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Monday, Mar. 30, 2015

Gray Matters : Greenwood Le Flore

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Some years ago, during a trip to Montana, I became aware of the fallacy of our simplistic, cowboys-and-Indians concept of Native Americans.

This realization was once more impressed on me while visiting with my sister's son-in-law in Louisiana. This tall, black-haired, newspaper editor is a great-great-great-grandson, of the famed chief of the Choctaw Nation, Greenwood LeFlore.

That gentleman was born in Le Fleur's Bluff, Miss., June 3, 1800. His father, Louis Le Fleur, was a French trader and explorer; his mother, a Choctaw woman, Rebecca Cravat, niece of Chief Pushmata. It seems that Louis had come to Mobile, Ala. in 1792 to engage in trading with the Choctaw nation.

During the War of 1812, Pushmata got together a regiment of his best braves and made an offer of their services to Gen. Andrew Jackson. The chief was appointed lieutenant colonel and Le Fleur, promoted to major. From here the association grew. The Choctaws were a major tribe, able at one time to put 25,000 braves into battle. The name, Choctaw, derives from a word meaning "charming voice," and was given to the tribe due to their musical talents and soft melodious voices.

They believed in the existence of a "Great Spirit," who rewarded uprightness and honesty and punished wrongdoing and dishonesty. They were always friendly with the white men, the French first, and later the Americans.

By the time Greenwood reached the age of 12, his father had moved to a location on the stage line between Nashville and Natchez (the Natchez Trace) where he kept an inn. A frequent guest, Major John Donly, who carried the mail between these cities, was struck with the boy's intelligence and asked to take him to Nashville and educate him.

His father, perceiving the benefits of an education for his son, readily consented. He lived there with the Donly family for six years. During that time, he acquired a fine classical education, as well as a deep affection for the Donlys' daughter, Rosa. They eloped, against the will of her parents who thought them too young for marriage. They were eventually forgiven and accepted by the family.

When Le Flore was 22, he became the chief of the Western district of the Choctaw Nation and eight years later became head chief of the entire nation. He encouraged Choctaws to find permanent residence, cultivate the land, convert to Christianity and educate their children. He did not oppose the removal to Indian Territory, which he saw as inevitable, but negotiated to secure the largest fertile, forested southeast corner of what is now Oklahoma, for his people. Greenwood LeFlore received 1000 acres of Mississippi land for his part in those negotiations.

He did not move to Indian Territory himself. On the 1,000 acres in Mississippi, he built the town of Point Leflore, established his cotton plantation and built a magnificent home, Malmaison, which he fitted entirely with furniture imported from France. During the 1840's, he served as both representative and senator from the state of Mississippi, and was a close personal friend of Jefferson Davis.

But when the Civil War approached, he spoke against secession, refused to acknowledge the Confederacy or to pay taxes to its government. During the conflict, he lost his cotton, all his slaves and other valuable property. However, he was able to keep the mansion which stayed in the family until it burned down, unfortunately, in 1942.

Le Flore died in 1865 and is buried in the family cemetery on the Malmaison grounds. My sister's son-in-law has visited there many times within recent years, and even has a piece of furniture which was salvaged from Malmaison in his home in Louisiana. It is a small end table with three legs of oak and one of cherry.

With information from my relative, and additional accounts from the Internet, I have been able to tell you about one Indian tribe and its charismatic leader. I hope you have found it interesting proof that the story of the Native Americans is a varied and fascinating one.