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John Ross
Chief of the Cherokee

John 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, Sweet 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, Andrew 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 3, 1790.

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 fort.

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 New 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Other Web Links Referencing Chief John Ross

John Ross, leader of the Cherokee
Cherokee Chief John Ross
Chief John Ross
"Our Hearts are Sickened": Letter from Chief John
Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation

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