John Ross Museum
The John Ross Museum is a memorial to principle chief of the Cherokee Nation John Ross. Ross was the chief for over 38 years. The John Ross Museum opened October 21, 2011, and contains exhibits of the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, the Cherokee Golden Age, and the life of the chief. It is located in Park Hill, Oklahoma.
Backstory and Context
Before becoming the John Ross Museum the structure was a 1913 country school in Park Hill, Oklahoma for Cherokee and non-Cherokee children.1 It was used as a school up to the 1950s.2 It was created opposite of Ross Cemetery and is the entrance to the cemetery. Other exhibits in the museum highlight the history of the surrounding community. It is the second museum only owned and controlled by the Cherokee Nation, following the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Museum, which was the first in 2010.1
John Ross was born on 3 October 1970, in Turkey Tower along the Coosa River, which is now the location of Center, Alabama. The family eventually migrated to Rossville, Georgia, and Ross became familiar with the old Cherokee ways at his father’s store. However, when Ross was home his mixed-blood family acted as Europeans and talked in the English language. He went to school at South West Point Academy in Tennessee, and following his time here he married Quatie. In 1813 Ross started selling items to the U.S. government; the money earned from the store located in Ross’s Landing in Tennessee, allowed him to create a plantation and ferry business at present day Rome in 1827. Throughout these years, Ross’s diplomatic gifts allowed him to receive important titles, and he received the highest when he was named the principle chief of the Cherokee Nation that he and Major Ridge had assisted in creating previously. John Ross was first named the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1827 after it created a government similar to the government of the United States. Ross was chief during the peak of the nation’s creation in the Southeast, the heartbreaking Trail of Tears, and the recreation of the culture in Indian Territory, in what is now Oklahoma.
At the same time Ross became chief, white Georgians heightened their attempts to send the Cherokees out of the Southeast. This was the result of the finding of gold on Cherokee property that contained businesses and plantations such as Ross’s. In 1830 Congress approved the Indian Removal Bill which allowed the Georgians’ wishes; Ross protested against this in 1832 but it would only be the first of many protests against the bill. Due to his trust in the republican style of government, the power of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the prominence of Cherokee sympathizers, like the Whig party, Ross believed that the rights of the Cherokee people would remain. Even after the deceitful Treaty of New Echota was passed in the U.S. Senate in 1836, Ross still held the view that the U.S. would not remove the most modern tribe of the Southeast. He continued to hold onto this hope until 1838, when he had no other choice but to accept the truth. Ross compromised with the U.S. government to be allowed to control the migration of the Cherokee people himself.
John Ross joined the rest of the Cherokee on what is now known as the Trail of Tears. He too suffered loss on this move when Quatie passed away from exposure because she gave the one blanket she possessed to an ill kid. When the Cherokee arrived in Indian Territory, Ross pushed for the creation of farms, businesses, public education facilities, and colleges. Despite the fact that the Cherokee Nation had been divided politically due to the battle over being forced to leave the southeast, Ross still held his position as chief. At the beginning of the Civil War, he supported the Confederacy but quickly changed to the Union; the Cherokee Nation was divided once more. Those who supported the Confederacy chose Stand Watie as their chief in 1862, and those who supported the Union chose to keep Ross as their chief. The U.S. government saw Ross’s government as valid. Ross was principal chief of the Cherokee Nation until he passed away on 1 August 1866 in Washington D.C.3