John Ross' Cherokee name was Koo-wi-s-gu-wi, the name of a mythological, or rare migratory bird, and the name of one of the current districts of the Cherokee Nation.
Although only 1/8 Cherokee, he was raised traditionally and had a preference for native clothing and mode of dressing as a boy and young man. He was educated in mission schools and at private boarding schools. His first wife's name was Elizabeth Brown Henley (her Cherokee name was Que-ti) and they were married in the summer of 1813. They raised 5 children together, although she gave birth to 6, who was stillborn.
After completing his schooling, he was hired as assistant to Federal Agent Return Meigs. In this capacity, he served as an emissary to the Cherokee lands in the west. He was elected to the National Committee of theCherokee National Council after the Creek War in 1814. His first duty was negotiating treaty agreements establishing permanent boundaries for the Cherokee with the U.S. In 1819, he was elected President of the National Committee. He represented the Chickamauga District in the first Constitutional Convention. During his service to the Cherokee people as Principal Chief, he witnessed devastation by both the Indian Removals and the U.S. Civil War.