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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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Chapter VII. — Discords Between the Eastern and Western Cherokees. Boudinot and the Ridges are Assassinated.

THE dissensions between the antagonistic parties of the Cherokees, called the Rossites and Ridgeites, originated by the treaty of New Echota, reached their crisis during this year. The smothered dislikes and hatred of four years burst forth with a fierceness which threatened to drench the territories with blood. The brutal murder of the Ridges, father and son, and of Elias Boudinot, will long remain as foul blots on their tribal escutcheon, for, however ignorant the Eastern Cherokees may have been of moral law and the theory of government, such pleas cannot shield them from deserved censure for the assassination of their fellow-men on account of political dissensions, or independent differences of opinion. The example of civilization and liberality set them by the United States, prior to their migration west, should have caused them to forget all former causes of animosity, produced good-will and friendliness of feeling, and induced in them a lofty spirit of mutual forbearance.

To comprehend the subject, it is necessary to premise that the Western Cherokees, who had emigrated with the sanction of Mr. Jefferson's administration, and located their residence in Arkansas as early as 1817, had established a form of government and adopted written laws. When the treaty party migrated, under the supervision of Messrs. Ridge and Boudinot, they united with the old settlers, and lived contentedly under the established order of things. But the malcontent party, who migrated with Mr. Ross, in 1838, went thither with embittered and revengeful feelings against the treaty party and the old settlers, and refused to submit to the existing government and laws of the Western Cherokees. On reaching the country, the Rossites, finding that they outnumbered the Ridgeites in the proportion of about two to one, at once became sticklers for the democratic doctrine that majorities should rule. It would have been well if, in grasping at power, they had not forgotten right. But it soon became evident that they were determined not only to ignore the old form of government and laws, but to establish new ones, and to compel the minority to submit to them, right or

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wrong. The Western Cherokees, however, so stoutly contested the ground, that within an incredibly short time a most desperate feud was enkindled, and the entire country plunged into discord. Neither party were as conciliatory in their views and opinions, or in their deportment and manners, as men of twenty years' experience in self-government ought to have been, and neither appeared to have duly estimated the importance of compromise and union. The words, though spoken, had no place in their hearts: one party was unyielding, the other was furious and aggressive.

A convention for the adjustment of their difficulties was summoned to meet at Tukatokah on the 20th of June, 1839, which remained in session for eight or nine days. Its discussions were exciting, discordant, and bitter. The Rossites, who were in the majority, resolved to hold their power, and the Ridgeites determined not to succumb. When it became evident that a compromise could not be effected, threats were used, whereupon some of the Ridgeite chiefs withdrew to their homes, and the council adjourned without effecting anything, except the manifestation of a deep and settled prejudice on both sides, and of the irreconcilable character of the feud. It appears, from a document before us, 676 that, on the evening when this council was dissolved, a secret conclave of the leaders of the Rossites was held, who selected forty men, to whom was assigned the duty of assassinating the leaders of the Ridgeites, that hateful party who had signed the treaty of New Echota, of the 28th of December, 1825. For fourteen years had this grudge been nourished in the hearts of the malcontent party, until it at last resulted in the commission of a cowardly murder. However true may be the assertion regarding the session of this dark conclave, it is certain that on the following day the inhuman and cruel murders of Boudinot, and of the Ridges, both father and son, were perpetrated. Boudinot was in the act of superintending the erection of a building, when he was accosted by four Indians, who solicited him to visit a house some hundreds of yards distant, and administer some medicines; he being a physician. With his usual promptness he complied, and had proceeded about half the distance, when he was suddenly assassinated. The fiends were not satisfied with killing, but they cut him into pieces in the most shocking manner. The younger Ridge was the next victim of this secret band of executioners. He was dragged from his bed, in the midst of his family, and dispatched. The elder Ridge, who was absent on a visit into the adjoining limits of Arkansas, was waylaid and shot by persons who occupied an eminence beside the road; and his body, when discovered by his friends, was found to have been pierced with five rifle-balls.

This violence excited great commotion in the nation, and, so far from checking the zeal of the Ridge party, it only inflamed it. Discord reigned everywhere, and Mr. John Ross, who was accused of concerting the plot of the assassination, surrounded his house with a guard of 500 of his adherents. Several chiefs of the opposite party took

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shelter within the walls of Fort Gibson, where they were protected by General Arbuckle, who also offered a refuge to Mr. Ross, which he declined. In the correspondence which ensued between the commandant of the fort and Mr. Ross, the latter disclosed a subtle, cautious, illogical, evasive policy. Extreme positions were taken by both parties, evincing a bitterly discordant and hostile spirit. The darkest of the ensuing transactions, on the part of the Rossites, was the calling of a convention, or general council, almost exclusively composed of their own party, which passed a resolution granting an amnesty to the murderers! They also, subsequently, declared some of the leading Ridgeites outlaws. These proceedings were disapproved by the local military and officers of the department, whose suggestions for effecting a reunion were unheeded. The Government at Washington instructed its officers to demand the surrender of the murderers, that they might be brought to trial; and directed them to withhold the Cherokee annuities while this discordant state of society existed.

Mr. Ross, having evaded any direct issue in the correspondence, sought to procure an investigation of the matter at a distant point, where witnesses could not be so readily summoned, and, for this purpose, sent his brother, Lewis Ross, and two other Cherokees to Washington. A personal interview with the Secretary of War was obtained, and an appeal made by Lewis Ross in favor of his brother, in which he spoke of the murders as private acts, and of the decree of their general party council, extending pardon to the actors therein, as being conclusive of the matter. He urged that an investigation should be instituted at the seat of Government. This Mr. Poinsett denied, remarking that, if John Ross were innocent, he would not oppose the arrest of the murderers, or attempt to shield them; that, with his known influence over the nation, he might have prevented the commission of the savage deeds; but he could now contribute to the ends of justice by surrendering the criminals, whose barbarities had been countenanced, and themselves exonerated by the national council. The Secretary said that the council had no legal right to sanction a violation of all laws, human and divine; and that no investigation was required, so long as John Ross, the chief magistrate, refused to deliver up the murderers to justice. He was not charged, it was conceded, with having ordered the murderers to perform the criminal act, but with permitting it to be done, when a word from him would have spared the effusion of innocent blood. He might justify himself by withdrawing his protection from the murderers, and giving them up; but the Government would continue to regard him as the instigator and abettor of these foul deeds until that was done. Mr. Poinsett concluded by saying that the majority ought to rule, while guided by law and principle; but that they had, by their cruel, savage, and lawless course, forfeited all right to govern the old settlers, who were in a minority; that they had proved themselves tyrants in the worst sense of the term; and the Government would not for a moment uphold or sanction tyranny; least of all, brutal, savage tyranny. 677

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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