Biography of William P. Ross

William Potter Ross was a native of the old Cherokee Nation, and was born August 28, 1820, on the Ross ancestral farm, at the foot of Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, on the Tennessee River. His father came over the sea from Scotland. His mother was a Cherokee, and a sister of Chief John Ross. In childhood he was trained at home, and in youth was a bright and promising boy, of good deportment, which attracted the attention of his uncle, who claimed the pleasure of bearing the expense of his education, for his father’s fortune of $10,000 was lost in the payment of security for a defaulter. This rich and rare opportunity for travel and mental cultivation was fortunately accepted, and improved. The love, admiration and desire to advance the fortune of talent and merit in his clan and young kin, thus manifested by the offer of John Ross, inspired the will of Wm. P. Ross to develop his mental powers for the work of educated manhood found in the fields of the Cherokee Nation. An educated man, he loved his uncle, supported his administrations and defended the old man to the end of his life. He was sent to the mission school in Wills Valley, Alabama; Greenville, East Tennessee; Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and graduated at Princeton College, with the honors of his class in 1842. While he was pursuing his classical studies in the North, the reluctant Cherokee Indians had left forever their mountain homes in the land of Alabama, Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, and, forced by the treaty of 1835, had emigrated to the sunset hills of the Indian Territory, where they fortunately united in one nation with the Western Cherokees of Tah-lou-teskee, near the mouth of the Illinois River. They ran the lines and named judicial districts, elected officers under a constitution formed from the act of union and treaties; located Tahlequah, the capital, in 1841; accepted missions, opened eleven public schools, and organized Bible and temperance societies. The foundation of the Cherokee government was thus laid and the officers elected for terms of two and four years, when William P. Ross, returning South, to Lookout Mountain, followed the path of emigrated Cherokees West, and found his father’s house at Park Hill, in the summer of 1842. After teaching the Indian children of Fourteen Mile Creek, in their log cabin school-house, a Methodist church of Rev. John Fletcher Boot, and after hearing the wampum explained by Assistant Chief Major George Lowry to the chiefs and warriors of twenty-one nations and tribes, in a grand June council of peace assembled, in the month of October, 1843, William P. Ross appeared for business at the capital, under the council shed of Tahlequah. He was welcomed by the Chief, presented and introduced to the Senate and Council. He was chosen clerk of the Senate, and during that session of the National Council was elected editor of the Cherokee Advocate. Its first number appeared in September 1844, with the significant motto: “Our Country, Our Rights, Our Race.” A leading aspiration of the national journal was to encourage and stimulate the Indian mind in the cultivation of science, law, religion and agriculture, and, next, to enlighten the world with correct information and true Indian news. Its prospectus and editorials, in composition and sentiment, were fine specimens of English literature and very able productions of the accomplished young Cherokee editor. William P. Ross drafted many acts found in the Cherokee code of laws, assisted council and chiefs to build on the foundations laid in treaties and constitution, the schools, seminaries and asylums of the Cherokee Nation, where many Cherokee youth have been educated, who will read and learn in the history of the nation that he was the firm friend of youth and a wise patron of schools for nearly fifty years of his public life with the rulers of the Cherokee Nation. Often, from 1846 to 1886, he was the peer of eminent Indian delegations to Washington City. His arguments before the Interior Department and Congressional Indian committees disclosed his perfect knowledge of Indian treaties and proclaimed him an Indian master of English composition and American eloquence, a writer, orator and statesman. Diligence, ability and fidelity won him the respect and friendship of learned statesmen. He wrote the amendments to the constitution required by the treaty of 1866, which the people, in convention, adopted after he was made principal chief by the National Council, to fill the vacant seat of John Ross, who died in Washington City in the summer of 1866, and was buried at Park Hill, Cherokee Nation, the inscription on the granite monument is: “Chief John Ross.” In 1870 Wm. P. Ross represented the Cherokee Nation at Okmulgee, in the grand Indian council provided by treaty for the Indian Territory, and there his voice was heard with admiration and confidence, as that of an elder brother, by the Indian delegates from other nations and tribes. In 1874 the National Council seated him in the vacant chair of the lamented Chief Lewis Downing. After administering the laws for the two unexpired terms of the illustrious dead chieftains with impartial ability and great satisfaction to his people, W. P. Ross retired to private life, but was soon called from his vineyard, farm and orchard to fill the editorial chairs of the Indian Journal at Muskogee, the Indian Chieftain at Vinita, and the Indian Arrow at Fort Gibson and Tahlequah, newspapers owned and operated by stock companies. He was stockholder and Cherokee Vice-president of the Indian International Fair Association and Agricultural Society, at Muskogee. Again called to public service by his national friends, he was made President of the Board of Education. A judge of the court on citizenship claims, he dispatched business will fidelity and intelligence, being an able and experienced attorney at law. In 1890 he represented Illinois district in the Senate, and was made chairman of the Cherokee committee appointed to navigate six million acres of land west of Meridian 96 with the United States Commission. No agreement was reached and the commission was recalled, and retired, with thanks and compliments to the venerable chairman for his respectful management of the business. His last important speech in the Senate of the Cherokee Nation was on a bill to operate, sustain, continue and endure the Cherokee Male and Female Seminaries. Education will teach the Cherokees to improve their homes and impart the influence of power to protect their lands forever. Such were the sentiments of William P. Ross in the closing speech of an honored public life, prolonged to nearly fifty years of active and eminent service rendered his people of the Cherokee Nation. His life is a part of the Cherokee history. Full of years and honors, William P. Ross died a senator of the Cherokee Nation, Monday morning, July 28, 1891, aged seventy-one years. In conversation, on Sunday, he said to his wife Mrs. Mollie Ross, that he never did an act of which their children would ever be ashamed; that he believed in the great hereafter, rewards and punishments, death and immortality, eternity and God. He knew the Way of Life and was a Christian. Under a meridian sun, Tuesday, July 29, 1891, the remains of William P. Ross were laid to rest by the hands of his kin, his neighbors, his Presbyterian friends and his Masonic brothers from Tahlequah, Fort Gibson and Muskogee, in the Cherokee National Cemetery, on the prairie hill near Fort Gibson, the town of his home, under the green branches of the cedar planted there by himself. That evergreen is an emblem of the immortality of a well-spent life. The name and virtues of William P. Ross, loved in life and lamented in death will go to posterity through traditions and history as a Cherokee writer, orator and statesman.

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