John Rollin Ridge Biography


(Native Americans: A Comprehensive History)

Article abstract: John Rollin Ridge became a leading journalist, a noted poet, and a spokesperson for the plight of Indians in the late nineteenth century.

John Rollin Ridge was the son of a white woman and the Cherokee John Ridge, who, like his father, Major Ridge, was initially a strong opponent of the removal of the Cherokee to the west, but later became an active supporter of the relocation of his tribe to the Indian Territory.

The younger Ridge endured a controversial and often violent childhood. Both his father and his grandfather became involved in a bitter conflict over the removal of the Cherokee with the faction of their tribe led by John Ross, and they were murdered in 1839, together with a third man, in Indian Territory in retaliation for their support of the move west.

Lured by the prospect of quick riches in the gold fields of California, Ridge moved to that state in 1850. Not successful as a prospector, he became involved in journalism. His pen name was Yellow Bird, a translation of his Indian name; essays written by him on the Indians in the nineteenth century and printed in newspapers and magazines have been compiled and published as A Trumpet of Our Own (1991).

During his lifetime, his most notable literary achievement was The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854), a fictionalized account of a Robin Hood-style character. Ridge was also a noted poet, and a compilation of his poetry was published in 1868, a year after his death.

Further Reading

Dale, Edward Everett, and Gaston Litton. Cherokee Cavaliers: Forty Years of Cherokee History as Told in the Correspondence of the Ridge-Watie-Boudinot Family. Foreword by James W. Parins. 1939. Reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Jahoda, Gloria. The Trail of Tears. New York: Wings Books, 1995.

Parins, James W. John Rollin Ridge: His Life and Works. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

Walker, Cheryl. Indian Nation: Native American Literature and Nineteenth-Century Nationalisms. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997.

Wilkins, Thurman. Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People. 2d rev. ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.