The pressure by the white people into the land of the Cherokee Indians in the East had forced them to make treaty after treaty yielding parts of their country. Finally in desperation the Cherokees in council in October 1829 declared they would give up no more and adopted a resolution declaring that any member of the tribe who should thereafter undertake to cede any part of their tribal domain should be punished by death. The resolution was drawn by Major Ridge one of the most intelligent members of the tribe who was later to suffer the penalty prescribed by himself.
In spite of the determined stand of the Cherokees, rapacity of the white people continued unabated and finally in 1835 Ridge, Boudinot and a small number of other intelligent Cherokees determined to resist no longer. They were induced to believe that the only solution of their difficulties was to be found in removal to the West where they would be free from impositions and depredations by white people. Though holding no authority from the tribe for this or any other purpose they were persuaded to sign a treaty in which they undertook in behalf of the tribe to give up their homeland in the East and agree to remove west of the Mississippi River.
This treaty was carried to Washington and by President Jackson presented to the Senate for ratification. The Cherokee Nation was aroused to a frenzy of indignation, and remonstrances signed by more than ninety per cent of the tribe were sent to the United States Senate pleading against the ratification of the treaty. In spite of this showing it was ratified and the President thereupon warned the Cherokee people that the treaty was in full force and effect and that they must leave their homes and proceed to the West. A few thousand of them believing that further resistance would avail them nothing abandoned their cherished possessions and came to the Tennessee River where they boarded boats that carried them to the western country. These included the leading men who had signed the so-called treaty of 1835 and their friends. Because they yielded to the
persuasions of the government they were permitted more leisure and facilities for collecting and carrying with them their personal effects so that the most of them arrived in the West in some degree of affluence, such as the Ridges who brought considerable money with them and immediately on their arrival in the West engaged in merchandising and trade.
The great majority of the tribe, however, hoping against hope that some modifications of the treaty might be secured so that they could remain in their homes, made no effort to leave; President Jackson then sent several thousand soldiers into the country to drive them out. These troops drove the Indians from their homes, fields and firesides and herded them in concentration camps where they were held prisoners until the movement began in the autumn of 1838. The march of more than 13,000 men, women and children organized in thirteen parties, through that winter was one of the saddest chapters in American history. It was authentically reported that more than 4,000 Indians died during the concentration and march over what they called the "Trail of Tears."
Upon their arrival in the spring of 1839 they numbered some 13,000 immigrant Indians against half that many of what were known as "Old Settlers" and the "Treaty Party" Indians, the latter having reached there a year or two earlier. The new arrivals thereupon undertook to reestablish their government and in view of the complex situation of the tribe entered into negotiations with the earlier arrivals to agree upon a common government. Though the faction known as the "Old Settlers" had established a government some years before, they did not present themselves in a hostile attitude toward the overtures of the recent immigrants. However, the leaders of the "Treaty Party" including the Ridges, Boudinot, Bells, Stand Watie and their relatives were less complacent. They had brought with them the jealousies and heart-burnings growing out of their difficulties in the East and the recognized influence of John Ross over the great majority of the tribe.
A meeting was held at Double Springs a few miles northwest of the present Tahlequah where an effort was made to agree on articles of union and a new government. Here the "Old Settlers" and "Treaty Party" Indians were outnumbered two
to one by the immigrants headed by John Ross and a clear cut issue was presented by the two factions. Leaders among the earlier arrivals declined any sort of union with the recent immigrants except under the government and officers previously established in the West. This the great majority of the tribe declined and the meeting broke up in failure through the influence of these leaders. The next day the country was shocked by the brutal murder of Major Ridge and his son, John, and Elias Boudinot. The home of John Ridge on Honey Creek in the northeastern part of the Cherokee Nation was broken into by a party of Cherokee Indians who forced him out of the house and stabbed him to death. His father, Major Ridge, on his way to Vineyard in Washington County, Arkansas, was killed near the line. Elias Boudinot was engaged in building, his house at Park Hill but left with three men for the home of Dr. Worcester to secure medicine for them. About half way there his companions seized and killed him on a spot near the present little mission cemetery on the hill south of the present Park Hill creek. The murderers were never positively identified nor brought to justice. General Arbuckle, commanding at Fort Gibson, claimed to have information as to their identity but they were never apprehended.
As the meeting broke up at Double Springs another was called by Sequoyah representing the "Old Settlers" and others representing the majority faction to meet at Illinois Camp Ground two or three miles down the creek from Tahlequah. Here, though many of the "Old Settlers" and the "Treaty Party" refused to attend, an act of union of the factions of the tribe was adopted and the same autumn in Tahlequah the constitution for the newly organized Cherokee Nation was adopted upon which the tribe flourished as long as it continued in existence.
Charges were made that John Ross as chief was in some measure guilty of the killing of the Ridges and Boudinot or had guilty knowledge of the plans that brought about their death but nothing was ever adduced in support of this claim. That their death was the result of concerted effort on the part of members of the great majority of the tribe headed by Ross there can be little doubt.
This killing became a cause celebre probably without parallel in the annals of early Oklahoma history and ushered in a reign of bloody reprisal that continued for many years. The burning of the beautiful home of John Ross at Park Hill during the Civil War by Stand Watie or his followers was an outgrowth of this feeling, that faction of the tribe maintaining stoutly that Ross was responsible in some degree for this killing.
But a new and interesting light is thrown upon this much controverted question by the statement of John Ross's son, Allen, published herewith. W. W. Ross of Welling, Oklahoma, a few years ago gave to the undersigned the knife illustrated in this sketch which was the object thrown over the fence at the home of Arch Campbell. This donation was accompanied by the statement by Mr. Ross's grandfather, Allen Ross, who kept the knife in his possession from the time of the killing to his death. Mr. Allen Ross was survived among others by Robert Bruce Ross who died recently at Park Hill at an advanced age; upon his death the statement and knife came into the possession of his son, W. W. Ross. At the time of the killing of Boudinot, Park Hill was a considerable settlement lying on both sides of Park Hill Creek. Of this interesting place only the Murrell home and the Hinton home survive. John Ross's home was on the north bank of the creek and Arch Campbell's on the south side. West of Campbell's were the homes of Boudinot, Rev. Stephen Foreman, Rev. S. A. Worcester and others and the Park Hill Printing office. These and other houses that were there at that time have entirely disappeared.
With this article is presented to the Oklahoma Historical Society the knife mentioned which played such a tragic part in the history of the Cherokee Indians. The statement of Mr. Allen Ross follows: (G. F.).
At the request of my two grandsons I make the following statement:
My name is Allen Ross, was born Dec. 26, 1817 in the old Ross home at Ross's Landing near Chattanooga, Tenn. Chief John Ross and Quatie Martin Ross were my parents. I married Jennie Fields in 1835 and emigrated with the Cherokees in 1838 & 39. My mother died as the Steamboat landed at Little Rock, Ark., and was buried in the Cemetery at that place her grave being
marked thus "Elizabeth Ross wife of Chief John Ross." When we arrived in the new country we bought places from some of the "Old Settlers"; my father near Park Hill and I near Tahlequah. The National Camp Ground was located about two miles down the creek southeast of the present site of Tahlequah, and was known as "Illinois Camp Ground"; this is where the people were called together in the summer of 1839 to try to form a union.
There was some dissention caused by men who had signed the Treaty of 1835 and were opposed to John Ross as Chief. After several days of endeavor to get together and having failed some of the leaders of the emigrants called a secret meeting without the knowledge or consent of my father John Ross at what is now known as Double Springs about four miles north west of Tahlequah for the purpose of making plans to effect an act of union; after much discussion the meeting was called upon to read and to adhere to a law that had been passed by the Cherokee National Council when the first attempt was made to negotiate their lands in the East; when it was "provided that who-so-ever should agree or sign an agreement to sell their lands should forfeit their lives."
Believing that the same men who had made the Treaty of 1835 were responsible for the failure of the Cherokee People to get together this meeting decided that these three men should be executed as provided by the law as read.
The meeting further decided that this meeting must be kept from their Chief because he would prevent it as he had once before at Red Clay before their removal.
A committee was appointed to arrange details and in response to that committee report numbers were placed in a hat for each person present; twelve of these numbers had an X mark after the number which indicated the Executioners. All present were asked to draw. When I came to draw the Chairman stopped me and told me that I could not draw as the Committee had another job for me on that day.
When the drawing was finished I asked the Chairman what I was to do, he told me that I was to go to my father's (John Ross) home on the evening before this execution and for me to stay with my father that night and the next day and if possible to keep him from finding out what was being done.
Those drawing the marked numbers knew what was expected of them as they had been instructed.
The Committee adjourned and each went his way and at the appointed time the work was done as instructed.
I went to my fathers as instructed and stayed until I heard that Mr. Boudinot had been killed; I knew that the orders of the Committee had been executed. About five o'clock that evening my father and I went to visit with Mr. Arch Campbell and while there some men passed near and as they passed by they threw some thing into the yard. My father asked what it was. I told him that it was a stick. I afterwards returned and found that it was a knife which is still in my possession. These men were some of the full-bloods who had participated in the killing of Mr. Boudinot a few minutes before about half a mile west of Arch Campbell's home.
I know that my father did not know anything about this matter. The last two men who took part in this were Judge Riley W. Keys and Jackson Rattling Gourd.
My father was angry when he learned the facts, and when asked by General Arbuckle to come to Ft. Gibson for conference agreed to go, but his friends fearing for his life would not let him go alone and kept a guard about his home for some time.
The "Act of Union" was formed in a short time and the newly formed Council passed an act pardoning all parties connected with this awful affair.
Written by me at my son's home near Tahlequah, Ind. Ter., Dec. 25th, 1890.
(Signed) Allen Ross.