“By focusing on the people behind the tragedy of the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears, Brian Hicks makes us see how individual men and women shaped the complex course of history. Written with sympathy and verve, Toward the Setting Sun is an important book that is also a pleasure to read.” —Nathaniel Philbrick

Toward the Setting Sun

John Ross, the Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears

When the Cherokee tribe elected John Ross, a young merchant, its principal chief in 1828, it was arming itself for an epic battle. Ross was only one-eighth Indian by blood, but his parents, a Scottish trader and a quarter-Cherokee woman, were active in the tribe and had raised their son in a traditional Indian home. At 24, he and 600 other Cherokees had joined Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee militia in battle against a branch of aggressive Creek Indians called the Red Sticks. Jackson triumphed, but his alarming brutality and the sight of white men slaughtering nearly 1,000 Indians in a single day repelled Ross and changed his life.

In his four decades as chief, Ross would guide the Cherokees through their most turbulent period, civilizing the tribe for a new era and furiously defending it from white encroachment. The Cherokees developed modern ways: Their roads, schools, representative government, and bustling capital city were impressive. But this did not sit well with U.S. politicians anxious to evict the tribe from the Southeast. Ross, who had been educated in white schools, was a peerless negotiator and displayed airtight knowledge of the treaties that stipulated the Cherokees’ right to their land. He gave the first address to Congress by a Native American, petitioning for his tribe’s rights with such eloquence that northern legislators rallied to block a newly-introduced Indian removal resolution.

But Andrew Jackson’s election to the presidency in 1828 spelled disaster for the Cherokees. Old Hickory foresaw the conflict the Indian removal question would create between northern and southern states. Clashes between Ross and Jackson raged over decades, from battlefields and meeting houses to the White House and Supreme Court. As increasing numbers of white settlers moved in and grabbed Cherokee land, Ross stood firm in the long-held tribal resolution not to concede an acre. But a group of renegade Cherokees, hungry for the profits promised for their land to relocate beyond the Mississippi, joined forces with Jackson’s men on a removal treaty. Ross was tragically forced to recapitulate and to begin to lead his people west. Brian Hicks’s vivid description of the Trail of Tears, on which thousands of Cherokees died of pneumonia, malnutrition, and exhaustion, assigns faces and names to one of the most shameful chapters of American history.

With evenhanded perspective and cliffhanging suspense, Hicks tells the unknown story of one of early America’s most fascinating politicians—a story of loyalty, greed, violence, and betrayal. In doing so, he sheds new light on the familiar tale of a young nation’s insatiable aspirations for expansion.

Ross House

The Ross House, just south of Chattanooga.

Ross Cabin

This cabin is allegedly John Ross's last home in the East, and the site of his arrest by the Georgia Guard in 1835. It sits just a few miles from Red Clay, outside of Cleveland, Tennessee.