Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

October 16, 2012

Honoring a legacy

TAHLEQUAH — Jesse Bartley Milam’s legacy as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation is strongly rooted in preserving the tribe’s language and history, while building community.

An exhibit to honor the businessman, father and chief is currently on display at the Cherokee Heritage Center.

Milam was chief from 1941 to 1949, and served his people during time when tribal chiefs were appointed by the U.S. president, which placed a certain infamy on the man accepting the role, said Cherokee Heritage Center Curator Mickel Yantz.

“He’s been grouped with those ‘chiefs for a day’ and that title is somebody who was appointed by the president. ‘Here, sign this document. Thanks, but no thanks’ and that’s it. He looked well beyond that, and I think that’s why he was appointed [Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation] three different times,” said Yantz. “FDR and Truman saw that he was actually making a difference in this area. So they kept appointing him for one-year terms, then four-year terms because of the difference he was making.

Yantz explained Milam didn’t view the appointment as He didn’t look a nice handshake title. He made the most of it.

“Yes, he was appointed, but he made a difference, and he took that very seriously,” said Yantz.

Milam began his run as the principal chief in 1938, when the National Council of Cherokees, who were not satisfied with the U.S. government appointment system, came together to choose their own leader. Milam was elected on April 16, 1941, and Franklin D. Roosevelt confirmed the Cherokee people’s selection. Harry S. Truman would later confirm Milam’s appointment as chief in 1942, 1943 and 1947.

“Yes, he was appointed by two different presidents, but he took advantage of that to help the Cherokee community and the people to establish what we have now,” said Yantz. “He was a huge history buff. He collected any type of manuscript and book that he could find on the Cherokee people to gather them in one place.”

Yantz said Milam started Cherokee language classes in Tulsa at the business college, and pointed out that today, people can take Cherokee [language] classes at Northeastern State University and the University of Oklahoma.

“We actually found correspondence between The University of Oklahoma and Milam because they became interested [in offering Cherokee language classes] back in the 1940s,” said Yantz. “And today you can take that class.”

Milam, who was born near Italy, Texas, on March 10, 1884, also helped build roads in Cherokee communities during a time when the man-made roads were gravel.

“One of the things that we cherish here, is Milam’s goal to purchase the property where we’re standing [or what is the site of Cherokee Heritage Center], which was the ruins of the female seminary, and he also wanted to purchase the Murrell Home and make them both historical sites for people to come and learn about Cherokee history. And now today, here we are,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that he got started and wasn’t able to see before he passed away, but W.W. Keeler, who he knew at the time, picked right up where Milam [left off]. He saw the same vision Milam had, and now a lot of it we have today because of that.”

Aside from seeking to bring back important cultural and historical items to the Cherokee Nation, Milam ultimately wanted to reconstruct the tribe’s government, which had been disassembled under the Curtis Act of 1898, and renew claims against the federal government. Milam established his experience in business attending the Cherokee Male Seminary in Tahlequah, and the Metropolitan Business College in Dallas.

He worked in his father’s hardware store, and worked as a cashier at the Bank of Chelsea, where a member of the Milam family still serves on the board. Milam also founded the Phillips and Milam Oil Company with his brother-in-law, Woodley G. Phillips.

“So, in the city of Chelsea, the Milam family is still very strong. He was a banker, an oil man; he did a lot in the community,” said Yantz, who noted the exhibit includes a wide variety of Milam’s personal belongings.

“There are things he collected or purchased while he was chief or even before then. Some of the objects were gifted to him while he was chief,”  Yantz said. “He purchased an original Willard Stone carving back in 1942 to help out as we know a very famous local artist, and we have that on display. One, he loved the art and purchased it for the family, and also he was just trying to help the Cherokee people.”

One exhibit item of interest is an autograph book from the 1880s that includes use of the Cherokee syllabary by tribal dignitaries.

“They wrote messages to him, and so he was trying to preserve not only who they were, but little portions of Cherokee history through this autograph book,” said Yantz. “He funded and helped try to find Sequoyah’s burial site, though unsuccessful, but he did a lot of research like that. He also tracked down – there was an original letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Chief John Ross right after the war, and he was able to track down at least a copy of it. Searching for Sequoyah, finding these letters. It’s just fascinating to find out President Lincoln was writing letters to Chief John Ross after the Civil War.  He was very diverse in what he was trying to bring back to the Cherokee community.”


To see the complete version of this article, subscribe to the Daily Press e-edition by following the link below.

Click here to get the entire Tahlequah Daily Press delivered every day to your home or office.

Click here to get a free trial or to subscribe to the Tahlequah Daily Press electronic edition. It's the ENTIRE newspaper (without the paper) for your computer, iPad or e-reader.

Text Only
Local News
  • sr-NSU-Earth-day.jpg NSU students observe Earth Day

    Students and members of the community converged on Northeastern State University’s Second Century Square on Tuesday to spend an afternoon celebrating Earth Day.
    The event featured tables sponsored by campus organizations, prizes and music by Chris Espinoza. NSU’s Earth Day theme was “Gather Here. Go Green,” and was organized by the Committee for Sustainability and the Northeastern Student Government Association (NSGA).

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • ts-smallholders-courtesy.jpg Rural smallholders host annual show

    More and more, many people are showing growing interest in learning the sources of their food, including meat. As such, interest in farm-to-table living is increasing.
    Saturday, the Rural Smallholders Association held its annual spring show at the Cherokee County Fairgrounds, promoting the farming of sheep and goats, along with giving the general public a sample of their products.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • pitts-hurley.jpg Wanted man nabbed during traffic stop

    Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies arrested a wanted man this week after a traffic stop near South Muskogee and Willis Road.
    Hurley D. Pitts, 40, was being sought by authorities on a motion to revoke a previous sentence.
    Sheriff’s Deputy Jarrick Snyder said he stopped a car after it ran off the road a couple of times. A woman was behind the wheel, and Pitts was sitting in the passenger seat.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • SR-Wikafile.jpg Communiversity Band performs Sunday

    Musicians from on and off the Northeastern State University campus have made their final preparations for an upcoming performance of the NSU Communiversity Band.
    The ensemble performs Sunday, April 27, at 7 p.m., in the NSU Center for the Performing Arts. The conductor is Dr. Norman Wika, associate professor of music and band program director. Guest conductor is student Kameron Parmain. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors.
    “Everything has come together very well this semester,” Wika said.
    “We have about 40 musicians, and everyone who started the rehearsals has stuck with it. This could be the best Community Band concert yet.”

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Council concerned over reports of land contamination

    Negotiations involving the purchase of nearly 20 homes on 7 acres of land near Basin Avenue hit a snag Monday night when concerns surfaced over potential contamination of the area.
    Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols had proposed the city purchase the homes and duplexes as a large step in a greenbelt project, which would establish a solid park and trail system from the downtown area to the site of the city’s old solid waste transfer station.
    Until Monday, details of the negotiations had been mostly discussed behind closed doors, though Nichols confirmed the list price for the property to be $480,000.

    April 23, 2014

  • Council tables cell tower permit apps

    Tahlequah city councilors on Monday opted to hold off on approval of two special-use permit applications that would help AT&T install a couple of 150-foot cell towers within the city.
    Branch Communications is asking for the permits as it attempts to construct two monopole cell towers – one on Commercial Road near Green Country Funeral Home, and another at the Tahlequah Public Schools bus barn on Pendleton Street. Other towers are being built outside of the city limits.
    Members of the city’s planning and zoning board gave their OK for both permits last month.

    April 23, 2014

  • SR-WalkaMile1.jpg Walk a Mile 2014

    Men squeezed into feminine footwear Saturday by the hundreds to walk in solidarity with women on the issue of sexual violence – and their clop-clop-clopping echoed down Muskogee Avenue.
    The fourth annual “Walk a Mile In Her Shoes” brought men to Norris Park, accompanied by their enthusiastic female supporters, to walk – and often wobble – in high heels over a mile-long course to raise funds for Help-In-Crisis.
    “It hurts every year,” said John Christie, a Sequoyah High School student participating in his third Walk a Mile. “I get home, sit down, blisters come up and the calves hurt. But it is worth it. It’s for a good cause.”

    April 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • adams-christopher.jpg Michigan man gets 13 years on plea to rape, sodomy of girl

    A 28-year-old Michigan man will spend about 13 years in an Oklahoma state prison after pleading guilty to four counts of first-degree rape and one count of sodomy involving a 13-year-old girl.
    Christopher Dale Adams, of Lake Orion, Mich., received a 13-year prison sentence for each of the five charges, to be followed by seven years suspended. All sentences will run concurrently.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • logan-amy.jpg Police take down pair on pot distribution charge

    Tahlequah police officers arrested a pair Sunday night for allegedly possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute it.
    Tahlequah Officer Cody Warren said police were asked to investigate when 35-year-old Amy N. Logan, of Tahlequah, allegedly took a family member’s car without permission.
    While Warren was speaking with the owners of the vehicle, Logan arrived along with 26-year-old Theoplilus James Mollie, of Tulsa.

    April 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • land-lisa.jpg Two nailed with meth, pot hidden in bag of chips

    Two people were arrested early Monday morning when Tahlequah police stopped a vehicle near Basin Avenue and found methamphetamine and marijuana hidden in a bag of chips.
    Tahlequah Officer Cory Keele said he noticed a Nissan heading north on Park Hill Road, and the vehicle later stopped in an intersection.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo


How confident are you that the immunizations for infants and children are reasonably safe?

Not at all confident.
Somewhat confident.
Relatively confident.
Extremely confident.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers