Cherokee Forty-Niners

By Gina Olaya
on May 5, 2017

Cherokee Nation’s official website,, translates the English word “gold” as, “adelvdalonige - ᎠᏕᎸᏓᎶᏂᎨ.”

The history between Cherokee Nation and “gold” as a precious metal, bring up disturbing facts, including lots of court cases, arguments, and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court ignored by President Andrew Jackson. Basically, our ancestors were forcibly removed from our homelands in the east, to Indian Territory, because of illegal land claims, stolen gold deposits, and shady deals for money; all are discussion for future blogs.

It is interesting, however, within the same lifetime as those forcibly removed during the infamous Trail of Tears, “gold” would become a life changing ordeal for some; a mere 10 years later.

The California Gold Rush began January 24, 1848, in Coloma, CA. A gentleman by the name of James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill, which was owned by John Sutter. This one gold find was enough to convince around 300,000 people, including several prominent Cherokee, to flock to California in search of infinite riches.

Miners during the California gold rush; lasting from 1948 to 1855.

In May 1849, James Vann, editor of the Cherokee Advocate, abruptly quit his job to join a party of emigrants headed further west in search of gold. Maybe his lust for gold was fanned by Return Johnathan “R. J.” Meigs’s advertisements within the Advocate enticing people who were gold rush bound to purchase everything for the trip from a store he co-owned with then chief, John Ross.

All the gold rush advertising may have added to Mr. Meigs’ demise, for he too set out in search of gold on April 20, 1850. Sadly, he died of cholera on August 7, 1850. He’s buried at Elbow Springs, Utah.

Barely 23 years-old at the time, future principal chief, Dennis W. Bushyhead liquidated part of his assets to make the trip to California. Pocketing almost eight-hundred dollars, he would no more reach California when he lost every penny gambling at a roulette wheel. The wheel manager felt sorry for Bushyhead giving him back one hundred dollars, with a promise to stay out of the gambling halls. Almost nineteen years later, Bushyhead would return to Indian Territory to make a name for himself.

One Cherokee in particular, Charles R. Hicks, struck it rich while mining for gold in California. Mr. Hicks went into business with two New Yorkers. After striking gold, and fearing for his life, he agreed to a $75,000 offer to sell his portion of the mine, promptly returned to Tahlequah. Today, that fortune would be worth over $2.2 million.

Other prominent Cherokees making the trip between 1849 and 1850 include another future principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Joel B. Mayes; George Washington Adair, father of Col. William Penn Adair; Thomas Fox Taylor, a former member of the Cherokee council, later killed at the Battle of Bayou Maynard in 1862 as a Lt. Col. for Brig.-Gen. Stand Watie; and Johnson, Dr. Joe and Bob Thompson.

Maybe one of your ancestors was a Cherokee forty-niner?