The Cherokee Civil War

Tom Starr, of course eventully became Belle Starr's father-in-law. He had come to Indian Territory in 1836 with his father, James Starr. James Starr was a respected political figure and statesman in the "old nation" in Tennessee and Georgia, and was one of the signers of the Removal Treaty of 1835 along with such famous Indian leaders as Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, Elias Boudinot and his brother Stand Watie.

These men believed it best for their people to submit to the wishes of the Federal government and prevent a war of extermination in the States. They had neither council authority nor the blessing of a tribal majority. They knew they ran a risk of the death penalty decreed by Cherokee law for any member agreeing to a land-cession treaty.

The main body of Eastern Cherokees, under Chief John Ross, was forced to make the trip. When they arrived two years later in 1838, the tribe divided into two hostile camps. There were also two governments. Ross was determined to meld them into one, with himself in control.

Fulfilling the old blood law, on June 22, 1839 Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot were assassinated by secret posses made up of Ross henchmen. James Starr and Stand Watie were marked for death also but received warnings in time to escape. James Starr and a number of other prominent Ridge party members took refuge at Fort Gibson. Civil war erupted in the Cherokee Nation. Many more of the old settlers and the Ridge party were killed. They were outnumbered, and it was only a matter of time before all the leaders would be murdered.

The many attempts on James Starr's life aroused hate in the hearts of his relatives and friends, particularly his sons, Tom, Washington, and Bean Starr and a cousin, Sue Rider. They decided to take the offensive. On September 15, 1843 they killed two Ross men, one wife and a stranger. They looted and set fire to their home and bodies, including a 5 year old boy left in the house.

The Ross council authorized a reward of $1000 for the apprehension of the Starr boys. Many clashes and murders took place over the next two years. Several of the Starr gang were killed including Bean Starr. On November 2, 1845 the gang disguised as bandits plundered and burned the home of Ross's son-in-law and killed two Indians who witnessed the deed. The bandits were identified as Tom, Washington and Ellis Starr, Sue Rider and another cousin Ellis West.

The Ross Council decided the bandit's father, James Starr, must be aware of the acts of his son. Thirty-two war painted Ross men descended upon James' home without warning. They riddled his body with bullets while he was on the front porch washing his face. His crippled 14 year old son Buck was gunned down trying to flee. The raiders shouted, "We are going to kill all the male members of this house." The mothers of three smaller boys wrapped their sons in their skirts. The raiders left rather than kill the women.

Tom Starr lived about two miles from his father's house. When he heard about the raid, he vowed "to kill every man that killed pa and buck and will not stop killing until I do." It was his idea of justice; An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. He later boasted to one man that he had got most of the men except the ones that died in bed before he got to them.


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