The hero of the Choctaws, and without doubt one of the greatest of all American Indians, was A-Push-ma-ta-ha-hu-bi, commonly known as Pushmataha. His full name is said to mean “His arm and all the weapons in his hands are fatal to his foes.” He was born about 1764 in the present State of Mississippi. Little or nothing is known of his ancestry or of his early youth. His parents are supposed to have been killed by the Creeks, which accounted in part for Pushmataha's hatred for that tribe. When questioned as to his ancestry he generally said, "I am a Choctaw." In a boastful mood, he once made this poetic statement: "Pushmataha has no ancestors; the sun was his father, the moon, his mother. A mighty storm swept the earth; midst the roar of thunder, the lightning split a mighty oak and Pushmataha stepped forth a full-fledged warrior," especially against the Osages. On more than one occasion he pursued these enemies far beyond the western banks of the Great River. He thus became familiar with the land of Oklahoma, where later his people were to come, and knowing its value, he did not, as some others, oppose the removal of the Choctaws from Mississippi.
In personal appearance he was every inch a chief. He was of the purest of Indian blood, six feet, two inches tall and robust in proportion to his height, with form and features finely modeled. His deportment was calm and dignified. The Indians sometimes called him the "Panther's Claw." He was by nature a leader among men, and not alone in his own tribe. No Indian of his day was so highly respected by white men, as was Pushmataha. He possessed wonderful powers as an orator. General Sam Dale, the famous Indian fighter, who heard Pushmataha's appeal against Tecumseh, declared him to be the greatest orator he ever heard. The Indian's picturesque word for Pushmataha's flow of language was the waterfalls.
Pushmataha was ever and constantly a friend of the Americans. Some historians give him credit equal to that of the renowned Andrew Jackson in saving our Southern States to the United States in the War of 1812. The wily Shawnee, Tecumseh, having already united the Indians of the upper Mississippi Valley, came south with the purpose of adding the Muskogean tribes to his confederacy. At a great meeting of the Choctaws and Chickasaws on the Tombigbee near the present site of Columbia, Mississippi, Tecumseh hade an earnest and impassioned appeal and had almost won the day, when Pushmataha arose and made his memorable reply, which was so eloquent and so convincing that only thirty warriors of these tribes joined Tecumseh. Therefore, when Jackson led his army against the Creeks in 1813, finally overwhelming them at the battle of Horseshoe Bend, Pushmataha and seven hundred of his warriors rendered efficient and valiant service. And when a year later at New Orleans, the Americans faced the British veterans who had won fame on the fields of Europe, Pushmataha, now a brigadier-general of the American army, led eight hundred brave Choctaws to share in Jackson’s triumph.
Pushmataha spent the remainder of his life working in the interest of his people. When the treaty of 1820 was negotiated, which provided for the sale of their lands in Mississippi and the eventual removal to Oklahoma. Pushmataha insisted that a large sum be set aside as a perpetual school fund for the education of Choctaw youth. His comment on this treaty was almost a prophecy: "We have acquired from the United States her best remaining territory west of the Mississippi, and this treaty provides a perpetual fund for the education of our children. I predict that in a few generations its benefits will enable the Choctaws to fight in the white man's armies and to hold office in the white man's government." It may be stated, parenthetically, that for the past twenty years the Choctaw section of Oklahoma has been represented in Congress by a statesman of Indian blood.
In 1824, Pushmataha went to Washington on business for the Choctaws, the last service he ever rendered. In his address to the Secretary of War on this occasion he said. “I can boast and tell the truth that none of the Choctaws ever drew bow against the United States. We have held the hand of the United States so long that our nails are long like birds claws.”
While in Washington he contracted pneumonia and died December 24, 1824. General Jackson visited him in his last illness and asked what he could do for him. Pushmataha replied, “When I die, let the big gun be fired over me.” He was given the funeral of a general of the United States Army and his remains buried in the Congressional Cemetery at Washington, where his modest monument may be seen today.
The life and character of Pushmataha has been thus summed up; "A man with intuitive conception of honor and morals. A great general, brave and intrepid, a renowned orator, wise in counsel, a safe law giver, loyal in friendship and possessing a notable rugged honesty." Any man, white or red, might well be proud of such a tribute!