Holmes Colbert

Prominent White Men among the Chickasaws

At an early day a few white men of culture and of good morals, fascinated with the wild and romantic freedom and simplicity of the Chickasaw life, cast their lot among that brave and patriotic nation of people.

I read an article published in Mississippi a few years ago, which stated that a man by the name of McIntosh, commissioned by British authorities to visit the Chickasaw Nation and endeavor to keep up its ancient hostility to the French, was so delighted with the customs and manners of that brave, free and hospitable people that, after the accomplishment of his mission, he remained among them; then marrying a Chickasaw woman he became identified with the tribe; that he became an influential character among the Chickasaws; that he found the whole Nation living in one large village in the “Chickasaw Old Fields”; that he persuaded them to scatter, take possession of the most fertile and watered lands, and live where game was more plentiful; that he planted a colony at a place called Tokshish (corruption of Takshi-pro. Tark-shih, and sig. Bashful) several miles south of Pontotoc; that this colony became the favorite residence of the white renegades, etc. All of which is without even a shadow of truth.

True, a man by the name of McIntosh once visited the Chickasaw Nation as stated; but after his diplomacy was accomplished, departed and returned no more. There never was a McIntosh identified in any way with the Chickasaws at that early day, nor has there been one from that day to this. The only white men adopted and identified with the Chickasaws at that early day were James Gunn, Logan Colbert, John Gilchrist, Malcomb McGee, James Allen and John Bynum, and their descendants are still among the Chickasaws. An aged daughter of John Bynum, with whom I am personally acquainted, as also with her children, was, in 1890, still hovering upon the stage of human life, as bright an example of true Christian piety as ever waited for the Divine Masters final summons to a blissful immortality.

At the time of the establishment of the Christian Mission among the Chickasaws under the jurisdiction of that noble and true Christian philanthropist, Rev. T. C. Stuart, Malcomb McGee (erroneously published as Malcomb McGeche) was a venerable and highly venerated character among the appreciative Chickasaws of all true moral worth. He was born, according to his own statements, of Scotch parents in the city of New York about the year 1757. Shortly after his parents arrived in America, his father enlisted in the Colonial army in an expedition against the French, and was killed at the storming of Ticonderoga, only a few months before young Malcomb was born.

Holmes Colbert
Holmes Colbert

About this time marvelous rumors of the vast and magnificent plains of Illinois, covered by innumerable herds of buffalo, wild horses, deer and great varieties of other wild animals, excited the cupidity of the adventurous, and a company of enthusiasts resolved to go to that imagined earthly paradise, among whom was the, young widow McGee. In those days of the distant past, to reach that point in the “far west” from New York, New Orleans had first to be reached by sea; thence up the Mississippi river by a keel-boat worked by hand, which took months of arduous toil and great privation to make a voyage from New Orleans to St. Louis. The adventurous journey, however, was undertaken and success fully accomplished by those lovers of the romantic. But in that then world of wilderness the young widow McGee soon found herself reduced to extreme poverty, with none near who were able to assist her. At this time a man by the name of McIntosh visited the distant little colony on the Illinois River; learning her distressful situation, and moved with pity, he advised her to let him adopt young Malcomb as his own son under the promise of being a father to the boy in raising and educating him. In her extreme poverty and feeble prospects of doing anything for him in regard to an education, she finally consented, but with great reluctance, and gave Malcomb, then about ten years of age, to the care and guardianship of McIntosh. But what an ordeal for that mother’s heart and that orphan boy, who had never seen his father, as cruel fate now decrees their separation (which proved a final one), the one to remain in the wilderness of the west; the other to go with a stranger to a wilderness far in the east, to the land of the Muscogees, among whom McIntosh had selected his future home; and afterwards marrying among them was adopted and became one of that war like people, whose descendants from that day to this have been a prominent family among the Muscogees, now known as the Creeks.

How different were those white men of that early day who cast their lot among the southern Indians from those who, of later years, have sought, and still seek, citizenship among that people! The former sought the moral advancement of the people among whom they had cast their lot; and who, when followed by the self-sacrificing missionaries, did all they could to assist them in the promulgation of religion and education among their newly adopted people being like them free of all avarice; the latter being influenced Wholly through selfish motives, without a thought or care for the good of the Indians, have ever been, and still are, a withering blight upon the labors of the missionaries a mildew upon their hopes and a curse, in the plurality of cases, to the Indians upon whom they intrude, as far as virtue and morality are concerned. Alas! through what an ordeal has the Red Race of the North American continent been forced to pass since first made acquainted with the White.

But true to his trust, the generous McIntosh proved a father and faithful friend to the homeless orphan Malcomb, and, a few years after his return to the Muscogees, took him to Mobile, then occupied by the French, and placed him in a school under the jurisdiction of a French family, who, shortly after his guardian had left became so tyrannical, oppressive and abusive, that young Malcomb resolved to free himself from their cruelty by bidding them an in formal adieu which would place him forever beyond their power; and soon he embraced the opportunity presented, to put his resolutions into effect, by some Indian traders visiting Mobile, to whom he attached himself on their return, and thus was enabled to rejoice again in the freedom of a forest home, among that race of people who never forsook a homeless and friendless orphan. He did not, however, return to his former home under the roof of his benefactor, McIntosh, but stopped among the Choctaws with whom he remained several years, during which he married a Choctaw maiden by the name of Kanah hoyo (a seeker for somebody). He lived happily with Kanahhoyo for several years, who then dying, he returned to the Chickasaws, his old friends, and solicited citizenship which was readily and cheerfully granted. After living-with them a few years, he married a Chickasaw widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Harris, who was the oldest daughter of Molly Oxberry, and the mother of Governor Cyrus Harris, of the Chickasaw Nation.

Malcomb McGee acted interpreter to the Chickasaws in all their negotiations with the United States for nearly forty years. He was greatly attached to the Rev. T. C. Stuart, and when the Chickasaws were driven from their homes to their present ones Malcomb McGee resolved to remain with Mr. Stuart; and in his yard he lived nearly twelve years in a neat little log house erected by his noble missionary friend for his special use and benefit. But about the year 1848 his daughter and her husband paid him a visit from their western home, and on their return persuaded him to return with them to their western home, but he survived only a year after his arrival. He died in the ninety-second year of his age and was buried at Old Boggy Depot, in the land of the Choctaws, also his long and faithful friends; and of Malcomb Mcgee and his Chickasaw and Choctaw friends, it well may be said:

He that does the best his circumstances allow,
“Does well; acts nobly; Angels could do no more.”

James Gunn, whose name is commemorated in that of a town called Gunntown, situated in Lee county, Mississippi, was one among the six white men previously mentioned, who at an early day cast their lot of life among the Chickasaw people, preferring the happy freedom of that heroic nation of people to all that was offered among their own race. James Gunn was a native Virginian, and also a fear less and indomitable loyalist, who stood for the crown in the troubled days of Charles the First and the Roundheads; and when he revolution proved triumphant, and the rising glory, of these United States had been announced, and also seemed summoned to take their position among the great nations of earth, the old royalist, disdaining the society of successful rebels, bade an adieu forever to the home of his youth, and sought a more congenial one among the true native sons and freemen of North America. He secured a wife among he wild forest flowers of the noted Chickasaw beauties of that long ago, selecting one named Okashuah (Stinking Water); a name, though not of classic fame or enviable signification, it is reasonable to presume, yet did not detract from her merits as an amiable and devoted wife and mother in any particular whatever. They had only one daughter, named Molly, who married a Cherokee warrior named Oxberry, and her oldest daughter by this marriage was named Elizabeth, who became the mother of Governor Cyrus Harris; and another of her daughters, by the same marriage, was, in 1890, living near Colbert Station, Chickasaw Nation, I. T., at the advanced age of ninety-six, and is known as Grandma Alberson. Molly was also the mother of the celebrated Chickasaw beauty named Rhoda. James Gunn died, in 1826; his age has not been preserved; but, it is said, he was a very old man at the time of his death.

Many young white sprigs who visited the Chickasaw Nation with the view of speculation, when they saw Rhoda, the Chickasaw belle, the fairest rose that bloomed in the forests wild of that romantic age, felt their visions of lands, Negroes, mules, cotton bales and speedy fortunes vanish as mists before the morning sun and though they sighed and wooed, gazed in meditative solitude at the moon and stars, and in hours of thoughtful mood gave birth to imaginative verse on the Chickasaw nymph,

“Whose glossy locks to shame might bring
“The plumage of the raven’s wing,”

and in humble, yet loving, attitude, with promises many and fair, solicited her heart and hand, but ’twas all in vain. The inexorable Rhoda could not fancy those sprigs of white nobility, nor judge a single one of them as a better substitute for a husband than many of the Chickasaw youths who had never felt the blighting curse of avarice, nor would sacrifice a friend at the shrine of its demands; therefore turned away from them and gave her youthful heart to one of her own race, Samuel Colbert, a son of Major James Colbert; the exodus of her people soon following her nuptial day, she, with them, bade a final adieu to the fair scenes of her joys and soon the loveliness of the forest flower passed from the memory of its former admirers as the evening star behind the western hills to be thought of “Never More.” She became the mother of one daughter, but after living several years with her husband a final separation, from some unknown cause, took place between her and her husband. Several years after which she married a man by the name of Joseph Potts, who took a dose of strychnine through mistake for quinine, in 1862, while at the house of Governor Cyrus Harris, and died from its effects in half an hour. A son of Governor Harris found the vial of strychnine in the road a few rods from the house and brought it in, believing it to be a vial of quinine some one had accidentally dropped, and hence the fatal and lamentable result.

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

1 thought on “Prominent White Men among the Chickasaws”

  1. I am familiar with McIntosh. John McIntosh was appointed the British Commissary to the Chickasaws in 1765. He was a soldier under Oglethorpe at St. Augustine. He died in 1780 and this date was verified by Malcom McGee the Chickasaw Interpeture. McIntosh’s son John Jr. is the one that recommended the Chickasaws leave their villages because they easily got sick being cramped up so close together. Also, at that time around 1800, there was peace so it was safe to go out and start a farm. McIntosh the younger was ill and left moving to Hot Springs, Arkansas in hopes it would improve his health but died there. The community called Toxish in Mississippi is where John McIntosh Jr. lived. His dad’s farm was in Pontotoc County but a different location. See “Splendid Land, Splendid People” by Dr. James Atkinson page 91 for much of this McIntosh information.

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