Strife in the West and the Rise of the Qualla Cherokee

Stand Watie as leader of the Treaty Party of the Cherokee Nation, 1862

The summer of 1839 was a dark time for the Cherokee exiles in Oklahoma. Secret trials resulting in the assassination of key figures within the Treaty Party soon gave way to a series of revenge attacks. Blood called out for blood and the entire region seemed on the verge of civil war. The“old settlers” of the western Cherokee and the government of the United States demanded that Principal Chief John Ross either punish the assassins or resign his position. While not involved in the plot itself, Ross was in no hurry to seek out those responsible. Neither would he resign. His reaction was natural for a leader who realized that any such in depth investigation would have ripped open the scabs of civil discontent and precipitated a full scale blood feud.

Stand Waite

To further aggravate the situation, a Cherokee leader named Stand Waite personally blamed Ross for the attacks and turned his animus upon the Principal Chief. Waite had been a proponent of the treaty and was among the list of Cherokee leaders who had been indicted by the midnight tribunal held on June 22. Dr. Samuel Worcester warned Waite of the possibility of attack and he was able to elude the assassins sent to dispatch him. To aid in his defense, Waite raised a small private army. To protect his father, Allen Ross posted guards around the home of the Principal Chief. Federal agents continued to pressure the Ross government to punish those responsible and even sent troops into the Cherokee zone to conduct an extensive search.


To put an end to the rising tensions among his people, John Ross called for a special council meeting in July of 1839. Seqouyah, the architect of the written Cherokee language, attended this meeting and spoke of the need to heal the wounds caused by the removal. The council produced a general amnesty for all those responsible for the attacks and the subsequent retaliatory killings. A further amnesty was declared for all of those who had supported the Treaty of New Echota. To obtain absolution, supporters of the treaty were required to appear before the council as an act of contrition and express regret for their actions. This declaration did not produce the desired effect on the population and the Cherokee Nation remained plagued by internal divisions.

A New Nation in the East

While John Ross struggled to create a unified government in the west, over 1400 Cherokee remained at large in the east. This group had refused to assent to the terms of the Treaty of New Echota and rebuked American efforts to forcibly relocate them. Remaining fugitives, they hid out in the natural cover provided by the mountains of North Carolina. Efforts to extract them from their redoubts were unsuccessful. Despite the protestation of North Carolina, even the federal government gave up and graciously allowed these Cherokee to remain in the east. They soon joined a band of 400 Cherokee who had settled in and around a village called Quallatown. The Qualla Cherokee were exempt from the Treaty of New Echota and owned the land in their own right. From the seed at Quallatown, a new branch of the Cherokee Nation sprouted. Organizing a government separate from the one in Oklahoma, the Qualla Cherokee developed into a more traditional state. Slavery was banned, the practice of traditional religions was encouraged, and English was second to Tsa-la-gi. The Qualla maintained no formal political ties with the western Cherokee until 1984.


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