Public Domain Photo - courtesy of Emmet Starr, History of the Cherokee Indians.
This is the eighth in a series of profiles offering brief information on every constitutionally-elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation since 1828.
Samuel Houston Mayes, younger brother of previous chief, Joel Bryan Mayes, was born 11 May 1845 in Muddy Springs, Indian Territory, near today’s Stilwell, Oklahoma. He was of Scots/English and Cherokee descent. Mayes received a Cherokee education at a tribal school and served in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier. Later, like so many, he was a cattle rancher. Later, he entered politics at the local level when he was elected sheriff of the Cooweescoowee District. He married Martha Vann on 9 November 1871.
In 1885, he was elected senator in the Cooweescoowee District and served until 1891. Congress created the Dawes Commission in 1893, the purported purpose being to register members of Native tribes and initiate and monitor allotments of tribal land. In 1895, Mayes was elected Principal Chief. During the first year of his term, the Dawes Commission (chaired by Senator Henry Dawes, a Republican from Massachusetts) essentially hijacked the Cherokee Nation under the cloak of “helping” the Cherokee to determine its rules of citizenship. The Cherokee resisted this encroachment as much as possible but in time were forced to negotiate.
Martha died in 1907, the same year Oklahoma became a state, and Mayes eventually remarried a widow named Minnie Ball, nee Harrison, who survived him. Mayes died on 12 December 1927 at his farm in Pryor Creek, OK. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Pryor Creek.
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"YOH-nuh" (yonv) means "bear" in Cherokee. Thanks for visiting!