Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 4
December, 1927
MALMAISON, PALACE IN A WILDERNESS, HOME OF GENERAL LEFLORE
Mississippi’s Remarkable Indian Statesman.

BY MRS. LEE J. LANGLEY

Page 371

The following story was furnished this office by Mrs. Carrie Brain of this city. Mrs. Brain is a descendant of the Leflore family and is much interested in the many characters, men and women, bearing this name, most of whom have been very prominent in the affairs of Indian Territory. The story as told here carries some interesting matter concerning the family that will be appreciated by the readers of Chronicles of Oklahoma. Mrs. A. E. Perry, of this city, a daughter of this illustrious Leflore family, is preparing an article for future use, in which she will deal more minutely with the prominent men and women who have been active in the development of our present day civilization.

The story that follows was written for the "Sunny South," and published in that periodical May 13, 1905.—J. Y. B.


It was an ideal June morning, dew lay on the grass and the birds caroled from their leafy homes. The southern train, panting noisily upon the steel rails, lying warm in the spring sunshine, was making its daily route between Birmingham, Alabama, and Greenville, Mississippi.

"Malmaison," called the brakesman. "Malmaison," he insisted as the train came to a full stop.

Malmaison, echoes of France arose from the misty past. What could this magnificent spot in the heart of Mississippi have in common with the palace of the Empress Josephine?

"Malmaison, Mississippi, was the hoarse of the Choctaw Indian chief, Greenwood Leflore," explained the conductor. "It is a palace in a wilderness and worth going many miles to see. It was built fifty years ago, inside are gold chairs, magnificent paintings and cut glass and silver fit for an emperor and the old carriage that Greenwood Leflore used to ride in when he went to Washington is in the carriage house."

This was too alluring a story to go unheeded, and shouldering grips with sudden determination, we alighted from the car, and a moment later stood beside the track, staring half regretfully at the vanishing train.

A diminutive brown depot in the cool green woods, nothing more. In the fertile valleys were miles and miles of young cotton plants, over which the golden sunbeams careened lovingly, and upon the hills were magnificent forests

Page 372

and thickets of dense underbrush. A negro cabin or two in the shadow of the depot, and you have Malmaison, the station.

We hired a small pickaninny in nondescript garments to carry our grips and to direct our steps to this home, one of the most celebrated Mississippi contains and from which the station takes its name. Every step in the somewhat toilsome journey was a delight, and opened up unexpected beauties.

Old Colonial Style

Situated upon the most commanding hill of them all, which rises gradually from the green valley and at the top resolve’s itself into a broad plateau, this home gleams white and stately, through the great trees by which it is surrounded.

It is built in the favorite style of architecture of the "Old South," colonial, and has two wide and lofty halls crossing in the center, four large rooms on each side and an "L" of an equal number of rooms. The house is a two-story building, surmounted by a picturesque observatory, from which valleys, hills and river can be seen for many miles. The hill which is crowned by this ideal old home slopes upward after the house is passed and is covered with giant forest trees, intermingled with pine and cedar, in such an extent that the year round Malmaison has a background of living green.

A giant gate matching the house in design admits you to the lawn covered with radiant grass, and near the house the sameness of the green is broken by the roses, and other beautiful flowers.

All the furniture in the large drawing room was made to order in Paris and imported. The Duchess of Orleans saw the suite after its completion and desired to purchase it. As this was impossible, she then ordered a suite for herself, an exact copy of the furniture which was made to adorn the parlor of an Indian chief. A great many chairs and of three different sizes are in this suite, as well as several divans, and when the doors to the apartment are first thrown open, you are dazzled by the glitter of gold and the flash of crimson, for the furniture is made of French hickory, overlaid with gold, not gilt, and upholstered in the handsomest of crimson, silk damask.

Page 373

The long heavy curtains at the windows are of the same rich, gorgeous material, and are draped back by immense crimson cords, held in place by large gold knobs. The table in the center of the room and the etagere are of ebony inlaid with pearl of every hue. The carpet, with pile so thick that your footsteps are deadened, is a seamless tapestry of roses and was made especially for the room. There are paintings of French and Swiss scenes done by masters and framed in gold frames, and three large mirrors, which faithfully reflect all this grandeur are also set in gold frames. A clock of ebony and gold, representing a Crusader on horseback, riding over the field of battle, adorns the center of the mantel, while two candelabra, representing the figures of knights, holding clusters of gold fleurs-de-lis, are set on either end, and the mantel itself is of ebony.

The window shades are superb oil paintings on canvass and each shade presents the picture of a famous French palace. When these shades are pulled down and the light streams through them, they seem like living scenes. Versailles, Fontainebleau, St. Cloud and Malmaison are represented, and it is hard to tell which is the prettiest. The gold carving on the mirrors, picture frames and chair backs are of the same exquisite pattern. On the table in the room is a, large crimson Bible, with the name of Greenwood Leflore in gold letters.

Friend of the Great

In the library, across the hall from the parlor, are hung portraits of Greenwood Lefiore and his wife and their daughter, Mrs. Harris. The picture of Mrs. Harris is very quaint. It represents a shy, pretty little maiden of perhaps twelve. In one small hand she holds a few flowers, her dress is a plaid, her tiny feet are encased in strap sandals and to her dainty ankles extend the much beruffled old time white pantalettes.

The portrait of the child is a very fine piece of work, and is said to be a very good likeness. Beneath it is has sword and handsomely embroidered belt, presented by the president of the United States when Leflore was made chief of the Choctaws. A great silver medal, four inches wide, given by Thomas Jefferson to a former chief, and presented to Leflore when he was made chief, hangs near the sword

Page 374

and belt, symbol of peace between the Indians and the United States. On one side is depicted the pipe of peace across a tomahawk, beneath these are clasped hands denoting brotherly love. The other one bears the words: "Peace and Prosperity," the president’s name and the date 1802. Nearby hangs a heavy silver mounted sword cane, which belonged to the dead chieftain.

On the library table are several large volumes containing beautiful colored pictures of celebrated Indian chiefs, dressed in their full regalia, and interesting sketches of them, and a running history of the North America Indians. In the back are signatures of personages who subscribed for the books, and from Kentucky is the name of Henry Clay and from England no less a person than the loved and lamented Queen Victoria.

The rest of the house is handsomely and artistically furnished; in the dinning room are fine sideboards and china cabinets, laden with priceless china, cut glass and silver, much of which was in use during the lifetime of Greenwood Leflore.

Malmaison is situated in Leflore County, the capital of which is the enterprising little city of Greenwood, both county and town taking their names from the Choctaw Indian chief whose home we have just been describing. Some little sketch of the life and character of Greenwood Leflore in this connection will be of interest.

To each of us comes the opportunity to make the most and best of life. If we seize it, there is nothing higher for us to gain; if we allow it to pass, we round out our allotment of days, mediocre creatures with unfulfilled ambitions and perished hopes.

This story of a native Mississippian, born of a savage woman in an untouched forest, and spending his life among half-civilized beings, who yet seized the best life offers and rose superior to his environment, becoming a, man of national prominence, holds an example worthy of emulation and our greatest admiration.

Greenwood Leflore was born June 3, 1800. His father, Louis LeFleur was a French Canadian, a soldier and a man of valor, and his mother was a full-blood Choctaw maiden, Rebecca Cravat by name. Louis LeFleur came to Mobile in

Page 375

1792 to engage in trading with the Choctaw nation, from that point. The capital city of Mississippi, Jackson, occupies the site of one of his trading points which was known as LeFleur’s bluff. In the war of 1812, Push-ma-ta-ha, a noted Choctaw Indian chief, got together a regiment of his best braves and made an offer of their services to General Jackson, an offer which was immediately accepted. Push-ma-ta-ha was appointed lieutenant-colonel and Louis LeFleur, who served in the same regiment, was promoted to the rank of major. Louis LeFleur lived to a ripe old age and during his long lifetime amassed a considerable fortune.

The Choctaws, from whom sprang the mother of Greenwood Leflore, occupied the territory between the Mississippi and Tombigbee rivers from the frontier of the Colapisas and Biloxis, on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain and Lake Borgne, to the frontiers of the Natchez, Yazoos and Chickasaws. They had more than fifty important villages and were able at one time to put 25,000 braves into battle. The word Choctaw comes from a word which means "charming voice," and was given to the tribe because of their musical talents and soft melodious voices

The Choctaws were conspicuous for their love of truth and hatred of falsehood and their belief in the existence of a "Great Spirit," who rewarded uprightness and honesty and punished wrongdoing and dishonesty. They prided themselves on their friendship for the white man and were always ready to take up arms against hostile tribes. They were friendly first to the French and later to the Americans.

LeFlore, the Lover

Greenwood Leflore was named in honor of a friend and former partner of his father’s, and was the eldest of several children. When he had reached the age of 12, his father moved to Choctaw County, Mississippi, and settled on the stage line between Nashville, Tennessee, and Natchez, Mississippi, where he kept an inn. One of his most frequent guests was Major John Donly, who held the contract to carry the mail between these points. Major Donly was struck with the intelligence displayed by young Greenwood and desired to take the boy to Nashville and educate him. Louis Leflore had the wisdom to perceive the benefits of an education for his son and readily consented. Young Leflore was an inmate

Page 376

of the Donly family for six years and made the very best of his educational advantages. He also fell in love with Miss Rosa, the eldest daughter of the Donlys, and acquainted her father with the state of his heart and craved permission to marry the lady of his choice, but Major Donly and his wife objected to the match on account of the extreme youth of both parties.

"What would you do, Major," asked Greenwood Leflore one day after this youthful episode was apparently forgotten, "if you loved a girl and her parents objected?"

"I would run away with her," thoughtlessly replied the major, little thinking his advice would be followed by his would-be son-in-law and his daughter, but such was the case. Major Donly forgave them and sent for them to return, and they did, but soon after removed to Mississippi where Greenwood Leflore rapidly grew into great prominence.

Of the purest blood of both Caucasian and Choctaw, he inherited only the hightest traits of each race, and his character was a blending of the finest instincts of both, which was combined with magnificent physical strength and great handsomeness of form and feature. There was nothing ignoble in his make-up and he possessed great intellect. Owing to the admixture of blood in his veins, he had a keen understanding and sympathy with both the white man and the red, and was fully able to cope with either. He was able, wise, far-seeing, highly ambitious both for himself and his posterity, a believer in reform and education. To him the greatest danger that menaced his people was ignorance. Education first, Christianization next, was his motto.

It soon became evident that Leflore was not only the foremost of his tribe, but that he was equally the peer of the ablest and most enterprising of the white race. At the first popular election held by the Choctaws, he was preferred as chief, although he was but twenty-two years of age. Four years later he was re-elected and became the most prominent man of his nation. In the zenith of his power, he set himself earnestly to the task of civilizing and uplifting his people, and the many reforms which he introduced among them were worthy of a statesman of the best school. He encouraged education among them, put down witchcraft and sorcery, and secured to the homicide a fair trial despite the unwritten

Page 377

law of "blood for blood and life for life," making no distinction between accident and premeditated intent. He prevented the sale, of intoxicants, encouraged civil and religious marriage and permanent homes, cultivation of the soil and Christianity.

At one time Colonel Leflore became convinced that the United States Agent was making unjust demands of his people and dealing dishonestly with them. To his expostulations the agent only met him with denial and then Colonel Leflore sought the agent’s removal. Failing in this he stepped into his carriage to make the long and tedious journey to Washington to see the president. At first this proved unavailing, for "Old Hiskory" was provoked for such persistency, and stoutly refused to interfere.

Leflore drew himself to his full, magnificent height and calmly looking down upon the president, said, haughtily:

"I demand justice!"

He got it.

Colonel Leflore had many strong traits and personalities peculiarly his own. Upon one occasion he went to Carrolton, Mississippi, and heard the neighbors discussing the plight of a poor man who had lost all he had by fire the night previous. After listening a while, he took out his checkbook, and writing a check for $100, said:

"Gentlemen, I am sorry $100 worth. How sorry are you?"

Probably the most important act of his life was the signing of Dancing Rabbit Treaty. The Dancing Rabbit territory was a famous hunting ground during old Indian times, and it was here that the council met to discuss the treaty, and from the hunting ground the treaty took its name. The situation was very fine, and the land, shaded by pines, oaks and mulberry trees, lay between the two prongs of the Dancing Rabbit Creek.

A Notable Pow Pow

In the center of the tract trickled the cold waters of Dancing Rabbit Spring. The two United States commissioners, Major John H. Eaton and Colonel John H. Coffee, had no instructions from President Jackson, save: "Fail not to make a treaty." There were 6,000 Indians that went into

Page 378

camp at Dancing Rabbit, men, women and children, for the council was expected to last several days. The government sent supplies to last while the treaty was going on and the Indians also brought supplies and the different camps of the different districts were separate and apart and designated by Colonel Coffee. Colonel Leflore’s district was camped highest up the creek. Major John Pitchlyn was interpreter.

It would take too long to go into detail over all that was said and done. The gist of it was that the government wanted the Indians to move to their tract of land west of the Mississippi River, and the Indians were unwilling to go. The Choctaws said that their homes, the graves of their fathers, all that they held dear, were on, the east side of the Mississippi, and declared that water was scarce and land unfruitful on the western side. The treaty was at last signed by the Choctaw council men and on February 24 was ratified by the United States.

By this act the Choctaw supremacy ceased and the allconquering white man secured possession of all the remaining lands east of the Mississippi River.

There was a small party among the Choctaws in favor of signing the treaty, and Colonel Lefiore belonged to this party. He had the wisdom to perceive that a fight against the treaty was useless, and that, under the circumstances, signing it was not only a measure of necessity, but of policy as well. It was but the natural conflict of superiority and inferiority, and could end but one way, in the "survival of the fittest." It was a difficult situation, but there was only one thing to be done, and that Lefiore did.

This act, however, prejudiced many of the Indians against him. They said of him: "He got us on a bench and kept pushing us up to the end, until, one by one, we all fell off and he had it all himself."

Leflore was always loyal to the United States, and the government in recognition of his services presented him with a large body of land, much of it the finest in the state. He was a successful planter and owned four hundred slaves, all well cared for, and never sold off the estate except for viciousness. He built a town of his own at the junction of the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers, called Point Leflore. He built a steam saw-mill first and here the lumber was sawn

Page 379

to build the town and also his own beautiful home, Malmaison. He planned a road from the river to the hills and built a turnpike at a cost of $75,000 with fourteen bridges over bayous. The pike was kept in fine order and, the use of it given to all the planters who would bring their produce to Point Leflore.

Ruffling The Pedants

The Yazoo Pass was then open and barges and flat boats came from the upper rivers to ply their trade, and Point Leflore bid fair to become a most prosperous little city. Colonel Leflore also owned a steamboat.

He was sent twice to serve in the House of Representatives and once in the Senate. While he was in the senate it was the custom of many of the younger men to interject much Latin into their speeches, and one young fellow really made his entire speech in that language This was more than Colonel Leflore could stand, and rising he made a long speech in Choctaw. They tried again and again to call him, down, but in vain. He spoke for more than an hour, and when he had finished his harangue in a language which no one save himself could comprehend he wished to know which speech was best understood, his own or the one delivered in Latin.

Always loyal to the union, Leflore was never in sympathy with the confederacy. He would not give the officers, even those who had formerly been his friends, any hospitality or entertainment until they first doffed the (to him) distasteful gray uniforms. Then they could be received at Malmaison. Colonel Leflore kept his part of the treaty and relied upon the government to accord to him protection, life, liberty and property, but the government did not fulfill its part of the contract during nor after the war. During the war he lost his cotton, all of his negroes and much other valuable property, and Point Lefiore became extinct.

Colonel Leflore was married three times, the first to Miss Donly, who bore him a son and a daughter, whose children are now living in Indian Territory; second to Miss Elizabeth Coody, a Cherokee and niece of John Ross, a noted chief of the Cherokees, and who died a few months, afterwards, leaving no issue, and lastly to Miss. Priscilla Donly, sister of his first wife, and who with her only child, Mrs. J. C.

Page 380

Harris and the children and grandchildren of the latter still survive him and reside at Malmaison.

It is a happy family living under the old roof tree at Malmaison, and they present the rare spectacle of five living generations. All the family are accomplished, cultured and hospitable people and take great pride in their beautiful home and in the memory of the noble life left them by Greenwood Leflore, who became through his own efforts, an honorable, industrious man of affairs, a lover of refinement and culture, and built for his family a home which though fifty years old, is yet of such merit and beauty that it is still one of the finest country seats in the Southwest.

When Greenwood Leflore died his little grandchildren, at his request, held over him the United States flag that he might die beneath the folds of the Stars and Stripes, to which all his life he was loyal, and which to him were an emblem of the power and glory of heavenly government.

A deep gorge cleaves the hill upon which Malmaison is built and divides the stately family mansion from the family burying ground, where rest the remains of Greenwood Leflore. The cemetery is well kept and a simple monument with the following inscription marks the grave of the dead chieftian:

"Greenwood Leflore,
"Born June 3, 1800.
"Died August 21, 1866.
"The last chief of the Choctaws east
of the Mississippi."

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site