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.

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