When the Civil War erupted in the United States, Principal Chief John Ross announced a position of neutrality for the Cherokee Nation. The Civil War polarized the Cherokees in much the same way as it did the United States. The powerful anti-Ross, proslavery faction, which had evolved under the leadership of Stand Watie, was openly Southern in sentiment.
Southern strategists, cognizant that the Indian Territory lying west of Arkansas, north of Texas, and south of Kansas could provide the South with sustenance for troops, bases for raids, and a highway to Texas, diligently sought to win over the Cherokee chiefs. Principal Chief John Ross was pressured by his neighbors to take a pro-Southern position, as the following letter indicates.
The State of Arkansas, Executive Department,
Little Rock, January 29, 1861.
To His Excellency John Ross,
Principal Chief Cherokee Nation:
Sir: It may now be regarded as almost certain that the States having slave property within their borders will in consequence of repeated Northern aggression, separate themselves and withdraw from the Federal Government. South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana have already, by action of the people, assumed this attitude. Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentuckey, Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland will probably persue the same course by the 4th of March next.
Your people, in their institutions, productions, latitude, and natural sympathies, are allied to the common brotherhood of the slave-holding States.