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John Ross

JOHN ROSS, bright star of the Cherokees, has been the subject of many writers, and justly so. He was one of the most tireless of the Indian workers at the time just preceding and following the tragic March of Tears, in which the tribes of the eastern part of the nation were moved to lands in what later became Oklahoma. The Indians of the South were being relentlessly pushed and crowded, and the United States government was being pressured by the whites to move the tribes west of the Mississippi.

Ross was born October 3, 1790, and was made principal chief of the Cherokees after the removal to Oklahoma. He served the Cherokees for some forty years, representing the tribes in Washington, DC, as well as at the Cherokee capital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He was a man of great ability and was an outstanding citizen. He died in Washington, DC, on August 1, 1866.

The tribes usually referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes enjoyed a high state of civilization and a benevolent form of government. They were prosperous landowners and businessmen, many with fine educations and exceptional abilities. Removal from their ancestral holdings was ruinous, and after arrival in Oklahoma, for a long period of time they were beset by many difficult problems. Relations with the different tribes were among the most vexing problems.

Ross made a plea, and continually sought for a plan to get all the tribes to work together in harmony, but in spite of his efforts, little was accomplished. In June 1843, a council was called at Tahlequah, and it remained in session four weeks. Seventeen tribes were represented, with some ten thousand Indians present. The following speech by Ross was given at the beginning of the session, and followed by a resolution receiving little support.

"By Peace Our Condition has been improved in the Pursuit of Civilized Life"

Brothers: The talk of our forefathers has been spoken, and you have listened to it. You have also smoked the pipe of peace, and shaken the right hand of friendship around the Great Councilfire, newly kindled at Tahlequah, in the west, and our hearts have been made glad on the interesting occasion.

Brothers: When we look into the history of our race, we see some green spots that are pleasing to us. We also find many things to make the heart sad. When we look upon the first council-fire kindled by our forefathers, when the pipe of peace was smoked in brotherly friendship between the different nations of red people, our hearts rejoice in the goodness of our Creator in having thus united the heart and hand of the red man in peace.

For it is in peace only that our women and children can enjoy happiness and increase in numbers

By peace our condition has been improved in the pursuit of civilized life we should, therefore, extend the hand of friend-ship from tribe to tribe, until peace shall be established between every nation of red men within the reach of our voice

Brothers: When we call to mind the only associations which endeared to the land which gave birth to our ancestors, where we have been brought up in peace to taste the benefits of civilized life; and when we see that our ancient fire has there been extinguished, and our people compelled to remove to a new and distant country, we cannot but feel sorry; but the designs of Providence, in the course of events, are mysterious-we should not, therefore, despair of once more enjoying the blessings of peace in our new homes.

Brothers: By this removal, tribes that were once separated by distance have become neighbors, and some of them, hitherto not known to each other, have met and become acquainted. There are, however, numerous other tribes to whom we are still strangers.

Brothers: It is for reviving here in the west the ancient talk of our forefathers, and of perpetuating for ever the old fire and pipe of peace brought from the east, and of extending them from nation to nation, and for adopting such international laws as may be necessary to redress the wrongs which may be done by individuals of our respective nations upon each other, that you have been invited to attend the present council.

Brothers: Let us so then act that the peace and friendship which so happily existed between our forefathers, may be for ever preserved; and that we may always live as brothers of the same family.

At the time of the War Between the States, feeling of the citizens, both Indian and white, was divided in allegiance to the Union and to the Confederate States. The Territory, later to become part of Oklahoma, had partisans for both of the contestants. Some of the Indians became active in support of the South; others sided with the North.

The Cherokees chose to side with the South, and this is John Ross's address to the Cherokee National Assembly, setting out the course of action to be taken by the Cherokees. This speech was delivered at Tahlequah on October 9,1861, and was taken from a rare pamphlet printed at Tahlequah by the Cherokee Nation. The copy used as reference is in the Frank Phillips Collection at the University of Oklahoma Library.

"The Cherokee People Stand Upon New Ground"

Friends and Fellow Citizens:

Since the last meeting of the National Council, events have occurred that will occupy a prominent place in the history of the world. The United States have been dissolved and two governments now exist. Twelve of the States composing the late Union have erected themselves into a government under the style of the Confederate States of America, and as you know, are now engaged in a war for their independence. The contest thus far has been attended with success, almost uninterrupted on their side, and marked by brilliant victories. Of its final result there seems to be no ground for a reasonable doubt. The unanimity and devotion of the people of the Confederate States must sooner or later secure their success over all opposition and result in the establishment of their independence and recognition of it by the other nations of the Earth.

At the beginning of the conflict, I felt that the interests of the Cherokee people would be best maintained by remaining quiet and not involving themselves in it prematurely. Our relations had long existed with the United States Government and bound us to observe amity and peace alike with all the States. Neutrality was proper and wise so long as there remained a reasonable probability that the difficulty between the two sections of the Union would be settled, as a different course would have placed all our rights in jeopardy and might have led to the sacrifice of the people.

But when there was no longer any reason to believe that the Union of the States would be continued, there was no cause to hesitate as to the course the Cherokee Nation should pursue. Our geographical position and domestic institutions allied us to the South, while the developments daily made in our vicinity and as to the purposes of the war waged against the Confederate States clearly pointed out the path of interest. These considerations produced unanimity of sentiment among the people as to the policy to be adopted by the Cherokee Nation, which was clearly expressed in their general meeting held at Tahlequah on the 21St day of August last. A copy of the proceedings of that meeting is submitted for your information. In accordance with the declarations embodied in the Resolutions then adopted, the Executive Council deemed it proper to exercise the authority conferred upon them by the people there assembled. Messengers were dispatched to General Albert Pike, the distinguished Indian Commissioner of the Confederate States, who, having negotiated treaties with the neighboring Indian Nations, was then establishing relations between his government and the Comanches and other Indians in the Southwest, who bore a copy of the proceedings of the meeting referred to, and a letter from the Executive Authorities, proposing on behalf of the Nation to enter into a Treaty of Alliance, defensive and offensive, with the Confederate States. In the exercise of the same general Authority and to be ready as far as practicable to meet any emergency that might spring upon our northern border, it was thought proper to raise a regiment of mounted men and tender its service to General McCulloch.

The people responded with alacrity to the call, and it is believed the regiment will be found as efficient as any other like number of men. It is now in the service of the Confederate States for the purpose of aiding in defending their homes and the common rights of the Indian Nations about us. This regiment is composed of ten full companies, and in addition to the force previously authorized to be raised to operate outside of the Nation by General McCulloch, will show that the Cherokee people are ready to do all in their power in defense of the Con-federate cause which has now become their own. And it is to be hoped that our people will spare no means to sustain them, but contribute liberally to supply any want of comfortable clothing for the approaching season.

In years long since past, our ancestors met undaunted those who would invade their mountain homes beyond the Mississippi; let not their descendants of the present day be found unworthy of them, or unable to stand by the chivalrous men of the South by whose side they may be called to fight in self defense.

The Cherokee people do not desire to be involved in war, but self preservation fully justifies them in the course they have adopted, and they will be recreant to themselves if they do not sustain it to the utmost of their humble abilities.

A Treaty with the Confederate States has been entered into and is now submitted for your ratification. In view of the circumstances by which we are surrounded, and the provisions of the Treaty, it will be found to be the most important ever negotiated on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, and will mark a new era in its history. Without attempting a recapitulation of all its provisions, some of its distinguishing features may be briefly enumerated.

The relations of the Cherokee Nation are changed from the United to the Confederate States, with guarantees of protection, and a recognition in future negotiations only of its Constitutional Authorities. The metes and boundaries as defined by Patent from the United States are continued and a guaranty given for the Neutral Land, or a fair consideration in case it should be lost by war or negotiation, and an advance thereon to pay the National debt, and to meet other contingencies. The payment of all our annuities and the security of our investments are provided for. The jurisdiction of the Cherokee Courts over all members of the Nation, whether by birth, marriage, or adoption is recognized.

Our title to our lands is placed beyond dispute. Our relations with the Confederate States is that of a Ward; theirs to us that of a Protectorate with powers restricted. The District Court, with a limited civil and criminal jurisdiction, is admitted into the Country instead of being located in Van Buren as was the United States Court. This is, perhaps, one of the most important provisions of the Treaty and secures to our own citizens the great Constitutional right of trial by a jury of their own vicinage, and releases them from the petty abuses and vexations of the old system before a foreign jury and in a foreign country. It gives us a Delegate in Congress on the same footing with Delegates from the Territories by which our interests can be represented a right which has long been withheld from the Nation and which has imposed upon it a large expense and great injustice. It also contains reasonable stipulation in regard to the appointment powers of the Agent, and in regard to licensed traders. The Cherokee Nation may be called upon to furnish troops for the defense of the Indian country, but is never to be taxed for the support of any war in which the States may be engaged. The Cherokee people stand upon new ground. Let us hope that the clouds which overspread the land will be dispersed, and that we shall prosper as we have never before done. New avenues to usefulness and distinction will be opened to the ingenuous youth of the Country. Our rights of self-government will be more fully recognized, and our citizens be no longer dragged off upon flimsy pretexts to be imprisoned and tried before distant tribunals. No just cause exists for domestic difficulties. Let them be buried with the past and only mutual friendship and harmony be cherished.

Our relations with the neighboring tribes are of the most friendly character. Let us see that the white path which leads from our country to theirs be obstructed by no act of ours, and that it be open to all those with whom we may be brought into intercourse.

Amid the excitement of the times, it is to be hoped that the interests of education will not be allowed to suffer and that no interruption be brought into the usual operations of the Government. Let all its officers continue to discharge their appropriate duties. As the services of some of your members may be required elsewhere and all unnecessary expense should be avoided. I respectfully recommend that the business of the session be promptly discharged.

Additional Reading

 The Cherokees
 Cherokee Indian Alphabet
 Cherokee Culture
 Words In Cherokee
 Cherokee Myths

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