Thursday, April 10, 2008
A fascinating Indian story
The Indian history is so fascinating. A modern day Chickasaw princess from Oklahoma was in the Marshall County Museum a while back.
She asked me if I knew the story of James Logan Colbert. I told her no. She is a descendant of Colbert’s and the oral history which has been passed down through the family is fascinating, but isn’t written on the pages of time, so not all scholars know it. This is her story.
James Logan Colbert was reared in the French royal court. His mother was lady-in-waiting to the queen and he went to school with the dauphin-prince, receiving the highest education that was available in the world at that time.
When Colbert was young, a revolution hit and Colbert fled to Scotland, but it wasn’t long before he migrated to America. The French were out of favor at that time in America, so he claimed to be from Scotland. He had a very impressive countenance, as he was tall, very intelligent and very good-looking.
When he landed in the Carolinas, about 1740, possibly with English traders, he heard about the Chickasaw tribe, which was renowned for their physical beauty, beautiful maidens, fighting ability and hospitality. He became the leader of the Chickasaws and joined the Chickasaws, when he married three Chickasaw princesses. They produced eight known children. Colbert taught them all, boys and girls, to read and write and do arithmetic. Thirty to 40 years later, when the white settlers came to this part of the world, the Colberts were better educated than the settlers.
Four of his sons became chieftains. The one who was chief of what is now Marshall County and north Mississippi was Levi.
William Faulkner wrote fiction but used reality for his stories. In one of his books he told the story of several Indian warriors, going to France to visit the king to show what real Indians looked like. One of the Indians brought back a pair of dainty French slippers for his mother. She had never had a shoe on in her life and her foot wouldn’t go into the shoe, so she had a slave carry the shoes around on a pillow for all the tribe to see.
In the year 1783, a Spanish noblewoman dared to make the trip from New Orleans to St. Louis up the Mississippi River. She was going to meet her husband, who was Lt. Governor of North Louisiana.
With her were her four children, her slaves, household things, and 4,500 pesos to pay the Spanish soldiers in her husband’s army, along with a large quantity of munitions. When the boat arrived at the Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis) a band of British soldiers took them hostage. Their leader was a white man, dressed as an Indian.
Through an interpreter, he introduced himself as James Colbert. He said he was a professed member of the Chickasaw Indians and a British officer.
With great courtesy, he told the noblewoman she need not be afraid – no harm would come to them. He gave her his quarters (a hut) up the Wolf River (they called it the Margot.) As the lady and her entourage were prisoners of war, the captors took her silverware, slaves, munitions and the 4,500 pesos that were meant as the Spanish soldiers pay, and divided it among themselves. She was sent back to New Orleans.
Colbert thought it might not be safe for her to go on to St. Louis, as the soldiers upriver might not treat her as gently as he had. He took everything she had, but no physical harm had been done to her.
In later years, Colbert died when his horse threw him, before his servant could assist him. His slave Caesar was reported to have returned to the Chickasaws with the news.
In Marshall County the Colbert community is located east on Highway 4 near the Mitchell Plantation. There once was a school there until fairly recently. Levi’s headquarters were in Tupelo. The Chickasaws owned north Mississippi, west Tennessee and part of Alabama.
This is another Indian tale. The Mormons have written a book about the ten lost tribes of Israel, whom they say were the Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, Cherokees and Seminoles. They say that they crossed the ocean in 550 B.C. and landed in Mexico. The 10 lost tribes each had a leader and upon arriving they parted and began searching for their Promised Land. Their boats were similar to Egyptian boats and they made baskets like the one that held Moses. The Cherokees were the only Indians in the United States to have an alphabet and it was like the Egyptian hieroglyphics. These tribes were different from the other Indians in North America and if this is true, no wonder. When the tribes divided, they would camp at night coming northward from Mexico. The leader would place his staff in the ground each night and the next morning, they would travel in the direction the staff was leaning. When the Chickasaw tribe arrived in North Mississippi, the staff remained erect, so to them, this was their promised land.
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