Ask Rufus: A Columbus pioneer returns: Dr. Gideon Lincecum

April 2, 2013 2:19:23 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Gideon Lincecum was one of the most interesting people to have ever lived in Columbus. In his 1937 book, Naturalist of the Frontier, Samuel Geiser described Lincecum as "a frontier teacher, Indian trader, pioneer physician, explorer, and naturalist." As part of the Texas Centennial in 1936, the graves of 32 Texas legends and heroes, including Stephen F. Austin, were moved to a special section of the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. On "Founders Row"' along with Austin's grave, is found the grave of Dr. Gideon Lincecum. 


A self-taught renaissance man, Lincecum's life tracked the movement of the American frontier from Georgia to Texas. He was born in Georgia in 1793 and was a cousin of both Jim Bowie and John Pitchlynn. Lincecum served briefly in the Georgia militia during the War of 1812. In 1817 his family moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala., which was then known as "the Falls of the Warrior." 


Then in November 1818, he and his family moved to the Tombigbee River settling by a spring on the river's east bank near the present day Stennis (Columbus) Lock and Dam boat landing. He soon moved four miles south to the new town of Columbus where he built the first frame structure. In 1819 he opened a store and then in 1820 was named Columbus' first postmaster. He played a prominent role in the founding of the town and Mississippi's first public school, Franklin Academy. 


After the state line was run in late 1820, it was discovered that the western part of Marion County, Ala., was actually in Mississippi, and Monroe County, Miss. was then created in January 1821. Lincecum was named "Chief Justice of the Quorum," which was the group of citizens named to organize the new county. In early Columbus his ventures ranged from storekeeper to organizer of a national Choctaw Indian stickball tour to being a physician. 


He was a self-taught physician and after becoming distrustful of frontier medicine he went and studied herbal medicine with a Choctaw herbal doctor. He returned to Columbus and his medical practice flourished. He left Columbus for a time moving to the Cotton Gin Port (Amory) area.  


In 1835 he went with a party of Mississippians to explore Texas with the intent to possibly emigrate there. In Texas he was captured by Comanche Indians but managed to escape. In May of 1835 he decided to join in the Texas Revolution and enrolled as a volunteer in Captain Moseley Baker's Company of volunteers in San Felipe. Lincecum was told that he would be the "Surgeon General to the forces that would occupy Texas west of the Brazos." 


His friends, concerned that he had a wife and ten children in Mississippi, had him removed from the company roll and convinced Lincecum to return home to Columbus. In 1848 he returned to Texas where, except for a brief sojourn into Mexico with Confederate expatriates after the Civil War, he remained until his death in 1874 . 


Lincecum's passions were hunting, fishing, science (especially natural history) and music. He was a prolific writer, publishing accounts of hunting in popular magazines and scientific articles in important journals. His letters on the evolution of ants were read by Charles Darwin before the Linnaean Society in London and published in their journal. Lincecum, a corresponding member of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, collected thousands of plants and provided specimens to the Smithsonian, the British Museum and the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. For a self-taught frontiersman, he led an amazing life and what he was a part of and accomplished was most remarkable. 


The people of the Golden Triangle will have a unique opportunity to encounter Dr Gideon Lincecum on Saturday, April 13th at 1:00 P M at MUW's Plymouth Bluff Center. 


Working as a team, Dr. Jerry Lincecum and Dr. Peggy Redshaw, both of Austin College in Sherman, Texas, will present a program based on the writings of Dr. Gideon Lincecum. Drawing on her training and experience as a professor of biology, Redshaw sketches Lincecum's life and achievements. Then his great-great-great grandson, English professor and award-winning Texas author and story teller Jerry Lincecum appears in 19th-century costume to present a selection of Gideon's insightful writings and opinions that resonate with wit and humor. Dr. Lincecum will also have copies of his book Adventures of a Frontier Naturalist the Life and Times of Dr. Gideon Lincecum available for purchase. 


The Billups-Garth Foundation and MUW's Plymouth Bluff Center are presenting the program as a tribute to the late Columbus architect and historian Sam Kaye. The program is titled "A Columbus pioneer returns: Dr. Gideon Lincecum" and will be open to the public at no charge. 


Rufus Ward's column on local history is a regular feature of the Sunday Dispatch. 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]