American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Major Ridge

Title: Major Ridge
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Major Ridge (ca. 1771–1839) was one of several Cherokees who opposed John Ross and his supporters during the years leading to their removal from their homelands in the late 1820s and 1830s. As a leader of the Treaty Party, Ridge favored cooperation with the administration of Andrew Jackson, which forced the Cherokees' removal to Indian Territory, later called Oklahoma.

Nunna Hidihi (also Nungo Hattarhee, "Man on the Mountaintop Who Sees Clearly" or "The Ridge") was born at Hiwassee in the Old Cherokee Nation (present-day Tennessee) about 1771. He was the son of a Cherokee man named Ogonstota and Susannah Catherine, a Scot-Cherokee woman of the Deer Clan. Shortly after his birth, Ridge's family moved to what would become northern Georgia. Having little formal education, Ridge gained most of his academic skills from his parents and neighbors. He was the uncle of Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie.

As a young man, Ridge's considerable oratorical skills facilitated his election to the Cherokee Council when he was only twenty-one. He became speaker of the Cherokee Council within a few years after that. Ridge also became a prosperous farmer and in 1792 married Princess Schoya (Susie Wickett), a full-blooded Cherokee. They had a son, John Ridge, who is sometime confused with his father.

The elder Ridge received the title "major" during the Creek War of 1813–1814 while serving under General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. He also joined Jackson's forces during the First Seminole War in 1818, leading a Cherokee contingent against the Seminoles.

Early in the 1830s, Major Ridge, his son John, and Elias Boudinot became leaders in the proremoval Treaty Party. On December 22, 1835, Ridge was one of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota, which exchanged the Cherokee tribal land east of the Mississippi River for lands to the west. Like a number of other leaders (Indian and white), Ridge believed that the policy of removal was the best way to preserve the Cherokees in the face of rapidly expanding white encroachment. The treaty was of dubious legality, however, and was rejected by Chief John Ross and a majority of the Cherokee people. Despite its flaws, the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty.

After Major Ridge signed the Treaty of New Echota, he was reputed to have said it was his death warrant. Four years later, following the Trail of Tears, Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Boudinot were dragged from their homes and stabbed several times by a group of executioners, many of whose children and relatives had suffered fatalities during the Trail of Tears during the winter of 1838–1839. Many Cherokees believed that the treaty and Major Ridge were responsible for their losses.

Ridge's nephew Stand Watie, the future Confederate general in the Civil War, also had been targeted for assassination but escaped.

Bruce E. Johansen


Further Reading
Ehle, John. 1988. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. New York: Doubleday.
 

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