Pushmataha

1764 - 1824


The name "Choctaw" means a "charming voice." At the beginning of the historic period, the tribe was found in Mississippi and Alabama. Their language was the trade medium throughout the southern region after the coming of the Europeans. Choctaws are well proportioned and medium in height, tending to be heavy in maturity. Their tribal characteristics were patience, diplomacy, artistic in nature and great strength in defensive warfare. Emotional display was altogether foreign to the Choctaws, who were formal and reserved. Aristocracy was the aristocracy of character rather than of birth or social position. They were the preeminent agriculturists among the Southeastern tribes.
Pushmataha was born in Mississippi in 1764. He was a fine young warrior and had many adventures hunting game and fighting the plains Indians west of the Mississippi River. He knew the country well. His name literally means "one whose tomahawk is fatal in war or hunting." 
Pushmataha had achieved leadership through wisdom and foresight; wisdom in dealing with his own people, foresight in making an alliance with the ever growing power of the United States. The alliance with the United States brought the Choctaws into the war with the Creek Nation and the War of 1812. Their aid to General Jackson became a real contribution. During these wars, he was made General Pushmataha of the United States Army. He was recognized as a true friend of the American people and a friend of General Andrew Jackson.
A story is told concerning Pushmataha during the War of 1812. While the army was encamped, several of the officers’ wives came to visit. Among them was Pushmataha’s wife. A white soldier, thinking the wives of the Indian officers were "just Indians" did not give Mrs. Pushmataha the respect due her. When Pushmataha learned of it, he knocked the soldier down with the hilt of his sword. Having been asked by the commanding officer reasons for his act, Pushmataha replied, "He insulted my wife. I knocked the insolent dog down, but had YOU, GENERAL, insulted her, as that common soldier did, I would have plunged the POINT into you instead of the hilt, in resenting an insult to my wife."
Pushmataha was a powerful and persuasive orator. His speeches have been faithfully recorded by the interpreter to the Choctaws appointed by President Washington, Captain John Pitchlynn. Excerpts from his orations are resplendent with wisdom. In answer to the speech of the great Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, who urged the Choctaws to join an Indian confederacy against the Americans, Pushmataha said, "Remember we are people who have never grown insolent with success, or become abject in adversity; but let those who invite us to hazardous attempts by uttering our praise also know that the pleasure of hearing has never elevated our spirits above our judgement ... It is indeed the duty of the prudent, so long as they are not injured, to delight in peace."
Pushmataha and other leaders of the Choctaw Nation arranged for schools for their children to learn trades and "book learning." These were boarding schools for both boys and girls taught by missionaries.
The US government made a number of treaties with the Choctaws concerning encroachment of white settlers on their lands, but did not keep them. The citizens of the State of Mississippi envied the fine homes and farms of the Choctaws, stole their livestock and other property and continually harassed them. In response to Mississippi’s clamor for removal of the Choctaws, Andrew Jackson (because he was a friend of Pushmataha) was sent by the President to make still another treaty. General Jackson said he would go because, "I owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Mississippi for their support in our late struggle with Great Britain." He did not mention any debt which he owed to the Choctaws in the late war.
General Jackson met with the Choctaws and in GLOWING terms described the land west of the Mississippi. "...This extensive rich territory is offered in exchange by the president of the little strip of land of the present Choctaw Nation... What have the chiefs and the Choctaw people to say to this great offer?" Pushmataha waited until the next day to reply, then he arose and said, "If a wise man and a fool were to make an honest agreement, the wise man would protect the rights of the fool. But since I have listened to the General’s proposals of yesterday, I have concluded that the transaction between these two friendly nations is not to be conducted on these equitable principles, and it would not be wise for me, ‘fool that I am,’ to rely upon any such expectations. There will be no further need for misrepresentations by General Jackson, of the country east or west of the Mississippi River."
General Jackson was very angry at this accusation and asked for an explanation, whereupon, Pushmataha called his attention to the fact that his people were giving up a large part of the richest lands in Mississippi for the western country, part of which was already settled by the white man (Arkansas) and another part owned by a foreign nation (Mexico). 
Jackson was extremely angry at being outwitted by Pushmataha; but to meet the chief’s objections, a special commission was appointed to examine and define the boundaries. The treaty further provided that 54 sections of land in Mississippi be set aside and sold, the proceeds to be used for the education of Choctaw children. This is known as the "Treaty of Doaks Stand." General jackson agreed to this and Pushmataha’s only comment was "Sia Hoka" meaning "very well" or "that is all right with me." From Pushmataha’s frequent use of this statement, General Jackson learned to use the term OK, and OK came to be used by the frontiersmen during the War of 1812.
The Treaty of Doaks Stand had barely been completed when the US government wished to change it and take away part of the land involved. 

General Pushmataha died in Washington, December 24, 1824, his heart broken. He lies buried in the old Congressional Cemetery in Washington, and at his grave the marker reads, "Pushmataha was Warrior of Great Distinction: He was wise in Council; Eloquent in an extraordinary degree; On all occasions the white man’s friend, and under all circumstances."

The town of Pushmataha in Choctaw County, Alabama and Pushmataha County, in Oklahoma bear his name.