History generally remembers people for their great victories or accomplishments. However, in the case of John Ross, born Oct. 3, 1790, history remembers him more on account of his losses and suffering.
Born in Jumo, Ala., Ross, though only one-eighth Cherokee, was raised in two distinct cultures, Cherokee and Anglo-Saxon. The Cherokee were aware of Ross’ knowledge of both cultures and believed he had an ability to bridge the divide. Therefore, Ross participated in the leadership of the Cherokee Nation from an early age.
His first position was as the adjutant for the Cherokee Regiment in Gen. Andrew Jackson’s forces. In March of 1814, he participated in the battle of Horseshoe Bend.
After being mustered out, Ross opened up a store at a location on the Tennessee River that became known as Ross’s Landing. There, he served the local trappers, traders and Cherokee Indians.
In addition to opening a store, Ross was selected by the Cherokee to go to Washington D.C., as a delegate in 1816. The primary purpose was to resolve territorial disputes between Cherokee and Georgians. Over the next several years, this issue dominated Ross’ life.
The Cherokee elected Ross to be chief in 1828 and continued to do so until his death in 1866. In this position, Ross fought tirelessly for the Cherokee against the Georgia and federal governments.
Some considered him the Cherokee Moses. Like the Jewish Moses, Ross confronted and petitioned the federal powers in Washington. However, unlike the actual Moses, Ross led his people in a march not of triumph but of defeat.
During the Trail of Tears, Ross, like many Cherokee, suffered the loss of a loved one. His wife died on Feb. 1, 1839, in Little Rock, Ark., at the age of 48.
Despite his great sacrifice and betrayal by the federal government, Ross believed so strongly in the United States’ constitutional system that he instituted a Cherokee government in Oklahoma based upon those principles.
When he died in Washington D.C., at the age of 75, Ross was still representing the people he loved. He was there attempting to negotiate a treaty with the federal government to end the dispute that arose during the Civil War.
David Schmidt is an avid history buff. He and his family moved to Chattanooga several years ago. He has fallen in love with the community and its history. You can contact him directly at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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