Born 1771, Hiwassee, Cherokee Nation
Died June_22, 1839, White Rock Creek, AR. (Location disputed)
Ridge sat silent as a man finished describing his vision to the highest Cherokee council by saying anyone who denied this dream would be struck dead by the Cherokee Mother. The vision is decidedly anti-settler, possibly provoked by Tecumseh, who issued a call for war shortly before the meeting in May, 1811. As a great chatter arose amongst the council, Ridge rose to speak after the room had quieted. Ridge's voice filled the council chamber. "What you have heard is not good. It will lead us to war with the United States, and we shall suffer. It is not a talk from the Great Spirit, and I stand here and call it false. Let the death come upon me. I test their words."
Before he finished speaking men are upon him, fighting him, trying to stab him with knifes. Cherokees in support of Ridge fought back. As the battle raged, Ridge stood, clothes torn and bloody. The fighting paused. Louder than before Ridge repeated "I stand here and call it false," adding this time, "I continue to live so these prophets are deceivers." Again fighting broke out, but this time the elder chiefs stopped it.
Ridge's words in that council altered the course of history in the Cherokee Nation. Not for the first time, nor the last, Ridge took a stand for something in which he believed. It was a trait that would mark him throughout his life as a visionary, and end in his death for the betrayal of his people.
Born Kah-nung-da-tla-geh in 1771, by most people's guess, Man Who Walks on Mountaintop was the son of Oganstota, Dutsi or Tar-chee. His mother, a mixed blood Cherokee, was a member of the Deer Clan. In 1785 the Cherokee leaders signed the Treaty of Hopewell, in which many of the tribe had put great faith. By the time Ridge became a warrior in 1788, the agreement at Hopewell had been repeatedly broken by both sides and the Chickamauga (Ridge's tribe) were in revolt.
In his first war party, the future member of the Cherokee Triumvirate witnessed the atrocity of war. Cherokee and settlers battle across southeast Tennessee. Near present-day Maryville the Cherokee attacked settlers in the field and turned on John Gillespie's station, killing all the men in the stockade. Ridge's leader, John Watts saved the lives of the 28 women and children in the fort. The party then attacked 2 more stations on the Holsten before heading for the Smoky Mountains. Future governor of Tennessee John Seiver ambushed the war party in retribution for the settlers deaths. Ridge escaped, wounded, but 145 Cherokee died that day.
Exposure to this kind of fighting continued for years. By the mid 1790's Ridge, as did many of his fellow Chickamaugan, began to desire an end to the fighting. "I will hunt deer, not men," he tells his fiancée Susanna Wickett. His tribe decimated, two separate events that affect Ridge occur. He moved to Pine Log, in present-day Bartow County, (formerly Cass County) Georgia, and under orders of President Washington, the United States began to introduce technology to the Cherokee in the form of spinning wheels and cotton combs.
Now married, Ridge is surprised to find when he returns home that Susanna has woven cloth worth more money than all the pelts he captures in six months of hunting. Pleasantly surprised. The men he begins to associate with in Pine Log are not warriors but farmers. His association with James Vann and Charles Hicks influenced Ridge to end the fighting with settlers, and Ridge, in turn, influenced the Cherokee Nation to end the constant warring.
In 1795 the Cherokee Nation was making dramatic changes and Ridge would be part of that evolution. Representing Pine Log in council Ridge proposed a modest alteration in the ancient vengeance code. This change, which passed, marked the start of Ridge's rise to power in the Council. He is 25(or so) at the time. By 1800 the tribal council acknowledged the Cherokee Triumvirate of Ridge, Vann and Hicks, and most recognized their power. They often disagree with the elders and frequently won.
Ridge turned his attention to his family as Vann and Hicks led the fights in council. Susanna gave birth to a girl, then a boy, John. A third, another boy, died at birth. Later additions to his family would include Walter or "Watty" and Sarah, whom they called Sally. His brother David Watie (or Oowatie) and sister-in-law, living nearby, give birth to Gallegina or "Buck" and Stand. It is during this time that the United States and the State of Georgia legally agreed to the removal of Indians from the state at a later date.
By 1805 Ridge's attention returns to the council, and he, Hicks and Vann were extremely unhappy at what they saw. Tribal elders, most notably Doublehead, are getting rich at the expense of the tribe. The Cherokee Triumvirate lead a group in a complex series of events generally referred to as "The Revolt of the Young Chiefs."
Doublehead betrayed the Cherokee on many occasions. After the cession of Wofford's Tract in 1804, Doublehead began to rapidly sell the real assets of the tribe under the direction of Indian Agent Return J. Miegs. By 1806 a significant portion of remaining land was sold, with most of the proceeds going to Doublehead and those who aligned with him. At this point Vann and Ridge, unable to sway the council to denounce Doublehead, broke from the chiefs. Although almost entirely alone at first, they slowly built support across the Nation. Within 2 years a large vocal group supported the two rebellious "young chiefs."
In a bold plan in August, 1807, possibly approved by the tribal council, Ridge, Hicks, and Vann murdered Doublehead. Although deeply involved, neither the federal government or the Cherokee clan of Doublehead take any action against Ridge. Then, on the newly created Old Federal Road Ridge turned back a settler who was carrying guns near Vann's Tavern in order to illustrate to the council that the Cherokee had to protect their own Nation. When Return Meigs protested the action in council, Ridge boldly usurped Meigs power. The council quickly began to nationalize and Ridge was put in charge of the first Cherokee police, the Lighthorse Patrol. At Ridge's insistence the ancient blood vengeance code was abolished.
Just as the Triumvirate reached it's acme, Hicks quit (or is forced to quit) his job assisting Meigs and Vann was killed. Now Ridge, who desperately sought to lead his Nation after the death of Doublehead, sees his power in council dwindling. It is at this point that the man who had the vision addressed the Cherokee Council in 1811 and Ridge rose to call him a liar, a dramatic moment in the history of the Cherokee nation. Once again reinstated for this bold move, the council appoints Ridge to journey to Tecumseh's council with the Creeks and others. After the meeting, Ridge takes Tecumseh aside and explains that if Tecumseh comes to the Cherokee council, Ridge will personally kill him.
With the onset of the Creek War(1813-1814), Ridge raises an army of Cherokee volunteers. Elected a leader of the unit, Andrew Jackson appoints him Major, a title Ridge uses for the rest of his life. It is said that Major Ridge's canoe is the first to cross the Tallapoosa River as the Cherokee attack from the rear during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend(1814). He leads the Cherokee during the Seminole War(1818) as well and his daughter dies during child-birth.
After the end of the Seminole War, Major Ridge returned home to an elected position as Speaker of the council in the lower house. His wealth expanded to rival, but not surpass, that of his late friend James Vann. The Ridge house is completely remodeled and records indicate the vast holdings as including:
1141 peach trees
418 apple trees
280 acres under cultivation
30 black slaves
other slaves including Creek captives
Ridge was known as being kind to his slaves. For years Susanna Wickett, his mixed-blood wife would tell him, "Remember, they are people, too."
During the 1820's the Cherokee Nation is institutionalized, and John Ross wins election as tribal leader, a position that Ridge wanted for most of his adult life, however, Ridge was happy his close friend and ally John Ross won the election. In Ross's government, Ridge assumed a position that could best be described as "counselor" and for the next 7 years advised Principal Chief Ross on matters before council.
During this time his son John decided to marry Sally Northrup, a white woman from a city near his college in Connecticut. The woman's parents moved to prevent the marriage on religious grounds and Ridge confronted the Moravians with a direct question -- "Is there anything in your Bible to prevent such a marriage?" The Moravians assured him that there is not, but they were concerned that the powerful chief did not believe them. Shortly after the woman's parents relented and John Ridge and Sally Northrup were married.
Now aging, Ridge sees his son John and Buck Oolwatie (Elias Boudinot) as the future of the tribe. Buck, as editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, eventually espoused removal west (to present-day Oklahoma) as a viable solution to the problem of settler encroachment. Over a period of years, Major Ridge was convinced by John and Buck to support removal, but John Ross and an overwhelming majority of the Cherokee remained staunchly against removal.
In December, 1835, Ridge, his son John, Buck Oolwatie, and Stand Watie signed the Treaty of New Echota, which resulted three years later in The Trail of Tears. Ross gathered 16,000 signatures of Cherokees who oppose removal. Indian-hater Andrew Jackson managed to force the treaty through Congress by a single vote.
Ridge did not wait to move to Oklahoma. Between 1836 and 1838 he and hundreds of other Cherokee traveled to their new home. Along the way Major Ridge stopped in Nashville to meet his old friend Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage. In 1838, in clear violation of constitutional law as interpreted by the Supreme Court, the Cherokee were forced to leave for Oklahoma because of Ridge's conviction in his beliefs.
After Major Ridge signed The Treaty of New Echota he said, "I have just signed my death warrant," and indeed he had. Ridge, John and Buck lay dead less than six months after the arrival of the Cherokee in the Oklahoma Territory in 1839. In an orchestrated plot Ridge was shot while traveling to Arkansas. A few minutes later a group of Cherokee dragged John Ridge from his home and stabbed him 43 times in front of his wife and children. Elias Boudinot was murdered shortly after leaving Samuel Worcester's house.
As brilliant a statesman and politician that Ridge had been, he is forever doomed to a role of betrayer of Cherokee Nation. No other Cherokee has a greater affect on the tribe.
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