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When Tennessee militiamen intervened that fall, the Cherokees joined them, both to protect their own interests and to curry favor with whites.

Cherokee Voices: Early Accounts of Cherokee Life in the East

Ross, whose early record shows not even a fistfight, was among the Cherokees who enlisted. So was Ridge, already a renowned warrior. Born in or , Ridge straddled two generations: in his youth he had fought white settlers, but as a man he welcomed European traditions. Indeed, Ridge was one of the first Cherokees to send his children to missionary schools. In he had helped kill the powerful Cherokee chief Doublehead for selling tribal hunting grounds for personal profit.

And in , when white U. Indian agents enticed principal chief Black Fox into proposing that the tribe move west, Ridge had been the first to protest. By , Ridge had seen enough of politics to understand the diplomatic advantage to be gained from joining the Tennesseans against the Red Sticks. The Cherokees might even have realized that advantage had it not been for the militia leader they fought under: Andrew Jackson. As a boy in the s, Jackson had listened to stories of Indian violence toward settlers, and with no apparent understanding of their motives, he developed prejudices that he—like many Americans of his day—held throughout his life.

Cherokee voices : early accounts of Cherokee life in the East

In March , Jackson tracked the Red Sticks to Horseshoe Bend, a peninsula formed by the Tallapoosa River in what is now Alabama, and launched a frontal assault on their breastworks. His troops might have been repulsed had the Cherokees not crossed the river and attacked from the rear. Caught between two attacking forces, the Red Sticks lost nearly warriors in what proved to be the decisive battle of the war. Ridge sang a Cherokee song so raunchy his interpreter declined to translate it.

Now they wanted those rights enforced. After more than a month of back-and-forth debate, Crawford finally relented: the United States would restore the bulk of the land the Cherokees claimed. In a move intended to prevent local chiefs from accepting bribes to sell off Cherokee land, the Cherokee council in established a national committee to handle all tribal business. When Ross arrived at the council meeting as a spectator, Ridge led him into a private conference and told him that he would be one of 13 members of the committee.

Ross was only 26—a young man in a community where leadership traditionally came with age. Just a month later, he would have to confront Andrew Jackson directly. Jackson had been serving as a federal Indian commissioner when he launched his first effort to remove the Cherokees en masse.


The chiefs dismissed the agents without hesitation. We look to him for protection in the hour of distress. Through threats and bribery, Jackson eventually persuaded a few thousand Cherokees to leave Tennessee; Ross became the spokesman of those who remained—some 16, resolved to hold their ground. After years of trading land for peace, the council in passed a resolution vowing never to cede a single acre more.

Calhoun that October, referring to state Indian commissioners who regularly tried to buy out the tribe. Ross asked for the offer in writing—then took it to Ridge.

Together they exposed the bribery attempt in front of the tribal council and sent the emissary packing. At the same time, what historians would call the Cherokee Renaissance was bringing the tribe more fully into the 19th century. Sequoyah, a mixed-blood Cherokee, distilled the Cherokee oral language into a set of 86 symbols; soon, the tribe enjoyed a higher rate of literacy than the settlers who called them savages.

They started a newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. They named it New Echota, in honor of a village lost to settlers years earlier.

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Ridge could not hide his pride. In , the Cherokees adopted a written constitution that defined a government with executive, legislative and judicial branches. That same year, they acquired new leadership: Pathkiller died, and Charles Hicks, his assistant and logical successor, followed him two weeks later.

The council appointed an interim chief, but Ross and Ridge were making the decisions—when to hold council, how to handle law enforcement, whether to allow roads to be built through tribal land.

The two men so relied on each other that locals called the three-mile trail between their homes the Ross Ridge Road. If Ross aspired to be principal chief, he never spoke of it. Until then, every principal chief had been nearly full-blooded Cherokee. When the council voted in the fall of , Ross—who was only 38—was elected principal chief by a vote of 34 to 6.

The council named Ridge his counselor. A month later, Andrew Jackson was elected president of the United States. Within two years, the state would require any whites living among the Indians—such as missionaries—to sign an oath of allegiance to the state or get out. Ross spent much of those two years in Washington, trying to overturn the new laws. Major Ridge grew alarmed: the fewer Cherokees who remained, the easier they would be to displace.

He set out on a speaking tour intended to calm tribe members inclined to flee.

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But more trouble was on the way: gold had been discovered on tribal land in Georgia, drawing a new wave of settlers, and President Jackson was not about to stop them. After Georgia authorities sent a posse after the Cherokees, gunfire rang out through northern Georgia. Congress passed the removal bill that May, and by September Jackson had begun negotiating with the Chickasaws, the Choctaws and the remaining Creeks to move west. Within four years they would be under land cession treaties or on the move. Some Seminoles also left in the early s, and others fought the Army in Florida for several years.

But Ross refused even to meet with Jackson.

Cherokee Days 2018 - Western Cherokee History Presentation: Ernestine Berry

Instead, he turned to the U. Ross used that opinion to bring another suit, this time challenging the arrests of white missionaries who had refused to swear allegiance to Georgia. Now faced with a case involving U. On March 3, , the justices declared the arrests unconstitutional and said Georgia could not extend its laws to Cherokee land.

They also ruled that the federal government, by treaty, had the authority to protect Indian tribes from state intrusions.

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Gradually, he realized that court victory or not, his people were losing ground. But he could not relay that message to the tribe for fear of being branded a traitor, or killed.

He was even hesitant to confide in his father, believing Major Ridge would be ashamed of him. But the son underestimated his father. Forbidden to meet by Georgia law, the Cherokees had abandoned New Echota in Settlers were confiscating their homesteads and livestock. By sharing his thoughts on Jackson, John Ridge helped his father come to the conclusion that the tribe had to at least consider going west. But Major Ridge kept his feelings private, believing he needed to buy time to persuade his people to think about uprooting.

At the same time, he began to wonder how Ross could remain so strident in his resistance. Ross met twice with Jackson at the White House, to no avail. By spring , the Cherokees were split between a National Party, opposed to removal, and a Treaty Party, in favor of it. In signing the letter, Ridge acknowledged that he had softened on removal. In a closed meeting, the chiefs gave Ross until fall to resolve the impasse with the government before they made the letter public.

Under so much pressure—from the state of Georgia, the federal government and a stream of settlers—the tribe began to disintegrate. John Ridge quietly continued to recruit members to the Treaty Party and make overtures to Jackson. When Ross learned of these efforts, he tried to pre-empt them, proposing to cede Cherokee land in Georgia and to have Cherokees in other states become U. Without the blessing of the other chiefs, Ridge said, Ross had no more power to make a treaty than his traitorous brother.

The majority of the tribe members remained opposed to removal, but the Ridges began advocating the idea more openly—and when they broached it at a council meeting in Red Clay, Tennessee, in August , one Cherokee spoke of shooting them. Father and son slipped away unharmed, but by the end of the summer the Cherokees were trading rumors—false—that Ross and Major Ridge had each hired someone to kill the other. In September , Ridge visited Ross at his home to put the rumors to rest. They tried to talk as they once had, but the only thing they could agree on was that all talk of murder had to stop.

Ross thought his oldest friend had become soft, unduly influenced by his son. By January , the council had sent Ross back to Washington with instructions to again seek federal protection, and the Treaty Party had sent John Ridge to broker a deal. He was stalling; he knew the federal government would never pay that much. When Jackson rejected him, Ross proposed that the Senate come up with an offer. By then Jackson had lost his patience.