Joel B. Mayes

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Joel B. Mayes
Tsa-wa Gak-ski
Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation leader
Preceded by Dennis Bushyhead
Succeeded by C. J. Harris
Personal details
Born (1833-10-02)October 2, 1833
Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia
Died December 14, 1891(1891-12-14) (aged 58)
Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma
Resting place Tahlequah Cemetery, Cherokee County, Oklahoma
Spouse(s) Martha J. Candy
Martha McNair
Mary Delilah Vann Drew
Education Cherokee Male Seminary
Known for Cherokee Supreme Court justice, Cherokee Outlet sale
Religion Methodist

Joel Bryan Mayes (Tsa-wa Gak-ski, in Cherokee)[1] (1833 – 1891) was Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

He was born on October 2, 1833 in present-day Carterville, Bartow County, Georgia to the former Nancy Adair (b. 1808, and part-Cherokee) and her husband Samuel Mayes (1803-1858, and adopted into the Cherokee tribe upon his marriage in 18245).[3][4] In 1838, Samuel Mayes and his family (as well as the Adair family and others of mixed Scots/Irish and Cherokee ancestry and their slaves), relocated across the Mississippi River into what was then Indian Territory. Many of these "Old Settlers" had signed a removal treaty (the Treaty of New Echota) which many other Cherokee (including chief John Ross) abhored and renounced. Samuel Mayes bred and sold livestock, and also owned many enslaved persons before his death in 1858 in what eventually became Mayes County, Oklahoma (named for him and/or his son after statehood five decades later).[5]

Joel B. Mayes was one of Samuel Mayes's many sons. His elder brothers were George Washington Mayes (1824-1894), John Thompson Mayes (1826-1863) and Francis Asbury Mayes (1833-1863). Both the latter accompanied their father driving cattle to California circa 1852. While John Thompson Mayes returned with his father to Indian Territory, Francis Asbury Mayes remained in California for several years, but when returning to Oklahoma in 1863, was reported ambushed by hostile tribesman and killed. The eldest brother, Wash Mayes, would serve as high sheriff of the Cherokee Nation for many years. A younger brother Samuel Houston Mayes (1845-1927), also became a principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and the namesake of Mayes County, Oklahoma. Other younger brothers were William Henry ("Tip") Mayes (1842-1918) and Wiley B. Mayes (1848-1934).[6]

He attended tribal schools, then college at the Cherokee Male Seminary, graduating in 1856.[7] He edited a small weekly newspaper there called the Sequoyah Memorial, with the motto: "Truth, Justice, Freedom of Speech and Cherokee Improvement."[8] Mayes then taught school at Muddy Springs from 1855 to 1857, before becoming a cattleman like his father until the American Civil War.[9]

Family life[edit]

Mayes' first two wives were members of the Cherokee Female Seminary Class of 1856.

Joel Mayes was an active Methodist and Mason, and married three times. In 1855 he married Martha J. Candy, who died two years later in the Flint District, and was buried in Salina, Oklahoma. She had graduated from the Cherokee Female Seminary in 1856. In 1863, Mayes married Martha McNair (another Female Seminary Class of 1856 graduate) in Rusk County, Texas, but she died near Durant in the Choctaw country in 1866. In 1869 Joel Mayes married widow Mary Delilah Vann Drew (1838-1912). The daughter of David and Martha (McNair) Vann of the Saline District and also a Female Seminary graduate, brought a son George N. Drew (1861-1878). She and Joel B. Mayes either had a son Thompson B. Mayes (1873-1899) or fostered his brother Wiley's son. In either event, Martha Vann Mayes would survive her second husband by more than a decade, and also outlived both her sons.[10][11]

Confederate service[edit]

Joel B. Mayes enlisted as a private in Company A of the 1st Cherokee Regiment in the Confederate Army on September 18, 1862, and rose to captain and assistant quartermaster of the 2nd Regiment of Cherokee Mounted Volunteers the following year. On July 13, 1864, General E. K. Smith appointed Mayes major, brigade quartermaster and paymaster of the First Indian Brigade under Principal Chief and Confederate General Stand Watie, where he served until war's end.[12] During the war, his family and other Confederate Cherokee took refuge in Rusk and Smith counties of east Texas, where Mayes married for the second time.[13] His cousin, Joel Mayes Bryan (1809-1898), operated crucial saltworks in Adair County beginning in the 1840s.

Postwar business and politics[edit]

After the war ended, Joel B. Mayes returned to Bryan County, Oklahoma, but two years later, after his second wife's death, resumed his farming and ranching business along the Grand River in Mayes County.[14]

In 1868 Mayes County voters elected Mayes the court clerk. In 1873 he was elected judge of the Northern Circuit of the Cherokee Nation. He served for five years before being appointed secretary of the Commission on Citizenship. While still secretary of the Commission on Citizenship, Mayes became clerk of the National Council. He was then named an associate justice of the Cherokee Supreme Court, which he served for one year before being elected Chief Justice by the National Council.[15][16]

Cherokee Chief[edit]

On August 1, 1887, after a spirited campaign and disputed election, Mayes became chieftain of the Cherokee Nation on the Downing ticket, defeating Rabbit Bunch of the National party. The National party refused to concede defeat, and the National Council refused to conduct the required canvass. However, Chief Dennis Bushyhead acknowledged Mayes as his successor and retired in January 1888, after the Downing party seized the tribal offices at Tahlequah.[17]

However, this caused publicity and a national scandal, which ultimately caused Congress to create a federal court for the Indian Territory, undermining the tribal courts. During his administration, the Cherokee strip cattle lease sale was negotiated at a rate double the prior lease, the cattle lease negotiated by Chief Bushyhead in 1883 having a five year term. The Cherokee Outlet sale opening lands to white settlers after massive emigration into what had been Creek tribal lands four years earlier also occurred suring his administration. U.S. Judge James M. Shackelford, established the first U.S. District Court in what had been Indian Territory at Muskogee on April 1, 1889.[18]

Death and legacy[edit]

Mayes was easily re-elected to a second term as Principal Chief over George Benge on August 3, 1891. However, he died shortly thereafter, at his home in Tahlequah after a brief illness on December 14, 1891.[19] He is buried at the Tahlequah Cemetery, Cherokee County, Oklahoma.[20] Thomas M. Buffington briefly served as interim chief until the tribal council convened and elected C.J. Harris his successor on December 23, 1891. His brother Sam Mayes would succeed Harris as principal chief in 1895.

Preceded by
Dennis Bushyhead
Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation
Succeeded by
C. J. Harris


  1. ^ Powell, J. W. Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900. Page 536.
  2. ^ Starr, Emmet. History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folk Lore. Oklahoma City: The Warden Company, 1921. Page 263.
  3. ^
  4. ^ United States Census Bureau. The Five Civilized Tribes. Washington D. C.: United States Census Printing Office, 1894. Page 42.
  5. ^ citing Starr, History of the Cherokees, pp. 574 and 611.
  6. ^
  7. ^ United States Census Bureau. The Five Civilized Tribes. Washington D. C.: United States Census Printing Office, 1894. Page 42.
  8. ^ Works Project Administration. Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941. Page 76.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Cherokee census, 1883 numbers 1170, 1174, 1174
  12. ^ United States Census Bureau. The Five Civilized Tribes. Washington D. C.: United States Census Printing Office, 1894. Page 42.
  13. ^ Oklahoma Historical Society, John Bartlett Meserve, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 15, no.1, March 1937, pg.57-59. Available at Accessed on 4/22/17
  14. ^
  15. ^ United States Census Bureau. The Five Civilized Tribes. Washington D. C.: United States Census Printing Office, 1894. Page 42.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Starr, Emmet. History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folk Lore. Oklahoma City: The Warden Company, 1921. Page 263.
  20. ^

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