Date posted:  March 21, 2016

Chief John Ross (1790-1866) served the Cherokee tribe for more than 50 years, proving himself an exceptional chief executive, political negotiator, and diplomat. Of mixed Scottish and Cherokee ancestry, he was raised in a family that believed in education and took pride in its Cherokee heritage. In 1827, Ross became involved in one of the landmark events of Cherokee history. He was elected a delegate to the convention that created the first constitutional government of an American Indian tribe; later he would become the group’s president. The following year the General Council elected Ross the first chief under the new constitution. For the next 10 years Ross and the Cherokees resisted pressure from the state of Georgia and the federal government to remove the people from the their traditional homelands. But by the mid-1830s tribal solidarity waned as a minority began to believe that survival depended upon moving West, beyond white influence. This minority signed the Treaty of New Echota.

Ross campaigned untiringly to overturn the treaty, which provided for total removal to western lands, but by July 1838, General Winfield Scott’s troops had moved most of the tribe into confinement camps in preparation for removal. Ross was appointed by the General Council with the approval of the federal government, to take over as removal superintendent. The Cherokee Nation was organized into 13 detachments of about 1,000 persons each. Every detachment included conductors, physicians, interpreters, commissary agents, and wagon masters. On the 800 mile journey the detachments encountered drought, bitter winter weather, constant sickness, exposure to the elements, and corruption of those hired to furnish provisions. The removal process resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Cherokee people.

Ross spent most of the Civil War years in Washington and Philadelphia working to convince the Lincoln administration that the Cherokees were coerced into supporting the Confederacy.