John Bartlett Meserve
The saga of the Cherokees, from the dawn of their arrival in the old Indian Territory down to the present, is emphatically one of constant change in their social, economic, and political lives. The influence of the adventurous white men who intermarried and cast their fortunes among the Indians was very pronounced. The mixed blood descendants of those soldiers of fortune in numerous instances achieved wealth, distinction, and leadership among the Indians and strongly influenced their tribal life. Numerous families of prominence grew up among the mixed blood Cherokee Indians. These families, while none the less proud of their Indian blood, were and are today, capable, in many instances, of tracing an ancestry back to some early white colonial ancestor of more or less renown. The intermarriage of these families provoked a sort of aristocracy in the social and intellectual life of the Cherokees and today among them are families of the highest culture and refinement. They may have been clannish to a degree, but probably inherited this trait from the Scotch with whom they were largely intermarried. The Cherokees have their "first families" and most charming they are indeed. It is worthy of note that the Cherokee Nation had no principal chief of the full blood after the days of the adoption of its constitution in 1827. Its political affairs, after that time, were managed by shrewd, mixed-blood politicians bearing white men's names and speaking the white man's language and frequently, with scarcely enough Indian blood to evidence itself in their features.
The Adair family was outstanding among the Cherokees. Two brothers, John and Edward Adair, Scotchmen whose father is reputed to have achieved much prominence in England during the reign of George III, came to America in 1770 and engaged in trading operations with the Indians and ultimately intermarried among
the Cherokees in Tennessee.1 John Adair married Ga-hoga, a full blood Cherokee Indian woman of the Deer clan and his son, Walter Adair, known as Black Watt, was born on December 11, 1783 and became an active character among the Cherokees. Walter Adair married Rachel Thompson, a white woman, on May 13, 1804 and died in Georgia on January 20, 1835. Rachel Thompson was born in Georgia on December 24, 1786 and died near what is today Stilwell, Oklahoma, on April 22, 1876. Nancy Adair, a daughter of Walter and Rachel Adair was born in Georgia on October 7, 1808, married Samuel Mayes on January 22, 1824 and died in what is today Mayes County, Oklahoma on May 28, 1876 and is buried in the old family cemetery on the Wiley Mayes place some seven miles east of Pryor, Oklahoma.
Samuel Mayes, of English-Welsh descent, was born in Tennessee on November 11, 1803. After his marriage into the Adair family, he lived in what is today Bates County, Georgia and was recognized as a member of the Cherokee tribe. He removed from Georgia to the West in 1838 with one of the earliest voluntary removal parties of the Cherokees and settled near Evansville in the Flint District in the old Indian Territory. He came west with the Adairs, the Boudinots, the Ridges, the Thompsons, and others. Among these families were prominent leaders who had been signers of the removal treaty which had provoked so much tribal dissension. Though their emigration was voluntary, it also was probably influenced by conditions which threatened the personal safety of them and their families, in the East. Samuel Mayes doubtless was of the so-called treaty party and later of the anti-Ross faction in Cherokee Nation politics. He engaged in the stock business after his removal, was quite successful, and became a large slave holder. Yielding to the pressure of the gold excitement, he joined a party of Cherokees and went to California in 1850, but remained only
1Starr, History of the Cherokees, pp. 574 and 611. The writer also is indebted to Hon. Thomas J. Harrison of Pryor, Hon. S. R. Lewis of Tulsa and to George W. Mayes of Oklahoma City for much valuable information.
a few months. In the spring of 1852, he made another journey to California, driving a herd of cattle, most of which he sold there. Upon his return a few months later, he left the residue of the herd in the West to be sold by his son Francis, who remained in California. The son sold the cattle and with the proceeds in his pocket began the trip back to the Cherokee country, but was robbed and slain while en route. About 1857, Samuel Mayes removed to Coo-wee-scoo-wee District in what is today Mayes County, Oklahoma, where he died on December 30, 1858 and is buried in the old Adair cemetery near Salina.
Joel Bryan Mayes,2 a son of Samuel and Nancy Mayes, was born near Carterville, Bates County, Georgia, on October 2, 1833. He came with his parents to the old Indian Territory in 1838, where he attended the tribal schools until 1851, when he enrolled at the Male Seminary at Tahlequah from which he graduated four years later. He taught school at Muddy Springs near the present town of Stilwell from 1855 to 1857 and theerafter removed to Coo-wee-scoo-wee District and engaged in the cattle business until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Records3 disclose that Joel B. Mayes enlisted and served as a private in Company A of the 1st Cherokee Regiment in the Confederate army and on September 18, 1862, was appointed Captain and Assistant Quartermaster of the 2nd Regiment of Cherokee Mounted Volunteers, by Gen. D. H. Cooper. He was appointed Major and Brigade Quartermaster by Gen. E. K. Smith, on July
2O'Beirne, The Indian Territory; Its Chiefs, Legislators and Leading Men, p. 103. Joel Bryan Mayes was named for his cousin, Joel Mayes Bryan, who was the only son of John Bryan and Nancy (Mayes) Bryan. She was a sister of Samuel Mayes. Joel Mayes Bryan was born in Bates County, Georgia on October 2, 1809. He came to the Indian Territory in 1832 and his home, built by him in 1883, is still standing (1936) seven miles east of Stilwell, Adair County, Oklahoma. This home was purchased by John Thompson Adair in 1838 and is still in possession of the Adair family. Joel Mayes Bryan, in 1843 began operating the salt works at the old Union Mission and so continued for many years. ("Salt Works in Early Oklahoma," Grant Foreman, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 10, pp. 495 et seq.) Joel Mayes Bryan died on August 8, 1898 and is buried in the family cemetery on the old Bryan farm southeast of Pryor, a farm now owned and occupied by Joel Mayes Bryan, his 81 year old son.
13, 1864 and assigned to the 1st Indian Brigade, under Gen. Stand Waitie. He served faithfully and capably throughout the war, his name last appearing on a roster dated Mount Pleasant, Cherokee Nation, February 18, 1865. The Cherokees were somewhat divided in their sympathies during the Civil War and many of the non-combatant members of the families removed to the North or South as their sentiments inclined. The Mayes family removed to Rush County, Texas, returning to the Choctaw country in 1865 and back to the Cherokee Nation in the fall of 1867. Joel B. Mayes returned from Texas in the fall of 1865 and settled in what is today Bryan County, Oklahoma, where he remained until late in 1867 when he returned to the Cherokee country and re-engaged in the cattle business, in what is today Mayes County.
The political life of Joel B. Mayes began rather modestly as clerk of the district court of Coo-wee-scoo-wee District in 1869 which position he held until 1873, when he was elected judge of the northern circuit of the Cherokee Nation, and subsequently was reelected. In 1881, he was appointed clerk of the citizenship court, a court which had been created by the Council to hear and dispose of claims for citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. He served for a brief period as clerk of the Council and later was elevated to the tribal supreme court and was serving as chief justice when, on August 1, 1887, he was elected chieftain of the Cherokee Nation on the Downing ticket, his opponent being Rabbit Bunch, the candidate of the National party. The campaign which preceded his election was very spirited and, after the election, some confusion arose which embarrassed the newly elected chief in assuming the reins of office. Under the Cherokee National constitution, the National Council was required to canvass the election returns, declare the result and authorize a certificate to be issued to the successful candidate. These details appeared to be necessary prerequisites to evidence an unqualified right to office. The Council, however, postponed its canvass of the election returns and finally adjourned in December without having taken the required action.
On the face of the returns it appeared that Mayes had been elected, although the Bunch followers declined to make the concession. A National party majority in the upper chamber of the Council postponed the canvass of the returns and provoked the premature adjournment. This delinquency of the Council was indefensible and left the succession to Chief Dennis W. Bushyhead, the incumbent chief, in a controversial status. The situation became tense as armed members of the rival factions began to arrive at Tahlequah. In January, 1888, armed adherents of the Downing party, in defiance of the constitutional requirements which the Council had ignored, forcibly invaded the executive offices at Tahlequah and installed Joel B. Mayes as chief. Chief Bushyhead gracefully retired, bloodshed was averted, and the political affairs of the tribe returned to a normal posture. The metropolitan press throughout the country grossly magnified the incident and editorially denounced the capacity of the Indian tribes for self government and insisted upon an immediate liquidation of the Indian tribal governments by Congress. The first overt gesture of the Federal Government indicating a stronger policy of political control was evidenced the following year when Congress established a United States Court for the Indian Territory and a year later more clearly defined and enlarged its jurisdiction. With the succeeding years tribal disintegration proceeded rapidly until the independent political status of the tribes was completely folded up.
The tenure of Joel B. Mayes as chieftain of the Cherokees was rather uneventful in so far as his necessary official activities were concerned. The Cherokee Strip cattle lease matter immediately engrossed his attention upon his induction into office. The five-year lease which Chief Bushyhead had made with the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association in 1883 was about to expire and the company was seeking its renewal. There4 was considerable maneu-
4Thoburn and Wright, Oklahoma, State and People, Vol. II, pp. 538-9. Joe B. Milam, "The Opening of the Cherokee Strip," Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 9, pp. 268 et seq.
vering upon the part of the Council and numerous acts were passed only to be vetoed by the chief who insisted upon a higher annual rental than the rental which the Council seemed willing to accept. Chief Mayes controlled the situation with remarkable tact, business judgment, and integrity, and the lease was renewed to the association, late in December, 1888, for another five years but at an annual rental of $200,000 which was twice the annual rental paid under the original lease. The Cherokee Strip incident served to bring into bold relief the courage and high integrity of Chief Mayes and these elements of character dignified his course of conduct throughout his public career.
Time has no patience, history moves with incredible swiftness and things were beginning to happen during the tenure of Chief Mayes which clearly presaged the early absorption of the Cherokees into American life. The chief witnessed the opening of the first United States Court in the old Indian Territory, by Judge James M. Shackleford, at Muskogee, on April 1, 1889. This court and its successors were soon to supersede the decadent tribal courts. Later in the month, he saw the dramatic pioneer army cross the Strip to impress homestead rights upon lands in the western part of the Indian Territory, which had but recently been conveyed by the Creek tribe to the government, and the nucleus of the white man's Oklahoma Territory was formed. Preliminary gestures had already been made by the government toward the Cherokees, seeking to purchase the famous Cherokee Strip and throw it open to white settlement, as was done four years later. The old established standards of the Indian were suffering a dislocation and the "Trail of Tears" was leading to a new day.
Chief Mayes was easily reelected over George Benge, his opponent, at the tribal election of August 3, 1891, but death terminated his public service very shortly thereafter. Following a brief illness, the chief passed away on December 14, 1891, at his home in Tahlequah, where he is buried. Thomas M. Buffington, as president of
the senate, filled the vacancy occasioned by the death of Chief Mayes, until December 23rd, when the Council convened and elected C. J. Harris to fill out the unexpired term.
Chief Joel B. Mayes was a rugged character of high integrity and evidenced marked executive ability. He was a large man, standing perhaps six feet in height and weighing well over two hundred pounds, but ever erect in his carriage. The chief was a consistent Methodist and a member of the Masonic fraternity.
Chief Mayes married Martha J. Candy in the Flint District in 1855. She passed away in 1857 and is buried in the old Frank Adair cemetery just east of the Grand river and south of Salina, in Mayes County. In 1863, while in Rush County, Texas, he married Martha McNair, who died near Durant in the Choctaw country in the fall of 1866 and is buried near the mouth of Island Bayou in the old Jackson family cemetery. He married Mary Drew, nee Vann, a widow and a daughter of David and Martha (McNair) Vann, in 1869. She was born in the Saline District on June 21, 1838, educated at Fayetteville, Arkansas and the Female Seminary at Tahlequah and died on August 3, 1912 and is buried in the Fairview cemetery at Pryor, Oklahoma.
Samuel Houston Mayes,5 a younger brother of Chief Joel B. Mayes, was born at the old Mayes homestead near the present town of Stilwell, Oklahoma, on May 11, 1845. It is of interest to know that the old rock spring house erected by Samuel Mayes, his father, in 1839 at the old home place, is still standing. Young Mayes attended the tribal schools and at the age of sixteen entered the Confederate army, in the Civil War as a private in Company K, under Capt. Benjamin F. Carter and in the 2nd Cherokee Regiment under Col. Clem Vann, and served intermittently until the war was concluded. After the war he lived for a brief time in Texas where and when he attended school for a year in Rusk County.
5The middle name of Samuel Houston Mayes was in tribute to the famous Sam Houston with whom his father Samuel Mayes had been acquainted back in Tennessee. Necrology;—"Samuel Houston Mayes," Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 6, pp. 228 et seq.
In 1865, he returned to the Choctaw country where he rode the range for a couple of years. He came back to the Cherokee Nation in 1867 and engaged in the stock business.
The cattle business was beginning to assume proportions in the Southwest about this time. Vast herds of Texas long horns, being driven north to shipping points in Kansas, lingered upon the plains of the Territory. Many of the Indians became attracted to the enterprise and shared in fortunes quickly made. The Mayes brothers were very successful in the cattle business and became quite independent.
The political career of Samuel Houston Mayes began in 1880 when he was elected and served as sheriff of Coo-wee-scoo-wee District. From 1885 to 1891, he served as senator from the same district, those being the years when his illustrious brother was the tribal chief. He was elected chief of the Cherokees at the tribal election of August 5, 1895, on the Downing party ticket, defeating Robert Ross, his opponent by a substantial majority. The tenure of Samuel H. Mayes as chief was rather passive. The time for diplomacy and statecraft had passed as the government moved vigorously to close up tribal affairs. The famous Dawes Commission was created by Congress in 1893 and its powers enlarged by each succeeding Congress. The Commission was very unpopular among the rank and file of the Indians, when it was first created. The Curtis Act of June 28, 1898 left nothing to be imagined. It abolished the tribal courts, directed a survey of the tribal lands, required that tribal rolls of membership be prepared and that the surface rights of the lands of the tribe be allotted in severalty among its members. Anyone may add that up and see what was left of the independent, communal life of the First American. The Indian had never taken civilization lying down but the picture had changed. He now had too much white blood coursing through his anatomy and the government was manifesting a feeling that the Indians in the old Territory had been held in "cold storage" long enough.
The capable chief of the Cherokees easily appraised the trend of things and used his influence among his people to induce them to adjust themselves to the altered status which was rapidly approaching. The duties of his office became rather perfunctory as he was being relieved of his executive powers by the officers of the government. One term seems to have satisfied his political ambitions and he was not a candidate for reelection. At the conclusion of his term, he retired to his farm in what is today Mayes County, Oklahoma, where he lived for many years. He later built a home in Pryor where he lived in much comfort until his death on December 12, 1927. He rests in the Fairview Cemetery at Pryor, Oklahoma.
Samuel Houston Mayes married Martha Elizabeth Vann on November 9, 1871. She was born October 4, 1852 and died December 27, 1907 at Pryor, Oklahoma. Of this union three children survive: William Lucullis, of Spavinaw, Dr. Joseph Francis, of St. Louis and M. Carrie, now Mrs. Clarence Samuels, of Pryor. On February 18, 1913, he married Minnie Harrison nee Ball, a widow, who survives him and now (1936) lives at Pryor, Oklahoma. He was enrolled opposite roll No. 23497 on the approved rolls of the Cherokee Indians as evidenced by census card No. 2704.
The chief was a man of medium height and weighed about 160 pounds. He was a member of the Methodist Church and an affiliate of the Masonic orders. He possessed much political acumen and business judgment but his political career was rather overshadowed by his illustrious brother.
The two Mayes chieftains were high class, intelligent men. The quantity of their Indian blood was negligible but their fealty to the best concerns of the Cherokees, was complete. With commendable foresight they visioned the necessary closing up of tribal affairs by the government and the consequent allotment of the tribal domain in severalty. These purposes of the government met with their approval although they may have questioned some of the
steps pursued. They recognized that the impending action of the government was for the best interests of the Cherokees and so indicated to their people. They were capable, well poised leaders and enjoyed the highest confidence and esteem of the Cherokees.
—John Bartlett Meserve.