Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 13, No. 4
CHIEF JOHN ROSS
John Bartlett Meserve.
It is to the social upheaval and the chaos of religious beliefs which engaged England and all Europe in the 16th and 17th
centuries, that America is indebted for its first substantial settlement. When the Church of England folk began to oppress
the Puritans in the valley of the lower Trent, the Puritans withdrew to Holland and from thence came to Massachusetts. When,
under Cromwell's regime, the Roundhead abused the Churchman, the latter sought refuge in Virginia. Likewise later, the persecuted
Quaker found a haven in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and the Catholic sought religious tolerance in Maryland. Here each brought
his peculiar religious tenets and here they continued to dispute wherever they were afforded an opportunity or could beg one.
The Scotch immigrant to the shores of America was influenced by the repeated collapse of his efforts to reestablish the Stuarts
upon the throne of England. He was of Calvinistic stock but was less serious minded about laying up treasures in Heaven; his
interest was absorbed in the plentitude of golden opportunity among the Indians in the new country. These sturdy, militant
folk settled largely in the Carolinas and later in Georgia. The Highlanders, in many instances and quite naturally, headed
back into the hill country of these colonies and obviously their immediate contact with the Indians was much more complete
than was that of other settlers who lingered in the tide-water regions. The Indians gave a ready response to the fraternal
spirit evidenced by the Scottish settlers, the utmost comity prevailed and many of the Highlanders were accorded tribal membership.
Numerous Scotch traders and settlers intermarried with the women of the tribes, bequeathing a mental poise to their descendants,
many of whom achieved wealth, distinction and influence among the Indians. Scottish surnames became common among the Cherokees,
Creeks and Choctaws and the absorption process continued through the years as these racial currents amalgamated. In the political
affairs of the Cherokee Nation, Scottish influence began to evidence itself and for upwards
of fifty years, the political life of that tribe yielded to the influence of chieftains of Scottish blood.
Among the Scottish immigrants who arrived at Charlestown, South Carolina in 1766, was young John MacDonald, who was born at
Inverness, Scotland in 1737. He immediately removed to Savannah, Georgia and became engaged as a clerk in a trading store
which did a thriving business with the Indians. The young Scotchman evidenced much finesse in his dealings with the Indian
clientele of his employers which resulted in his being sent to Fort Loudon, on the Tennessee River near Kingston, Georgia,
to open up a trading post and carry on a trade with the Cherokees. Shortly thereafter, he engaged in business for himself,
married Anne Shorey, a daughter of William Shorey and Chi-goo-ie his full blood Cherokee Indian wife and was adopted into
the Cherokee tribe. He subsequently removed, with certain of the Cherokees and located near Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, where
he resumed his trading operations and where he met and formed the acquaintance of Daniel Ross under circumstances which had
a rather romantic denouement.
Daniel Ross was a native of Southerlandshire, Scotland where he was born in 1760 and as a child came with his parents to America
in the latter half of the 18th century. His parents settled at Baltimore where young Ross was orphaned about the close of
our War of the Revolution. The young man, accompanied by a companion by the name of Mayberry, journeyed to Hawkins County,
Tennessee where they constructed a flat boat which they loaded with merchandise and the adventurous pair undertook a trip
down the Tennessee River to the Chickasaw country to engage in the fur trade with the Indians. At Sitico, on the Tennessee
River near Lookout Mountain, they were detained by the Cherokees and as a consequence, were enforced to remain among the members
of that tribe. It was here that young Ross became acquainted with John MacDonald and the members of his family and in 1786,
married his daughter Mary. She was born at Fort Loudon, Tennessee, on November 1, 1770 and died at Maryville, Tennessee on
October 5, 1808. During the next twenty years, Daniel Ross traveled among and traded with the Cherokee Indians at numerous
trading posts which he had established. He enjoyed the highest
confidence of these Indians, wielded considerable influence among them and died on May 22, 1830. The children of Daniel and
Mary Ross were Jennie, Eliza, John, Susannah, Lewis, Andrew, Annie, Margaret and Marie.
The celebrated Cherokee Chieftain John Ross, son of Daniel and Mary Ross was born at Ross Landing, now Chattanooga, Tennessee
on October 3, 1790. There being no schools to accommodate the education of his growing family, Daniel Ross who was then living
at Maryville, Tennessee, prevailed upon the Cherokee council, about the closing days of the 18th century, to take its initial
steps in the matter of education. The first school was established at Maryville and John Ross was one of the first pupils.
He subsequently attended an academy at Kingston where he remained for two or three years and later clerked at a trading post.
Independent trading operations were later undertaken by young Ross and his brother Lewis which proved quite successful.
The dawn of the 19th century found the Cherokees, not only the most powerful but the most civilized of the North American
tribes. Their domain covered lands in southern Tennessee, southwestern North Carolina, western South Carolina, northwestern
Georgia and northern Alabama. Remarkable progress was being made in education and in the adoption of the civilized methods
of the white man. Schools, churches and asylums were established by leaders who were comparable in ability with that of their
white oppressors. By 1822 each family cultivated from ten to forty acres, raising corn, rye, wheat and cotton and much trading
was done with their white neighbors. The women spun and wove their own cotton and woolen cloth and blankets and knitted the
stockings worn by the family. The Indians lived in cabins built of hewn logs with well built floors and chimneys. The wealthier
members enjoyed fine plantation homes. Hunting shirts, leggings and moccasins along with old customs and religions were rapidly
disappearing. Political progress kept apace with education and economic advancement and in 1817, New Echota was made the capital
of the nation and by 1820, a modest form of representative government was enjoyed and admirably administered. All savage,
nomadic impulses and practices of the red man had been abandoned and the Cherokees lived at peace among themselves and with
joining tribes. Missionaries had been a most potent factor in the advancement made by these Indians.
During the years of their progress, the menace of potential eviction from their ancient and hereditary homes ever confronted
the Cherokees. They stubbornly parried the earliest efforts of the Government, but as time progressed the menace grew until
their peaceful homes were rudely violated and the actual deportation of these unwilling Indians was enforced. The years preceding
the removal of the Cherokees to the old Indian Territory were eventful years in their history. The path of exile across the
prairies to the West and the struggles during the inceptive years in their new homes, were painful experiences. It was no
pageantry of adventure; it was a boulevard of broken dreams. Much dishonor was involved in our early treatment of the Cherokees.
Through these uncharted seas, the stricken Indians were extremely fortunate to possess the masterful and unselfish leadership
of John Ross, chieftain of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 until his death in 1866. The life story of John Ross covers fifty
years of the vital history of the Cherokee Indians with every portion of which his efforts were closely interwoven. These
were the years of their greatest distresses and later, of their rehabilitation.
The public service of John Ross began at the age of 19 years when he was dispatched by Indian Agent Meigs on a mission to
the Western Cherokees in Arkansas. He later enlisted and served as an adjutant in his company in a regiment of Cherokee warriors
who fought with General Jackson in the Creek War of 1813-14. The young adjutant served with distinction and rendered heroic
service at Horseshoe Bend in the spring of 1814, when the recalcitrant Creek were well-nigh annihilatd. After the war, young
Ross and his brother Lewis engaged in the mercantile business and in 1816, he made a business trip to New York.
United States officials in surveying the lands ceded by the Creeks at the conclusion of the Creek War by the Treaty of1 August 9, 1814, undertook to include a fraction of the Cherokee domain. A protesting delegation, of which John Ross was a
member, hastened to Washington and negotiated the2 Treaty of March 22, 1816 where-
by the boundary lines of the Nation were satisfactorily adjusted. With this service was inaugurated a fifty year period of
unremitting devotion to the welfare of the Cherokee Indians by John Ross who was to become a most potent force among them.
The political autonomy of the Cherokees again was threatened the following year by the arrival among them of a commission
from Washington to open negotiations for the removal of the Cherokees to the West. This commission contacted the Indian leaders
at the agency in July 1817 and the task of formulating a response to the demands of the commissioners was delegated to John
Ross and 3Elijah Hicks, his brother-in-law. The response submitted by Ross and Hicks invited attention to the progress being made by
these Indians; to the prescriptive rights under which the Indians held title to their lands; expressed disapproval of the
removal idea and requested that the tribe be permitted to enjoy a peaceable possession of their domain. This memorial was
signed by 67 town chiefs and approved by the Cherokees. Despite the overwhelming opposition of the responsible leaders of
the tribe, a removal treaty was signed by a few irresponsible town chiefs on4 July 6, 1817. Efforts to enforce this
3The Hicks family has been and is today one of the most prominent families among the Cherokees. Nathan Hicks, a Scotch trader,
married Nancy, a daughter of Chief Broom, a Cherokee and town chief of Broomstown, Georgia, about 1730. Of their children,
only the names of Charles and William are preserved. Charles, born about 1765, is reputed to have been the first Cherokee
to obtain an English education, having been taught by Moravian missionaries. He was the first chief of the Cherokees back
in the East, under the new constitutional government, died before completing his term which was completed by his brother William.
Charles Hicks was the father of Elijah Hicks who was born on June 20, 1796. Elijah Hicks served as clerk of the Cherokee legislature,
in 1822 and shortly thereafter married Margaret, a sister of Chief John Ross. He served as president of the National Council
in 1826-7 and was appointed editor of the CHEROKEE PHOENIX in 1832 and continued the publication of this paper until late
in 1834 when the press and all equipment were confiscated by the Georgia authorities. He led a caravan of 858 Cherokees to
the West during the removal days, leaving the East on September 9, 1838 and reached the old Indian Territory on January 4,
1839, being the first detachment to reach their new homes. He was a signer and one of the framers of the constitution of 1839.
Elijah Hicks settled on the old California Trail at the present site of Claremore, Oklahoma and called his new home, Echota.
He conducted a trading post at his new home and was dispatched several times to Washington as a representative of the Cherokees.
He was a member of the peace delegation sent by the Government to compose differences with the warring tribes in the Southwest.
(See Chronicles, Vol. XIII, p.68 et seq.) He died August 6, 1856 and is buried upon his original homestead which is now the
Claremore City Cemetery. His wife died in 1862 and she is buried at Park Hill by the side of Chief Ross, her brother. His
son Daniel Ross Hicks was the father of Ed D. Hicks, now of Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
treaty provoked another delegation to Washington, headed by John Ross, the finale of which was the5 Treaty of February 27, 1819 which effectively put an end to all removal agitation, at least for the present, although the
authorities of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee were continually urging the Federal Government to proceed with the deportation
of the tribes.
John Ross became president of the National Committee in October 1819 which position he continued to occupy for eight years.
The National Committee was, at that time, the designation of the upper house of the legislative branch of the Cherokee national
government. The progress made by the Cherokees was greatly augmented in 1821, by the invention of the Cherokee alphabet or
syllabary by Sequoyah, a full blood member of the tribe. The response of the Indians to this innovation was truly phenomenal
and in 1823 Sequoyah, with unselfish zeal, carried his invention to the Western Cherokees in Arkansas, where he established
his permanent abode. In the fall of that year the Cherokee council, in recognition of the splendid contribution made by Sequoyah,
awarded him a silver medal bearing a commemorative inscription. John Ross was delegated to convey this token of regard to
Sequoyah and once more he journeyed to his fellow tribesmen in Arkansas.
The State of Georgia became insistent upon the removal of the Cherokees and continually reminded the Federal Government of
the engagements it had made by the Act of Congress of April 24, 1802. On October 4, 1823, United States Commissioners Meriweather
and Campbell arrived quite unexpectedly at New Echota to contact the Cherokee council, then in session, to perfect terms for
a removal of the tribe to the West. The Indian leaders calmly listened to the overtures of the commissioners, but firmly expressed
their resolve not to yield another foot of their domain. It was at this point in the negotations that the famous McIntosh
incident took its place in the pages of Indian history and not altogether to the credit of the United States Commissioners.
William McIntosh, a mixed blood of Scottish and Creek Indian descent was, at that time, chief of the lower Creeks and had
hitherto enjoyed a high measure of confidence among his Cherokee neighbors. The cunning McIntosh had been a pliant tool in
the hands of the commissioners
in their dealings with the Creeks and through his adroit manipulations the tribal domain of his people had been entirely dissipated.
As a concluding effort in their unsuccessful negotiations with the Cherokees, the commissioners undertook to enlist the assistance
and influence of McIntosh, to control the tribal leaders. As a preliminary gesture, but which was quite unfortunate, the wily
chief wrote his famous6 letter of October 21, 1823 to John Ross, in which he expressly agreed to procure the commissioners to pay to Ross and his
friends, certain, definite sums of money, if they would yield in the negotiations. McIntosh came on to New Echota while the
negotiations were pending, to discuss the matter with Ross and requested that he be permitted to address the Cherokee council.
This engagement was easily arranged by Ross but as a preliminary gesture, Ross caused the letter to be read and translated
before the council, in the presence of McIntosh. It is unnecessary to state that McIntosh did not address the council, but
did barely escape from the hall, mount his pony and ride in haste from the scene of his disgrace. He had misjudged the character
of John Ross. Ross sent the letter on to Washington where it may be found today among the archives of the Indian Department.
The commissioners returned empty handed and through the adroitness and integrity of John Ross the removal menace again was
postponed, although sentiments of uneasiness and uncertainty impelled the council to dispatch another delegation headed by
John Ross to Washington, to plead against any further importunities for land cessions.
This delegation grew bolder as it met the demands of Secretary of War Calhoun for the immediate removal of the Cherokees,
by a reiteration of their determination to cede no more lands, because the limits as fixed by the treaty of 1819 had left
them territory barely adequate for their comfort and convenience. Then in unmistakable terms, the delegation reminded the
Secretary that the Indians were the original inhabitants of the country and were unwilling to permit the sovereignty of any
state within the boundaries of their domain; they had never engaged to cede their lands to the Federal Government, but, on
the other hand, the Government had guaranteed the land to them by solemn treaties which guaranties had been confirmed by the
7Supreme Court of the United
States. Ross and his delegation left nothing to be imagined as to the position of the Cherokee Nation and its people. It was
a challenge to the rights of the states and to the bona fides of the Federal Government in the numerous engagements which
it had made with the tribe. The challenge was taken up by Gov. George M. Troup of Georgia, who hotly declared that "a state
of things so unnatural and fruitful of evils as an independent government of a semi-barbarous people existing within the limits
of a state could not long continue" and in a message to his legislature in 1825, he counselled the extension of the laws of
Georgia over the Cherokees.
The Cherokees under the inspiration of John Ross, insisted upon their rights as an independent political entity and when the
State of Georgia sent surveyors to lay out the course of a canal through the Cherokee country, they were refused permission
by the Cherokee council in 1826 with a resolution that "No individual state shall be allowed to make internal improvements
within the sovereign limits of the Cherokee Nation."
To more effectively coordinate their political status with the plan of the United States Government, a constitutional convention
of Cherokee representatives met at New Echota on July 4, 1827 for the purpose of framing a constitution for the Nation and
was organized by electing John Ross as its presiding officer. A constitution was framed, modeled after the Federal constitution
with the powers of government carefully distributed into three branches; popular suffrage was ordained and religious freedom
guaranteed. Significant was the language of its preamble, "We, the Cherokee people, constituting one of the sovereign and
independent Nations of the earth and having complete jurisdiction over its territory to the exclusion of the authority of
any other state, do ordain this constitution." The challenge to the states of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee was complete.
It was a noble and appealing gesture, predicated upon historic facts, but was to provoke a tragedy. The so-called inherent
rights of the Indian had become more or less legendary. As a matter of fact, the "man on horseback" came to the Indian when
the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.
In October 1828, John Ross, the duly elected chief, assumed the duties of chief executive of the newly created Cherokee Republic
and immediately proceeded to organize the new government.
The discovery of gold in the Cherokee country in July 1829 excited the cupidity of the whites and provoked drastic legislation
by the Georgia legislature which completely nullified the potency of the Cherokee government. Its national council was forbidden
to meet save for the purpose of ceding its lands. Cherokee courts were denied the right to convene. Laws denying the right
of an Indian to bring suit or to testify against the word of a white man were enacted and these provisions rendered it impossible
for the Indian to defend his rights in any court or resist the seizure of his home and property. White persons were denied
the right to live within the Cherokee country without a license from the Georgia authorities. This enactment was leveled against
the white Christian missionaries who lived among and taught these people and this occasioned the arrest, conviction and prison
sentence of Dr. S. A. Worcester and Elizur Butler, to be followed by the famous decision of the United States Supreme Court
in 1832. Obviously, the purpose of these and kindred laws, equally obnoxious, was to enforce the retirement of the Cherokees
from the state. The Indian removal act was passed at Washington on May 28, 1830 and a fixed policy was declared by the Federal
A disaffection against the policy of Chief Ross began to develop within the tribe, led by Major Ridge, his son John and his
nephew Elias Boudinot, who formed an opposition party which favored removal to the West. These men were capable, cultured
and patriotic members of the tribe who appraised the hopelessness of the situation and the utter futility of further resistance
to the avowed purposes of the General Government. The Cherokee council passed a law which made possible the imposition of
the death penalty upon any citizen who bartered away any of the tribal domain. Although assemblages of the council had been
prohibited by the laws of Georgia, the council continued to meet at Red Clay and Chief Ross never abandoned his brave protest
against the oppressive measures invoked by the State of Georgia and the Federal Government. Numerous delegations were sent
to Washington to protest against the aggressions of the Georgia authorities, but were able to accomplish nothing.
The Treaty of February 28, 1835 engineered by Rev. John F. Schermerhorn with the Ridge faction provided for the complete extinguishment
of all title to Cherokee lands in the East and the
removal of the tribe to the West. This treaty was submitted to and rejected by the council although it had the support of
the Ridges and Boudinot who gave it their support in the face of the previous council legislation providing the death penalty.
Chief Ross vigorously opposed the adoption of the treaty by the council and prepared to depart at once for Washington to protest
again. On November 7, 1835, the eve of his departure, the Chief was seized by the Georgia authorities and held for several
days. His private papers as well as the records of the council were rifled. It was evidently thought that with Ross out of
the way, the Cherokees could be managed more easily. At the same time, his friend John Howard Payne, who was his house guest,
also was seized and his historical manuscript rifled. Payne was subsequently released and ordered out of the country. A short
time before this, the Cherokee Phoenix and its plant had been seized and removed to Georgia. In the spring of 1834, the comfortable plantation home of Chief Ross
and his extensive farm and buildings near Ross Landing, now Chattanooga, Tennessee, had been ruthlessly taken from him by
the holder of a lottery ticket, under Georgia law and he and the members of his family were evicted in a most cruel, humiliating
and inhumane manner.
In October 1835, aided by a handful of unprincipled, self-styled representatives of the tribe, a 8treaty of removal was made, ratified by the United States Senate and proclaimed by the President on May 23, 1836. This treaty
was an obvious fraud upon the Cherokees and was denied approval by their council. Chief Ross hastened to Washington with a
protest signed by over 15,000 members of the tribe, but with no avail. In the fall of 1836, Ross visited the Western Cherokees
in Arkansas again and sought to enlist their opposition to the fraudulent treaty. Opposition to the treaty was practically
unanimous among the Cherokees as was evidenced by another protest which Chief Ross presented to Congress in the spring of
1838 and which was signed by 15,665 tribal members. These protests accomplished no consideration and with unrelenting severity
the Government now hastened to banish the Indians en masse to lands set aside for them beyond the Mississippi.
The removal of the Cherokees came as the culmination of years of imposition upon them. It was a soulless enterprise in which
no considerations of humanity were permitted to interfere. A moratorium on political ethics was declared by the Southeastern
States and deliverance from the Indians became the burden of their litany. The Cherokees ultimately yielded their ancient
legacies to the despotism of the strong and acquiesced in the tyranny of the more powerful.9
In the spring of 1838, the enforced removal of the Cherokees was intrusted to Gen. Winfield S. Scott and on May 10th, the
General established headquarters for his troops at New Echota and the actual deportation by military force, was undertaken.
Ross met the situation with a calm dignity which forestalled armed opposition by the Indians, but with a strength of purpose
which inspired with confidence the harrassed Indians. In the ranks of the opposition to the Indians, Ross was considered the
chief adversary. The United States Government and the state authorities declined and refused him all recognition. Straggling
bands of the disheartened Indians for months had been wending their way to the West when the military arm of the Government
took charge. The Indians were circumvented at every turn but it became evident that the removal of these people could not
be accomplished by brute, military force. There were so many pathetic features which challenged the finer sensibilities of
even the hardened soldiers who were engaged in the effort. On July 23, 1838, upon request of the Cherokee council, the entire
program for the removal of the Cherokees was handed over to the council and to this task, Chief Ross gave his every attention.
The famous chieftain, whom the United States Government had declined to recognize and whom the Georgia authorities had attempted
to bribe and bulldoze, was now recognized to accomplish the task where the army had failed. Truly, it was a vindication and
belated recognition of the masterful leadership of John Ross among his people. The kind, unselfish executive in whom his people
so implacably believed, patiently regimented the Cherokees and in the winter of 1838-9, led the last remnant of the tribe
to the unknown West—the West where the broad, open
prairies gather the sunset in their arms until the dark comes. When the agony was over, some four thousand of the more helpless
old men, women and children had perished during the journey, to be buried by the wayside in unknown and unmarked graves. Truly,
it was a "trail of tears." Quatie, the Cherokee wife of Chief Ross sickened during the trip and died at Little Rock, Arkansas
in March, 1839. The brave chief pressed on and into the Territory and shortly thereafter estabished his famous home at Park
Hill some three miles southeast of the present town of Tahlequah.
The Ridges and Boudinot were already in the West and difficulties faced the chief and the council in their new home. Three
factions grew out of the discordant elements,—the Old Settlers, composed of the Western Cherokees who had voluntarily come
west many years before, the Ridge faction who had accepted removal and the Ross Nationals. The Old Settlers and the Ridge
adherents combined against Ross but were destined to lose in the conflict. Discord was growing and in some manner which has
never been satisfactorily explained, the Ridges and Boudinot, each signers of the removal treaty, were pronounced guilty and
the penalty of death cruelly exacted on June 22, 1839. It was a savage gesture and unworthy of condonation. These men, under
the impact of overwhelming odds, had favored removal and signed the treaty which ceded the tribal lands and thus rendered
themselves liable to the death penalty. This death penalty was exacted, but not through any pretense of compliance with the
orderly processes of the law, but by some sort of concerted action. Quite naturally, the Ridge adherents attempted to fasten
the crime upon Chief Ross, who was perfectly innocent. Naturally, the breach widened and quite inopportunely, shortly thereafter,
the Ross Nationals met in council and denounced the Ridges and Boudinot as outlaws justly liable to the death penalty and
declared the murderers restored to their confidence and good favor.
In September 1839, a new constitution was framed and subsequently adopted and agreed to by all factions and John Ross was
elected Principal Chief of the reunited Cherokee tribe, a position he was to hold by successive reelections until his death
in 1866 and Tahlequah was made the capital. Tahlequah was established by an
Act of Council of October 28, 1843. Through the personal efforts of Chief Ross, a 10treaty was concluded with the Government on August 6, 1846 whereby a patent was granted to the tribe for the lands in the
old Indian Territory and certain indemnifying amounts were paid for losses sustained by the Indians from depredations sustained
by the Indians prior to their removal. The quiet little city of Tahlequah probably will never witness again a singular and
fantastic assemblage like the one which assembled on the old Cherokee council grounds and to which Chief John Ross was the
host, in July 1843. It was the famous inter-tribal council at which some eighteen tribes were represented by an attendance
of between three and four thousand Indians. No more spectacular gathering of the Indians was ever convened.
The decades succeeding the removal and preceding the Civil War were comparatively free from dissention within the tribe. The
Cherokee government under the famous chief was eminently successful but the advent of the Civil War provoked another challenge
to the sagacity of the chieftain. His initial counsel was for one of neutrality between the North and the South. He sensed
the disadvantages which would embarrass the Indians should an unfortunate choice be made between the warring elements. His
inclinations were with the Union and in this sentiment he was supported by his second wife who was a northern lady and a pronounced
Union sympathizer. The chief, at first parried the overtures of the Confederacy to form an alliance with its government and
in his communication to the Confederate Commissioner of Indian Affairs under date of June 17, 1861, he evidences the qualities
of a statesman, when he states, " * * * We have no cause to doubt the entire good faith with which you would treat the Cherokee
people; but neither have we any cause to make war against the United States, or believe that our treaties will not be fulfilled
and respected by that Government. At all events, a decent regard to good faith demands that we should not be the first to
violate them." On May 17, 1861, the chief issued a proclamation to his people, urging a policy of neutrality. This was done
in the face of the fact that a strong under current was developing in favor of an alliance with the Confederacy. He joined
with Opothleyahola, the Creek leader, in the futile attempt to marshal the tribes
into an inter-tribal agreement to remain neutral. This meeting which was held at Antelope Hills in the western part of the
Territory, failed in its purpose and this debacle, together with the withdrawal of all Federal troops from the Territory and
the immediate occupancy of the same by the Confederate forces, placed the neutral element among the Cherokees in an awkward
situation. The stubbornness with which John Ross had defied the demands for the removal of his people back in the thirties,
now relaxed and on August 12, 1861, he addressed the summoned council at Tahlequah and counselled an alliance with the Confederacy
and this action was unanimously taken. The chief entered heartily into the cause of the Confederacy, feeling perhaps that
whatever the final fortunes might be, the Cherokee people would remain a united Nation.
The fortune changed sooner than was anticipated and on July 14, 1862, the Union forces occupied Tahlequah. The old chief at
Park hill requested and was granted a military escort by the Union general to Ft. Scott, Kansas, where he entrained with his
family for Philadelphia. The advance of the Union forces into the Territory was of brief duration and within a short time
the Confederates reoccupied the country. The Cherokee government was now left in control of the Confederate sympathizers,
Chief Ross was deposed and Stand Waitie was chosen in his place. Stand Waitie, who was a commissioned officer in the Confederate
service now occupied Tahlequah and burned Rose Cottage, the Park Hill home of Chief Ross and the council house at Tahlequah,
on October 28th and 29th, 1862. This action was cowardly and indefensible. Stand Waitie was a brother of Elias Boudinot but
lacked the character of his distinguished brother. He was a brave, courageous leader when the foe was in flight or lie was
burning the house of some Indian who was away from home.
In February 1863, the tide of war again changed and the supremacy of the Union again was established in the Cherokee portion
of the Territory. The Cherokee council again met and repealed the act deposing Chief Ross and reinstated him. The chief, then
in Philadelphia, hastened to Washington to confer with Government authorities and on September 1, 1865, arrived at Tahlequah,
preparatory for entering into the Ft. Smith conference with
the United States Commissioners. He was dissatisfied with Section 9 of the treaty of June 19, 1866 wherein the tribe was enforced
to adopt their former negro slaves into tribal membership and immediately thereafter left for Washington to enter his protest
against its ratification. The old chieftain was much broken in health and passed away at the Medes Hotel on lower Pennsylvania
Avenue in Washington, D. C., on August 1, 1866. A year later, the Cherokee council caused his remains to be returned to the
Territory and placed to rest at Park Hill where his grave is suitably marked. His last resting place has become a shrine among
the people whom he served so faithfully and capably for fifty years.
Chief Ross was married twice, his first wife being Quatie Martin who died at Little Rock in March 1839 and is buried there
where her grave is suitably marked. His second wife was Mary Brian Stapler whom he married at Philadelphia on September 7,
1844 and who died at the temporary home of Chief Ross at 708 South Washington Square, Philadelphia, on July 20, 1865 and is
buried in the Stapler cemetery lot at Wilmington, Delaware. The chief was a man of medium height, with a slender and supple
figure. In personal appearance, he was a typical Scotchman, with blue eyes and brown hair. John Ross was a Christian gentleman,
a consistent member of the Methodist Church, South. He was quiet, dignified and reserved in manner, with a personality that
inspired respect and confidence. His thirty-eight years tenure as chieftain of the Cherokees covered the period of their greatest
distresses and although the quantity of his Indian blood was negligible, his fidelity to the interests of the Cherokee Indians,
It was with courage and finesse that the chief postponed the removal crisis for twenty years and his diplomatic efforts in
so doing had won and sustained for him, the highest confidence of his people although their ultimate destiny should have been
apparent. The conflicting status provoked by the attempted political autonomy of the Cherokees within the confines of the
States was wholly illogical and could have no permanence. Ross, erudite leader that he was must have foreseen the futility
of his efforts to preserve for his people, even a semblance of their independent status in the East. He was not a conciliator
but shared the funda-
mental impulses of the Indians. He created for them a social and political condition which set them apart from "barbarians."
Chief Ross was probably influenced, as he had a perfect right to be, by the declarations of the 11Supreme Court of the United States, which through its great Chief Justice, John Marshall had said, " * * * the Cherokees are
under the protection of the United States of America and no other power. * * * The Indian tribes are wards of the Nation.
They are communities dependent upon the United States. They owe no allegiance to the States and receive from them no protection.
* * * Within the boundary lines of the territory of Indian Nations, as established by treaties with the United States, the
Indians possessed rights with which no State could interfere. * * * The Indians possessed a full right to the lands they occupied
until that right should be extinguished by the United States with their consent." It was manifest to John Ross and the coterie
of capable leaders with whom he was surrounded, that the southeastern states could in no manner lawfully interfere with the
Cherokees. It was equally manifest that their lands could not be taken from them by the Government without "their consent."
This consent had been withheld by the Cherokee council when it denied approval of the fraudulent removal treaty. John Ross
possessed a naive faith in his people and in the righteousness of their cause. His wishful trust in the United States Government
and in the ultimate triumph of justice for the Cherokees influenced his course of thought and action. In the realization of
his ideals of justice, he was to suffer disappointment. But then, one sometimes thinks that history is a monotonous repetition,
a game under different disguises, although we persuade ourselves that moral progress is a reality and that mankind is slowly
climbing an invisible ladder to better things, leaving its beastiality behind. Some vagaries linger athwart the pages of our
national history and our unfair treatment of the Cherokees is among them. The entire removal program of the Government might
have been softened by an effort to "sell" the idea to the Indians by their education of its advantages. They were an intelligent
people and fully capable of responding to any reasonable overtures had they been advantageously presented.
The decades of their tribal life in the West were as interludes preparatory to their splendid participation12 in the social and political life of Oklahoma, but the service of John Ross to these people will never be forgotten. His public
life involved his complete personal sacrifice. He was an incorruptible advocate amid environs of bribery, betrayal and graft.
A survey of the Indian leaders during the tragic removal years, places John Ross foremost in the ranks of his contemporaries.
His career is a study in personal leadership of the highest character.
Return to top
Electronic Publishing Center |
OSU Home |
Search this Site