The Great Medal Chiefs of Yesteryear

Among the Choctaw were men of power and wisdom, often great warriors but also great statesmen. They bargained as equals with the giant empires of Spain, France, Great Britain, representatives of the American colonies, and lastly, the fledgling nation of the United States. They became men of legend, the Great Medal Mingos of the Choctaw people.

The title of Miko/Mingo appeared during the French and English occupations of the Choctaw lands. As part of trade talks with these countries, the Choctaw Mikos received silver medals, four inches in diameter, suspended on a handsome chain. Thus the title “Great Medal Mingo” came into existence.

Gorgets were also used to indicate important military rank. The ornament originated as a protective piece of metal or leather throat/chest armor, hanging from the neck.

The earliest known portrait of George Washington, painted in 1772, shows him wearing his French and Indian military uniform, adorned with a silver gorget.

Colonel George Washington, 1772, in his military uniform from the French and Indian War

The 1786 Treaty of Hopewell was the first treaty the U.S. Government negotiated with the Choctaw tribe. The treaty was signed by the following Choctaws:

Yockonahoma, Great Medal Chief of Soonacoha;

Yockehoopoie, leading Chief of Bugtoogoloo;

Mingohoopoie, leading Chief of Hashooqua;

Tobocoh, Great Medal Chief of Congetoo;

Pooshemastubie,  and also

Gorget Captains

The 1801 Treaty of Fort Adams was signed by a number of Choctaw men, two of whom had the title “Mingo”:  Mingo Hom Massatubby and Mingo Pooscoos.

The 1802 treaty was signed by Mingo Pooskoos, (of the lower towns) and Mingo Hom Astubby (of the six towns and lower towns).

Treaty of 1808 between the United States and the Choctaw Nation; three “great medal Mingoes” Pukshunnubbee, Hoomastubbee, and Pooshamattaha

Generally, there were three Mikos, one for each of the Choctaw divisions – Western, Middle, and Southwestern. The hereditary title passed down to their descendants, the last hereditary chiefs being as follows:

Western/Upper Division, aka OKLA FALAYA or Long People: Robert Cole, who succeeded his uncle Apukshunnubbee upon his death in 1824; he was succeeded by election in 1826 by Greenwood LeFlore, who chose to remain in Mississippi. There is some indication that a nephew, George W. Harkins, took over for Greenwood LeFlore in 1830. After removal, the much respected and revered Thomas LeFlore became District Chief in 1834.

Middle/Lower Division, aka HAIYUP ATUKLA or Twin Lakes:  Mosholatubbee, son of Chief Homastubbee, who died in 1809. Mosholatubbee was forced to resign as Chief in 1826; he was succeeded by election the same year by Col. David Folsom who later resigned in 1830, as a protest against removal. Then after removal, Mosholatubbee resumed as Chief of the District named after him until his death in 1836.

Southwest Division, aka OKLA HANNALI or Six Towns: Nitakechi (he was the ultimate successor to Pushmataha, who upon his death in 1824 was succeeded by his nephew Oklahoma, replaced by another nephew, General Hummingbird who died 1828). Nitakechi was succeeded by election in 1826 by Sam Garland, but Garland’s election was not recognized by Nitakechi. Nitakechi continued as Chief of the Pushmataha District after the removal, serving two non-consecutive terms.

Peter Hudson’s article, “The Choctaw Chiefs” relates some of the history regarding the disruption of leadership that occurred during the removal years 1830-1833:  

In the spring of 1830 Greenwood LeFlore called a Choctaw council to meet and proposed the Treaty of Removal. David Folsom and Sam Garland resigned their offices as District Chiefs on the ground that they were elected chiefs as against the Treaty of Removal. Chief Greenwood LeFlore became the only chief who prepared the Treaty of Removal. David Folsom and Sam Garland signed it as common warriors.

The U.S. Senate refused to adopt said treaty. I have not yet found the record of election but the government recognized Greenwood LeFlore, Mosholatubbee, and Nitakechi in making the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in September 1830. It is said that George W. Harkins was elected chief in 1830 as successor of Greenwood LeFlore while he was in Indian Territory inspecting the country before the removal. George W. Harkins was a nephew of Greenwood LeFlore.

There is a letter dated November 1830 from John H. Eaton, Secretary of War, to the Choctaws, saying that he will not recognize Joel H. Nail as chief of the Middle District and successor of Mosholatubbee.

The Middle District met at Dancing Rabbit Creek on January 16, 1831, when Mosholatubbee offered to resign in favor of Peter P. Pitchlynn, his nephew. The U.S. government refused to recognize all this and in the meanwhile the immigration proceeded during the years 1831, 1832 and 1833.

Nitakechi, the chief of Southwest Division, was the only chief recognized from 1830 to 1834.

Mosholatubbee and Nitakechi, while they were still in Mississippi before the removal, without consulting Greenwood LeFlore who was a half-breed, agreed to designate or lay off the new Choctaw country west of the Mississippi River into three geographical divisions.

“The purpose of this was to transfer their people from Mississippi into this country just as they were at home. But on account of the method of removal the clans were all destroyed and the Choctaw people were all scattered. The leaders succeeded in reaching the districts to which they belonged but the Choctaws in general did not.

However, since the country had been divided into three districts, they proceeded with the three chiefs as heretofore, namely: Mosholatubbee, Nitakechi, and Thomas LeFlore, who had succeeded Greenwood LeFlore. During the year 1834 the four years having expired, Mosholatubbee, Thomas LeFlore, and Nitakechi were re-elected as District Chiefs of their respective districts.”

After Removal, elections were held every four years to determine the District Chiefs for each of the three districts. The first elections were held in 1834. In 1857 a new Choctaw Constitution abolished the position of district chief, and made a provision for one national elected official to govern the entire Choctaw Nation. The first man elected was Governor Alfred Wade.

One of the Most Costly and Important Works Ever Published on the American Indians

From 1816 until 1830, Thomas McKenney was Superintendent of Indian Affairs and one of a very few government officials to defend American Indian interests. When a large delegation of Indians came to see President Monroe in 1821, McKenney commissioned the fashionable portraitist Charles Bird King to paint the principal delegates, dressed in costumes of their choice, many choosing to wear their peace medals and gorgets. Many of the most prominent Indian leaders of the nineteenth century were among King’s sitters, including Sequoyah, Red Jacket, Major Ridge, Cornplanter, and Osceola. Also included is the lithograph of Pushmataha, the famous Choctaw warrior and leader.

Red Jacket (Segoyewatha) of the Seneca tribe with peace medal given to him by George Washington

Hand-colored lithographs were faithfully copied from the original oil paintings by Charles Bird King for a book called “History of the Indian Tribes of North America”, written by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. The three-volume set was published in 1836. The portfolio and books nearly bankrupted McKenney as well as the two printing firms who invested in its publication. But their work proved to be much more valuable contribution than they imagined.

The portraits hung in the War Department until 1858, when they were moved to the Smithsonian Institute. Most of King’s original portraits were subsequently destroyed in a fire at the Smithsonian in 1865, so their appearance in McKenney and Hall’s publication is the only record of the likenesses of many of these most prominent Indian leaders. By the time that the science of photography had arrived, most of these legendary figures had passed on. The McKenney and Hall portraits remain as the most complete and colorful record of the native leaders who made the long journey to Washington to speak for their people.

***YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***

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Sources:

Choctaw Nation website: History of Apukshunnubbee District

Choctaw Nation website: Government Treaties

Naming of the “three great medal Mingoes, Pukshunnubbee, Mingo Hoomastubbee, and Pooshamattaha” as part of the 1808 treaty found in Vermont Gazette (Bennington, Vermont), Monday, March 21, 1808, Page 1.

Hudson, Peter James, “A Story of Choctaw Chiefs”, Chronicles of Oklahoma, June 1939.

A private webpage by Tammy Dice Jones lists all The Chiefs of the Choctaw Nation, last accessed April 10, 2021. Mad respect for what she pulled together on this most difficult topic. “I have no ancestor; the sun is my father, the moon is my mother.”

Early Portrait of George Washington, 1772, painted by Charles Wilson Peale, now part of the Washington-Curtis-Lee Collection, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.

History of the Gorget, Military Wikipedia.

Hand-colored lithographs of prominent Native American figures of the early 1800s, McKenney and Hall Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum; from the book, History of the Indian Tribes of North America, Philadelphia, Pa., 1836,  three volume collection of biographies, Thomas McKenney and James Hall, authors. The banner photo for this blog is a compilation of some of the Charles Bird lithographs from various Native American tribes.

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