Rufus Ward: Pushmataha

February 5, 2011 9:52:00 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


It was a glorious sun filled day with beautiful flowers covering a wide plain. Among the few trees was a giant centuries old Red Oak that overshadowed an immense area. For ages the great oak had defied all storms. However, though it had survived many centuries unscathed, it still had not accomplished the purpose for which the Great Spirit had planted it. 


It was noon when a great black angry cloud rose in the west and in an appalling uproar, fringed with lightning, whirled across the plain. With a shattering crash a frightful tornado swept a devastating course. When the sun returned the great oak was but oddshapen splinters scattered across the plain. 


Not a vestige of the tree remained but the purpose of its creation was fulfilled for standing in its place equipped and ready for battle was Pushmataha. Thus did Pushmataha describe his birth. 


Pushmataha or Apushimataha was probably the greatest leader of the Choctaw Nation. He was born in 1764 in a log cabin on the banks of the Noxubee River near present day Macon. Little is known about his parents or early life. As a young man he distinguished himself in battle with Osage Indians west of the Mississippi River and the Creek Indians in what is now West Alabama. He was given the name Pushmataha, which probably means "one whose tomahawk is fatal in war or hunting." 


Gideon Lincecum, who knew Pushmataha, described him as being "about 5 feet, 10 inches in height" and having "that inexplicable attribute about him which belongs only to the truly great, that which forced the (question), ''who is that?'' from all observant strangers." 


The Choctaw Nation was divided into three districts and Pushmataha became the chief of the Southern District around 1805. He remained chief until his death in 1824. He was famous for his oratory and especially for that at a great council in 1811. There the noted Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, attempted to get the Choctaws to join his Indian confederation. Pushmataha then spoke of his friendship with the "Virginians" (Pushmataha often referred to white Americans as Virginians) and convinced the Choctaws to reject Tecumseh''s alliance as one that would only lead to war and disaster. 


In the Creek Indian War of 1813-1814, the Choctaw Nation at Pushmataha''s urging allied with the U.S. and Andrew Jackson. Pushmataha was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the U.S Army, but given the uniform of a general. He lead Choctaw warriors to assist Gens. Jackson and Claiborne in fighting the Creeks. The Choctaws under Pushmataha attacked the Creek village at The Falls of the Warrior River (Tuscaloosa, Ala.), and joined with American forces at the Battle of the Holy Ground and the capture of Pensacola.  


Pushmataha always said that "his hands were white" meaning he had never killed an American though he had killed many enemies of America. He is said to have fought in 24 battles. 


In 1824 he was in Washington leading a Choctaw delegation when he came down with pneumonia and died on Dec. 24. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery with full military honors. His funeral procession consisted of more than 2,000 people including companies of the Marine Corps, U.S. Volunteers, congressmen and Andrew Jackson. His last request was that "the big guns" be fired over his grave and they were.

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