Published on March 2, 2011 by Carol
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Peter Perkins Pitchlynn (30 January 1806 – 17 January 1881), or Hat-choo-tuck-nee (“The Snapping Turtle”), was a Choctaw chief of Choctaw and Anglo-American ancestry.
Peter P. Pitchlynn was born in Noxubee County, Mississippi, January 30, 1806. His father was Major John Pitchlynn, a white man of Scottish descent, who was raised as a boy by the Choctaw after the death of his father Isaac. John Pitchlyn served George Washington as an interpreter for negotiations with the Choctaw.
Peter’s mother was Sophia Folsom, a mixed-race Choctaw of partly Anglo-American descent, whose father was Ebenezer Folsom, and mother Natika was Choctaw. Sophia’s Choctaw name was Lk-lo-ha-wah (loved but lost). The couple married in 1804.
The boy Peter, one of ten children born to the Pitchlynns, began his education by attending a Tennessee boarding school about 200 miles from Mississippi. Later he attended an academy in Columbia, Tennessee. To complete his education, he studied at and graduated from the University of Nashville. After he obtained his degree, Pitchlyn returned to his home in Mississippi, where he became a farmer.
Pitchlynn was well educated in both United States and Choctaw traditions. In the 1820s he was elected to the National Council of Choctaws. He served as an interpreter and effective liaison with the US federal government. Impressive in his bearing–”as stately and complete a gentleman of nature’s making as ever I beheld,” wrote Charles Dickens–he became principal chief in 1860 of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, after most of the Choctaw had been removed to Indian Territory (later Oklahoma).
Pitchlynn was in Washington, D.C., in 1861 when the American Civil War started. He immediately left, hoping to escape the expected strife. He had gone to Washington to address national affairs of the Choctaw but immediately returned home to Oklahoma. The Choctaw were not permitted to occupy neutral ground. Some allied with the Confederacy and others with the Union. All suffered in the aftermath of the war.
Peter P. Pitchlynn was elected Principal Chief of the Choctaws in 1864 and served until 1866. He then moved to Washington, DC, where he worked to press Choctaw claims for lands sold to the United States in 1830. In addition to being a member of the Lutheran Church, he was also a prominent member of the Masonic Order.
Pitchlynn was reported to have told of the origin of the Choctaw: “according to the traditions of the Choctaws, the first of their race came from the bosom of a magnificent sea. Even when they first made their appearance upon the earth they were so numerous as to cover the sloping and sandy shore of the ocean … in the process of time, however, the multitude was visited by sickness … their journey lay across streams, over hills and mountains, through tangled forests, and over immense prairies … so pleased were they with all that they saw that they built mounds in all the more beautiful valleys they passed through, so the Master of Life might know that they were not an ungrateful people.”
Pitchlynn addressed the President and several congressional committees in defense of Choctaw claims. He died in Washington in 1881 and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery. The Choctaw nation placed a monument there in recognition of his service and allegiance to his people. Pitchlynn’s mother, Sophia Folsom Pitchlynn, who moved to Oklahoma with her son after her husband’s death before removal, had the oldest known grave in Oklahoma.
Pitchlyn’s younger maternal cousin Frances Folsom (1864-1947) married President Grover Cleveland in the White House.