James Mooney

For other people named Jim Mooney, see Jim Mooney (disambiguation).
James Mooney

James Mooney (February 10, 1861 December 22, 1921) was an American ethnographer who lived for several years among the Cherokee. He did major studies of Southeastern Indians, as well as those on the Great Plains.[1] His most notable works were his ethnographic studies of the Ghost Dance after Sitting Bull's death in 1890, a widespread 19th-century religious movement among various Native American culture groups, and the Cherokee: The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (1891), and Myths of the Cherokee (1900), all published by the US Bureau of American Ethnology. Artifacts from Mooney are in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution and the Department of Anthropology, Field Museum of Natural History. Papers and photographs from Mooney are in the collections of the National Anthropological Archives, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution.[2]


James Mooney was born February 10, 1861 in Richmond, Indiana, son of Irish Catholic immigrants. His formal education was limited to the public schools of the city. He became a self-taught expert on American tribes by his own studies and his careful observation during long residences with different groups.[1]

In 1885 he started working with the Bureau of American Ethnology at Washington, D.C. under John Wesley Powell. He compiled a list of tribes which contained 3,000 names. It ended after the US Army's 1890 massacre of Lakota people at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Mooney was recognized as a national expert on the American Indian.[1]

He married Ione Lee Gaut on September 28, 1897 in Washington, D.C., and had six children. One son was the writer Paul Mooney. Mooney died of heart disease in Washington, D.C. on December 22, 1921. Mooney's obituary is available on JSTOR in American Anthropologist 24, #2 (New Series), pp. 209–214. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery (Washington, D.C.).

A fuller biographical profile by George Ellison can be found in "James Mooney's history, myths, and sacred formulas of the Cherokees."


Grave of James Mooney at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

containing the full texts of Myths of the Cherokee (1900) and The sacred formulas of the Cherokees (1891) as published by the Bureau of American Ethnology : with a new biographical introduction, James Mooney and the eastern Cherokees, by George Ellison," Asheville, NC: Historical Images, 1992.


  1. 1 2 3 "Register to the Papers of James Mooney", National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, accessed 10 Nov 2009
  2. "James Mooney," American Anthropologist, Vol. 24, No. 2 (April–June 1922), pp. 209-214.
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