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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


Poems (Henry Payot & Company, 1868)


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
     As I have done my spirit’s force.

How calmly will we glide my love,
     Through moonlight floating on the deep,
Or, loving yet the safer shore,
     Beneath the fringing willows weep.

Again, like some wild duck, we’ll skim,
     And scarcely touch the water’s face,
While silver streaks our way shall mark,
     And circling lines of beauty trace!

And then the stars shall shine above
     In harmony with those below,
And gazing up, and looking down,
     Give glance for glance, and glow for glow!

And then their light shall be our own,
      Commingled with our souls!—and sweet
As those bright stars of Heaven shall be
     Our hearts, which then shall melting meet.

At last we’ll reach yon silent isle,
     So calm and green amidst the waves;
So peaceful too, it does not spurn
     The friendly tide its shore that laves.

We’ll draw our vessel on the sand,
     And seek the shadow of those trees,
Where all alone, and undisturbed,
     We’ll talk and love as we may please!

And then thy voice shall be so soft,
     ’Twill match the whisper of the leaves,
And then thy breast shall yield its sigh
     So like the wavelet as it heaves!

And oh that eye, so dark and free,
     So like a spirit in itself!
And then that hand so white and small
     It would not shame the loveliest elf!

The world might perish all, for me,
     So that it left that little isle!
The human race might pass away
     If thou wert left me with thy smile!

Then, to the river’s side, my love,
     My boat is waiting on its oar—
We’ll float upon the tide, my love,
     And gaily reach that islet’s shore.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

John Rollin Ridge

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


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


     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


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.