Distinguished Men

The Honorable Nat Folsom was our district chief, a full-blooded Indian, uneducated, and able to converse but little in the English language. His residence was in the vicinity of Pheasant Bluffs, thirty miles from our mission.

When I first saw him he was probably fifty years of age, large and well-developed; and, though considerably gray, he was still active and in the enjoyment of vigorous health. He was an unusually fine-looking Indian; and, although his glossy hair was becoming streaked with white, his face was smooth, his eye bright, and his step elastic and firm.

We met him first at a camp meeting, which was held in his own neighborhood. He was plainly dressed for one of the rulers of a nation. He wore cloth pants, calico shirt, coarse brogans, linen hunting shirt, and was without a vest or cravat. He wore a bandana handkerchief tied around his head as a turban, and a red sash around his body. Under his belt he carried his tomahawk, which was an ingenious and novel instrument. Its blade was well polished and sharp; its poll was made to serve as the bowl of a tobacco pipe; there was an aperture through the handle communicating with the poll, to convey the smoke from the pipe to the mouth; and the end of the handle was tapered down to the proper size, and mounted with a silver mouth-piece.

Folsom was a dignified and sensible man, of good character, and possessing considerable property; but being destitute of education, he was incompetent to fill the office of chief with honor to himself or advantage to the nation. We could readily account for his promotion; there were no full-blooded Indians in the district who were educated, and Half-breeds were not in favor with the masses of the people. Though shrewd and intelligent, they were regarded with suspicion. The unadulterated Choctaw blood was thought to be purest and best; and hence full-bloods were considered the most true, patriotic, and reliable.

William Riddle, the United States Interpreter, was a prominent man. He was a half-breed, tolerably well-educated, intelligent, and of excellent character; he resided on a farm near the Agency, had a wife and three or four children, and lived comfortably in a hewed log-house, with shingled roof and stone chimney, and tastefully and conveniently furnished. Mr. Riddle was about thirty years of age, tall and well-formed, and gentlemanly in his bearing; and, though intelligent and. capable, he was exceedingly modest and unassuming. His habits were correct, and altogether he was an excellent citizen, and, unquestionably, the best man in the Moshulatubbee district for the office of chief.

Colonel Thomson M ‘Kenny was a prominent citizen, an intelligent, educated, and shrewd half-breed. He was about thirty years of age, a small, active, and sprightly man, who always had “an eye to the main chance.’” He was quite a politician, but, unfortunately, not appreciated by his fellow citizens, and, hence, not called to fill responsible positions. He served as a trustee for the several academies of the nation, and was well qualified for the duties of the office; he manifested a lively interest in behalf of education, and frequently visited the schools and exerted himself in their behalf; his social and conversational qualifications were of a high order.

The Honorable J. Fletcher was the chief of the Punckchenubbee district. He was a full-blood, a man of fair character, true to his people, patriotic, and earnest in his efforts for the advancement of his tribe in civilization and education. Fletcher was not educated, and, in point of talent and qualifications, was a second-rate man.

Colonel Peter P. Pitchlynn was the school trustee chosen from that district. He was almost a white man, having just enough Indian blood to give him citizenship and privileges in the tribe. He was educated and intelligent; he had traveled extensively and observed men and things closely; his qualifications were such as would secure to him position and prominence in any community. He was quite wealthy, and in point of talent and information second to none in the tribe; and, though patriotic and willing to fill the highest office of the nation, his services were not required. He was a broken-down politician, at least he was so regarded by the sovereigns; he was too much of a white man to be intrusted with power; they could not vote for a man who had a fair complexion and blue eyes.

The Honorable Peter Folsom was the chief of the Pushmataha district. He was a stout man, in the meridian of life, about five feet and eight inches in height, with a bright complexion for a full-blood Indian. He was a dignified man, evidently regarding himself as a ruler of the people, and not unwilling to receive the attention and homage which are clue to one who has been promoted by the people to a post of influence and power. Folsom’s reputation was good; he was a man of wealth and character, but uneducated. He was the most aristocratic lord I saw in the Choctaw tribe, and the most ostentatious in all respects. He made a visit across the territory to the Agency, bringing his family; he had an elegant barouche in which his family traveled; a black coachman sat out in front and a well-dressed servant sat in the boot, while the lady within had one or two maids to give her attention; the old chief rode in front upon the back of a splendid saddle-horse. Folsom was a friend to the schools, and did not fail to use his influence, personal and official, to advance the interests of his people and to promote their prosperity in all things. He was a true and patriotic man.

Colonel S. Jones was the trustee chosen from the Pushmataha district. He was an educated half-breed, and a man of energy and business qualifications of a superior character; he was a merchant, connected with a firm that did an extensive business. His wealth and intelligence gave him influence with the most intelligent portion of his people, but not with the uneducated masses. Jones had a fair reputation; he was an ardent advocate and friend of education.

Having noticed the men of position and influence, it will be remarked that while the chiefs were all illiterate and full-blooded Indians, the United States Interpreter and the trustees of the schools were all educated half-breeds.

In passing through different tribes the traveler is surprised to find so many titular dignitaries. Captains and colonels abounded in the Choctaw tribe, but there seemed to be no majors or generals; the same was true of all the border Indians, so far as we could learn. I never could ascertain precisely what the title indicated or the steps that were necessary to secure titular honors. With the Choctaws the sheriffs, or “light-horsemen,” as they were styled, were all captains, while the chiefs and ex-chiefs were all colonels ; and perhaps others were permitted to assume such titles.

With the wild tribes titles of honor were conferred for any remarkable feats performed, and especially for daring prowess in conflict with their enemies. An incident will serve as an illustration in point.

An old Comanche was in company with a number of white men, at Fort Smith, and heard a gentleman address an officer of the army as “captain.” The Comanche turned to the officer with an expression of astonishment: “What, you captain? What you do make men call you captain? Me steal heap horses; my people call me captain! You much brave, like Comanche; steal horses heap?” But I would not intimate that our Choctaw captains and colonels so won their honors and received their titles; they were honorably promoted without doubt.



Benson, Henry C. Life Among the Choctaw Indians and Sketches of the South-West. L. Swormstedt & A. Poe. 1860.

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