Ask Rufus: The Columbus-Choctaw War

August 13, 2011 7:08:00 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Many early stories of Columbus were recorded by Gideon Lincecum who had moved to Columbus and built a house in 1819. Shortly after his arrival he and John Pitchlynn Jr. opened a store on the Tombigbee''s west bank at the ferry crossing. It was there that one of Lincecum''s strangest stories began. 


Lincecum''s store catered to the Indian trade and to the boatman who plied the Tombigbee between Cotton Gin Port, Hamilton, Columbus and Mobile on flatboats and keelboats. One of Lincecum''s friends was Mushulatubbee the "Medal Chief" of the Northeast District of the Choctaw Nation. 


One of Mushulatubbee''s brothers, Atoba, was a patron of the store, which, in addition to provisions and general merchandise, sold libations. It is his story that resulted in the only occasion the people of Columbus feared an attack by Indian warriors.  


It all began after a night of friendly imbibing by Atoba and Lincecum''s "hired man" and ferry keeper, a "yankee" by the name of Luther Parker, who lived in a room attached to the store. Parker wanted to sell a pistol to Atoba. Both of them were, shall we say, drunk, and in the exchange from one hand to another the pistol accidentally discharged. Parker was shot through the neck and fell dead at his bedroom door. 


Lincecum heard the loud report of the gun and ran outside to see what had happened. He saw the Indians who had been camped around his store fleeing. He stopped a Chickasaw woman and asked her what had happened. She replied that Atoba had accidentally shot Luther Parker. When Lincecum asked her why everyone was fleeing if it was an accident. She responded that they were all afraid because a member of Lincecum''s family had been killed. With no Choctaws left at his store to help, Lincecum went to the river landing and got several boatmen from keelboats to help with the body . 


A couple of hours later, two Choctaws showed up at the store to buy powder and shot for Atoba. Lincecum asked why and was told that Atoba understood that a life must be given for a life taken and he must pay the price with his own life. One of Atoba''s friends had been selected to execute him, and a location near the store was selected. The boatmen heard about what was to happen and immediately, in a festive mood, went to the site to watch. Atoba did not wish for his death to be a spectacle and went deeper into the Choctaw Nation to die in private. 


When Lincecum heard what Atoba had done, he left his store to find him and suggest that he should appear before a court, which would decide what should happen to him. At the same time, the boatmen who had become a drunken mob of about 50, left the Columbus river landing armed to the teeth and hollowing about how they would slaughter the Indians who had killed a white man. 


The "double-sighted, cross-eyed " mob crossed the river into the Choctaw Nation and after about three miles stumbled into a group of women and children from Columbus who were picking strawberries. The women and children, seeing the drunken mob, became frightened and fled screaming back to Columbus. The mob, seeing the women and children running screaming back to Columbus, became frightened themselves, fired a few random shots at shadows and then also fled back to town. 


Arriving back in Columbus, the mob suddenly recovered their bravo and descended on taverns bragging about having showed those Indians a thing or two. The wild stories of the boatmen aroused concern among the people of Columbus. Mushulatubbee heard news of the drunken rabble and being concerned about the safety of Mrs. Lincecum, sent her a note that she need not fear anyone "injuring her or anything belonging to her." Word of Mushulatubbee''s offer to protect her was taken by the now worried people as implying everyone else would be attacked by Choctaw warriors. 


Then Gideon Lincecum arrived back in town and explained what was going on. Lincecum later wrote: "So ended the only war ever waged by the American people against the Chahtas (Choctaws)." 


Atoba was tried by a court presided over by William Cocke, who was known among the Choctaws as "Old Chicken Cocke." He was found not guilty of any crime, and the death was ruled accidental. Atoba, though, was not satisfied and still felt himself responsible. About a month later, he was found drowned in the river, thus complying with his code of honor that a life must be given for a life taken.  


The full story of what once happened in Columbus can be found in "Adventures of a Frontier Naturalist" by Lincecum and Phillips and in "Pushmataha, A Choctaw Leader and His People" by Gideon Lincecum. 


Rufus Ward is a local historian. Email your questions about local history to him at [email protected] 




Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]