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The Trail of Tears

The Cherokee never ceded title to their land, but were forced off. This was the Trail of Tears or in Cherokee "Nunna-da-ul-tsun-yi," Trail where they cried.

In the summer of 1838, 7000 U.S. soldiers went to remove the Indians. Two parties were loaded into boats under military guard. Nearly half died from the heat and unsanitary conditions. Ross petitioned the government for permission to remove his people over land in cooler weather and under their own leadership. The request was granted.

Of the 13,000 refugees, over 1000 escaped to the Great Smoky Mountains rather than leave their homelands. 4000 died, including John's wife "Quatie", during the winter march of 1838-1839 from Rattlesnake Springs, TN to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Once in Oklahoma, John Ross was reelected Principal Chief. Major Ridge was killed the same day for violating the law forbidding unauthorized sale of property.

In Tahlequah, Oklahoma land was set aside for schools, a newspaper and a new Cherokee capital.

October 7, 1861 during the Civil War, the Cherokee aligned with the Confederacy. A declaration repudiating all treaties with the Federal Government was ratified. The treaty with the Confederacy, signed by Ross and Albert Pike, was violated when the Cherokee, led by Pike, were asked to fight outside their own territory at Pea Ridge, Arkansas. At the time, it looked to Confederate General Earl Van Dorn like an easy victory for the confederates because the Union forces were strung out from Springfield, Missouri to Fayetteville, Arkansas. But when General Sam Curtis heard from scout "Wild Bill" Hickok that the confederates were advancing, Curtis consolidated with Davis and Carr to form 11,200 Federal troupes on the high ground at Pea Ridge, just north of Rogers, Arkansas. The 17,000 Confederate forces achieved some initial victories on March 7, 1862, in the end they were unable to take Pea Ridge.

The death of his second wife Mary did not deter Ross from attending the Grand Council of Southern Indians at Fort Smith in September 1865 where new treaties between Cherokee and the Federal government were prepared. His own failing health did not prevent him from accompanying the delegation to Washington where the treaty was signed, July 19, 1866.

John Ross died August 1, 1866 at Medes Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Ross's dominant ambition was to see the Cherokee become the most civilized and most educated Indians in the country. John Ross continued his whole life trying to improve the lot of the Cherokee, his people. It is for this he should be remembered.

Trail of Tears by John Ehle, The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, Ancher Press, Doubleday 1988

John Ross, Chief of an Eagle Race by Gertrude Mcdaris Ruskin, Official Historian of John Ross House Association