Ask Rufus: The legend of General Hummingbird

January 21, 2012 9:12:00 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Though now little-known, a Choctaw war chief commonly called "General Hummingbird" repeatedly came to the aid of the U.S. in times of trouble. He received military commissions from both George Washington and Andrew Jackson. His life took him through the formation of this country and had him serving with some of America's greatest leaders. In the early 1800s, his name was known from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. 


Hummingbird was born about 1753, but I have seen no record of him prior to the Northwest Territory Indian War of the early 1790s. Around 1790 George Washington ordered the U.S. Army to end the hostilities of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians occurring between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. In 1790 and 1791 the U.S. forces suffered terrible defeats at the hands of the Indians. 


Finally, President George Washington sent Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne into action. In what amounted to a show of support for the U.S. Hummingbird led 60 Choctaw warriors from Mississippi to join with and serve as scouts for Wayne's army. On Aug. 20, 1794, Wayne's force soundly defeated the hostile Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. As a result of the victory the U.S. maintained control over the Northwest Territory and Hummingbird earned his reputation for bravery and commenced his relationship with the United States. 


Hummingbird basically disappears from the historic record after his service with Wayne only to reappear at the next great crisis. In the late summer of 1813 conflict erupted between the United States and the Creek Indian Nation, who was aligned with great Britain during the War of 1812. During the fall of 1813 there was a real fear in the Mississippi Territory that the Choctaw Nation might align with the Creeks against the United States. 


On Oct. 20, 1813, Andrew Jackson's envoy, John McKee, met with The chiefs of the Choctaw Nation at John Pitchlynn's Plymouth Bluff residence. At the council the Choctaw leaders resolved to join with the U.S. and go to war with the Creeks. However a slow U.S. response in providing ammunition to the Choctaw warriors and some dissension among a few Choctaws again caused concern. 


A second Choctaw council was held near present-day Macon. Pushmataha and the other principal chiefs prevailed in their support for the United States and it turned out that only one prominent Choctaw, Little Leader, was hesitant to go to war with the Creeks. McKee wrote, "(Talking Warrior) told me he had left home to kill Creeks and that he would not return until he had done it and that Humming Bird whom I could rely was preparing to join him." 


McKee later added, "I found the Talking Warrior & Humming Bird had commenced the war by killing four Creeks on the Black Warrior (River), and several Choctaws who had joined the hostile creeks were also killed and thus all communication with the enemy was cut off and I was relieved from the greatest anxiety."  


On several occasions over the next year Choctaws were called on to serve with U.S. Army against the Creeks. Hummingbird served in the Choctaw detachment under Andrew Jackson's command having been commissioned a Lt. Colonel. 


Pushmataha, the great chief of the Southern Division of the Choctaw, died in 1824 and was succeeded by his nephew Oklahoma. He only served a short term as chief and was replace by Hummingbird. Hummingbird died on December 23, 1828, at his residence and "was buried with honors of war" probably near Oktoc in south east Oktibbeha County 


Though he is little known today, in 1828 Hummingbird's death drew national newspaper coverage. His obituary appeared in papers across the country including The Niles Weekly Register of Baltimore which began the obituary by stating; " Died on the 23d December, at his residence near the Choctaw agency, General Hummingbird, a Choctaw chief at the advanced age of 75. This native son of the forest was from his youth always a friend to the United States, and has fought many battles with the red people in behalf of our government ... This noted war chief received a commission and silver medal from General Washington." 


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]