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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)

Mount Shasta

     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 tower of pride e’en purer than before.
The wintry showers and white-winged tempests leave
Their frozen tributes on its brow, and it
Doth make of them an everlasting crown.
Thus doth it, day by day and age by age,
Defy each stroke of time: still rising highest
Into Heaven!

     Aspiring to the eagle’s cloudless height,
No human foot has stained its snowy side;
No human breath has dimmed the icy mirror which
It holds unto the moon and stars and sov’reign sun.
We may not grow familiar with the secrets
Of its hoary top, whereon the Genius
Of that mountain builds his glorious throne!
Far lifted in the boundless blue, he doth
Encircle, with his gaze supreme, the broad
Dominions of the West, which lie beneath
His feet, in pictures of sublime repose
No artist ever drew. He sees the tall
Gigantic hills arise in silentness
And peace, and in the long review of distance
Range themselves in order grand. He sees the sunlight
Play upon the golden streams which through the valleys
Glide. He hears the music of the great and solemn sea,
And overlooks the huge old western wall
To view the birth-place of undying Melody!

     Itself all light, save when some loftiest cloud
Doth for a while embrace its cold forbidding
Form, that monarch mountain casts its mighty
Shadow down upon the crownless peaks below,
That, like inferior minds to some great
Spirit, stand in strong contrasted littleness!
All through the long and Summery months of our
Most tranquil year, it points its icy shaft
On high, to catch the dazzling beams that fall
In showers of splendor round that crystal cone,
And roll in floods of far magnificence
Away from that lone, vast Reflector in
The dome of Heaven.
Still watchful of the fertile
Vale and undulating plains below, the grass
Grows greener in its shade, and sweeter bloom
The flowers. Strong purifier! From its snowy
Side the breezes cool are wafted to the “peaceful
Homes of men,” who shelter at its feet, and love
To gaze upon its honored form, aye standing
There the guarantee of health and happiness.
Well might it win communities so blest
To loftier feelings and to nobler thoughts—
The great material symbol of eternal
Things! And well I ween, in after years, how
In the middle of his furrowed track the plowman
In some sultry hour will pause, and wiping
From his brow the dusty sweat, with reverence
Gaze upon that hoary peak. The herdsman
Oft will rein his charger in the plain, and drink
Into his inmost soul the calm sublimity;
And little children, playing on the green, shall
Cease their sport, and, turning to that mountain
Old, shall of their mother ask: “Who made it?”
And she shall answer,—“GOD!”

     And well this Golden State shall thrive, if like
Its own Mt. Shasta, Sovereign Law shall lift
Itself in purer atmosphere—so high
That human feeling, human passion at its base
Shall lie subdued; e’en pity’s tears shall on
Its summit freeze; to warm it e’en the sunlight
Of deep sympathy shall fail:
Its pure administration shall be like
The snow immaculate upon that mountain’s brow!

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

I saw her once—her eye’s deep light
Fell on my spirit’s deeper night,
     The only beam that e’er illumed
Its shadows drear. The glance was slight,
     But oh, what softness it assumed!

I saw her twice—her glance again
Lit up its fire within my brain;
     My thoughts

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

Hail solitary star!
That shinest from thy far blue height,
And overlookest Earth
And Heaven, companionless in light!
The rays around thy brow
Are an eternal wreath for thee;
Yet thou’rt not proud, like man,
Though thy broad mirror is the sea,
And thy calm home eternity!