To a degree unique among the five major tribes in the South, the Cherokees used diplomacy and legal argument to protect their interests. With the help of a forward-looking warrior named Major Ridge, John Ross became the tribe’s primary negotiator with officials in Washington, D.C., adept at citing both federal law and details from a dozen treaties the Cherokees signed with the federal government between 1785 and 1819. In the 1820s, as they enjoyed one of the most promising periods in their history—developing a written language, adopting a constitution and building a capital city—Ross became the Cherokees’ principal chief, and Ridge was named his counselor. All the while, white settlers kept coming.
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