Tribal Chief John Ross, leader of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 until 1866

John Ross

1790 - 1866

John Ross was elected principal chief of the eastern Cherokee in 1828, Ross struggled valiantly to hold the ancestral lands of his people but was unable to withstand the constant pressure of the state of Georgia for removal.  Highly regarded for his role in leading the fight against removal and leading his people to their exile in Oklahoma, controversy was his constant companion once the Georgia Cherokee arrived.

Ross, whose name in Cherokee is Kooweskoowe , was born near Lookout Mt., Tenn., of Scottish and Cherokee parents. He was educated at Kingston, Tenn., and in the War of 1812 served under Andrew Jackson against the Creeks

Ross had a private tutor as a youth.  Early in his life he was postmaster in Rossville, Ga. and a clerk in a trading firm. The town he founded as Rossville Landing grew much larger than it's namesake as Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Growing up with the constant raids of whites and Indians, Ross witnessed much of the brutality on the early American frontier. The future Walker County was a hunting ground for both white and Cherokee raiding parties, strategically located midpoint between head of Coosa and Col. John Sevier's band of marauders from Tennessee.

"Little John" served as a Lieutenant in the Creek War, fighting with many famous Southerners including Sam Houston. When future president Andrew Jackson called the Battle of Horseshoe Bend "one of the great victories of the American frontier," losing 50 men while killing 500 Creek men, women, and children, John Ross penned the words.

Ross was invaluable to Morovians who established a mission on the Federal Highway near present-day Brainerd, Tennessee. Serving as translator for the missionaries, just as he had for Return J. Miegs, Indian agent for the Cherokee, Ross acted as liaison between the missionaries, Miegs, and the tribal council. He proposed selling land to the Morovians for the school, a radical idea in a society that did not understand the concept.

Ross was viewed as astute and likable, and frequently visited Washington. After the death of James Vann, Ross joined Charles Hicks, with whom he worked, and Major Ridge as a member of the Cherokee Triumvirate. During the trip to negotiate the Treaty of 1819 in Washington, D. C. he became recognized for his efforts.

Ross, one of the richest men in North Georgia before 1838 had a number of ventures including a 200 acre farm and owned a number of slaves. He would not speak Cherokee in council because he felt his command of the language was weak.

After the death of Charles Hicks, and others in the early 1820's, settlers believed that the Cherokee time was short. Ross and others decided to make legal moves to prevent the forced removal including organizing the Cherokee tribe as a nation, with its own Constitution, patterned after the Constitution of the United States of America. As president of the Constitutional Convention that convened in the summer of 1827 he was the obvious choice for Principal Chief in the first elections in 1828. He held this post until his death in 1866. Ridge, his close friend and ally, would serve the last years in Georgia as "counselor," for lack of a better word to describe the roll.

Over the first 10 years of his rule he fought the white man not with weapons but with words. As the encroachment of the settlers grew, he turned to the press to make his case. When the Land Lottery of 1832 divided Cherokee land among the whites he filed suit in the white man's courts and won, only to see the ruling go unenforced. His old friend Major Ridge and the Treaty Party signed away the Cherokee land in 1835. Ross got 16,000 signatures of Cherokees to show the party did not speak for a majority of the tribe, but Andrew Jackson forced the treaty through Congress. He lost his first wife, Quatie, on the "Trail Where They Cried," or as it is more commonly known, the Trail of Tears.

From 1839 until his death Ross was chief of the united Cherokee nation (the western Cherokee had migrated at the beginning of the century).  He counseled neutrality in the War for Southern Independence, but the Cherokee ultimately supported the Confederacy.