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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

John Rollin Ridge (Cherokee)
(1827-1867)


John Rollin Ridge was a member of the Treaty Party of Cherokees. His father and grandfather were among the founders of the Party, so designated because of its support for the Treaty of New Echota (1835), which provided for removal of the Cherokees from the South to Indian Territory. Much of Ridge’s writing on American Indians argues for the need of all Indians to become “civilized,” that is, to be assimilated into white society, in order to survive.

Born in Georgia in 1827, Ridge was no stranger to turmoil. During his childhood, the Cherokee Nation was under pressure from whites to vacate their traditional lands and move westward. The Cherokees protested, but despite their eloquent arguments, it eventually became clear to many tribesmen that the cause was lost. As a result, John Ridge, Major Ridge, his nephew Elias Boudinot, and others signed the removal treaty, which resulted in the displacement of most of the Cherokees to Indian Territory.

Shortly after removal was completed in 1839, the two elder Ridges and Boudinot were assassinated on the same day in separate incidents by Ross Party Cherokees, who had opposed removal. The assassins dragged John Ridge from his bed and, in full view of his wife and children, stabbed him repeatedly. The scene remained in John Rollin Ridge’s mind all of his life. Fearing for their lives, the family fled to Arkansas where Ridge remained for ten years, except for a brief stint at Great Barrington Academy in Massachusetts. He received a classical education under Cephas Washburn in Arkansas, and, for a time, studied law. In 1846, Ridge married and settled down to farm in the Indian Territory. As the result of an argument that grew out of factional divisions in the tribe, Ridge killed a member of the Ross Party and was forced to flee once more. He lived for a while in Southern Missouri, where he agitated against the Ross faction and even announced plans for an armed invasion of the Cherokee Nation. In 1850, however, he joined a number of other Cherokees on their way to the California gold fields. He always planned to return to the Cherokee Nation and, on at least two different occasions, introduced schemes to establish an Indian newspaper in the area. Although he never returned to Indian Territory, he remained in contact with his family and members of the Treaty Party. He was obviously considered a member of the group since he was asked to lead the Cherokee Southern delegation in its treaty deliberations after the Civil War.

In California, Ridge edited several newspapers and was an outspoken opponent of the Republicans. A Douglas Democrat, he was heavily involved in California politics. He also continued his literary career in California. He had begun writing and publishing poetry in Indian Territory and Arkansas, and his writing earned him some degree of fame as a poet in California. In 1854 he published a volume of romance fiction, Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit, ostensibly a true story. While the book was very popular, and Ridge achieved some fame from it, it was not a financial success.

Ridge wrote and published poetry in Arkansas and California. Much of this poetry uses poetic conventions common in the works of English and American romantic poets. The themes and structures in his work are often similar to those of earlier writers, especially in Ridge’s pieces that deal with nature. The nature poems attempt to recreate the poet’s personal experiences with the natural environment, which often have mystical or transcendental qualities. Imagination is nearly always the force that makes these experiences possible. His other poems are autobiographical and intensely personal, again following romantic models. While in California, Ridge wrote occasional poems, many of which are testimonials to the nineteenth-century idea of progress and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

In both his poetry and his prose, John Rollin Ridge argued that the only chance for survival for the American Indian lay in assimilating into white society. Like many others in the nineteenth century, Ridge was convinced of the reality of Manifest Destiny. He believed that the march of European civilization and technological progress was inexorable and could not be ignored by Indian nations. Yet, like most assimilated Indians of his time, he argued that justice demanded that his less acculturated brothers be safeguarded from oppression while the gradual process of acculturation took place. That way they might be saved from extinction. No doubt in some measure the alienation projected by Ridge was part of the legacy of colonization and removal which had been the tragic fate of his people, the Cherokees.
James W. Parins
University of Arkansas at Little Rock


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
Oppression of Digger Indians (1857)
A Scene Along the Rio de la Plumas (1868)
The Atlantic Cable (1868)
The Stolen White Girl (1868)

Other Works
Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854)
Poems (1868)



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Links

"The Ghost of Sonora"
(http://www.ameri-land.com/joaquin.htm)
A site about the legend of Joaquin Murieta, about which Ridge wrote a book.


Secondary Sources

Edward Everett Dale, "John Rollin Ridge," Chronicles of Oklahoma 4 (December, 1928): 312-321

Carolyn Thomas Foreman, "Edward W. Bushyhead and John Rollin Ridge," Chronicles of Oklahoma 15 (September, 1936): 295-311

Handbook of Native American Literature, 1996

James W. Parins, John Rollin Ridge: His Life and Works, 1991

M.A. Ranck, "John Rollin Ridge in California," Chronicles of Oklahoma 19 (December, 1932): 560-569




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