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Jesse Bartley Milam Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Jesse Bartley Milam passes away in 1949.

Jesse Bartley Milam was a Native American tribal leader.

Milam was born on March 10th, 1884 near Italy, Texas. His mother, who was Cherokee, fled with her family to Texas during the American Civil War. In 1887, Milam returned with the family to the Cherokee Nation lands in Oklahoma after the war. The family settled in what is now Chelsea. Milam attended the Cherokee Male Seminary which was the first school of higher education established west of the Mississippi. In 1901 and 1902 he attended the Metropolitan Business College in Dallas, Texas before returning home to Chelsea, Oklahoma.

When Milam returned to Chelsea, he first worked as a bank teller. Later he started a business with his brother-in-law, the Phillips and Milam Oil Company, which grew rapidly. In 1915, Milam became the president of the Bank of Chelsea, the first bank in the Cherokee Nation. He later founded Rogers County Bank.

Milam was inspired by the inventor of the Cherokee syllabary, Sequoyah. He was also something of a bibliophile and collected more than 1600 books about the Cherokee and Native American history and culture. He funded the publication Early History of the Cherokee. In 1939, Milam and a group of Cherokee and non-Cherokee scholars traveled to Mexico to find the grave of Sequoyah. They found a grave and were unable to confirm that it was Sequoyah's grave. Milam also helped to create the Cherokee National Historical Society.

During the 1920's and 1930's the power to appoint a leader to Native American tribes rested with the President of the United States. Cherokee citizens objected to not being able to elect their own leaders. In 1938, the National Council of Cherokee's assembled and elected Milam as their Chief. This was confirmed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later by President Harry Truman.

Milam was one of the founding members of the National Congress of American Indians, a body that was founded in the interest of inter-tribal rights. Their first session was attended by Milam in 1944. Shortly after that meeting, Milam established elections to form a Cherokee Tribal Council to reestablish the Cherokee Nation's Democratic Government. In 1946, Milam began purchasing land to put into a communal land trust for the Cherokee Nation. Within one year he had amassed more than 21,000 acres.

In 1948, Milam convened a national convention. It's purpose was to pursue Cherokee rights and to elect a National Cherokee assembly. More than seven hundred Cherokee men and women participated. Unfortunately many felt that the convention was being dominated by non-Indian attorneys. This led to the United Keetoowah Society, a tribe of Cherokee, to expel Milam. In the end the convention produced a standing committee of eleven led by the Principal Chief.

On May 8th, 1949, Milam passed away from heart disease.

Milam was a member of Chelsea Lodge No. 84 in Oklahoma. He was also a 32° Scottish Rite mason and a member of Akdar Shrine Temple in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

This article provided by Brother Eric C. Steele.