The Letters of John Ross

By Cady Shaw
on June 1, 2018

Now at the John Ross Museum in Park Hill, Oklahoma, is a temporary exhibition titled “The Letters of John Ross.” The exhibit pays homage to the wordsmith that John Ross was. He was a prolific writer during his lifetime, particularly while serving as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828-1866. Throughout those years, John Ross wrote and received thousands of letters from presidents, politicians, authors, clergy, friends and family. Many of his letters were preserved and are kept in archives around the world.

Born Oct. 3, 1790, in Turkey Town on the Coosa River near present-day Center, Alabama, John Ross was born to Mollie McDonald and Daniel Ross. Mollie was the daughter of a Scotsman diplomat and a Cherokee woman. Daniel Ross was a Scotsman who started a trade business and settled in the Cherokee Nation. His father, Daniel, filled their home with the latest American and English newspapers, maps and books. He hired a private tutor for his children to teach them education fundamentals. John was educated for a time at a mission school near Chickamauga and then attended an academy at South West Point before he was sent to a private boarding school.

John Ross’ education lent itself to his prodigious written archives. It’s always very interesting to look into archives and read people’s correspondences. We wanted visitors to be able to experience Ross as a statesman in his own words. Some of these letters are just drafts, but visitors can see his edits and sort of watch his thoughts evolve through his writings.

This exhibit is the first of its kind for Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, as it is displayed digitally via iPad and completely interactive. Visitors are able to view Ross’ biographical information and then select from six of his letters regarding various topics, such as denying involvement in assassination rumors and enquiring to the Republic of Mexico if Cherokee Nation could relocate there. Each letter is displayed in its handwritten form that visitors can toggle on screen, as well as a view a transcribed copy. Some of the letters have shorthand and penmanship that can be quite hard to decipher, so the transcriptions allow you to toggle back and forth.

“The Letters of John Ross” exhibit runs May 4 through Jan. 31 at the John Ross Museum, which is located at 22366 S. 530 Road in Park Hill.