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Southern Cherokee - Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas (U.S.)

Native American

Last modified: 2017-08-21 by rick wyatt
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[Southern Cherokee flag] image by Donald Healy, 1 February 2008

See also:

The Band

[Southern Cherokee  map]
map image by Peter Orenski based on input from Don Healy

Southern Cherokee - Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas

In 1834 the Ridge Band of Cherokee was established in Running Waters, Georgia by Chief Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie. This new Cherokee entity was recognized by President Andrew Jackson, the U.S. Congress, and Gov. Wilson Lumpkin of Georgia. This made the Ridge Band of the Cherokee Nation, the oldest subset of the Cherokees to be officially accepted by Washington. It is the Ridge Band of Cherokee that form the core of the modern Southern Cherokee Nation.

To date there has been no formal act by Congress to terminate that recognition or alter the Tribe's status. US Indian Law, and the US Supreme Court hold, that unless formally terminated by an act of Congress, the federal status continues. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Indian Affairs disagrees with the Ridge Band, and as such is considered not to be a federally recognized Tribe.

In December 1835 the Ridge Band, some 2,000 strong, negotiated a Treaty of emigration with the United States and voluntarily moved to Oklahoma in 1837. When the remainder of the Cherokee arrived after the "Trail of Tears", the factions could not agree upon a reunion of the Tribe and three distinct groups existed - the newly arrived Cherokee under Chief John Ross, the Ridge Band, and the pre-1830s resident Cherokee sometimes called the "Old Settlers".

In what was an internal civil war, the leaders of the Ridge Band were assassinated in 1839 and Chief John Ross of the Newly arrived Cherokee declared himself chief of all the Western Cherokee. Civil war broke out amongst the Cherokee, which lasted until 1846 during this time, the Ridge Band and the Old Settler Band fought as allies. A treaty between the three groups was signed at Washington in 1846.

During the U.S. Civil War the entire Cherokee Nation declared its independence from the United States and fought for the Confederacy at the beginning of the war, mostly because Chief Ross did not want the Nation split. This lasted until the first battle, when Chief Ross and other Cherokees loyal to him switched over to the Union side.

In 1862 Brig. Gen. Stand Watie was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation government loyal to the Confederate States since Chief Ross had sought refuge in Philadelphia and Washington DC after changing allegiances. Under Chief Watie, the Cherokees never lost another battle during the Civil War. Watie became the highest decorated general of the Confederacy, and the last to surrender.

After the South collapsed, Chief Ross claimed the Chieftains position of the entire Cherokee Nation, because he was the leader of the Cherokees loyalist side. Chief Watie objected since he had continued in the role of chief continuously while Chief Ross had switched sides while the Cherokees continued fighting for their independence and that of the South. Yet another civil war continued within the Cherokee Nation between the Ross party and the Watie faction, now considered the Southern Cherokee.

In 1865 the Cherokees under Chief John Ross' control signed an agreement with the United States that renounced independence and came under the protection of the United States. Also in 1865, Chief Stand Watie signed a Cease-Hostilities Treaty with the United States (not a surrender agreement) until a favorable treaty could be ratified with all parties involved. This separate document pointed out the distinct Southern Cherokee independence. He thus became the final Confederate General to give up the war.

In 1866 a second treaty was concluded with the Western Cherokee of John Ross. The treaty limited the sovereignty or the Western Cherokee Nation but also required the Cherokee Nation of grant concessions to the separate Southern Cherokee. Amnesty was granted to the Southern Cherokee and land, 160 acres per head of household was to be given to the Southern Cherokee. Their district was not subject to the laws of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and had elected and appointed officials of its own. It had separate laws as well. It did, however have representation on the National Council of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The Southern Cherokee, however, refused to sign this pact for fear they were diluting their sovereign status. All attempts to obtain a ratified with the Southern Cherokee failed. In 1868, the Southern Cherokee and the Cherokee Nation signed a treaty to merge. The US Senate refused again to ratify this treaty because it would give the unified Cherokee Nation too much power. The merger failed. Over time government officials forgot the Southern Cherokee existed as a distinct entity, but the Southern Cherokee people did not.

Donald Healy 2008

The Flag

The Southern Cherokee combines Cherokee people from across the former Confederacy. The Southern Cherokee have several bands scattered from Florida to Texas. These include the Elk River Band of Southern Cherokee Nation, the Upper Mississippi River Band, the Tennessee River Band, the Ossahahatchee Creek Band, the Buffalo Bayou Band and the Wolf Creek Band. All constituent parts of the Southern Cherokee Nation employ the same flag. They use the flag of the Confederate Braves form the Civil War era.

That original flag is still in existence in Oklahoma. It essentially follows the pattern of the first flag of the Confederate States of America (CSA) - the Stars and Bars. I has three horizontal stripes of red and white. In the hoist corner of the flag, is a dark blue square canton equal in width to the first two stripes. Upon the blue canton contains a ring of 11 five-pointed white stars just like the first Confederate national flag. These symbolize the eleven states of the old CSA. Within that ring, however, is a large red star representing the Cherokee Nation. Between the large star and the ring four small red stars recalling the four other "Civilized Tribes" - the Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw and Seminole that also resided in the Indian Territory and were allied with the CSA during the war. Upon the white stripes appear the words "Cherokee Braves" in red. This was the local name of the unit of Cherokee warriors that fought for the CSA.

The use of the old flag of the Cherokee Braves reminds all that they remained loyal to the CSA and are separate from the current Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. It also acts as a symbol of the continued belief in the independence of the Southern Cherokee Nation.

Donald Healy 2008
information provided by Peter Orenski, 1 February 2008