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Levi Colbert - "Chief Itawamba"

Levi Colbert (Itawamba Mingo), 1759­1834, was my gggg grandfather. Levi was the most famous of James Logan Colbert's sons. He obtained the title of Itawamba Mingo meaning "Bench Chief". When Levi was a young man, he learned that the Creek Indians were going to attack the Chickasaw to take their land. It was fall and many Chickasaw warriors were away hunting. Levi immediately gathered as many of the young men of the nation that he could, of those that were still at home, and went forward to meet the enemy. His outnumbered, small band of young warriors surprised, and killed or wounded the would be attackers.

After the hunters returned and learned of the brave and successful act, they rewarded Levi giving him the name "Itte-wamba Mingo". Itte meaning "wood" which alluded to the bench or stool he was given to sit upon in council. Prior to this, the custom was that all warriors sat on the ground while in council. Levi was physically elevated by being given a stool to sit on. From his quiet manner he was also given the name "Okolona" which means calm or peaceful. Itawamba County, Mississippi and the town of Okolona, Mississippi are both named for him.

Levi Colbert was possibly the wealthiest and most powerful of the Colberts. He lived just west of Cotton gin Port located in Monroe county, Mississippi. He owned four-thousand cattle, five hundred horses, a large herd of sheep and several head of swine. At one time he had a part interest in the famed Colbert Ferry on the Natchez Trace which was said to have been worth $20,000 annually. Levi's brother George was the principle owner and keeper of the ferry.

Levi and his brothers took part in many treaty meetings with the Americans from the 1790's through the 1830's. During this time Andrew Jackson was very much in favor of removing the Indians to the west. In 1826, the United States sent a delegation of three commissioners, William Clark, Thomas Hinds, and John Coffee to meet with the Chickasaw to persuade them to exchange their homelands for territory located west of the Mississippi. Indian delegates were not impressed and Levi Colbert responded:

..."We never had a thought of exchanging our land for any other, as we think that we would not find a country that would suit us as well as this we now occupy, it being the land of our forefathers, if we should exchange our lands for any other, fearing the consequences may be similar to transplanting an old tree, which would wither and die away, and we are fearful we would come to the same... We have no lands to exchange for any other. We wish our father [the President] to extend his protection to us here, as he proposes to do on the west of the Mississippi, as we apprehend we would, in a few years, experience the same difficulties in any other section of the country that might be suitable to us west of the Mississippi... Our father [the President] wishes that we should come under the laws of the United States; we are a people that are not enlightened, and we cannot consent to be under your Government. If we should consent, we should be likened unto young corn growing and met with a drought that would kill it."

The commissioners returned to Washington, DC., without a treaty. In 1828, Levi Colbert led a party of Chickasaw to explore lands in the west and toured portions of what is now Oklahoma in the winter. The expedition returned and its members reported to the council, which informed the United States Government that the Chickasaw would not "consent to remove to a country destitute of a single corresponding feature of the one in which we presently reside."

By 1829, Levi was so prominent in tribal affairs, that he was identified as being "to the Chickasaws, what the Soul is to the body. They move at his bidding. They agree or disagree to any measure that he, and those over whom he knows how to exercise his authority as the Speaker of the Nation may bid. As to their King, he is without power. Like all Indian kings, or the most of them, he is but the subject of some more able and intelligent mind ­ Levi Colbert is that mind." McKenney to Eaton, June 27, 1829, ibid.

In 1830, two events would finally break the Chickasaw resolve to not be removed. Congress enacted Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act and the state of Mississippi passed statutes that abolished the Chickasaw tribal government and tribal laws. Chickasaw leaders were subject to $1,000 fine and imprisonment if they attempted to govern their people. This violated Chickasaw treaties with the United States Government. The tribe immediately asked President Andrew Jackson to stop Mississippi from enforcing these laws, but he refused to help.

Negotiations began in 1830 to cede the Chickasaw lands. President Jackson met with the Chickasaw in Franklin, TN in treaty. Levi Colbert and other leaders bargained shrewdly for as much compensation as possible for their homeland and the improvements they had made to it. The Franklin treaty provided for the cession of all remaining Chickasaw lands in exchange for a tract west of the Mississippi. And that the United States was to pay for the tribe's traveling costs, provide the Chickasaw with food for 1 year after their emigration and give them a $15,000 annuity for 20 years.

This treaty had a nullification clause in case the Chickasaw could not find a suitable tract of land. In October of 1830, a delegation of Chickasaw was sent west once more. They could not find suitable land and returned. Levi Colbert sent a letter to President Jackson stating that the Chickasaw could not find suitable land, and cited the Franklin treaty's clause. That letter nullified the agreement.

Another treaty signed at the Pontotoc Creek council house in 1830 was signed by tribal leaders under duress. After many subsequent meetings, in 1834, the US government finally agreed to amend the treaty to provide the Chickasaw with larger individual allotments, a Tribal Fund for their traveling expenses and provided for a Chickasaw Commission to handle the affairs of Indians deemed incompetent to handle business affairs and thus protected them from the swarms of land speculators that were eager to cheat the Chickasaw out of a fair price for their land.

From the 1834 treaty, Article 4 "...Many of their people are quite competent to manage their affairs, though some are not capable, and might be imposed upon by designing persons; it is therefore agreed that the reservations hereinafter admitted, shall not be permitted to be sold, leased, or disposed of unless it appear by the [419] certificate of at least two of the following persons, to wit: Ish-ta-ho-ta-pa the King, Levi Colbert, George Colbert, Martin Colbert, Isaac Alberson, Henry Love, and Benj Love, of which five have affixed their names to this treaty."

This commission existed from 1834 to 1845 in order that Chickasaw property owners would be treated fairly by eager land speculators, even if they were not very knowledgeable of business affairs. The commissioners protected their people from being swindled.

Levi Colbert died in 1834 on his way to Washington DC to discuss the Pontotoc treaty, he fell ill at the home of his daughter and son-in-law at Buzzard Roost (Levi's former home which was a half mile south of Barton Station on the Southern Railroad) and did not recover. It is unknown if Levi was buried there or taken back to his home at Cotton Gin Port.


Levi had married several wives. Seletia Colbert, had lived at Colbert's Ferry where the Trace crossed the Tennessee River. Another wife is said to have lived at what is now known as the French Farm, not far from Okolona, in Monroe County. His granddaughter, Frances Elizabeth Kemp tells us of his wife, Minto-Ho-Yo who was a full-blood Chickasaw. Levi and his wives had many children: sons - Martin, Charles, Alex, Adam, Lemuel, Daughtery, Ebijah, Commodore, and Lewis; daughters - Mariah, Charity, Phalishta and Asa. 


Submitted by: Viki Anderson

Letter to Andrew Jackson.jpeg
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