Address at Inter-Tribal Council at Tahlequah

Image: John Ross of the Cherokee, Wikimedia Commons.
Native Americans
What was the Inter-tribal Council held at Tahlequah, and what was its purpose? How many tribal nations were invited? How many attended? What did the Inter-Tribal Compact say? Would you judge the council a success? Why or why not?
Like Joseph Brant, John Ross was, among his other accomplishments, a diplomat. What is the relationship between Ross’ efforts and Brant’s?

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In the spring of 1843, after the Cherokee Nation had been forcibly relocated to Indian Territory (in the present-day state of Oklahoma), Principal Chief John Ross (1790–1866) sent pipes and offerings of tobacco to all thirty-six tribal nations on the western frontier, along with an invitation to attend an intertribal gathering in the Cherokee capital of Tahlequah. No specific purpose was stated for the conference. Worried whites feared the goal was to forge a hostile Indian alliance and notified the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington of their concerns.

Such fears proved unwarranted. John Ross’ motivation in calling the meeting was benign. He probably wanted to burnish his reputation, tarnished by ongoing violence in the Cherokee Nation in the wake of Removal, and to put forward the Cherokee as brokers among the tribes. He also wanted to establish peaceful relations among the tribes and secure international regulations among them as might be required. Especially important to his design were the Osage, with whom the Cherokees who resettled in the area prior to Removal had fought, culminating in the Battle of the Claremore Mound in 1817.

Twenty-two of the tribal nations responded and sent delegates. These included the Muscogee Creek, Delaware, Pottawatomi, and Wichita. Among those declining were the Comanche, who were engaged in ongoing hostilities, and the Pawnee, who suspected treachery and refused to attend unless five hostages were sent to them to ensure the safe return of their delegates.

Between three and four thousand people attended, the majority of them Cherokee, and an eyewitness described the assembly as resembling “a great family-gathering.” It cost the Cherokee Nation $250 a day (about $9,700 in 2022 dollars) to feed them all.

The selection here includes Ross’ brief opening statement and the Inter-Tribal Compact signed at the council.

—Jace Weaver

William Goode, Outposts of Zion: With Limnings of Mission Life (Cincinnati: Poe & Hitchcock, 1863), 73–75,; The Constitution and Laws of the Cherokee Nation: Passed at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, 1839–51 (Tahlequah: Cherokee Nation, 1852), 87–89.

The first speaker, after my arrival,1 was Ross. His talk was delivered by him in English, from a manuscript held in his hand. The following is nearly a verbatim report of his address:

Brothers, the talk of our fathers2 has been spoken, and you have listened to it. You have also smoked the pipe of peace, and taken the hand of friendship around the council fire newly kindled here at Tah-le-quah in the West. We have been made glad on this interesting occasion.

Brothers, when we look back to the history of our race we see some green spots that are pleasing to us. We also see many things to make our hearts sad. When we look back on the days when the first council fires were kindled, around which the pipe of peace was smoked, we are grateful to our Creator for having united the hearts of the red men in peace; for it is in peace only that our women and children can enjoy happiness and increase in numbers. By peace our condition has been improved in the pursuits of civilized life. We should, therefore, extend the hand of peace from tribe to tribe, till peace is established between every nation of red men within the reach of our voice.

Brothers, when we call to mind the early associations which endeared us to the land that gave birth to our forefathers, where we were brought up in peace to taste the blessings of civilized life; when we see that our fires have there been extinguished, and our families been removed to a new and distant home, we cannot but feel sorry. But the designs of Providence are mysterious; and we should not, therefore, despair of once more enjoying the blessings of peace in our new home.

Brothers, by this removal tribes hitherto distant from each other have become neighbors, and those hitherto acquainted have become known to each other. There are, however, numerous other tribes with whom we are still strangers.

Brothers, it is for renewing in the West the ancient talk of our forefathers, and of perpetuating forever the old pipe of peace, and of extending them from nation to nation, and of adopting such international laws as may redress the wrongs done by the people of our respective nations to each other, that you have been invited to attend the present Council. Let us, therefore, so act that the peace which existed between our forefathers may be pursued, and that we may always live as members of the same family.

Brothers, the business of the Council is now before you, and I hope you will persevere till it is finished.

Compact between the Several Tribes of Indians

WHEREAS, the removal of the Indian tribes, from the homes of their fathers, east of the Mississippi, has there extinguished our ancient council fires, and changed our position in regard to each other, and

WHEREAS, by the solemn pledge of treaties, we are assured by the government of the United States, that the lands we now possess shall be the undisturbed home of ourselves and our posterity forever, therefore,

We, the authorized representatives of the several nations, parties hereunto, assembled round the Great Council Fire kindled in the West at Tahlequah; in order to preserve the existence of our race, to revive and cultivate just and friendly relations between our several communities, to secure to all their respective rights, and to promote the general welfare, do enter into the following compact.

Sec. 1st. Peace and friendship shall forever be maintained between the nations, parties to this compact, and between their citizens:

Sec. 2d. Revenge shall not be cherished nor retaliation practiced, for offenses committed by individuals.

Sec. 3d. To provide for the improvement of our people in agriculture, manufacturers, and other domestic arts, adapted to promote the comfort and happiness of our women and children a fixed and permanent location on our lands, is an indispensable condition. In order therefore, to secure these important objects, to prevent any future removal, and to transmit to our posterity an unimpaired title to the lands guaranteed to our respective nations by the United States—We hereby solemnly pledge ourselves to each other, that no nation, party to this compact, shall, without the consent of all the other parties, cede, or in any manner alienate, to the United States, any part of their present territory.

Sec. 4th. If a citizen of one nation, commits willful murder, or other crime, within the limits of another nation, party hereto, he shall be subject to the same treatment as if he were a citizen of that nation.

In cases of property stolen, or taken by force or fraud, the property, if found, shall be restored to the owner; but if not found, the convicted person shall pay the full value thereof.

Sec. 5th. If a citizen of any nation, party to this compact, shall commit murder or other crime, and flee from justice into the territory of any other nation, party hereto, such criminal shall, on demand of the principal chief of the nation from which he fled (accompanied with reasonable proof of his guilt), be delivered up to the authorities of the nation having jurisdiction of the crime.

Sec. 6th. We hereby further agree, that if any one of our respective citizens shall commit murder or other crime, upon the person of any other citizen, in any place beyond the limits of our several territories, the person so offending shall be subject to the same treatment as it the offense had been committed within the limits of his nation.

Sec. 7th. Any citizen of one nation may be admitted to citizenship in any other nation, party hereto, by consent of the proper authorities of such nation.

Sec. 8th. The use of ardent spirits, being a fruitful source of crime and misfortune, we recommend its suppression within our respective limits, and agree that no citizen of one nation, shall introduce it into the territory of any other nation, party to this compact.

Done in General Council, around the GREAT COUNCIL FIRE, at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, this is the 3d day of July, 1843.3

Representatives of the Cherokees:
Hair Conrad, his x mark
Samuel Downing, his x mark
Turtle Fields, his x mark
Stop, his x mark
Thomas Foreman
Tobacco Will, his x mark
Thomas Woodward, his x mark
Dutch, his x mark
Michael Waters
John Looney, his x mark
George Lowrey
J. Vann
Archibald Campbell, his x mark
Old Field, his x mark
Charles Coodey

Representatives of the Creeks:
Tus-ta-nug-gee Mathla, his x mark
In-ther-nis Harjo, his x mark
Ho-ler-ter Micco, his x mark
Ho-tul-ca Harjo, his x mark
Ufalar Harjo, his x mark
Chilly McIntosh
Dak-cun Harjo, his x mark

Representatives of the Osages:
Alexander Chouteau, Osage Int.
Chin-ka-wa-sah or Belvazo, his x mark
Black Dog, his x mark
Gron-san-tah, his x mark
Gra-tam-e-sah, his x mark

BE IT KNOWN, that the National Council of the Cherokee Nation, in annual council convened, have this day approved and confirmed the within articles of a compact entered into the day and date therein named, by the authorized representatives of the nations, parties thereunto.

Done in National Council at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, the second day of November, A. D., One Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty-Three.

Charles Coodey
President, Nat. Com.

James M. Payne
Speaker, Nat. Council.

Approved—JNO. Ross

  1. 1. That is, the arrival of William Goode.
  2. 2. The Cherokee elders.
  3. 3. Ross spoke on June 19. The compact was agreed to on July 3. The Cherokee council approved it November 2.
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