The Wooden Indian in a Former Indian Settlement

This is a scene from the city of Rome, in north Georgia.  In the 19th century this was Cherokee country, a mostly aagricultural area. The nearest settlement was called Ridge’s Ferry. Major Ridge, a prominent Cherokee planter, owned the ferry as well as a store and his plantation house, surrounded by fields where his enslaved laborers harvested cotton and other crops. By the 1820’s the area had another famous resident: John Ross, who was on his way to becoming the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Ross moved down from the Georgia-Tennessee border, where he operated his own ferry, to live closer to the seat of Cherokee government.

It was here, in 1835, that John Ross returned home from a trip to Washington to discover that he had lost his home. The state of Georgia had held a lottery to give away Cherokee real estate to white settlers. That same year Major Ridge betrayed Chief Ross, and was among the members of an unauthorized faction who signed a treaty approving removal to the West. By 1838 Cherokees were being evicted from the whole region, and Rome was growing, with a name that suited the spreading American empire.

Today Rome is a world of its own. No interstate passes through the city, which has helped to preserve the magnificent look and feel of earlier times. A former factory has been converted into the Hawthorn Suites, an upscale hotel. Strings of white lights glow in the trees in the median of a main street; upscale shops and restaurants line that street. There are only a few signs of the region’s former occupants. Near the downtown, Major Ridge’s former plantation house is today called the Chieftains Museum, open to the public for a small fee. And in the downtown, the window of a cigar bar is guarded by the somber wooden Indian seen above.