Holmes Colbert, 1850s
Holmes Colbert (Chickasaw) was a 19th-century leader of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Of mixed European and Chickasaw ancestry, Colbert was born to his mother's Chickasaw clan and gained status through them, as the tribe was matrilineal.
Educated in an American school, he also learned of European-American culture and contributed to his tribe. He helped write the Chickasaw Nation's constitution in the 1850s after its removal to Indian Territory and reorganization of its government. Colbert served as the tribe's delegate to Washington, DC after the American Civil War.
Early life and education
Holmes Colbert was of mixed race, the son of a Chickasaw woman and her husband Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Colbert. He was also of mixed Native American and European parents. Frank was a descendant of James Logan Colbert, a Scots trader from North Carolina who settled in Chickasaw country in the mid-18th century, and his third wife Minta Hoye, who had a Chickasaw mother; Frank belonged to her clan. They had six sons. Other sources say the Colberts had five sons. Because the Chickasaw have a matrilineal system, children are considered born into their mother's clan and they gain status in the tribe through her people, including any hereditary leadership positions. The status of their mothers, combined with their father's access to trade goods, led to the Colbert men becoming prominent landowners and leaders in the Chickasaw nation.
Colberts' leadership contributions
The Colbert sons were William, George, Levi, Samuel, Joseph, and Pittman (or James). For nearly a century, the Colbert men and their descendants provided critical leadership during the Chickasaw tribe's greatest challenges.
The Chickasaw allied with the United States during the War of 1812. William Colbert served with General Andrew Jackson against the Red Sticks during the Creek Wars of 1813-14, a civil war within the nation which became part of that conflict. His brothers George and Levi also served. The brothers were prominent landowners and a political force within their clan and the Chickasaw Nation. George and Levi Colbert served as negotiators and interpreters in the 1820s-1830 sduring the tribe's negotiations with the US government related to Indian Removal.
Holmes grew up learning about his family's leadership and was groomed to take his part in tribal affairs in his turn. He and his cousin Winchester created the governmental foundation of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma). In the 1850s, Holmes Colbert helped write the constitution for their government.
Marriage and children
Colbert married Betsy Love, who was also of mixed race. They were both well educated, having been sent to schools out of state. Their mothers' clans were influential families in the Chickasaw Nation who were grooming their children for the future and believed they needed education to deal with European Americans. The Colberts had three children together, but two died before the American Civil War.
|“||"My mother died when I was real small, and about a year after that my father died. Master Holmes [Colbert] told us children not to cry, that he and Miss Betsy would take good care of us. They did, too. They took us in their house with them and looked after us just as good as they could colored children. We slept in a little room clost to them and she always seen that we was covered up good before she went to bed."||”|
|— - Polly Colbert, former slave, Interview: Polly Colbert, 1937|
After the American Civil War, the US required a new treaty from the Chickasaw, as the tribe had supported the Confederacy. Holmes Colbert represented the tribe as a delegate to Washington, DC during these negotiations and later to Congress. One of the provisions of the peace treaty required the Chickasaw to emancipate their slaves, as the US had done, and offer those who wanted to stay in Indian Territory citizenship as Chickasaw. These people and their descendants became known as the Chickasaw Freedmen and were considered members of the nation, with voting rights.
- The constitution of the Chickasaw Nation
- Colbert, Oklahoma was named after the family.
- George Colbert, his uncle
- Levi Colbert, his uncle
- Chickasaw Nation
- Fred Waite
- John Herrington
- Jesse Burt & Bob Ferguson (1973). "A Small Gallery of Notable People". Indians of the Southeast: Then and Now. Abingdon Press, Nashville and New York. pp. 147–150. ISBN 0-687-18793-1.
- "George Colbert", Oklahoma Encyclopedia of History and Culture, accessed 3 Nov 2009
- "Polly Colbert", T. Lindsay Baker, The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives, US Work Projects Administration, p. 90, accessed 3 Nov 2009