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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 1
March, 1936

By John Bartlett Meserve

Page 9

Chief Coleman Cole

Where tall oaks fringed the upper reaches of the east branch of the Batupan Bogue in what is today Webster County, Mississippi, in the middle decades of the 18th century, was situated the Indian village of Oski Hlopal (Lyon's Bluff) of the now forgotten Shakehi-Humma1 tribe. The Indians of this tribe were of Choctaw origin and were of a wild, arrogant, warlike ambition. War was the great adventure of the Indian tribes during that period and division in their alliance with the English settlers and the French traders provoked flames of tribal dissension. A fragment of the Shawnees who had settled along the Cumberland River in Tennessee, were allied with the French traders in that region and fought against the Chickasaws for many years. Subsequently, the Shawnees were to be driven north arid across the Ohio River by the Cherokees. The Shakchi-Hummas also were disposed to friendship with the French and enjoyed peaceful relations with this band of Tennessee Shawnees, but were ever in a militant posture toward the Chickasaws who were allied with the English.

Numerous attacks were made by these Shawnees upon the English colonists in the Carolinas and western Virginia in the middle of the 18th century.2 In a "History of Washington County, Virginia," by Lewis Preston Summers (1903) on page 58 is a statement that "The settlers on the New River in western Virginia built a fort, known as Fort Vause. This was about ten miles west of the present city of Christiansburg, Montgomery County, Virginia. This was invested by the Indians in 1755 and captured and its defenders slain or carried into captivity." Upon succeeding pages is given a list of the persons slain or captured during the years 1754-5-6 and on page 59 appears this notation,

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"June 25, 1756, —— Cole, Fort Vause, prisoner." This foray by the Indians occurred during our French and Indian War and these depredations doubtless were an inspiration of the French traders.

The warriors of the Shakchi-Hummas became decimated by wars during this period with the Chickasaws and other tribes of friendly disposition toward the English. It is recorded that this tribe replenished its depleting ranks by the adoption of white captives and friendly Indians from other tribes fleeing from the terrors of the warfare into which the tribes had become so generally drawn by this conflict between the English and the French.3 Cole, the Virginia captive among the Shawnees in Tennessee doubtless became an unwilling participant in the continuous strife between that tribe and the Chickasaws, but from which he may have escaped and taken refuge among the friendly Shakchi-Hummas. At any rate, about this time, a white man bearing the name of Roscoe Cole appears as a member of the Shakchi-Hummas when he weds a young Indian maiden of that tribe by the name of Shumaka and by her becomes the father of four daughters and one son, ere he fades completely from the picture under rather tragic circumstances. His life presents a story of compelling fascination.

About the year 1775, the Chickasaws aided by a few Choctaws, concluded a three years' war with the Shakchi-Hummas, whom they greatly outnumbered, by a surprise attack on the Indian village of Oski Hlopal and in a merciless engagement lasting throughout the day massacred practically the entire membership of that tribe. A few women and children were spared and taken over and adopted by the Choctaws, but the Shakchi-Hummas as a tribal entity were completely erased. During these crucial hours, Roscoe Cole, the white captive, was enabled to effect his escape from the carnage and from his enforced residence among the Indians, by the aid of Shumaka,4 his self-sacrificing Indian wife, the details of which are shrouded. He faded away in an aura of mystery which has never been penetrated, but his was not

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an exceptional instance. Not infrequently, the captive white man waved good bye to civilization and kindred, took an Indian woman for a wife and finished nobody knows where. Many an Indian Chief's folks on his father's side wore high top boots and a white shirt. Shumaka was saved from massacre and this, it is recorded, was because of her beauty. Taking her five children, she went to live among the Choctaws.

The life of Shumaka was colorful and forms an impressive story and such details of her life as have been preserved are not wholly irrelevant. After her adoption by the Choctaws, she lived in the vicinity of the present town of Elliott, Grenada County, Mississippi. Although her life story is rather obscure, some alluring fragments of her history are preserved and we learn that she served as a cook in the Choctaw contingent of General Jackson's army in the Creek War of 1813-14. She was very aged at the time of the removal treaty of 1830 and elected to remain in Mississippi as the treaty enabled her. In 1838, the startling declaration is made by Coleman Cole, her grandson, in his famous deposition, that she had attained the age of 120 years with eye sight and other faculties unimpaired. The span of years so ascribed for her seems historically incredible. The struggle of life and the hardships endured during that period, noted for its wars and its annihilations of many tribes, provoked a break in the outward appearance of the affected Indians until at the age of 75 or 90 years, they appeared aged beyond safe conjecture. She doubtless survived to a ripened old age. A daughter of Shumaka married Daniel McCurtain and another daughter wedded Garrett E. Nelson, a white man and became a grandmother of the three McCurtain chiefs of the Choctaws in the old Indian Territory.5 Captain Atoka and Greenwood Le Flore are referred to as nephews of Robert Cole but just how that relationship arose is not exactly clear. These details enlist an interest as we pause in homage to the Indian maiden whose personal charms preserved her life, to enrich her illustrious posterity with one of the most romantic incidents in our history.

Robert Cole, the son of Shumaka and Roscoe Cole, the captive white man, was born at or near the old Indian village of

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Oski Hlopal about 1774 and achieved much prominence in the tribal affairs of the Choctaws in Mississippi. As one of the leading men of the tribe, he signed the treaty of October 24, 1816,6 the treaty of Doak's Stand near the Natchez Road of October 18, 18207 and the treaty of January 20, 18258 at Washington. Among the delegates dispatched to Washington to negotiate the latter treaty were Pushmataha, Moshulatubbe, Daniel McCurtain and Apukshunnubbi. Apukshunnubbi sustained a fatal injury by falling from the gallery of a hotel at Maysville, Kentucky while enroute to Washington and Robert Cole, who accompanied the party, was substituted in his stead. The old chief Pushmataha also died at Washington during this trip. It was during this engagement that Robert Cole met General La Fayette in Washington on November 24, 1824. Section X of the treaty of 1825 designated Robert Cole as chief of the district which theretofore had been presided over by Apukshunnubbi and fixed his salary at $150 per year to be paid by the Government. He served as chief of his district for about two years when he yielded the position to Greenwood Le Flore whom he called his nephew and from thenceforth the district became known as Greenwood Le Flore District. Robert Cole was also a party signatory of the famous Removal Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek of September 27, 18309 and by the terms of Article XIX of that treaty, two sections of land were set aside to him.

It will be observed that Robert Cole affixed his signature to each of these treaties, by mark, which would indicate his deficiency in education. He did not speak nor understand the English language. He was very profoundly interested however, in the education of the members of his family and of his people and took a great interest in the mission schools when they were established among the Choctaws.10 His children were sent to Elliott Mission at Mayhew and of a visit which he made to that mission on November 29, 1821, the Mission Herald says, "He said he wished Coleman, his son, to remain here till he received a good education and that he might stay ten years, if necessary. He did

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not wish to take him home till he was educated. As Capt. Cole is a man of a firm mind and excellent native sense, and as he has great influence with the Choctaws, we consider ourselves called upon to bless God for these favorable appearances."11 This contemporary analysis of his character and of the status of Robert Cole among his people is of much interest. The Choctaw census of Greenwood Le Flore District for 1831 listed the family of Robert Cole as numbering 20 persons.

Article XIV of the Removal Treaty of 1830 contained provisions whereby members of the Choctaw tribe might avoid the emigration to the West by indicating such an intention within six months. Those who elected to remain in Mississippi were each to receive individual rights to some specific tract of land upon which each was to reside for at least five years and ultimately were to become recognized citizens of the State. The terms of this option appear to have been but vaguely understood by the Indians and the rigid enforcement of its terms by the United States Commissioners provoked great difficulty for the Indians who undertook to remain. The Indians, in many instances were indifferent about their occupancy of their lands, much controversy arose and many of the Indians were dispossessed of their lands by ambitious white settlers. The land claims of the Indians, in many instances, were denied. Under authority of Congress, a proceeding was instituted in the Court of Claims at Washington, known as "Choctaw Nation vs. United States" in an effort to relieve the Indians who had lost or were losing their lands. In 1837-8, Commissioners were dispatched to Mississippi to receive claims and preserve sworn testimony in their support. Shumaka having been dispossessed of her lands by a white man, her claim was presented and on February 17, 1838, Coleman Cole, her grandson, made his deposition12 in support of her claim, in which he states, "That he is acquainted with Shumaka. She is his grandmother. He has known her as long as he can recollect. Saw her about twenty days ago. She was then at Puttacaowa Creek (Grenada County at present) where she lived on witness' land. She is very old. She is represented to be 120. She is unable to travel any distance. At the time of the treaty

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she lived on Bettupin Bogue about 18 or 19 miles from its mouth.13 She had no children living with her. * * * She lived there at and before the Treaty and remained there until the land she lived on was sold by the Government at the first sale at Chocehoma, after which a white man required her to move. Before this she had a field and house in which she lived. He (witness) assisted her in making a crop. He has no recollection of her husband, his grandfather. He has heard her say she belonged to the Shakchi-homa tribe. That she was young at the massacre of her tribe by the Chickasaws and others. She made her husband escape and got among the Choctaws who adopted her as a Choctaw. She is the mother of Robert Cole, the witness's father. The Shakchi-homas lived in a village and were surprised by the Chickasaws at break of day and were all murdered with few exceptions. They were killing them all day. About 200 escaped among the Choctaws. These merged in the Choctaw tribe and the Shakchi-homa name abandoned. Her faculties are in a great degree unimpaired. She can see to work with her naked eyes and hears well." On January 30, 1838, Robert Cole also makes a deposition14 from which briefly is quoted, "That he is a half blood Choctaw. That he resided at the date of the Treaty on Yalobusha River, about half way up to its head, in Yalobusha County. That he left his residence about five years since and has had no settled residence since that time, but has always remained in the county." He then proceeds to support the claims of certain of his relatives which include Daniel McCurtain, the Nelsons, Fraziers, Captain Atoka and Coleman Cole. The Commissioners compiled a roll of these unfortunate Indians, the names of Shumaka, Robert Cole and Coleman Cole appearing upon this list of the Choctaw Indians still living in Mississippi. Coleman Cole was employed by and assisted the officers of the Government, under the supervision of one Joshua T. Brown, in an investigation of the claims of these Indians for which service he was paid two dollars per day and expenses.

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Under the Act of August 23, 1842,15 a new Commission proceeded to Mississippi to compile a new roll of the Choctaws remaining in that state and to whom script was to be issued in lieu of the lands which had been denied them. Upon this later list issued in 1843, the name of Coleman Cole appears. The names of Shumaka and Robert Cole are missing. Shumaka had probably passed away and Robert Cole had taken the "Trail of Tears" to the old Indian Territory. Oppressive conditions had probably divested him of his acres in Mississippi. His emigration occurred sometime after 1838. He established himself about five miles west of the present town of Moyer, in what is today, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma, where he died in the summer of 1842 and is buried in an unknown and unmarked grave on his old home place. Robert Cole was a devoted member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He was a faithful pilgrim on Life's Highway and must not be consigned to mediocrity in the early history of the Choctaws.

Coleman Cole, the colorful Choctaw Chieftain, a son of Robert Cole and Sallie, his full blood Choctaw Indian wife, was born in old Yalobusha County, Mississippi, about the year 1800. He attended school at Elliott Mission at Mayhew, Mississippi and later at Georgetown, Kentucky and in 1833 resided on the site of the Indian village where the Shakehi-Hummas were massacred by the Chickasaws in 1775. He did not join the emigrant parties of the Choctaws immediately after the removal treaty, but undertook to establish his permanent home in Mississippi, under the terms of section XIV. The care of Shumaka, his grandmother, who was then very aged and probably helpless, was dutifully undertaken by Coleman Cole and this situation may have been an influencing factor. His native ability, sharpened by his meager training in the mission schools where he had mastered the English which he spoke rather brokenly, brought him a modest recognition among his people in Choctaw County, where he served as a justice of the peace for four years. Ere he was to leave Mississippi, he suffered the death of his wife and their two children. With other disappointed Choctaws who had been denied lands in Mississippi he agreed to accept script, the initial half payment being made in 1843. When the time approached for the payment

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of the last half, the Government announced that such payment16 would be made in cash but only to those Choctaws who removed to the Indian Territory. This action provoked the removal of many of the remaining Choctaws in 1845 and subsequent years. Coleman Cole joined the Choctaws in the West at that time. Fatigued by his efforts in Mississippi and quite thoroughly disillusioned anent the white man's unselfish interest in his people, he journeyed to his fellow tribesmen who had removed their troubles to the old Indian Territory.

It was in accord with the rustic nature of Coleman Cole that he should seek the cloistered vales of the Kiamichis when he first established his home in the old Choctaw Nation. His lone cabin was in a wild, isolated section, "where the deer and the antelope roam," some twenty miles northeast of the present city of Antlers, in what was then Cedar County, Choctaw Nation, but today Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. He began very early to evidence an interest in tribal politics and served as a member of the National Council from Cedar County in 1850, 1855, 1871 and 1873. He is said to have served as a district judge of his county for several years.

Coleman Cole was a stock raiser after a modest fashion. His tillage of the soil was quite abbreviated being intended solely to supply his necessary food. His flocks consisting of cattle, hogs and Choctaw ponies easily supplied the "abundant life" of primitive comfort and enjoyment to his liking. Barbecued beef, and fresh pork were ever in abundance and occasionally venison was served as a complement to the rather wild life of the country. His home was equally as picturesque as was its famous occupant. He lived in a one room hewed log cabin which was surrounded by a regular village of kitchen, cribs, smoke house, potato house, guest room, room for the family and for the hired help, all in single cabins scattered about over the yard. He usually dined in the yard where dogs were plentiful and could be fed with the barbecued bones that were tossed to them as the meal progressed. When he was made chief of the Nation, he added a second story or "upstairs" to his cabin which he used as a dining room upon state occasions. Coleman Cole was a poor man in everything ex-

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cept food and all classes of men who paused at his threshold, were heartily welcomed. Fine dress or any sort of ostentation did not appeal to him. As for household furniture in his one room cabin, he had none, but slept on the floor and wore the dowdiest of clothing. Most primitive were his modes of travel which consisted of a rawhide saddle and pestle tail Indian pony. During his incumbency as Chief, he always wore a silk hat, then called a "Beegum" which only augmented his ludicrous appearance. It is difficult to feature this old Indian, of medium height and thick brushy hair that hung down to his shoulders, wearing a hunting coat of many colors and riding a Choctaw pony scarcely as tall as himself and attired in a tall silk hat, riding along the trails of the Choctaw country. One is reminded of the Grand Mogul of some secret society on lodge night. He had married again, a woman by the name of Abbie and by her, had two children who died early in life. This eccentric Indian was a most consistent member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and an Elder of that faith. He was faithful to the highest inspirations of his religious belief. In the heart of Coleman Cole, God was a preferred creditor. The use of intoxicating liquors never engaged his interest. Thus is disrobed the homely, primitive life of Coleman Cole, ere we pass on to his picturesque career as chieftain of the Choctaws. That from these crude environs there should evolve a leadership of the highest probity and fidelity to his people, challenges more than a passing interest.

Many years after their removal to the West, the Choctaws began to appraise the wrongs they had suffered by the failure of the Government to fulfill its obligations under the Removal Treaty. They had never been recompensed for the cattle and other property they had been compelled to abandon at the time of the removal. Those who had paid their own expenses had not been reimbursed and those who had elected to remain in Mississippi had lost their lands through the hostility of the white neighbors. As a finale, after deducting all of the expenses of removal, the Government had realized a large profit from the sale of their Mississippi lands to white settlers. In 1853, the Choctaws initiated a prolonged effort to induce the Government to pay them the "Net Proceeds" or the amount realized from the sale of the lands after deducting the expense of removal and survey. An

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award was made in 1859 but the Civil War intervened, payment was postponed and the Net Proceeds Claim became a political football in the otherwise well ordered affairs of the Choctaw Nation. Profligate attorneys' contracts were entered into and agreements were made with delegations which were sent to Washington. These engagements involved the payment of one half of the monies which the Indians expected to receive from the Government. The alluring situation provoked one political escapade after another as designing political leaders rivaled to hook this biggest fish in the troubled waters of Choctaw Nation politics. As chairman of the legislative committee in the Council, Coleman Cole in January, 1874, reported a bill invalidating these contracts, which became a law on February 3, 1874.

In August 1874, Coleman Cole was elected chief of the Choctaws as a member of the Full Blood or Shaki (Buzzard) party and the Net Proceeds matter at once engaged his attention. He urged that all payments should be made direct, by the Government to the individual claimants. Numerous were the appeals he made to Congress and to the President in his picturesque English. He caused a court of claims to be established and a roll made of those entitled to participate in the expected disbursement. A copy of this roll was mailed by the chief to President Grant with a request that a detachment of soldiers should be sent along to guard the money when it was paid out to the claimants. The Net Proceeds Claim became a fetich with the chief. No finger of corruption was ever pointed at Chief Cole as he honestly though in a rather bungling manner, endeavored to secure this much belated award for his people.

He removed, in March 1875, to the vicinity of Atoka where he established his executive office and where he could be found on Mondays and Thursdays of each week. He was easily reelected as chief on August 2, 1876, serving for two successive terms from 1874 to 1878.

A rather embarrassing situation was provoked by the fact that Choctaw tribal law took no cognizance of the non-citizen white man and these laws had no application to him or to his activities. He fell directly under the "general laws of the United States as to punishment of crimes committed." It had long been

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the custom to admit intermarried whites to membership in the tribe and such adopted persons became amenable to the tribal laws. As the natural resources were developed, citizenship in the tribe became an economic advantage, much sought after by designing whites. Chief Cole had suffered at the hands of the white intruders back in Mississippi and gravely feared the consequences to his people, if the influx of these non-citizens was not arrested. He was an arch heretic when it came to yielding the natural resources of the Nation to the whites. Heavy license taxes were imposed upon white traders and in 1875 a most drastic marriage law was passed which inhibited a white man from marrying a woman of the tribe except under a license to be secured by the payment of a fee of twenty-five dollars. This fee was later to be increased to one hundred dollars. Chief Cole was avowedly opposed to the conversion of any of the natural resources of the Nation into cash. He opposed the sale of timber, the opening of the coal mines and anything pertaining to lands and the products therefrom which was indigenous or natural. To do this, he contended would be the entering wedge for a disruption, or an abandonment of tribal integrity. From this policy, he never wavered and in his concluding message to the Council in October 1878, reiterated these views with words of solemn warning.

Out of this situation grew the oft told incident of the effort of Capt. J. J. McAlester, Dr. D. M. Hailey and Robert Reams, all intermarried whites, to inaugurate coal mining operations at or near the present city of McAlester, in 1875. A tribal statute was in force at that time which carried with it the death penalty for any tribal member who sold any "part of the land." McAlester and his associates evidently regarded the law as archaic and forgotten, so they proceeded to dispatch a wagon load of coal which they had mined near the town of McAlester, to Parsons, Kansas. These gentlemen although prompted by the highest motives, failed to take the Choctaw chieftain into their confidence. Chief Cole learned of the shipment and hastened to apprehend the miscreants, sending Olasechubbee, captain of his Light Horse in advance to make the arrests before he arrived himself to sit in judgment. The Captain located the miscreants at McAlester's general store in the town of McAlester and promptly placed them under arrest and accepted an invitation to dine with his prisoners.

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When the officer stepped into the yard to provision his pony, the prisoners effected their escape, commandeered a railway handcar near the depot and fled North across the Canadian River and into the Creek country as fast as elbow grease could manipulate the car. Although the potential despoilers of the Nation's resources had made their get away, the faithful chieftain had accomplished his purpose and the mines remained closed. It is said that the refugees remained in the Creek country until the tenure of Chief Cole expired in 1878.

The M. K. and T. railroad crossed the Choctaw country in 1872, but excessive freight and passenger rates aroused much bitter feeling among the Indians. Shippers and passengers were charged double fare to points in the Indian Territory. In 1876, Chief Cole, in a most erudite fashion, submitted in writing to the Secretary of the Interior, his ideas of a less discriminatory railroad policy. He urged that the railroad, telegraph and express companies should be made responsive to taxation by the Nation; that employes of such companies should be subject to regulations imposed upon other non-citizens; that railroad companies should respond in damages for property destroyed and that passenger and freight rates should be the same as in the "states." These suggestions were highly appropriate and reflect the discriminating qualities of this old Chieftain as to a sound railroad policy.

Chief Cole, although much limited in his scholastic training, was an ardent supporter of the schools in the Nation as he was also of Sunday observance. He protested to the Indian Agent the delinquencies of non-citizen whites and urged that they be requested to refrain from desecrating the Sabbath and so far as possible attend church and observe the "laws of God and man."

Upon the conclusion of his tenure as Chieftain in October 1878, he established his home on the Kiamichi River, some three miles southwest of the present town of Stanley, in Pushmataha County. His lands were in Section Three, Township Seventeen East and Range One South and here he spent the concluding years of his eventful life and here he passed away and lies buried. In the summer of 1880, he again, but unsuccessfully, aspired to the chieftainship and Jackson F. McCurtain was elected. This concluded his further efforts to continue his political career.

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Coleman Cole was easily the most grotesque character of prominence among the Choctaws after the days of Pushmataha. He was a man of remarkable native ability and judgment which gives us pause in thought of the white captive among the long forgotten Shakchi-Hummas. He was a stiffly antiquated memorial of far-off days. The Chief was not an eccentric but of a type we shall see no more. He was not a "merry old soul" and the merriment he created by his dress and mannerisms was not intentional. In his public and private life, he was strictly honest and devoted to the interests of his people, as he appraised those interests. They believed in him as well they might. In his official career, the Chief evidenced no art of dodging disagreeable situations and so became involved, at times, in meaningless controversies with the Council. Perhaps he regarded the Choctaw Nation as more or less of a corporate myth, as he seemingly gathered the imperial reins of authority into his own hands. He evidenced marked qualities of good judgment although many of his efforts were undisciplined. The Indians of those years were unprepared for a pure democracy, but followed more eagerly inspiring leadership in whom they believed and whose word was the law. They recognized a harmony in natural law which reveals the intelligence of a superior who defies all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings. Law in a democracy is a movable adjustment and primitive or semi-primitive peoples do not reverence laws which they make themselves and which they may change. The leadership of Coleman Cole, with all of his idiosyncracies, met this equation. His regime is interesting in that it presents no perplexing paradox to preclude a rational analysis. He takes us deep into primitive human life and brings us back, enriched with a more complete understanding, compassion and faith. We tread with Hallam through the Middle Ages.

In consonance with his somber life was the death and burial of the old Chieftain. He quietly passed away at his farm home southwest of Stanley in the autumn of 1886 where he rests in an unmarked grave. And so they tucked him in with a tree or crude boulder for a headstone and departed leaving the spot unmarked and only the lonesome Kiamichis keep an eternal vigil.

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