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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)

Reflections Irregular

I cast a backward look—how changed
       The scenes of other days!
I walk, a wearied man, estranged
       From youth’s delightful ways.
There in the distance rolleth yet
       That stream whose waves my
Boyish bosom oft has met,
       When pleasure lit mine eye.
It rolleth yet, as clear, as bold,
       As pure as it did then;
But I have grown in youth-time old,
       And, mixing now with men,
My sobered eye must not attend
To that sweet stream, my early friend!
The music of its waters clear
Must now but seldom reach my ear,
But murmur still now carelessly
To every heedless passer-by.
How often o’er its rugged cliffs I’ve strayed,
And gaily listened, as its billows played
Such deep, low music at their base—
And then such brightening thoughts would trace
Upon the tablet of my mind!
Alas, those days have run their race,
Their joys I nowhere now can find.
       I have no time to think
            Of climbing Glory’s sunny mount
       I have no time to drink
            At Learning’s bubbling fount!
Now corn and potatoes call me
From scenes were wont to enthrall me—
            A weary wight,
            Both day and night
My brain is full of business matters,
            Reality has snatched the light,
            From fancy’s head, that shone so bright,
And tore the dreams she wove, to tatters!

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

Come to the river’s side, my love,
     My light canoe is by the shore,—
We’ll float upon the tide my love,
     And thou shalt hold the dripping oar.

Methinks thy hand could guide so well
     The tiny vessel on its course;
The waves would smooth their crests to thee