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Thomas Lee Ballenger papers

 Collection
Identifier: Ayer-Modern-MS-Ballenger

Scope and Content of the Collection

Writings; genealogical charts, tables and notes; archaeological artifacts; and photographs and negatives (some unidentified), mainly pertaining to Thomas Lee Ballenger's lifelong interest in Cherokee history.

There are genealogical materials relating to the Duncan, Lowr(e)y, Hoyt-Keyes, Parks, Rights, and J. J. Sams families; numerous Cherokee documents (both originals and copies) dating from 1730-1909; photographs of historic Cherokee figures, of buildings and other sites, mainly in Tahlequah, Oklahoma; and numerous artifacts collected by Ballenger. Also a large group of Ballenger's writings (books, essays, diaries, etc.) and a few writings of other authors.

Much of the collection has been listed in Paul Kutsche: A Guide to Cherokee Documents in the Northeastern United States. Metchen, N. J. and London: Scarecrow Press, 1986. Kutsche guide numbers are noted in the Container List.

Dates

  • 1730-1968
  • Majority of material found within 1835 - 1968

Creator

Language

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Thomas Lee Ballenger papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Thomas Lee Ballenger papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Thomas Lee Ballenger

Teacher, historian, and author, specializing in the history of the Cherokee Nation.

Thomas Lee Ballenger was born in Rover, Arkansas, on December 22, 1882. He was the son of Daniel Milton and Narcissia Elizabeth Ray Ballenger, who moved to Arkansas from Mississippi in 1872. In 1898, T. L. Ballenger enrolled in the college preparatory department of Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia and received a bachelor of arts degree in 1905. His first regular position after graduation was teaching history and English at a Baptist Academy in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

Economics motivated him to accept a more lucrative position as superintendent in Loco, Oklahoma, where he taught domestic science, music, and Oklahoma history for one year. He then accepted a position as principal for a grade school in Magnum, Oklahoma, and remained for two years.

Ballenger was always hungry for more knowledge. He enrolled at the University of Chicago and earned a second bachelor's degree, while completing most of the requirements for a master of arts degree. During his studies, he earned extra money working as an usher at the Progressive Party Convention, which nominated Theodore Roosevelt as its candidate. He accepted another teaching position in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, for the 1913-1914 school term; however, before the term ended Northeastern State College (Oklahoma) Normal offered him a better position in Tahlequah.

Ballenger moved to the northeastern corner of the state and remained there for sixty-eight years, contributing to the area's educational, intellectual, and cultural life. During the summer of 1914, Ballenger returned to the University of Chicago to complete his master's degree. He studied with the noted historians William E. Dodd and Andrew C. McLaughlin. At Northeastern Ballenger taught all areas of American and world history, as well as political science. Dr. Emmet Starr was one of his colleagues who prompted his interest in Cherokee history and genealogy.

Ballenger moved to the northeastern corner of the state and remained there for sixty-eight years, contributing to the area's educational, intellectual, and cultural life. During the summer of 1914, Ballenger returned to the University of Chicago to complete his master's degree. He studied with the noted historians William E. Dodd and Andrew C. McLaughlin. At Northeastern Ballenger taught all areas of American and world history, as well as political science. Dr. Emmet Starr was one of his colleagues who prompted his interest in Cherokee history and genealogy.

Ballenger became dissatisfied with teaching for a while, and his plans to marry forced him to find other means of employment. On December 22, 1918, he married Mildred Josephine Parks, daughter of Judge Jefferson T. Parks. Judge Parks was an official of the old Cherokee Nation and the first judge of Cherokee County. Mildred was one-quarter Cherokee and very proud of her Indian heritage. Ballenger worked for the Farmers' State Bank in Park Hill and remained in banking until 1922, when the post-war recession ended his career.

In 1923, Ballenger returned to teaching at Northeastern, now a four-year college. He returned to the University of Chicago in 1927-1928, and also continued to work on his doctorate at the University of Oklahoma in 1933-1934. He finally received his doctorate in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1939. At the Northeastern College Library, Ballenger created the Department of Special Collections, which contained over one thousand documents on the tribal history of Cherokee Indians. During this time, Ballenger's interest in the Cherokee Nation grew. With the help of his father-in-law, Judge Parks, Ballenger studied the tribe's legal development as part of his doctoral dissertation. His interest in grass-roots history is reflected in much of his writings. Ballenger published Around Tahlequah Council Fires in 1935, an anthology of myths and stories concerning the capital of the Cherokee Nation. He chronicled his Arkansas boyhood and educational career up to 1932 in an autobiography titled, Reminiscences of a Half Century. Twenty-five years later, he added a volume called The Third Quarter, which followed his career into his retirement. In 1976, he updated his autobiography with The Final Chapter, and revised it in 1982 with The Final Chapter Revised.

Ballenger was president of the local historical society and a long-time member of the Carnegie Library Board. His greatest contribution and legacy to his students was his love and respect for education, and the Indian culture. For many years, he was the sponsor of the college's International Relations Clubs. In 1939, he accepted an invitation to participate in a conference on international law sponsored by the Carnegie Peace Foundation at McGill University in Montreal. In the next several decades he wrote a series of pamphlets and fifteen articles for The Chronicles of Oklahoma. Subjects ranged from histories of local churches and schools to Oklahoma outlaws and historic sites in the northeastern corner of the state. He produced extensive manuscripts on subjects including Judge J. T. Parks, the history of Tahlequah, genealogy, and the history of nearby communities. In 1951, the Oklahoma Historical Society awarded an honorary membership to Ballenger. In 1953, he served as the historical consultant for an expedition to Mexico in search of the grave of Sequoyah, the inventor of Cherokee syllabary.

Thomas Lee Ballenger died at the age of one hundred four, November 8, 1987. His wife Mildred Josephine died at the age of eighty-six on May 5, 1985. The couple had one son Tom, Jr., who was born in 1926.

Extent

10.8 Linear Feet (15 boxes and 14 rolls)

Abstract

Correspondence and writings of author, educator, and historian Thomas Lee Ballenger; photographs, legal papers, and documents of the Cherokee Indians, their territory, and prominent individuals who contributed to Oklahoma's history; genealogical materials including detailed tables, charts, and diagrams of individual Cherokee families; and extensive collections of archaeological artifacts.

Organization

Papers are organized in the following series
Series 1: Writings, 1877-1968
Boxes 1-2
Series 2: Photographs, approximately 1866-approximately 1904
Boxes 3-4
Series 3: Cherokee Documents, 1730-1909
Boxes 5-7
Series 4: Genealogical Materials, 1793-1968
Boxes 8-10, Rolls 1-14
Series 5: Archaeological Artifacts
Boxes 11-15

Collection Stack Location

3a 55 14

Provenance

Gift of Thomas Lee Ballenger, 1969.

Processed by

Karyn Goldstein, 2002.
Title
Inventory of the Thomas Lee Ballenger papers, 1730-1968, bulk 1835-1968
Status
Completed
Author
Martha Briggs
Date
©2002.
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 8/12/2011: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts Repository

Contact:
60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States
312-255-3512