Ross, a man with the legend touch, walked tall upon the earth
and cast a long shadow. He set a precedent in democratic
political history that will never be broken. By free ballot,
he was elected to ten successive terms of four years each as
principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
He died in office as chief executive of a government fashioned
after that of the United States of America.
Intellectually, he was the greatest chief in the history of
the Cherokee people.
In his youth he knew Jefferson, spent most of his prime negotiating
with Jackson, came face to face with Lincoln. In Washington,
he was known as the Indian Prince.
Yet, for all his impressive contacts, he was a man of simple
and friendly habit, his home ever open to visitors of all walks
of life, including John Howard Payne who once shared a jail
cell with him and where Payne got the idea for the song, Home,
John Ross stood so high in the eyes of his people that they
called him Guwisguwi, the name of a rare migratory bird of large
size and white or grayish plumage that had one time appeared
at long intervals in the old Cherokee country.
He Was only one-eighth Cherokee and seven-eighths Scot.
He was as much a Scotsman as his great opponent,
Jackson, and fought just as tenaciously. But he
was forever Cherokee-minded.
Scion of a prominent trading family that had settled before
the American Revolution at what is now Rossville, Georgia, just
across the line from Chattanooga, Tennessee, he was born October
He was educated at a white man's school at Kingston, Tennessee,
and began his public career at the age of nineteen when he was
entrusted by Indian Agent Return Meigs with an important mission
to the Arkansas Cherokee in 1809.
He was a veteran of the Creek campaign in which the Cherokee
established the reputation of their archenemy-to-be Jackson
instead of shooting him down as some Cherokee veterans later
wished they had.
Ross Fought alongside Jackson and Sam Houston and Davy Crockett
in the was of 1812, and at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, in
a daring act of bravery, he swam the river to capture the Creek's
canoes which were then used to effect an attack upon the enemy's
Ross, more than anyone else, was responsible for remodeling
the Cherokee tribal government into a miniature republic with
a written constitution.
This republican form of government came into being in 1820.
Under the arrangement, the nation was divided into eight districts.
Each was entitled to send four representatives to the Cherokee
national legislature, which met at
Echota, the capital, near the present Calhoun, Georgia.
The legislature consisted of an upper and a lower house.
The Cherokee referred to them, respectively, as the national
committee and the national council.
The principle official in the government was the president of
the national council. Because he had shown great leadership,
the office fell to John Ross.
Sequoyah had invented
his alphabet and overnight
the Cherokee became a literate race.
This led, in 1828, to the adoption of a constitution, development
of a system of industries and home education, and establishment
of a national press.
The constitution was predicated on the Cherokee assumed sovereignty
and independence as one of the district nations of the earth.
The bold step drew the immediate wrath of authorities and people
of Georgia and set off the first argument for state's rights,
with Georgia asking the United States government what it proposed
to do about the "erection of a separate government within
the limits of a sovereign state."
As the battle raged, Ross dreamed that one day a new star
would be added to the flag of the United States and that it
would stand for a state the like of which had not yet been received
into the Union - an Indian state, the State of Cherokee.
But this was not to be, and John Ross found himself spending
most of his time in Washington fighting the removal of the Cherokee
to new homes in the west.
His knowledge of the writings of Jefferson enabled the Cherokee
to present memorials of dignity and moving appeal to Congress.
He almost won the fight. He lost it by one vote.
Throughout the long and hard battle, Ross' people trusted him,
sometimes almost blindly.
Even when the Cherokee were finally removed to what is now Oklahoma
in 1838, he continued to fight.
After their arrival in the Indian Territory, Ross was chosen
chief of the united Cherokee Nation and held that office until
his death in Washington on August 1, 1866 at the age of 76.
Upon learning of his death, the Cherokee Nation passed a memorial
resolution that read in part:
"He never faltered in supporting what he believed to be
right, but clung to it with a steadiness of purpose which alone
could have sprung from the clearest convictions of rectitude.
"He never sacrificed the interests of is nation to expediency.
He never lost sight of the welfare of the people. For
them he labored daily for a long life, and upon them he bestowed
his last expressed thoughts."
A friend of law, he obeyed it; a friend of education,
he faithfully encouraged schools throughout the country; and
spent liberally his means in conferring it upon others.
Given to hospitality, none ever hungered around his door.
A professor of the Christian religion, he practiced its percepts.
His works are inseparable from the history of the Cherokee people
for nearly a half a century, while his examples of the daily
walks of life will linger in the future and whisper words of
hope, temperance, and charity in the years of posterity."
Resolutions were also passed for bringing his body from Washington
at the expense of the Cherokee Nation as providing for suitable
funeral rites and burial, in order "that his remains should
rest among those he had so long served."
He was buried at Park Hill, Oklahoma, his home.
Web Links Referencing
Chief John Ross
leader of the Cherokee
Chief John Ross
are Sickened": Letter from Chief John
John Ross of the Cherokee Nation