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John Martin Adair of the Rough Riders

1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, Troop L

(June 23, 1858 - May 29, 1955)

Written by Patrick McSherry; Data contributed by Alice Huitt Preston 

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The following is a John Martin Adair served with the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry ("Rough Riders") as a private in Troop L.

The Biography:

John Martin Adair was born on June 3, 1858 in the town of Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation (now Fort Gibson, Oklahoma). His father was a member of the Cherokee Nation, named John Lafayette Adair. The elder Adair had been born in Georgia, and moved to the Cherokee Nation in the 1850's. His mother, Elizabeth Alabama Schrimacher, wa also of Cherokee descent, her family having come west over the "Trail of Tears."

John was born in a house that had been an old log army barracks, which had been purchased by his father. The building had been sold to private individuals when the new stone barrack buildings were constructed in the 1840's, but had been, among other things, Fort Gibson's first post office. John remembered the building as being "a beautiful old place, with stately porches on both sides, in the early days as it fronted the river and also fronted the barrack road that passed on the opposite side of the house from the river." Sadly, John's father passed away in 1859, but his mother retained ownership of the house. Later, Elizabeth remarried to Dennis Bushyhead. John had been an only child, but eventually had four brothers and sisters from this union - Jesse C. Bushyhead, Lizzie, Sarah, and Dennis W. Bushyhead, Jr.  John's stepfather served eight years as Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, then for two years as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.  It is also noteworthy that John's cousin (his aunt Mary's son) was humorist Will Rogers.

During the Civil War, John and his family moved temporarily to a place near Bonham, Texas, where they stayed until the war ended. Following the war, they returned to their former home.

John attended the Cherokee National School and later attended the Shurtleff College at Alton, Illinois. Once he completed college, John returned home where he spent several years to running his parents' cattle business, which included extensive herds on the open range of the Cherokee Nation. He remained there until his mother passed away in 1882. At one point during his younger years, John was offered a job with a wild west show but had to turn down the offer as he was filing for some land and could not travel.

John took a great interest in his oldest step-brother, Jesse Bushyhead, who wanted to become a physician. John aided him through his education which included attending the Bellevue Medical College in New York City. Cousin, Will Rogers paid for Dennis' later two-year post graduate training. Dennis eventually returned to Oklahoma and started a practice in Claremore.

With the coming of the Spanish American War, John chose to join the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the "Rough Riders." Though be was nearing forty years of age, making him nearly twice as old as many recruits, he joined Troop L on May 14, 1898. Adair was described as having a dark complexion, brown eyes and black hair. He listed his place of birth as Fort Gibson, and indicated that he was a farmer by occupation. Adair saw service with his troop in Cuba. Apparently John met the famous reporter Richard Harding Davis, who was spending time with his troop.

Returning home, he went to work in a mercantile store at Fort Gibson for Frank M. Nash. On leaving this position, he returned to live in the family homestead and farming and raising stock. In 1903, Adair married Tryphonia Terrell, also a Cherokee. The couple had no children. Tryphonia passed away in March of 1935.

In later years, supposedly, when giving a presentation at the Ritz Theatre, Will Rogers  made the statement that "the only man in Oklahoma that I envy is Johnny Adair, he was in the battle of San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt." After saying that he ask Adair to stand in the audience.

Though he was nearing eighty years of age, john spoke of going to the goldfields of Arizona, not to strike it rich, but simply for the adventure. It is unclear if he ever made the trip. John Martin Adair passed away on May 29, 1955, just three years hort of his one hundredth birthday. Adair was buried in the Hendricks Cemetery, Tahlequah, Cherokee Co., Oklahoma.


Indian Pioneer Papers, 1939,

Jones, Virgil Carrington, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. (New York: Doubleday, 1971) 282,

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