Suppressed Report In Relation To Difficulties Between The Eastern And Western Cherokees

Congressman John Bell of Tennessee

Letter to the editors of the National Intelligencer, Washington, July 27, 1840

In Morris L. Wardell’s book, “A Political History of The Cherokee Nation 1838-1907,” he mentions the John Bell Suppressed Report in the footnotes on page 16 and 17. He also mentions Sarah Ridge’s letter to the “Arkansas Gazette” on page 16. Mr. Bell was on the Committee on Indian Affairs. The report never made it out of the committee due to a five to four vote. Mr. Bell wrote a letter to the National Intelligencer detailing the committee findings. You can find this report at the following university libraries:

  • Rice
  • Texas A&M
  • Texas Christian
  • California State, Fresno
  • California State, Fullerton
  • San Diego State
  • UC, Berkeley
  • UC, San Diego
  • UC, Santa Barbara
  • Arlington National Register, DC
  • Georgia
  • Quincy, IL.
  • Minnesota State, Mankato
  • Southeast Missouri State
  • Southern Mississippi
  • Campbell
  • Miami
  • College of William and Mary

When printed from the microfiche, the text is very small and 23 pages long. The report discusses what role the US should take in Indian affairs. After the Ridges and Boudinot were murdered, should the US use its power and authority to prevent the Cherokee nation from having a civil war? Should the US let the Cherokee people resolve their own difficulties? Would US interference be seen as an act of war against the Cherokees? Who should bring the murderers of the Ridges and Boudinot to justice, the US Government or the Cherokee Nation? The report also discusses the legitimacy of the old government or “old settlers” already in the West and the “late immigrants,” the ones who emigrated from the East under John Ross. I will include several key sentences and paragraphs from the report, list all of the committee resolutions, and render my opinion at the end. The brackets [ ] in the report indicate my comments or a summarization.

The Suppressed Report

The difficulties which have arisen among the Cherokees, and the dissentions which still exist among them, had their origin in causes in which the Government of the United States was deeply concerned, and the principle agent in producing.

The pretext assumed by the Executive for the late extraordinary proceeding towards the Cherokees is well understood to be the massacre of three of the leading chiefs who signed the treaty of New Echota in 1835. The committee do not mean to be understood in denying that justice, good faith, and sound policy require the Government to guard and protect that portion of the Cherokees, though small in number, under whose favor and auspices the late treaty was made; and, also, that portion of them who voluntarily emigrated to the country which they now occupy, and who are denominated old settlers in the correspondence laid before the committee, against all acts of violence and oppression on the part of the new immigrants. The only question which can arise on this point is, by what means, under what circumstances, and to what extent the Government of the United States ought or can lawfully go in affording the protection?

The power is claimed by the Executive under that clause of the sixth article of the Treaty of 1835 by which the United States stipulated “to protect the Cherokee nation from domestic strife.

It is also a singular but well-established fact that Major Ridge, one of the late victims, and allowed to be one of the most powerful of his nation, had killed Doublehead, a famous chief, for the same offense, for which he paid the forfeit of his own life. Doublehead was the chief principally concerned on the part of the Cherokees in making the treaty of 1806, by which a tract of country north of the Tennessee and west of the unlimited mountains was ceded to the United States. It may not be uninteresting to state that Bird, a son of Doublehead, who fell by the hands of Ridge, is reported and believed by many to have been of the party who slew the latter in June last.

But in virtue of the clause referred to, which provides that the United States shall protect the Cherokee nation from “domestic strife” or under the general power of protection and superintendence exercised by the Government over the Indian tribes, the Secretary of War claims the power not only to send armed attachments into the Cherokee country, with orders to cease the suspected murderers of the Ridges and Boudinot, and carry them into Arkansas for trial and punishment, but also to prescribe a form of government and laws for their adoption and regulation.

All the laws which have been passed by Congress regulating the trade and intercourse between the Indian tribes and the citizens of the United States, so far as they have, in any degree, impaired the rights of sovereignty and independence of the Indians, were passed with their consent given in various treaties.

The Indians on our borders are not in all respects a foreign people or foreign nations. Nor, on the other hand, are they admitted to be citizens of the United States; and, though free and born within our political sovereignty and jurisdiction, they are still excluded from all participation in the political rights of citizens of the United States. They are in all respects treated as aliens so far as any public or political privileges attaching to citizens are concerned.

The law of retaliation is not uncommon among the large tribes of the South, and yet, repugnant as it is to humanity and Christian usage, the Government has never interposed to abolish it without their consent. They have in fact, been permitted to punish their own members or not, at their discretion, for the most atrocious as well as the least criminal offenses, in their own way, without interruption of the Government.

Thus it appears that the late murder of Major Ridge within the limits of Arkansas does not even authorize the United States to make a demand for the murderers from the nation, much less to employ the military in searching for and arresting them.

There was no authority given to send the troops of the United States to search for offenders. Such a proceeding would then have been regarded as an act of war, and could not have been prudently attempted without a force sufficient to cope with the whole power of the nation.

The whole number of Cherokees now west of the Mississippi may be safely estimated at 18,000, of whom 4,000 emigrated under the treaties of 1817 and 1828, and are denominated old settlers, in the correspondence laid before the committee. The Ridge, or Treaty Party, according to the testimony of Major Armstrong, may number 1,000 souls, but not exceeding a hundred warriors.

The remaining 13,000 constituting the body of the nation, emigrated under the superintendence of John Ross, are his original adherents, and, in the documents and correspondence laid before the committee, are called the late emigrants. It appears that about a thousand of the Ross party still remain east of the Mississippi. Major Armstrong thinks that about a thousand of the Cherokees who set out under Ross’s superintendence perished on their journey to the West, while the Cherokees allege a loss of 2,000…

The Eastern chiefs then proposed that the Eastern and Western Cherokees should form one body politic, and that a committee should be appointed, to consist of an equal number of old and new settlers, including three chiefs on each side, to revise and adopt a code of laws for the government of the Cherokee nation….

[The old settlers or Western Council rejected the Eastern proposal. The Ridges, Boudinot, and Stand Watie sided with the Western Council and did not attend the Western Council meeting on June 20th. They departed that evening because of some apprehension for their personal safety.]

The officers of the Government were not likely to be of any service as mediators after the departure of the Ridges.

[A National Committee and Council of the Eastern Cherokees occurred on June 19th, 1839]

On the 21st of June, two days afterwards, John Ross, styling himself “Principle Chief,” and Richard Taylor, styling himself “President of the National Committee”, addressed a letter to the agent, Governor Stokes, informing him of the result of the late council; complaining of the course of the Western Cherokees in requiring from the late immigrants an “unconditional submission to their laws and regulations, in the making of which they had no voice,” but expressed the hope that every question might yet be amicably settled by the convention of the Eastern and Western Cherokees which had been called to meet at Tahlequah, or the old camp ground on the Illinois. They, at the same time, requested that no money “due the late immigrants, or any other business of importance affecting their rights, should be transacted with any other Cherokee authority until a reunion was affected between them.”

Upon these grounds the issue was distinctly formed between the chiefs of the old and the new settlers.

On the 22nd of June, two days after the breaking up of the general council, a new and very different scene opened. Boudinot was massacred at his house, within a mile and a half of the residence of John Ross. Stand Watie, Boudinot’s brother, threatened to murder his friends and kill Ross in retaliation.

It was also rumored about that time that John Ridge had been killed. And in a few days afterwards it was understood that Major Ridge had been killed likewise.

For a few days a general war [civil war] was anticipated. The belief was universal that the Ridges and Boudinot had fallen victims to the resentment of the Eastern Cherokees for the part they had taken in making the treaty of 1835….But the unqualified and reiterated assurances of Ross and his friends, their earnest protestations of peaceable intentions both towards the surviving partisans and the People of the United States, and no further acts of violence having actually been perpetrated, comparative quiet was restored in a short time.

It is not to be doubted that the remote cause of the massacre of the Ridges and Boudinot was their agency in making the treaty of 1835. But there appears to the committee to be as little doubt that the immediate cause of their destruction was the sudden breaking forth of a long-smothered resentment – an ebullition of rage and disappointment occasioned by their supposed intrigue and management in defeating the object of the general council which had just broken up without settling on a plan of government for the whole nation.

Two full months saving one day, having already elapsed since the massacre of the Ridges and Boudinot, and no movements having been made by the superintendent, the agent, or the General in command in the Cherokee nation…in relation to the arrest and punishment of the murderers, we find the Commissioner on Indian Affairs (on the 20th of August) dictating instructions, at the distance of a thousand miles, to the superintendent, to adopt the “most prompt and energetic measure to discover, arrest, and bring to condign punishment the murderers of the Ridges and Boudinot.” “This duty,” he said, “is enjoined by the dictates of humanity as well as by the law and treaty of 1835.”

John Ross, principle chief under the new government,….He contended that the offences charged were committed against Cherokees, and over which the Cherokees only had jurisdiction; that there had been no violation of any treaty stipulation to give the courts or the military of the United States any jurisdiction over the persons accused.

It is clear from these statements of the General in command that he proceeded in the execution of the instructions of the War Department to send military detachments through the country of the Cherokees to search out and arrest the Indians suspected of the murder of the Ridges and Boudinot, under the strong conviction that the consequence would be war. When it is considered that the whole proceeding was a violation of existing treaties, and that the murderers of John Ridge and Boudinot, if arrested, could not have been punished by any tribunal known to the Constitution and laws of the United States, the recklessness with which the peace of the whole frontier was put in jeopardy by the authorities of the United States may create just apprehensions for the future.

It appears from the correspondence and other evidence before the committee that Gen. Arbuckle continued to send out detachments in search of the murderers until about the middle of December, when, from motives of policy, he directed a suspension. Whether the search was afterwards renewed or not, does not appear; but it seems that no person was arrested against whom any proof could be adduced, and the result so far has been an increase of excitement and bad feeling among the Cherokees without answering any of the purpose of justice.

In tracing the causes of the present difficulties among the Cherokees, it is proper hear to notice that, on the 5th day of November, the national council of the old settlers decreed the proceedings of Ross and his adherents in establishing a government and laws null and void; protested against the authority of the delegation appointed to precede to Washington to do any business with the Government in behalf of the nation. They, at the same time, declared “that no money belonging to the Cherokee nation, in the shape of national funds, could be properly received from the United States without the authority of their chiefs and council.”

On the day after the receipt of the proposition made by Rogers, Smith, and Dutch, Gov. Stokes issued an address to the “people composing the Cherokee nation,” recommending peace, and professing to be neutral between the contending parties, but informing them that he would “acknowledge the chiefs and Government of the old settlers as the only Government of the Cherokee nation, until otherwise instructed by the Government of the United States.

It recites, among other things, that by the refusal of John Ross and his people to form a union, and participate with the old settlers in the laws and government of the country, much confusion has been caused, and great distress brought among the people, “in consequence of their not being able to draw their money from the United States;” that the chiefs had been called upon by the people for relief, saying, “that if their difficulties are not settled, and they are not enabled to draw their money from the United States, their families and themselves will be brought to suffering and starvation.”

First. That the country should be the common property of the whole Cherokee people, and likewise all annuities due by treaty. Secondly. That the whole Cherokee people should live under the same Government, enjoy equal rights and privileges, and have an equal share in its regulations. If their friends and brothers, the late immigrants, were willing to join them, the old settlers, upon these conditions, and would sign that instrument, then it would be considered that peace was restored, and a union established, and then “all objections to paying the money over to the people would be removed.”

[STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION [About 18 paragraphs remain to be added]]

Resolutions agreed to in committee [five]

Resolved, That the interference of the Executive in the affairs of the Cherokee Indians, by prescribing any particular form of government or system of laws for their internal regulation, or the interdicting any form of government or system of internal regulation and police, already adopted by the majority of the nation, and not inconsistent with the provisions of any existing treaty, nor contrary to the Constitution of laws of the United States applicable to the Indian tribes, is an assumption of discretionary power contrary to the principles of the Constitution.

Resolved, That the exercise of such a power, though the agency of the military authority especially, is repugnant to the principles and spirit of this Government and dangerous to the peace of the country.

Resolved, That such interference would be an abandonment of the long-established policy of the Government, and the introduction of a new principle in the management of Indian affairs and relations, which would, without doubt, be obstinately resisted by the Indians, and probably lead to a desolating and expensive Indian war.

Resolved, That the peace ands security and the Western frontier, now and at all times, can be provided for and established upon lasting foundations is no other way so certainly as by the habitual practice of firmness, justice, and good faith by this Government towards the large and wealthy tribes now permanently settled there.

Resolved, That it is the bounden duty of the Government to afford protection to the Cherokees who approved the treaty of 1835, and if necessary, to employ the troops of the United States in repelling and repressing any armed body of men appearing in hostile array against them, and threatening to commit violence on their persons; and also to secure to them an equality of rights and privileges, both civil and political, as members of the Cherokee nation, with all other Cherokees, so far as this latter object can be affected by friendly counsel and advice or by earnest remonstrances against any proceedings of the majority of the nation of a contrary nature.

Resolutions not agreed to in committee [eight]

Resolved, That to preserve peace, to harmonize the present dissentions among the Cherokees, to settle finally and satisfactory all unadjusted claims and accounts between them and the United States, and to establish by more distinct and definite provisions the extent of the powers and jurisdiction of the country, it is highly expedient that a treaty should be held with their whole nation, upon the basis of their own officers or chiefs, and establish any laws or regulations that may deem best for their welfare and happiness: Provided, They do not conflict with the Constitution of laws of the United States applicable to their affairs.

Resolved, That for this purpose the sum of five thousand dollars should be appropriated, and placed at the disposal of the President.

Resolved, That justice and good faith, no less than sound policy, require the immediate interposition of Congress, by every constitutional means in its power, in arresting the course of the Executive towards the Cherokees; and that they be permitted to establish what form of government they, by a majority, may choose, not inconsistent with the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Resolved, That the policy of supporting the Government and laws of one-fifth part of the Cherokees in opposition to four-fifths of the nation, or of compelling the latter to adopt government for the whole nation upon a plan prescribed by the Secretary of War, under the sanction of the President, while it is neither consistent with sound principles nor a wise policy, can only be carried into execution at the point of a bayonet, or by exhibiting a permanent military force in the neighborhood large enough to overawe and check a continued spirit of resistance – a force much larger than can be safely withdrawn from other exposed points on the Northern ad Western frontier of the country without an increase of the regular army.

Resolved, That such interference, though authorized by Congress, the only competent authority to change the established policy of the Government in the regulation of Indian affairs, in case of the Cherokees or any other tribe of Indians removed West of the Mississippi, under a similar guaranty of the right of self-government, would be a violation of existing treaty stipulations, tending to create a well-grounded distrust of the intentions and good faith of the Government, and deep and lasting feelings of hostility towards the People of the United States.

Resolved, That many of the late-proceedings towards the Cherokees, as well as the present policy of the Executive, instead of suppressing domestic strife among them, have a manifest tendency to provoke and excite domestic dissensions and bloodshed.

Resolved, That open and declared war against the Cherokees would be more magnanimous and worthy the character and power of the United States, than the irritating and vexatious system of persecution which appears to have been adopted, as a mode of wearing out the spirit of resistance, and of coercing them into submission to the wishes and the policy of the Executive.

Resolved, That the following may be enumerated as instances of the practice of such a system toward the Cherokees:

First, The withholding of large sums of money due by treaty, and the decisions of the Executive, notified to the Indians, that they would continue to be withheld until all existing difficulties among them should be settled in accordance with the wishes and instructions if the Government; a large portion of these moneys (estimated at eight hundred thousand dollars) being due for improvements and spoliations to the late immigrants exclusively, and being the principle resource for establishing themselves conformably in their new homes; and in some case the only resource for the subsistence of their families.

Second, The withholding of their arms, which were taken from them before their emigration West, thereby depriving them of the means of subsistence by hunting – the chief resource of many of the Indians before they had time to improve and cultivate their land.

Third, That sending of military detachments through the country, to the great terror of the ignorant and timid, claiming the right to surround and enter the dwellings of peaceable and unoffending Indians, and to drag forth the suspected inmates, threatening the arrest and bring them to “condign punishment,” when there are no tribunals known to the Constitution and laws of the country before which they can be arraigned or tried.

Fourth, The actual seizing, in repeated instances, of Cherokees, by military force, delivering them over to the civil authorities – imprisoning them in the jails of an adjoining State for offences committed in their own country, and for which they cannot be taken and punished by the courts of the United States, without a violation of existing treaties.

Fifth, The giving countenance of vile and mischievous rumors of hostilities and bloodshed meditated sometimes against the frontier inhabitants, and at others, only against their own brethren, and there-upon threatening to hold them responsible for the consequences, and calling for the explanations and disavowals; this filling the whole country with alarms, and creating unjust prejudice and uneasiness among the neighboring tribes, as well as among the People of the United States.

Personal Opinion

The report indicates that the government under John Ross is legitimate. An agent from the United States backed the “old settlers” government and encouraged the old settlers to not meet the demands of the late immigrants. The report found that the agent was biased and should have been removed from the process. If you were Pro-John Ross and/or anti-treaty party, you would want this report to go forward. However, it did not. The committee did resolve or agree to protect the signers of the treaty of 1835 but could not agree to the Cherokees having their own form of government.