Public Domain Photo - Courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau
This is the sixth in a series of blog posts offering brief information on every constitutionally-elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation since 1828.
Joel Bryan Mayes was a Georgian, born 2 October 1833 to Samuel and Nancy Adair Mayes. Reports have indicated that the family relocated to Indian Territory in 1838, during the time of the Trail of Tears. Mayes attended the Male Seminary in Tahlequah in 1851 and graduated in 1855. He taught school for a while before moving to the Cooweescoowee District and entering the cattle business.
In 1855, he married Martha Candy, who died in 1857. Mayes enlisted as a private in the 1st Cherokee Regiment in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. By 1862, he attained the rank of captain and was the Assistant Quartermaster of the 2nd Regiment of Cherokee Mounted Volunteers. Two years later he was promoted to Major and assigned to the 1st Indian Brigade by General Stand Waitie. In 1863, Mayes married Martha McNair , who died in 1866 while they were living in the Choctaw region. After the war, he moved to Texas with his family. In 1869, Mayes married a widow, Mary Delilah Vann Drew.
Mayes began his political career as clerk of the Cooweescoowee district court in 1869. In 1881, he was appointed clerk of the citizenship court, which led him to later serve as clerk of the Cherokee Council. He was subsequently posted as an associate justice of the Cherokee Supreme Court, serving for one year before being elected as Chief Justice. On 1 August 1887, Mayes defeated Rabbit Bunch of the National party for Chief of the Cherokee Nation. A contested election, controversy surrounded the circumstances, leading Congress to intervene and create a federal court for the Indian Territory, undercutting previous tribal court authority.
Mayes was reelected to a second term on 3 August 1891. He died shortly thereafter, at his home in Tahlequah on 14 December 1891. Mayes is buried in the Tahlequah City Cemetery, in what is now Cherokee County, Oklahoma (Oklahoma becoming a state in 1907).
***Bryan D. Jackson’s new release, Chattahoochee Rain (ages 12 and up), is on sale now. It is a historical fiction account that paints a portrait of events during the months leading up to the Treaty of New Echota and features some of Bryan’s direct ancestors.