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John Jolly (?-1838)

This shrewd, great-hearted man led the Western Cherokees or Old Settlers wing of the tribe through some of their most momentous years. Known in Cherokee as Ahuludegi or Oolooteka, he entered the scroll of history as headman of Cayuga town on Hiwassee Island in present southeastern Tennessee upon his older brother Tahlonteeskee’s migration west to the Arkansas country in 1809 as a leader of the Old Settlers.

Not long after Jolly’s ascent to headman, he welcomed runaway Virginia teenager Sam Houston. He adopted the future governor and senator of Tennessee and Founding Father of Texas, acted as his father, and bequeathed him the Cherokee name Ka’luni, meaning The Raven. Houston lived among the Cherokees under Jolly’s watch care until 1812, learning the tribal language and customs. He harbored a lifelong kinship with the tribe, and following a painful and mysterious divorce, returned to live among them in Indian Territory from 1829-1832 as the former governor of Tennessee.

After Jolly moved west to join his brother, the Western Cherokees in 1828 crafted a governing constitution similar to that of the main body of the tribe still living in the southeast. Based on the U.S. Constitution, it created the position of Principal Chief, a Presidential-like office, which featured a salary and a four-year elective term. The Old Settlers elected Jolly to this post.

The unifying influence of their constitution and the institutions it codified proved crucial to the Western Cherokees, since they had to rely on themselves to ward off white settlers who began to pour in after the U.S. Government designated Arkansas (present day Arkansas and Oklahoma) as a territory. Jolly led the Old Settlers’ in this effort, and then through the momentous migration to Indian Territory that it precipitated, also in 1828.

Congregationalist missionary Alfred Finney helped lead the famed Dwight Mission that long served the Western Cherokees, first in Arkansas, then in present day Sequoyah County, Oklahoma. Finney wrote his own testament (original spelling included) to the man who, despite much opposition, ever guided his people toward where they might best find satisfactory life, peace rather than war, and spiritual blessing:

“Two publick Interpreters live on the Creek, and two of the principle chiefs are now removing on to it. They are both friendly to the preaching of the gospel, One in particular. John Jolly, who is most influential, talks to his people & tells them to go to meeting and hear good. He also states to us when he shall have compleated his buildings and moved to the place, his house shall be always open for us to occupy on the Sabbath.”

So much esteem did his tribe hold for John Jolly, he retained his leadership of them through a series of elections that did not end until his death in 1838.


The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book

Oklahomans Vol 2 :


which can be purchased HERE.

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