Chief Coleman Cole: A Humble Man, a Great Orator and Old School Chief

Victor Locke Jr. Remembers Choctaw Chief Coleman Cole

“Principal Chief Coleman Cole was born in the State of Mississippi. In the exodus of the Choctaws from that state in 1831 [through 1835], he came with members of his family. Nothing is known of his parentage. The Coles are a numerous family even to this day – thirty years ago men and women of that name made up the bulk of the population (Indian) of what is now Pushmataha County, Oklahoma.

Bob Cole, whose name appears signatory to treaties and other official documents, was a member of the family – just whether he ever immigrated to the Indian Territory or not has never been established. There is a Bob Cole of the present generation living out east of Antlers now, and there is no question but that he was given the name in honor of the Bob Cole of early history. Just what relation Chief Coleman Cole was to Bob Cole of early record cannot be ascertained – as among real Choctaws (and the Coles were real Indian) when parents or grandparents die, others take their place. It is my judgment that Coleman Cole was a nephew of Bob Cole of Mississippi.

Principal Chief Coleman Cole was first elected to his high honors in 1876. He served two terms and was succeeded in 1880 by Chief Isaac Garvin.

Coleman Cole was a man of the old school and was known as a non-progressive. He was patriotic to a fanatical degree; and always opposed the advent of white men, other than educators, into the Choctaw Nation. He was a great speaker and his one topic of speech on all occasions was the subject of the “Net Proceeds Payment” which was finally made in 1889, sometime after Coleman Cole’s death.

In speaking he seldom attempted to use English words, but in the above case he would try – he would use “Net Ploceed”. I never heard him speak or ever saw him to my recollection but many traditions of him remain hereabouts.

He died sometime in the early eighties [1880s] and was buried on the Kiamichi River about 26 miles north of Antlers. His grave was desecrated some years ago by ghouls in search of money. His bones were re-interred by white people living thereabouts but he lies in an unmarked grave.

Coleman Cole’s Post Office while Chief was “Doaksville, Indian Territory.” His residence at that time was at the foot of the mountains twenty miles northeast of Antlers, Oklahoma, and fully thirty miles from Doaksville. He usually went for his mail once a month. He generally stayed at my father’s house – my parents [Victor Locke, Sr. and Susan McKinney Locke] at that time residing at Doaksville – when he made these trips to the Post Office. He always rode what we term an Indian pony and he carried his mail in a flour sack.

In 1876 Chief Cole together with Captain Nanamontubbi received invitations to the centennial which was then in progress in the City of Philadelphia. Both sent their regrets and stated that while it was “impossible for them to be there on this occasion, that they would sure be there next time”!

When Coleman Cole was elected Principal Chief, he thought it proper for a man of his dignity to add another story to his residence which at that time consisted of a collection of log cabins. He had seen people somewhere in his travels dine upstairs, so he concluded that he would make an additional story to his bedroom and do his eating upstairs.

Prior to that time, his table usually set out under the trees in summer and in some close cabin in winter. Dogs were numerous around his place and during meal time, they were always very much in evidence around the table.

According to plan he added another story to his house and had his table moved upstairs. The stairway was a crude affair and the room had an open window at each end. Coleman had a beef killed on the occasion of the move upstairs and at the noon hour he marched up to dedicate his new dining room – the dogs following in his wake.

His wife brought him a strip of beef ribs splendidly barbequed and Coleman proceeded with his feast. He did not forget the dogs, but he did forget his surroundings – when he stripped his first rib, he pitched it out the window and all of the dogs went tumbling after!

Of course the dogs all came trooping back upstairs, but Coleman thought too well of his dogs to subject them to such treatment and he made other arrangements – just how he arranged it has never been told.

The above story is completely lost when put down in English – when told in the original, it is laughable indeed!

When Coleman Cole was first elected Principal Chief, council at that time was held at Armstrong, now in Bryan County, Oklahoma. On the occasion of his first Council after election he rode to Armstrong on his pony with his quilt tied on behind his saddle for sleeping purposes – he appeared there wearing a beegum hat which had been presented to him by Mr. Kellogg, first husband of the venerable Mrs. Woods, who resides at this time near McAlester, Okla.

When Coleman approached Armstrong, Jack McCurtain saw him coming and proposed that they all go meet the Principal Chief. I judge that “they all” just consisted of the usual crowd standing around the Council House. It is told that Jack McCurtain said “Governor, I did my best to defeat you but you won and you are my Governor” – and that Coleman replied, “Yes, I won and I am glad to hear you acknowledge it. Take care and don’t forget that I am your Governor.”

Jack McCurtain afterwards became Chief and in being elected he in turn defeated Coleman’s party and all that the party stood for. Coleman was the last of the stalwarts.”

In 1939 the noted Choctaw historian Peter J. Hudson had more to say about Coleman Cole’s lineage:

“He was educated at Elliot Mission School in Mississippi. He was son of Robert Cole, who was District Chief of Western Division, Mississippi, in 1825. Coleman Cole was still in Mississippi in 1838 so I think they emigrated about 1840. He was a member of Council in 1850, 1855, and 1871-1873.

   If Robert Cole was correct in saying that Greenwood Leflore was his nephew then Coleman Cole’s sister, name unknown, must have married a Frenchman named Louie  Cravatt [sic – John Jean Cravatt]. Cravatt and his wife had two daughters, Nancy and Rebecca Cravatt.

   Louis Leflore, Frenchman, married Nancy Cravatt and they were parents of Greenwood Leflore and others. After Nancy’s death he married Rebecca and they were the parents of Forbis Leflore and others.

   Robert Cole was a half-breed. It is not known who his father was but he was a white man with an Indian wife of the Shvkchi Homa Tribe. In 1938 [sic – 1838] when testimony was being taken in some claim of the Choctaws against the United States, Coleman Cole testified that a massacre of the Shvkchi Homa Tribe of Choctaw Indians by Chickasaws assisted by Choctaws, just before the Revolutionary War, all of said Tribe were killed except about 200 women and children, among them being a woman with a white husband who ran away and left her with several children.

   This woman was Coleman Cole’s grandmother. Her name was Shumaka and she was still living in 1838, age 120, when this testimony was given. Coleman Cole is a descendant of the Shvkchi Homa Tribe and Choctaw Indians.

   He located in Cedar County, Choctaw Nation, east of Antlers, Okla., at the time of emigration. He died and is buried about three miles south of a post office called Standley, in Pushmataha County, Okla. The man who owns the farm knows where the grave is and does not disturb it. It is in a field and has a pile of rocks over it. Coleman Cole had a son, Logan, whose children are all dead, but whose granddaughter lives at Wichita, Kansas.”

-from Hudson, Peter James, “A Story of Choctaw Chiefs’, Chronicles of Oklahoma, June 1939

Note: The granddaughter was Caroline Cole Horton, who passed away in 1994 and is buried at the White Chapel Memorial Gardens in Wichita – see her memorial page.
***YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***

Source: Vertical files on Coleman Cole at the Research Library, Oklahoma Historical Center, Oklahoma City.

Featured art:  “Lone Survivor”, by American artist Robert Lougheed (1910-1982).

Note about Beegum hats:  They were dome-shaped or beehive-shaped hats popular among the Confederate Troops during the Civil War, generally worn with a turned up brim.

See Chief Cole’s biosketch and photo at the Choctaw Nation website HERE.

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