The Old Farm House: The Pioneer Home of a Choctaw Chief, Leflore, and of the Oak Hill School

Memoirs of the LeFlore Family

The Cravat families of Choctaws are the descendants of John Cravat, a Frenchman, who came among the Choctaws at an early day, and was adopted among them by marriage. He had two daughters by his Choctaw wife, Nancy and Rebecca, both of whom became the wives of Louis LeFlore. His Choctaw wife dying he married a Chickasaw woman, by whom he had four sons, Thomas, Jefferson, William and Charles, and one daughter, Elsie, who married- a white man by the name of Daniel Harris, and who became the parents of Col. J. D. Harris, whose first wife was Catharine Nail, the fourth daughter of Joel H. Nail. The descendants of John Cravat are still among the Choctaws and Chickasaws, and known as prominent and useful citizens in the two nations.

The LeFlore family of Choctaws is the descendants of Major Louis LeFlore, and his brother, Michael LeFlore, Canadian Frenchmen, who, after the expulsion of the French from the territories of Mississippi by the English, first settled in Mobile, Ala., then a small trading post. After remaining there a few years, Louis moved to the now state of Mississippi and settled on Pearl River, in the county of Nashoba (Wolf). Thence he moved to the Yazoo Valley, where he lived until he died. As before stated, he married the two daughters of John Cravat, Nancy and Rebecca. By the former he had four sons in the following order of their names: Greenwood, William (who was drowned in Bok Iski-tini), Benjamin and Basil; and five daughters, viz: Clarissa, Emilee the names of the others not remembered. After the death of Nancy he married Rebecca, by whom he had two sons, viz: Forbis and Jackson. Clarissa married a white man by the name of Wilson, and living, at the time of the exodus of her people, in what is now known as Winston County, Mississippi, east of the town of Louisville. Wilson having died she married a man by the name of Alfred Leach and moved with him to the western part of Winston county, and settled on the banks of a creek called Lobucha (corrupted from Lah-buch-ih, to make warm.) She there died. Her children, by her first husband, moved with their people to the west. Emilee married A. H. Carpenter, a Frenchman of high family. He practiced law in Jackson, Mississippi, and rose to an eminence that caused him to be regarded as a lawyer having few equals and no superiors. Mr. Carpenter died in 1852, followed by his wife in 1860. They left two sons, Jerome and Surry. Jerome at the age of fifteen entered the Confederate army as a private, serving under General Robert E. Lee in Virginia. He was wounded July 1862, at the battle of Malvern. After he had recovered he served as one of Gen. Joe Johnson’s bodyguards, and acted in the capacity of dispatch bearer. Soon after the war he went to Mexico and received a commission as Colonel in Maximillian’s army.

The Old Farm House: The Pioneer Home of a Choctaw Chief, Leflore, and of the Oak Hill School
The Old Farm House: The Pioneer Home of a Choctaw Chief, Leflore, and of the Oak Hill School

At the defeat of Maximillian, the youthful Jerome was condemned to be executed with the unfortunate Prince; but was saved by the timely intervention of Secretary Seward. As an acknowledgment of Jerome’s services and devotion to Maximillian, the Emperor, Francis Joseph, conferred the title of “Baron” upon him, and also offered him a position in the Austrian army, which he declined to accept. He re turned to the United States, and was shortly afterwards killed in a duel with Amos Price, leaving a wife to mourn his untimely death. He had no children. The other three daughters married as follows: One married John Harkins, who became the grand-father of Colonel G. W. Harkins of the Chickasaw Nation; another married a man by the name of Traydu or Traydew; and the other married a man by the name of Harris.

The LeFlores have, ever since the introduction of the family, always held a prominent place in the annals of Choctaw history; and can justly boast a noble genealogy that ex tends far back into the twilight of history, when the Indians were truly and justly the Lords from the Great Lakes of the north to the Gulf of Mexico. Basil and Forbis were the only sons who followed the fortunes of their banished people to the west. William, as before stated, was accidentally drowned in Bok Iskitini; Benjamin lived and died at his old home on the banks of a stream where he kept a ferry, called Yockanookany, a corruption from Yakniokhina, (the land of streams).

Major Louis LeFlore was adopted by the Choctaws, and: gradually rose to great distinction as a chief among that appreciative people, who quickly discerned true merit and knew how to esteem it. He with his brother Michael who came to Mississippi and also settled in the Yazoo Valley, and Lewis Durant, also a Frenchman, and the progenitor of the Durant family of Choctaws, first introduced cattle into the western part of the Choctaw Nation from Mobile, about the year 1770, the first animal of the bovine species ever seen by the Choctaws in that part of the Nation. They drove their little herd to the waters of Pearl River in now, Nashoba County, and placed them upon the range, then seemingly unlimited in its wide extended forests and impenetrable canebrakes. As a matter of course the cattle were a great curiosity to the Choctaws. The LeFlores and Durant told an amusing incident that took place a short time after their arrival at their ranch with the cattle. A little yearling had strayed from the herd. It so happened that three Choctaw hunters soon after pitched their camp a few miles from the newly established cattle ranch being entirely ignorant of its near proximity, and also of the new animals just introduced into their hunting grounds. One day, as usual, the three hunters left their camps for a hunt, each taking his course yet keeping near each other. During the day one of them discovered the yearling slowly emerging from a little plat of cane; to him a wonderful beast. Unseen by the lonely calf, he stood, gazed, and wondered. Naught like that bad ever been seen upon his hunting path before. What it was, whence it came and how, baffled the wildest flights of even conjecture. Twas not a deer, nor a panther, nor yellow wolf! Must he signal for his companions? It might flee, must he shoot? He might only wound and cause it to at tack, and then what! But he raised his trusty rifle and brought it to bear upon the unsuspecting calf; at that moment he discovered that it was eating the grass similar to his native deer; at once his fears were allayed and he concluded not to kill but to capture the prodigy, and take it alive to his camp as a living wonder.

Setting his gun against a tree, he bolted for the calf; which hearing the approaching footsteps, raised its head, gazed a moment, and seeing the fast approaching and equally strange object, at once gave the signal for a test of speed by elevating its rear appendage to an angle of forty-five degrees, and the race began; the pursued, for the realities of life, and the pursuer for that of curiosity. Hither and thither, helter skelter; round and round; here at rig ht angles, and there at acute; now in a circle, and then in a semi-circle; over logs and through bushes, the astonished calf, with head straight out, nostrils expanded, led his indefatigable and indefeasible pursuer. Finally the physical endurance of a Choctaw hunter proved superior to that of a city calf; for he now ran but a few feet behind his coveted prize. But alas for human hopes! With a desperate spring in which were centered all his hopes, he made a grab at the tail of the despairing calf which then drooped at twenty-two and a half; when, seemingly to comprehend his design, the calf gave it a vigorous twitch as it leaped a treacherous log that lay concealed in the grass over which he tumbled headlong to the ground. The lucky calf, comprehending the advantage offered, again raised its flag to forty-five, and with invigorated strength increased its speed, and was soon out of sight.

With hopes blighted, the unfortunate hunter crawled up to a sitting posture and commenced rubbing his bruised and painful knee, when he discovered that the whole top of the knee moved hither and thither at his slightest push, “a thing untaught in his book of anatomy, and at once concluded that his leg” was fearfully shattered. He whooped to, his comrades, who, happening to be near and hearing- his call, hastened to his side. They also, upon close examination of the wounded limb, arrived at the same conclusion with the sup posed injured man, when the two LeFlores and Durant, searching for the strayed yearling, rode up; and taking in the situation at a glance, after a few words of inquiry, they soon explained the anatomy of the human knee to the three hunters by showing them that the moving of the knee cap was common to all, and did not denote a broken bone. Being thoroughly convinced of its truth, the fallen man arose to his feet, gave a brief account of his adventure, pointed the direction in which the strange beast had disappeared; and the three Choctaw deer hunters, and the three white calf hunters, soon found the wanderer and safely placed it again within the fold; then the three Choctaws returned to their forest camp to talk over the adventures of the clay, as well as the knowledge gained regarding the new animal introduced, whose flesh was equal, if not superior, to that of their famous deer, and also of the addition to their knowledge in osteology.

Major Lewis Le Flore resided for many years on the waters of the Pearl River raising cattle, and early became a wealthy man; from his stock, which increased rapidly in their abundant range and genial climate, the surrounding Choctaws supplied themselves with cattle. He then moved to the Yazoo Valley where he spent the remainder of his days respected and loved. As colonel, he commanded a battalion of Choctaw warriors under Jackson at the taking of Pensacola in the Creek war of 1812.

Greenwood, after his fathers’ death, succeeded him as one of the chiefs of the Choctaw Nation, which he retained until the exodus. He was a man of great energy, and to whom nature had given force of character; and had he also have bad the advantages of high mental culture, he would have been a leader of men. He did not move west with his people, but remained at his old home in a little town called Greenwood, situated on a tributary of the Yazoo River, where he lived to an advanced age, died and was buried there. He was married twice. His wives were sisters, the daughters of John Dunley of Alabama. The old chief was highly respected by the whites, and was elected to the State Legislature as a member from Yazoo County; and afterwards was elected to the State Senate from Yazoo and Carroll counties.

William lived near the Yelobusha River (corrupted from Yaloba-aia-sha where tadpoles abound). He, too, was a respected and useful man. He was unfortunately drowned in Bok Iskitini (as before stated) in the pride and manhood of his life, regretted and mourned by all his numerous acquaintances and friends. His body was recovered and buried at his home.

Forbis and Basil were the only two sons who moved west with their people, both lived to an advanced age; the former died in 1883, the latter in 1886. Both were pious men and died in strong” faith of a blissful immortality. Forbis, in relating his Christian experience, once said: “I was once a very wicked man. God gave me a long rope a mighty long rope but I cut it right short off.” And his Christian life after he embraced the religion of the Son of God proved that he did cut “right short off” from his wickedness. Forbis Le Flore was indeed a man of stern merits, and blended with his force of character were gentleness of spirit and entire conscientiousness, by which he obtained the confidence of his people; and while he merited all their esteem by his virtues, he also secured their affections by them.

Basil LeFlore was a man than whom a purer one is seldom found in this age of the world. Of him it can with truth be said: “He was an honest man.” His long and useful life was devoted to the moral and intellectual improvement, the prosperity and happiness of his fellow man. He filled the highest public offices of his Nation with honor to himself and his country. He was truly a bright and ever shining light among the Choctaw people, of him they are justly proud, for they have the best of reasons to be. Kind words and pleasant smiles spread sunshine throughout his whole actions; his home was a model home, where all the virtues known to man seem to congregate and delight to dwell. I speak from personal knowledge. But his crowning virtue was his earnest piety, his simple, trusting faith. No one could detect inconsistency in Basil LeFlore. He carried his religion with him everywhere, which burned, with a steady beautiful light, making its influence felt far and wide. His Christian life was truly most exemplary, his morals the purest, and his principles the noblest, while unostentatious religion truly seemed a part and parcel of his being; never arrogant or obtrusive, but all pervading and firm as the Rock upon which his faith was founded. As a friend he was warm-hearted, steadfast and true as the magnet to the pole; as a public or private citizen his character was above reproach; and his many virtues will ever be emulated, his goodness of heart and head, and his numerous deeds of charity and love remembered with profound gratitude.

To see him was to admire him; to meet him was to respect him; and to know him was to love and honor him. His public services were not less patriotic than his private virtues were conspicuous. The former are monuments to his wisdom and honest statesmanship, and will ever be viewed by his admiring people as stars in the firmament of their Nation. And his life illustrates the possibilities of a Choctaw citizen meriting and receiving the entire confidence, respect and love of his people, whom he had long and faith fully served in the capacity of a public servant; and the respect and admiration of all the whites that were person ally acquainted with him. He died full of years (well spent) at the home of a friend, October 1886, living a few miles from his own, which he was visiting. His death was sudden and unexpected falling dead from his chair while at the supper table. But his lamp was well trimmed and full of oil waiting for his Masters call. “Blessed is the death of the righteous.” A Choctaw friend informed me of his death, by letter, in the following truthful and memorable words: Gov. Basil LeFlore is dead. He is the last of the family. It is a national loss to the Choctaw and Chickasaw people. Our best old men are fast disappearing.” Yes, the death of Basil LeFlore but thins still more the sadly thinned ranks of the few noble old Choctaw men, whose history, if it had been written, would be strangely beautiful and far more interesting and fascinating than the most thrilling fiction, since in it were hidden romantic truths of which the “pale faces” never even dreamed, or will ever know.

Michael LeFlore, the brother and only relative of Major Lewis LeFlore among the Choctaws, the people of their adoption, had five sons, viz: Thomas, Michael, Joel, Ward and Johnson, and two daughters, Mary and Sophia. Thomas was chief in their present Nation for several years. When I last heard of his widow she was still living near Wheelock, Choctaw nation, and is said to be bordering on a hundred years of age. Young Michael served as major in the Confederate army through the civil war.

Cushman, Horatio Bardwell. History Of The Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. Greenville, Texas: Headlight Printing House. 1899

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