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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Bartley Milam served as a model Cherokee leader and businessman in twentieth-century America. His character attributes of adaptation and resilience mirrored the character and spirit of the Cherokee Nation during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On March 10, 1884, in Ellis County, Texas, Jesse Bartley Milam was born, one of nine children of William and Sarah Ellen Milam. Young Milam spent his youth in Chelsea, in the Cooweescoowee District of the Cherokee Nation, later Rogers County, Oklahoma. He graduated from Cherokee National Male Seminary in Tahlequah. In April 1904 he married Elizabeth P. McSpadden, also of Chelsea, and Mildred, Stuart, and Mary were born of their union.

Milam worked in the hardware business and later entered banking, becoming president of Claremore's Rogers County Bank, and he also pursued ventures in the oil business. Born into the Long Hair Clan, Bartley Milam was elected in 1938 as principal chief and presided after the Cherokee Nation's federal recognition in 1941. He led his people through the difficult years of New Deal reform, World War II, and the creation of the National Congress of American Indians. He also devoted energy to public and professional organizations, serving on the Oklahoma State Banking Board and on the board of the Oklahoma Historical Society. He was a presiding officer of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes and a founding member of both the National Congress of American Indians and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. J. Bartley Milam died May 8, 1949, in Kansas City.

Mary Ellen Meredith


Grant Foreman, "Jesse Bartley Milam," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 27 (August 1949).

Howard Meredith, Bartley Milam: Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation (Muskogee, Okla.: Indian University Press, 1985).

Earl Boyd Pierce and Rennard Strickland, The Cherokee People (Phoenix, Ariz.: Indian Tribal Series, 1974).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Mary Ellen Meredith, “Milam, Jesse Bartley,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=MI016.

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