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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)

October Hills

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 clasp me in their deep repose.

They soothe the pain within my breast
     No power but theirs could ever reach,
They emblem that eternal rest
      We cannot compass in our speech.

From far I feel their secret charm—
     From far they shed their healing balm,
And lost to sense of grief or harm
     I plunge within their pulseless calm.

How full of peace and strength they stand,
     Self-poised and conscious of their weight!
We rise with them, that silent band,
     Above the wrecks of Time or Fate;

For, mounting from their depths unseen,
     Their spirit pierces upward, far,
A soaring pyramid serene,
     And lifts us where the angels are.

I would not lose this scene of rest,
     Nor shall its dreamy joy depart;
Upon my soul it is imprest,
     And pictured in my inmost heart.

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

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

poem

There is a voice more dear to me
Than man or woman’s e’er could be—
A “still small voice” that cheers
The woes of these my darker years.

I hear it in the busy crowd,
Distinct, amid confusion loud;
And in the solemn midnight still,
When mem’ries sad my bosom fill.