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The Confederate Cherokee On August 20, 1861, friends asked Chief John Ross whether an alliance with the Confederacy was immanent and whether it would be permanent. He replied, "We are in a situation of a man standing alone upon a low naked spot of ground, with the water rising all around him... the tide carries by him, in its mad corse, a drifting log... By refusing it he is a doomed man. By seizing hold of it he has a chance for life. He can but perish in the effort, and he may be able to keep his head above water until he is rescued or drift to where he can help himself."80 The letters of Evan Jones reveal little about Ross's indecisiveness; as late as September 3rd, Jones stated that "The Principal Chief stood firm in his adherence to the terms of their treaties, and in their determination to t keep clear of all entanglements in the strife which rages around them."81 However, there is little evidence that, at this point, Jones tried to dissuade Ross from an alliance with the South.82
The following morning, John Ross addressed a meeting of some four thousand Cherokee, and discussed the Nation's stand in the coming Civil War.83 Present were a wide diversity of interests from the Cherokee Nation, including nearly a hundred of Watie's troops to ensure that the outcome of the meeting would be satisfactory to their interests. Ross encouraged the Cherokee to remember that which had always been dear to the Cherokee people:
The people are here. Say whether you are arrayed in classes one against the other--the full-blood against the white and mixed blood citizens; say whether you are faithful to the constitution and laws of your country--whether you abide by all the rights they guarantee, particularly including that of slavery, and whether you have any wish or purpose to abolish or interfere with it in the Cherokee Nation. The great object with me has been to have the Cherokee peoples harmonious and united in the free exercise and enjoyment of all their rights of person and property. Union is strength; dissension is weakness, misery, ruin. In time of peace together! In time of war, if war must come, fight together. As Brothers live; as brothers die! While ready and willing to defend our firesides from the robber and the murderer, let us not make war wantonly against the authority of the United or Confederate States, but avoid a conflict with either, and remain strictly on our own soil. We have home endeared to us by every consideration; laws adapted to our condition and of our own choice, and rights and privileges of the highest character. Here they must be enjoyed or nowhere else. When your nationality ceases here, it will live nowhere else. When these homes are lost, you will find no others like them. Then, my countrymen, as you regard your own rights -- as you regard your own posterity, be prudent how you act. 84
In an appeal to the "Kituwah Spirit," Ross had hoped to spare his people from a terrible tragedy, but the tide of history was too strong. When the discussion was over, Ross finally acquiesced, "the time has now arrived when you should signify your consent for the authorization of the Nation to adopt preliminary steps for an alliance with the Confederate States upon terms honorable and advantageous to the Cherokee Nation."85 In so doing, the Cherokee Nation abandoned its neutrality in order to maintain unity. In the final outcome, it would lose so very much more.
Upon hearing of the Ross decision to side with the Confederacy, brother William Penn Adair of the Knights of the Golden Circle wrote to his fellow Knights J.L. Thompson and Stand Watie:
You have doubtless heard all about Ross's convention, which in reality tied up our hands and shut our mouths and put the destiny of everything connected with the Nation and our lives in the hands of the Executive... Pike is disposed to favor us and to disregard the course our executive has taken. The Pins already have more power in their hands than we can bear and if in addition to this they acquire more power by being the treaty making power, you know our destiny will be inalterably sealed. It seems we should guard against this. Now is the time for us to strike or we will be completely frustrated... Under these circumstances our Party [the Southern Rights party] want you and Dr. J.L. Thompson (Cherokee Lodge #21) to go in person and have an interview with Mr. Pike to the end that we may have justice done us, have the Pin party broken up, and have our rights provided for and place us if possible at least on an honorable equity with this old Dominant party that for years has had its foot upon our necks.86
Equally disturbed on learning of Ross's change of policy were the Creek leaders Opothle Yahola and Sands Harjo. In a letter thanking God for granting him the power "to unite the hearts and sentiments of the Cherokee people as one man," Ross informed the Creek leaders that the Cherokee had reluctantly ended their neutrality. They had formed an "alliance with the Confederate States and shall thereby preserve and maintain the Brotherhood of the Indian Nations in a common destiny."87 Believing the letter to be a hoax, Opothle Yahola and Sands Harjo wrote to Ross, "We have received a liter from you the same letter that you have sent the head men of the Creek Nation in your letter we unterstand that you & all the Cherokee people have in favor with Capt. Pike. We don't know wether this is truth or no the reason we send the same letter back for you."88 Even when reassured of the validity of the letter and when requested to support "our common rights and interests by forming an alliance of peace and friendship with the Confederate States of America," Opothle Yahola refused to discuss a treaty scheduled to be signed in early October in the Cherokee Nation.89
On August 24, the Cherokee Executive Committee wrote to Brigadier General Ben McCulloch of Arkansas not only of their decision to join the Confederacy, but also to express their desire for something more, "To be prepared for any such emergency, we have deemed it prudent to proceed to organize a regiment of mounted men and tender them for service. They will be raised forthwith by Col. John Drew, and if received by you will require to be armed. Having abandoned our neutrality and espoused the cause of the Confederate States, we are ready and willing to do all in our power to advance and sustain it."90 Two Confederate regiments were now to be raised within the Cherokee Nation. General McCulloch described the two regiments, "Col. Stand Watie belongs to the true Southern party, composed mostly of mixed bloods, and opposed to John Ross, and by whose course and influence Ross was induced to join the South. Colonel Drew's regiment will be mostly composed of full-bloods, whilst those with Col. Stand Watie will be half-breeds, who are educated men, and good soldiers anywhere, in or out of the Nation.91
Membership in the two units fell directly along party lines and relationship to the corresponding secret societies. The largest part of the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles were members of the Keetoowah Society and supporters of John Ross. It has also been reported that "Colonel Drew's regiment [was] made up mostly of full blood Indians and Negroes."92 The Second Cherokee Mounted Rifles were members of the Knights of the Golden Circle, "mixed bloods and adopted whites,"93 and followers of Colonel Stand Watie. The leadership of both parties was composed of former Freemasons from Cherokee Lodge #21, Fort Gibson Lodge #35, and Flint Lodge #74.94
By the end of September, the situation in the Cherokee Nation had become exceedingly tense and the two armed factions, though both Confederate Cherokees, operated with impunity within the Indian Territory. The followers of Stand Watie circulated an "inflammatory sheet denying a unity of feeling" and "endangering a bloody Civil Conflict among men devoted to the same Cause." 95 As tempers began to flare, a Cherokee by the name of Anderson Downing was hot and killed in his home.
Even though Ross had committed himself and the Cherokee to the Southern cause, there were rumors that another party was spreading a different message among the Creek and Cherokee, "It has been represented to them that you with a few followers design going with the South, while a large majority of your people is against you -- and with him (Opothle Yahola) in Sentiment....If some timely remedy is not used for its arrest it will and must end in civil war. We have thought the best remedy would be to send a few of your old men well known to the party to give them a true statement of the condition of your people and brotherly talk in the right direction, which is to be done without delay." 96
The Cherokee Nation became the last of the Five Nations to side with the Confederacy when it signed a treaty on October 7, 1861.97 The next day, Chief Ross sent Joseph Vann (Cherokee Lodge #21) to meet with Opothle Yahola and to "shake the hands of Brotherly friendship with your Cherokee Brethren."98 Brother Opothle Yahola, hearing of Ross's signing a treaty with the Confederate States of America, refused the right hand of fellowship.
At the ceremony welcoming the Cherokee into the Confederacy, Albert Pike, Stand Watie and Chief John Ross stood upon the platform in Tahlequah. On one side was Colonel Drew's regiment and on the other Colonel Watie's troops. Chief Ross presented a Cherokee flag to Commissioner Albert Pike; Commissioner Pike presented the Confederate colors to Colonel Drew and his troops. Then the two old enemies, and yet brothers in Masonry, crossed the stage to shake hands and to once again assure peace and unity. Watie stated politely to Ross that the two parties should have acted like this long ago; he also noted even on that day of reconciliation that there would be no peace between the parties as long as the "Pins" remained a political organization. Chief Ross equally politely replied that he didn't know what Colonel Watie was talking about.99
80 United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. III, 674; Moulton, 172. See also Ari Kelman, "Deadly Currents: John Ross's Decision Of 1861," Chronicles of Oklahoma 1995 73(1): 80-103; Gary E. Moulton, "Chief John Ross During The Civil War," Civil War History 1973 19(4): 314-333. 81 Evan Jones to F.A. Smith, September 3, 1861, "Correspondence of Missionaries to Native Americans, [microform], 1825-1865," American Baptist Historical Society, Rochester, N.Y. 82 United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. III, 673-675. 83 Moulton, 170. John Ross was, at this point, "overborne" by the struggle over slavery. Though Ross owned of over one hundred slaves, a visitor to the Ross plantation stated, "the niggers are the masters and do about as they please." [Albert D. Richarson, quoted in Laurence Foster, Negro-Indian Relations in the Southeast (Philadelphia, n.p. 1935); 60.] Ross's wife, Mary, was a Quaker and vehemently opposed to an alliance with the South. "It is said that his wife was more staunch than her husband and held out until the last. When an attempt was made to raise a Confederate flag over the Indian council house, her opposition was so spirited that it prevented the completion of the design." [Howard quoted in Abel, The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist, 220]. 84 John Ross, Papers of Chief John Ross, 2: 481. 85 Ibid. "At that convention, under duress the most complete and unmitigated, our people were compelled to empower the authorities of the Nation to treat with the rebels. We repeat it with emphasis, This convention was held, and this action was taken only as a means of escaping extermination. A band of Stand Watie's Rebels had already concealed arms in a hotel, in front of the public square, where the convention was held. In case the convention had determined on a contrary course, this band was prepared then and there to open a war of extermination on the loyal Cherokees." Cherokee Nation, Memorial of the Delegates of the Cherokee Nation to the President of the United States and the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress, 4. 86 Edward Everett Dale and Gaston Litton, Cherokee Cavaliers: Forty Years Of Cherokee History As Told In The Correspondence Of The Ridge-Watie-Boudinot Family (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969), 108-109; Grace Steele Woodward, The Cherokees [1st ed.] (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), 268; Franks, 117. 87 John Ross, Papers of Chief John Ross, 2: 483. 88 Opthle Yahola and Sands Harjo to John Ross, Papers of Chief John Ross, 2: 482. 89 John Ross to Opothle Yahola, Papers of Chief John Ross, 2: 488. 90 Cherokee Executive Department to Benjamin McCulloch, Papers of Chief John Ross, 2: 483. Three of the five men signing this petition were members of Cherokee Lodge #21. 91 United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. III, 692; The loyal Cherokee described Watie's troops differently: "There were a few full blooded Cherokees in this regiment, and a somewhat larger number of mixed blood Cherokees, but the majority of the regiment were white men, and the majority of those white men were not citizens of the Cherokee Nation" Cherokee Nation, Memorial of the Delegates of the Cherokee Nation to the President of the United States and the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress, 3-4. 92 Francis Samuel Drake, Dictionary Of American Biography, Including Men Of The Time; Containing Nearly Ten Thousand Notices Of Persons Of Both Sexes, Of Native And Foreign Birth, Who Have Been Remarkable, Or Prominently Connected With The Arts, Sciences, Literature, Politics, Or History Of The American Continent. Giving Also The Pronunciation Of Many Of The Foreign And Peculiar American Names, A Key To The Assumed Names Of Writers, And A Supplement (Boston, J.R. Osgood and Company, 1872), Vol. XIX, 538. 93 Ibid. 94 J. Fred Latham, The Story of Oklahoma Masonry, (Oklahoma City: Grand Lodge of Oklahoma, n.p.), 6-11. 95 John W. Stapler to John Ross, Papers of Chief John Ross, 2: 488-489. Anderson Downing was a relative of Keetoowah leader and Baptist minister, Lewis Downing. 96 Motey Kennard to John Ross, Papers of Chief John Ross, 2: 489; Moulton, 173. 97 Jay Monaghan, Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1955), 217-218. See also Edward E. Dale, "The Cherokees in the Confederacy," Journal of Southern History 13 (1947): 159-85; Fairfax Downey, "The Blue, the Grey, and the Red," Civil War Times 1 (July 1962): 6-9, 26-30; Leroy H. Fischer, "The Civil War in Indian Territory," Journal of the West 12 (1973): 345-55. 98 John Ross to Opothle Yahola, Papers of Chief John Ross, 2: 492. 99 Monaghan, 218.
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