Stephen Daggette, and asked him to calculate the interest for him of four hundred thousand dollars at five, six, seven and eight per cent. The Choctaws had taken government bonds at five per cent; Major Colbert at once seeing that they had been badly and most outrageously swindled, exclaimed in a loud and highly excited tone of voice, "God I thought so." He then informed Mr. Daggette that he was anxious to obtain the calculation, that he might be enabled to explain it to his people in their own language. He also stated to Mr. Daggette that "the United States would soon make an effort to buy the lands of the Chickasaws also, and I want to be ready for them."

When the United States had resolved to gobble up the Chickasaw country also, as they had the Choctaws' two years before, John Coffee was sent to the Chickasaw Nation to order Ben Reynolds (the Chickasaw Agent) to immediately assemble the chiefs and warriors in council to effect a treaty with them.

Three treaties (or rather articles) were drawn up, but were promptly rejected by the watchful and discerning Chickasaws.  Then the fourth was written by the persistent Coffee; but with the following clause inserted to catch the noble and influential chief, Yakni Moma Ubih, the incorruptible Levi Colbert, which read as follows; "We hereby agree to give our beloved chief, Levi Colbert, in consideration of his services and expense of entertaining the guests of the Nation, fifteen sections of land in any part of the country he may select.  Stop! Stop! John Coffee shouted the justly indignant chief in a voice of thunder, "I am no more entitled to those fifteen sections of land than the poorest Chickasaw in the Nation.  I scorn your infamous offer, clothed under the falsehood of our beloved chief, and will not accept it, sir.  A frown of disappointment momentarily rested, no doubt, upon the face of Coffee.

Then a fifth treaty was written out by Coffee, and the council again called together to consider upon its merits; and which, after due deliberation, was finally accepted. The Chickasaws agreed, to take United States bonds, but were unable to satisfactorily comprehend the six per cent promised them, until their interpreter, Ben Love, illustrated it as a hen laying eggs.  Those one hundred dollars would lay six dollars in twelve months, which they at once fully understood…

Ishtehotopa, the king, first walked up with a countenance that betokened the emotions of one about to sign his jury’s death warrant, and with a sad heart and trembling hand made his mark.  Then Tishu Miko advanced with solemn mien and did likewise; then the other chiefs with countenance sad and forlorn; and last of all, the pure, the noble Levi Colbert, whom gold could not buy, or cause to ever from the path of honor.

Levi’s Death—Soon after the treaty had been signed, Major Levi Colbert stated to Mr. Daggette he was not satisfied with some clauses in the treaty which he did not at first correctly understand.  Mr. Daggette advised him to go immediately to Washington and get it changed to his satisfaction before it is confirmed by the Senate.  Colbert, with other delegates, started immediately to Washington City, but only got as far as his son-in-law, Kilpatrick Carter's, in Alabama (Buzzard Roost Spring in Colbert County), where he was taken sick and died, to the great sorrow and loss of the Chickasaw Nation.  The other delegates continued their journey to Washington, and secured the desired alteration in the treaty...

But, in justice, it must and shall be said of the Chickasaw Agent of 1832, Benjamin Reynolds, that he was an honest man.  As agent to the Chickasaw people for the United States Mr. Reynolds annually paid them twenty thousand dollars for several consecutive years as annuity.  Previous to the treaty Mr. Daggette affirms he assisted Mr. Reynolds in paying to the Chickasaws their annuities, and that Mr. Reynolds distributed the last cent among them, giving to each his or her dues honestly and justly, though every opportunity was offered to defraud them, and lived and died an honest and pure man; and then, no doubt, went above to receive the glorious welcome (Cushman, 1899).

Levi’s daughter, Phalishta “Pat” (Malacha) Colbert, married Kilpatrick Carter and lived at Buzzard Roost Spring in Colbert County, Alabama.  They had the following children:  Pamela Carter married Frances Montgomery Reynolds; Colbert Kilpatrick Carter married Elizabeth Humphreys; Melena Carter married a McDonna and a Colbert; Susan Carter married William M. Walner; and, Eliza Carter married Jackson Kemp.

Levi Colbert died at the home of his daughter, Phalishta “Pat” Malacha Colbert Carter, at Buzzard Roost Spring in Colbert County, Alabama.  Levi originally lived at the Buzzard Roost site and had Kilpatrick Carter to build a new home on the site; however, supposedly during the construction of the home Carter fell in love with Levi’s daughter and married her.  Levi told Carter if he would build him another house at Cotton Gin Port that he would give his daughter and Kilpatrick Carter the home at Buzzard Roost Spring which was done.  Then in 1834 after Levi and the Chickasaws negotiated a treaty with John Coffee, they realized that changes should be made before the treaty was ratified; and therefore, a delegation of Chickasaws including Levi Colbert started from Cotton Gin Port to Washington, D.C.  Levi got sick and stopped at his daughter’s house at Buzzard Roost Spring where he died.  He is supposedly buried at the old home site in Colbert County, Alabama.

Read more about this famous Chickasaw family in my latest book "Chickasaw Chief George Colbert: His Family and His Country."  The book is now available at and presently lists for $15.95; order your copy today, shipping is free with orders over $25.00.  You can also get the book for $19.95 at Warrior Mountains Trading Post in Wren, Bank Street Antiques in Decatur, Coldwater Books in Tuscumbia, and Rattlesnake Saloon in Colbert County off highway 247.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Who was William Colbert?

William Colbert

William Colbert was born in Chickasaw Nation about 1742; he was the eldest son of James Logan Colbert and an older brother of George Colbert.  He was also called "Chooshemataha", "Pyaheggo" and "Billy Colbert".   William Colbert was the friend, follower, and successor of Piomingo, Chief of the Chickasaw Nation.  He was a celebrated fighter and was an ally of the Americans not only against hostile Indians, but also when a struggle against Spain for the possession of the Mississippi Territory seemed imminent.

William married twice with his first marriage to a Creek woman known as Jessie "Wayther" Moniac in Chickasaw Nation before 1780.  Jessie was the daughter of the Creek Indian William Dixon “Dick” Jacob Moniac and Sehoy III, daughter of Creek Chief Tuckabatche.  Since Jessie Moniac Colbert was not listed on the 1818 Chickasaw Roll, she was either dead or no longer the wife of William Colbert.  Jesse was a sister to Elise Moniac who was the wife of Creek Chief Alexander McGillivray; therefore, William Colbert and Alexander McGillivray were brother-in-laws.  William’s second marriage was to Ishtanaha "Mimey" in Chickasaw Nation before 1824; she died after 1839 in Indian Territory.  She was baptized at the Monroe Mission in Pontotoc County, Mississippi on June 5, 1830.  She migrated from Mississippi to Indian Territory on board the steamboat Fox and arrived on November 21, 1837.

On one occasion, William feared that the Cherokees had killed Piomingo and all his party; therefore, William and George Colbert organized a party of Chickasaws on either side of the Tennessee River to cut off six canoes of Cherokees.  Levi Colbert asked William to wait until they could confirm that these Cherokees had actually killed Piomingo.  William Colbert tried to get the canoes to stop and come to shore.  The Cherokees disregarded his order and kept on their way; William considered they were guilty and chased the canoes down.  One canoe paddled to the shore and the Cherokee man jumped out and hid himself in bushes; William Colbert found the man, killed him, and took his scalp.

In June of 1794, George and William Colbert accompanied Piomingo to Philadelphia, where the chiefs received a certificate from President George Washington on July 21, 1794; the certificate guaranteed to the tribe all Chickasaw lands claimed by Piomingo at the Nashville Indian Conference that included all of western Kentucky, central and western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and northwestern Alabama. They also received a $3000.00 annuity for their aid to St. Clair in 1791.

 At the solicitation of President George Washington, Major General William Colbert, who succeeded Piomingo as the principal chief of the Chickasaw Nation, journeyed to the Ohio country and served under General Mad Anthony Wayne against the Indians of the Northwest.  On August 20, 1794, William Colbert led a contingent of Chickasaw warriors in support of General Anthony Wayne at the battle of Fallen Timbers, Ohio, against Little Turtle and the Northwestern Confederation of Indians.

In January 1795, William Colbert and a band of Chickasaw warriors took five Creek scalps on the Duck River in the Chickasaw country, perhaps in retaliation for raids by the Creeks against the Cumberland settlers and Chickasaw hunters during the previous four months. On January 13, 1795, William Colbert and a party of 100 Chickasaws that included his Creek wife Jessie Moniac Colbert and several of his children carried the scalps to General James Robertson at Nashville. 

Since William Colbert did not get guns and supplies from General James Robertson or Governor William Blount of Southwest Territory in his war against the Creeks, he left his wife Jessie Moniac Colbert in Knoxville, and rounded up Chiefs William McGillivray, John Brown, Piomingo, and interpreter Malcolm McGee and set out for Philadelphia.  The delegation received an audience with President George Washington on August 22, 1795, but again received no help or encouragement in the prosecution of a new war with the Creeks.

When the Creek war broke out in 1813, Major William Colbert quickly joined and served nine months in the third regiment of United States Infantry for service against the Creek enemies of the Chickasaw Nation.  William served five months in the regular infantry; he returned to the Chickasaw Nation and raised an independent force which he led against the hostile Creeks.  William pursued the Creeks from Pensacola almost to Apalachicola; he and the Chickasaws killed many Creeks and brought back eighty-five prisoners to Montgomery.  William completed his service with the United States Army at the end of the Creek Indian War.

On numerous occasions, William Colbert represented his people at Washington, DC, and in the very early days, was received by President GeorgeWashington, in Philadelphia.  William also made a trip with his half-brother George Colbert and Wolf’s Friend to meet with President John Adams in Philadelphia in 1798.  In June 1816, William headed a Chickasaw delegation to Washington, and in the treaty that followed he was made a Major General; he was granted an annuity of $100 for the rest of his life.

Half-blood William Mizle, a Chickasaw interpreter who married a daughter of Piomingo, wrote in his journal that to accommodate his trade, he stored whiskey at the great Holly Springs some miles south of Chickasaw Bluffs in Spring Hollow.  A traveler stated that he spent several days at the home of General William Colbert who lived near the Federal Agency located about two miles south of the present village of Old Houlka in Chickasaw County.  He stated that, “William Colbert was a great drinker and, having run out of whiskey, walked to Mizle's post at the holly springs and bought seven kegs of whiskey; Colbert then started home and, just after arriving there, drank the last of the seventh keg, having consumed three days upon the trip."

Major General William Colbert died May 30, 1824, in Tockshish, Pontotoc County, Mississippi at 81 years of age.  The best evidence of General William Colbert's death is found in some old Chickasaw Agency records.  One is a receipt from Ishtanaha (William’s second wife) to Chickasaw Agent Benjamin F. Smith for the pension of General Colbert.  The receipt is dated July 15, 1824, for $40 in full for the amount settled on my husband General William Colbert by the Government of the United States up to May 30, 1824, at which time he deceased.  Additionally, in Smith's Chickasaw Agency expenditure accounting on September 27, 1824, he list a payment to, "Ishtanaha Colbert for the Pension of General William Colbert."  Again in his accounts accepted by United States auditor William Stuart on December 4, 1824, Smith states that $40 was paid, "to the wife of General William Colbert in full to May 30, 1824."  His body was interred in Pontotoc City Cemetery, Pontotoc County, Mississippi.

Read more about this famous Chickasaw family in my latest book "Chickasaw Chief George Colbert: His Family and His Country."  The book is now available at and presently lists for $15.95; order your copy today, shipping is free with orders over $25.00.  You can also get the book for $19.95 at Warrior Mountains Trading Post in Wren, Coldwater Books in Tuscumbia, and Rattlesnake Saloon in Colbert County off highway 247.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Who was George Colbert?

George Colbert

 It was in a rich and noble tradition of the Chickasaws that George Colbert was born to a full-blood Chickasaw mother and a full-blood Scots Irish father in 1744 in the Chickasaw Nation of northeastern Mississippi.  His father, James Logan Colbert, was Scots Irish and came to the Chickasaw country with traders of the British.  George was raised and lived all but two years of his life in the original eastern Chickasaw homelands.  For all intents and purposes, George Colbert was Chickasaw; he was reared in the lifestyles of the Chickasaws and became a great Chickasaw warrior, leader, and chief.  George served not only as the chief of the Chickasaws for 12 years, but he also served in the United States military in different campaigns under General Mad Anthony Wayne, General George Washington, and General Andrew Jackson; he attained the rank of colonel in the United States Army.

In December 1801, the United States Government agreed to build cabins for travelers, a store, stables, a large dwelling house, a new ferry boat, and other facilities for George Colbert to operate a ferry where the Natchez Trace crosses the Tennessee River in present-day Colbert County, Alabama.  George Colbert was known as “Tootemastubbe” or “The Ferryman” by his Indian friends and relatives.

Saleechie and Tuskiahooto were the wives of George Colbert; they were the daughters of Chickamauga Chief Doublehead.  George Colbert first married Saleechie before 1797 and his second marriage was to Tuskiahooto before 1807.  Tuskiahooto was considered one of the most beautiful women in the country; she was George’s principal wife and lived at Colbert’s Ferry on the Natchez Trace in Colbert County, Alabama until she died around 1817; she rests in an unmarked grave on a beautiful and serene hillside overlooking the south bank of the Tennessee River.  George seemed to never get over her loss and shortly after her burial, he moved to Tupelo, Mississippi, with Saleechie.

George and Saleechie (Standing Fern) had seven children who were one eighth German, three eighths Cherokee, one quarter Scots Irish, and one quarter Chickasaw.  Through George’s children, his siblings, and many relatives, a large number of people in northeast Mississippi and northwest Alabama are related to the historic Colbert family.  They admirably speak of their Colbert ancestors in very favorable words and are proud of their association with George Colbert, a person considered by many to be the greatest Celtic Indian legend and hero of this area. 

George Colbert was the “Half Blood Prince” of his beloved Chickasaw people; he loved his Alabama and Mississippi homelands and did all in his power to remain in the land were his dead lay buried.  During his life, George conducted himself in a noble and honorable manner; he had a distinguished military career, rose to the rank of chief among the Chickasaws, and negotiated on behalf of his people with Presidents of the United States.  After only two years in Indian Territory, George Colbert died a long way from his place of birth in a new land that did not belong to his Chickasaw people. 

Read more about this famous half blood prince in my latest book "Chickasaw Chief George Colbert: His Family and His Country."  The book is now available at and presently lists for $15.95; order your copy today, shipping is free with orders over $25.00.  You can also get the book for $19.95 at Warrior Mountains Trading Post in Wren, Coldwater Books in Tuscumbia, and Rattlesnake Saloon in Colbert County off highway 247.