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John Rollin Ridge
John Rollin Ridge
Born Chee-squa-ta-law-ny (Yellow Bird)
March 19, 1827(1827-03-19)
(New Echota, Georgia)
Died October 5, 1867 (aged 40)
Nationality American
Other names Chee-squa-ta-law-ny (Yellow Bird)
Ethnicity American Indian
Citizenship United States
Occupation Novelist
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Wilson
Parents John Ridge

John Rollin Ridge (Cherokee name: Cheesquatalawny, or Yellow Bird, March 19, 1827–October 5, 1867), a member of the Cherokee tribe, is considered the first Native American novelist.


Born in New Echota, Georgia, he was the son of John Ridge, and the grandson of Major Ridge, both of whom were signatories to the Treaty of New Echota, which Congress affirmed in early 1836, ceding Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi River and ultimately leading to the Trail of Tears. At the age of 12, Ridge witnessed both their deaths at the hands of supporters of Cherokee leader John Ross, who had vehemently opposed the treaty. His mother, a white woman, took him and fled to Fayetteville, Arkansas. In 1843, he was sent to the Great Barrington School in Massachusetts for two years, after which he returned to Fayetteville to study law. He himself married a white woman, Elizabeth Wilson, in 1847 and they had one daughter, Alice, in 1848.

In 1848, he killed Ross sympathizer David Kell, whom he thought was involved with his father's assassination, over a horse dispute, and he fled to Missouri. The next year, he joined in the California Gold Rush. While there, he wrote essays for the Democratic Party before writing what is now considered the first Native American novel and the first novel written in California, The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit (1854). A fictionalized version of the notorious bandit's story, the tale describes a young Mexican who comes to California to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush and turns to crime after his wife is raped and his brother murdered by white men. This novel, which condemned American racism especially towards Mexicans, later inspired the Zorro stories.

Ridge went on to work as a newspaper editor and writer for the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Herald, among other publications. As an editor, he advocated assimilationist policies for American Indians as his father had, placing his trust in the federal government to protect their rights. At the same time, however, he was blind to the ways in which those rights were continually abused by the same government. Despite his novel's stance against racism, Ridge had owned slaves on his Arkansas property and felt that California Indians were inferior to those of other tribes. During the Civil War, Ridge openly supported the "Copperheads" and opposed both the election of Abraham Lincoln as well as the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, blaming the war on abolitionists.

After the war, Ridge was invited by the federal government to head the Southern Cherokee delegation in postwar treaty proceedings. Despite his best efforts, the Cherokee region was not admitted as a state to the Union. In December 1866, he returned to his home in Grass Valley, California where he died in October the following year.


  • The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (San Francisco: W.B. Cooke and Company, 1854) (San Francisco: Fred MacCrellish & Co., 3rd ed., 1871) (Hollister, California: Evening Free Lance, 1927) (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955) (University of Oklahoma Press, 1969)
  • Poems, by a Cherokee Indian, with an Account of the Assassination of His Father, John Ridge (San Francisco: H. Payot, 1868)
  • The Lives of Joaquin Murieta and Tiburcio Vasquez; the California Highwaymen (San Francisco: F. MacCrellish & Co., 1874)
  • California's Age of Terror: Murieta and Vasquez (Hollister, California: Evening Free Lance, 1927)
  • Crimes and Career of Tiburcio Vasquez, the Bandit of San Benito County and Notorious Early California Outlaw (Hollister, California: Evening Free Lance, 1927)

Further reading[]

  • Parins, James (1991). John Rollin Ridge: His Life and Works. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8780-1. 


External links[]

ca:John Rollin Ridge es:John Rollin Ridge