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About this poet

John Rollin Ridge was born on March 19, 1827, in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia. When Ridge was a child, his father and grandfather, both influential figures in the Cherokee Nation, decided to give up Cherokee lands and go west. Responding to federal pressure over the land, the Ridges and some other prominent Cherokees signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota and thus became part of what was called the “Treaty Party,” which caused tension with Cherokee leader John Ross and a large portion of the Cherokee tribe. Ross and his faction opposed giving up Cherokee lands and viewed the Treaty Party as traitors for doing so.

From 1836 to 1837 the Ridges, having sold their Georgia holdings, traveled west, ahead of the forced removal of the rest of the Cherokee people that would lead to the Trail of Tears. In 1839, the conflict between the two Cherokee factions rose to a climax when a group from the antitreaty faction murdered Ridge’s father at their own home. That same night the faction also murdered Ridge’s grandfather and cousin, and the rest of the family fled to Arkansas.

From 1843 to 1845, Ridge studied at Great Barrington Academy in Massachusetts, where he studied Latin, Greek, and classical literature. Ridge went on to study law, but after killing a member of the rival Cherokee party in 1849, he fled to Missouri but left again the following year for a life in California, where he joined the gold rush but ultimately began his career as a noted newspaper editor and journalist.

In 1854, Ridge, who published under the name Yellow Bird (the English translation of his Cherokee name Chees-quat-a-law-ny), published The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (W. B. Cooke and Co.), which became the first English novel written by a Native American writer.

After the Civil War, in the late 1860s, Ridge joined the Southern Cherokee party in Washington, D.C., to renegotiate with the federal government regarding the return of Cherokee lands.

Ridge spent the rest of his life in California, where he worked as editor of The Daily National until his death. Ridge died on October 5, 1867. In 1869, his wife posthumously published his Poems (Henry Payot & Company, 1868). 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Poems (Henry Payot & Company, 1868)

The Atlantic Cable

Let Earth be glad! for that great work is done,
Which makes, at last, the Old and New World one!
Let all mankind rejoice! for time nor space
Shall check the progress of the human race!
Though Nature heaved the Continents apart,
She cast in one great mould the human heart;
She framed on one great plan the human mind
And gave man speech to link him to his kind;
So that, though plains and mountains intervene,
Or oceans, broad and stormy, roll between,
If there but be a courier for the thought—
Swift-winged or slow—the land and seas are nought,
And man is nearer to his brother brought.

First, ere the dawn of letters was, or burst
The light of science on the world, men, nurs’t
In distant solitudes apart, did send,
Their skin-clad heralds forth to thread the woods,
Scale mountain-peaks, or swim the sudden floods,
And bear their messages of peace or war.

Next, beasts were tamed to drag the rolling car,
Or speed the mounted rider on his track;
And then came, too, the vessels, oar-propelled,
Which fled the ocean, as the clouds grew black,
And safe near shore their prudent courses held.
Next came the winged ships, which, brave and free,
Did skim the bosom of the bounding sea,
And dared the storms and darkness in their flight,
Yet drifted far before the winds and night,
Or lay within the dead calm’s grasp of might.
Then, sea-divided nations nearer came,
Stood face to face, spake each the other’s name,
In friendship grew, and learned the truth sublime,
That Man is Man in every age and clime!
They nearer were by months and years—but space
Must still be shortened in Improvement’s race,
And steam came next to wake the world from sleep,
And launch her black-plumed warriors of the deep;
The which, in calm or storm, rode onward still,
And braved the raging elements at will.
Then distance, which from calms’ and storms’ delays
Grew into months, was shortened into days,
And Science’ self declared her wildest dream
Reached not beyond this miracle of steam!
But steam hath not the lightning’s wondrous power,
Though, Titan-like, mid Science’ sons it tower
And wrestle with the ocean in his wrath,
And sweep the wild waves foaming from its path.
A mightier monarch is that subtler thing,
Which gives to human thought a thought-swift wing;
Which speaks in thunder like a God,
Or humbly stoops to kiss the lifted rod;
Ascends to Night’s dim, solitary throne,
And clothes it with a splendor not its own—
A ghastly grandeur and a ghostly sheen,
Through which the pale stars tremble as they’re seen;
Descends to fire the far horizon’s rim,
And paints Mount Etnas in the cloudland grim;
Or, proud to own fair Science’ rightful sway,
Low bends along th’ electric wire to play,
And, helping out the ever-wondrous plan,
Becomes, in sooth, an errand-boy for man!

This Power it was, which, not content with aught
As yet achieved by human will or thought,
Disdained the slow account of months or days,
In navigation of the ocean ways,
And days would shorten into hours, and these
To minutes, in the face of sounding seas.
If Thought might not be borne upon the foam
Of furrowing keel, with speed that Thought should roam,
It then should walk, like light, the ocean’s bed,
And laugh to scorn the winds and waves o’er head!
Beneath the reach of storm or wreck, down where
The skeletons of men and navies are,
Its silent steps should be; while o’er its path
The monsters of the deep, in sport or wrath,
The waters lashed, till like a pot should boil
The sea, and fierce Arion seize the upcast spoil.

America! to thee belongs the praise
Of this great crowning deed of modern days.
’T was Franklin called the wonder from on high;
’T was Morse who bade it on man’s errands fly—
’T was he foretold its pathway ’neath the sea:
A daring Field fulfilled the prophecy!
’T was fitting that a great, free land like this,
Should give the lightning’s voice to Liberty;
Should wing the heralds of Earth’s happiness,
And sing, beneath the ever-sounding sea,
The fair, the bright millennial days to be.

Now may, ere long, the sword be sheathed to rust,
The helmet laid in undistinguished dust;
The thund’rous chariot pause in mid career,
Its crimsoned wheels no more through blood to steer;
The red-hoofed steed from fields of death be led,
Or turned to pasture where the armies bled;
For Nation unto Nation soon shall be
Together brought in knitted unity,
And man be bound to man by that strong chain,
Which, linking land to land, and main to main,
Shall vibrate to the voice of Peace, and be
A throbbing heartstring of Humanity!


This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

John Rollin Ridge

John Rollin Ridge was the author of The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (W. B. Cooke and Co., 1854), which became the first English novel written by a Native American writer, and Poems (Henry Payot & Company, 1868).

by this poet

poem

Oh must I fling my harp aside,
     Nor longer let it soothe my heart?
No! sooner might the tender bride
     From th’ first night’s nuptial chamber part!
No! sooner might the warrior cast
     His martial plume of glory down,
Or worshipt monarch fling in dust
     His royal

poem

     Behold the dread Mt. Shasta, where it stands
Imperial midst the lesser heights, and, like
Some mighty unimpassioned mind, companionless
And cold. The storms of Heaven may beat in wrath
Against it, but it stands in unpolluted
Grandeur still; and from the rolling mists upheaves
Its

poem

I look upon the purple hills
     That rise in steps to yonder peaks,
And all my soul their silence thrills
     And to my heart their beauty speaks.

What now to me the jars of life,
     Its petty cares, its harder throes?
The hills are free from toil and strife,
     And