Jim Barnes visited the Funk on February 14, 2024, to discuss his book, Cherokee History and the Spirit Family. Find out more about the book and Barnes's ancestors on this page.
This Cherokee history, from the mid-1700s to the early 1900s, is grounded on the life of James Neil Barnes’s great-great-grandmother Annie Spirit (1826–1910) and the lives of her ancestors, aunts and uncles, siblings, children, and grandchildren. Illustrated with maps, paintings, and photographs and supported by original documents, it tracks the rise and fall of the Cherokee Nation and the Spirit family. Drawing on contemporary sources for details about what the Cherokee people faced during each generation, it shows the resilience of the Cherokees in never giving up on their destiny.
The boundaries of their territory shrank until they lost their entire remaining homeland in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina in 1838. After the devastation of the Trail of Tears, they created a thriving new nation in the west, featuring an elected democratic government and a commitment to public education. Drawing on claims filed in 1842 by members of Annie’s family, it is possible to paint a clear picture of their rich lives. After surviving the internecine horrors of the Civil War, they continued to control their destiny until the U.S. decided to take over their government in the 1890s.
Cherokees created the Male and Female Seminaries as the pinnacle of their education system. However, their dream ended when, in 1907, their government, courts, schools, and press were abolished, and the State of Oklahoma was established.
The book includes chapters on Ludovic Grant, Sequoyah, Annie’s great-grandfather Buffalofish Spirit, her great uncle John Huss Spirit, the Male and Female Seminaries, Lithia Springs, the Civil War, Ned Christie, and the Hotel Hazel in Grove, owned by my great-grandparents. It covers Frank Boudinot’s successful lawsuits against the U.S. in the early 1900s for compensation of claims stemming from the 1835 New Echota Treaty. Appendices include 24 family charts, details of their removals west, and originals of the 1842 claims filed by family members.
Questions the author is often asked about Cherokee History and the Spirit Family
My Cherokee ancestry and passion for history are the driving forces. Before his death in 2007, my dad asked me to tell the story of our family. I accepted that challenge .
I am a voting citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and a member of the National Trail of Tears Association and its Georgia branch. My great-grandmother Annie Spirit was honored at the Snell Family Cemetery on October 28, 2017, when the Oklahoma Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association held a grave-marking ceremony for her, at which my cousin LeeAnn Dreadfulwater represented the family.
I began with a trove of family documents and photos left to me by relatives. Reaching out to aunts, uncles, and cousins for information elicited more photos and documents. Using the Ancestry genealogical database, I uncovered many family connections, which were verified through research and correspondence. I carried out field trips to Oklahoma, Georgia, and Tennessee, combing through books, maps, and documents at various libraries and museums. Cherokee Nation archives were a valuable resource. I read more than fifty Cherokee history books and articles, focusing on early history in the 1700s, creation of the modern Cherokee Nation in the 1820s, the loss of sovereignty during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the forced migration from 1836 to 1838, rebuilding of the Cherokee Nation from 1840 to 1860, the Civil War and its aftermath, the flowering of Cherokee culture from 1866 to 1895, and the demise of sovereignty from 1896 to 1906. With the help of historians, I located numerous family claims from 1836 to 1848, which paint a detailed picture of where they lived and what they owned in their homeland.
First, that several of my ancestors were slave owners, which opened my eyes about the class system among Cherokees. Second, that going back to the late 1700s, how successful they were as farmers and what they owned in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. Third, the intersections of my ancestors with Sequoyah’s Syllabary and his life. Fourth, the breadth of the educational system developed by Cherokees, culminating in the Male and Female Seminaries. Fifth, the realities of the Civil War in Indian Territory and how divided my family was, mirroring the national experience. Sixth, the roles that my great-grandfather William Penn Mayes played in the 1880s and 1890s, working as Chief Interpreter with his half-brothers Joel and Samuel Mayes, who were both Principal Chiefs.
Admittedly, that is a big word, and I don’t use it lightly. The policy of the Jackson Administration to strip Cherokees and other Indians of their land and sovereignty was essentially genocidal. The forced sale of all their land by the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 and the violent roundup and removal of virtually all Cherokees by 1838, without regard for their human rights, their health and their dignity as people, led to thousands of deaths – a holocaust. They were dumped in the west without assistance, food, or tools, leading to many more deaths. For the most part, they were never properly compensated for what they lost, even after years of formal appeals.
Cherokees believed deeply in education and quickly became literate after Sequoyah’s Syllabary was finished in the early 1820s. They started free public education at a time when it was uncommon. After their relocation west, their commitment to educating their people became even more paramount. They desired to offer the equivalent of the best schools in the U.S. at the time. Establishing the seminaries was an amazing accomplishment in the late 1840s and early 1850s, but the Civil War, coupled with the failure of the U.S. to pay what was promised in the Echota Treaty, put them back two decades. The Female and Male Seminaries were the glory of the Nation from the 1870s to the end of sovereignty in the early 1900s.
The Keetoowah were mostly full-blood Cherokees, who were anti-slavery and pro-Union. They played a critical role in the run-up to the Civil War and during it, led by the Pins. Keetoowahs continued to promote full sovereignty until the formal end of Cherokee Nation in the early 1900s. After 1906 the Keetoowah were represented by Frank Boudinot, who won many court victories for them and the Cherokee Nation in the following decades, .
Born in 1787, John Spirit was Annie Spirit’s great-uncle and the second Cherokee ordained as a minister. Often called Captain Spirit because of his service as Company Leader of the Cherokee Light Horse guards in 1825, he was a close associate of Sequoyah’s in refining the Syllabary, playing a major role in translating the Bible into Cherokee. The two of them went through it together line by line.
Elected in 1828 to the Supreme Court, he served until 1834 with distinction. His preaching was famous in the Nation after removal west. He was a friend of John Mix Stanley, one of the best painters of Indian life, and many others in the U.S. In 1843, in order to protect the Cherokees' lands and sovereignty, Huss helped found the International Indian Council to bring together all the tribes who had been relocated. Huss was an important bridge between the pro- and anti-removal factions, serving on the Cherokee delegation to Washington in 1846 to sign the new treaty with the U.S., which finally solved the issues that had lingered since removal. He died in 1858.
Ned Wade Christie was an important character in Cherokee history. Born in 1852, he grew up speaking mostly Cherokee despite having a white grandmother. He became an excellent blacksmith and gunsmith. During the Civil War he and his brother Arch joined the Union army, serving in the same unit as Annie Spirit’s second husband, Simon Snell. Elected to the Cherokee National Council in 1885 as a member of the Keetoowah Society, Ned was a strong supporter of sovereignty and public education. He opposed railroads being built across Cherokee land. While in Tahlequah for a Council meeting in 1887, he was framed for the murder of a U.S. Marshal. Federal Judge Isaac Parker convened a grand jury that indicted him. Christie correctly believed he wouldn’t receive a fair trial and refused to turn himself in. A reward of $500 was offered for his arrest. For several years Ned continued his normal life, albeit with Keetoowah armed guards protecting him and his family. On November 3, 1892, a large posse surrounded his home, blowing it up with dynamite and shooting him dead as he emerged. Decades later, his innocence was confirmed by an eyewitness. In my view, Ned was a Cherokee patriot and a martyr. His life demonstrates the layers of cruelty and prejudice that Cherokees faced after removal, bringing untimely death and dishonor to too many.
In the 1828 Presidential election against John Adams, Jackson promised that he would force all Indians in the eastern half of the country to give up their homelands and move them west despite the numerous solemn treaties signed over many decades. Once elected, he and his allies began invading Cherokee lands, illegally seizing many farms, including those of Annie’s grandfather Buffalofish Spirit and his wife and children in northern Georgia. By bribing representatives and senators, Jackson succeeded in getting his Removal Act enacted and then began secret negotiations with a small Cherokee faction for the New Echota Treaty in 1835. Narrowly approved by Congress following a racist campaign, the treaty provided the basis for a violent roundup of virtually all Cherokees and their removal west by boat and wagon. Despite Cherokees having saved his life at the Battle of Horsehoe Bend in 1814, Jackson treated them with contempt. In my view, he was a shallow, greedy, and vindictive man.
James Neil “Jim” Barnes was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1944. His family visited his father’s Cherokee mother, Nellie Maude Mayes, her siblings Maggie and Hazel, and other relatives in Tahlequah and Muskogee several times a year until he was 12. Maude was a teacher, painter, and musician, who imbued Jim with a passion for Cherokee history. Jim’s uncle James Thompson, after whom Jim was named, was treasurer of Cherokee County following dissolution of the Cherokee Nation.
In 2014 Jim began researching the lives of Annie Spirit and her extended family, as well as the larger story of Cherokee sovereignty. This research resulted in Cherokee History and the Spirt Family, featuring his great-great grandmother Annie Spirit. It was published in January 24, 2024, by the University of North Georgia Press.
Jim’s Cherokee cousins helped track down important family information, photos, paintings, and artifacts, such as Annie Spirit’s smoking pipe. Jim’s great-grandfather William Penn Mayes, who died in 1944, the year Jim was born, was Chief Interpreter for the Cherokee Senate in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Two of Jim’s great-great uncles, Joel Bryan Mayes and Samuel Houston Mayes, were elected Principal Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation in 1887 and 1896. Jim has been a registered citizen of the Cherokee Nation for more than forty years.
Jim attended public school in Tulsa until the family moved to Louisville in 1955. After graduating from Eastern High School in Middletown, Kentucky, in 1962, he attended Northwestern University in Chicago, receiving a BA in 1966. He received a Juris Doctor degree cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1970. After clerking for U.S. District Judge John Pratt in Washington, D.C., Jim joined the litigation team opposing the Alaska Pipeline project at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Jim then served as a public defender for two years in Washington and one year in the New Hebrides Islands before rejoining CLASP in 1977, serving as co-director in 1981-82. In 1978, he founded the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), bringing together environmental organizations around the world to advocate for the protection of Antarctica.
Jim led successful campaigns including creating the world’s first “ecosystem-as-a-whole” fishing regime in 1980 and blocking a proposed treaty that would have opened Antarctica to drilling and mining in 1988. He also played a role in the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty in 1991, which banned minerals activities indefinitely and created a modern governance structure for the region. Jim retired as ASOC executive director in 2015 and today serves as board chair.
Barnes lives in Villamblard, France, with his wife, Anne, and continues to advise international environmental organizations.
Author of Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment and the Crisis of Development (1994); To Uphold the World: A Call for a New Global Ethic from Ancient India (2010); Foreclosing the Future: The World Bank and the Politics of Environmental Destruction (2013)
James Barnes has written an important and fascinating account of the history of his Cherokee Indian family and of Cherokee history over the past two hundred years.
Cherokee History and the Spirit Family is a book that also gives many insights into broader currents in American history which academia, the press, and the state and federal governments have only begun to confront more honestly in recent years.
The narrative that Barnes skillfully weaves is not just a tale of the repeated bad faith and lawlessness of successive U.S. Administrations in the expulsion of the Cherokee from their native lands… It is also an inspiring story of the Cherokees’ remarkable resilience and tenacity in maintaining their identity in the face of overwhelming odds.
The saga of the Cherokee and of the ancestors and descendants of Annie Spirit opens a different and significant perspective on much of the history of the United States, its contradictions and betrayals of its aspirations to realize freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and above all to examine and correct the errors of the past when it failed to live up to these aspirations. The example of Annie Spirit and the Cherokee is particularly illuminating since they encountered more betrayals of American ideals than most population groups in our nation, yet have shown an inspiring spirit of resilience, achievement, and belief in their own future and in the future of the U.S.
I personally am grateful for the years of work and research that Jim Barnes put into telling this important story. It’s a story which has timely implications for us all as the U.S. faces another crisis in uniting to decide what kind of country it is becoming and how to better carry out the ideals on which it was founded.
Professor of History and American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, Elie Wiesel Professor of Humane Letters, Eckerd College. Author of Cherokee Women in Crisis: Trail of Tears, Civil War, and Allotment, 1838-1907 (The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 2003)
Cherokee History and the Spirit Family is a splendid account of the author’s Cherokee family and how their lives illuminate Cherokee history from the nineteenth century to the present. The work centers especially on his great-great-grandmother Annie Spirit’s life from 1826 to 1910, and of her ancestors. His work is especially unique in its meticulous research in both family history and in the history of the Cherokee Nation. He skillfully weaves his family history and Nation’s history to bring both alive. His research has been exhaustive, and he provides excellent photographs and primary documents. His genealogical records are extensive. Many of the featured Cherokees in the book in the author’s family were prominent as Chiefs, highlighting the intersection of family and political history of the periods. The author provides both a broad historical canvas for understanding Cherokee history, and an intimate view of family lives during the critical periods of removal, the Civil War, and Allotment.
Gracefully written, the book will be accessible to a variety of audiences.
Author of George Marshall: Defender of the Republic and The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler
Framed by the life of Annie Spirit (the author’s great-great-grandmother) and her extended family, this enthralling book tells the story of the rise and tragic fall of the Cherokee Nation, once the largest tribe in North America, whose members owned and occupied more than 100,000 square miles of land in eight southeast states. James Barnes’s book is hugely significant because, unlike past chronicles, he captures in vivid detail the surprisingly rich culture of the Cherokees, he writes a deeply researched new history of broken promises by the federal and state governments, and through Annie’s family he brings to life both the suffering and the resilience of her people when they are forcibly driven off their lands. Illustrated with rare photos, paintings, maps and original documents, there is no book about the history of Native Americans that rivals this one.
Author of Maya Gods and Monsters, Maya Threads, and The Turquoise Trail
Cherokee History and the Spirit Family sheds new light on the tragic history of the Cherokee Nation, as well as their uncelebrated contributions to American thought and culture. The past is brought to life through the author’s indefatigable research into his ancestry, which turns this sweeping account of political inequities and social resilience into an intimate tale of a great-great-grandson’s search for his identity.
Author of Lacandón Maya in the Twenty-First Century: Indigenous Knowledge and Conservation in Mexico’s Tropical Rainforest. (University Press of Florida, 2023)
James N. Barnes has written a fascinating history of the Cherokee people, highlighting their strength and resilience through the eyes of his own Indigenous ancestors. This carefully documented and engagingly illustrated book will be a crucial source for scholars and an inspiration for anyone seeking to support a self-directed Indigenous future for the Cherokee Nation.
President, Georgia Trail of Tears Association
Cherokee History and the Spirit Family will be of interest to many, especially since it covers so many extended families. Cherokee history is complicated and alluring, while sad and auspicious. This book includes many touching events that affected the author's family from the beginning. The history that it covers from the 1730s to 1910 illustrates the deep resilience of the Cherokee people.