Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Story of Yellow Bird and Elizabeth Wilson Ridge by Cheryl Pierson


This love story starts many years before the lovers ever met. It begins with something that happened when John Rollin Ridge was an eleven-year-old boy, and witnessed his father’s bloody murder.

John Rollin Ridge, called Cheesquatalawny, or “Yellow Bird,” by his fellow Cherokee tribesmen, was the son of John Ridge, and the grandson of a prominent Cherokee leader, Major John Ridge. Major Ridge was one of the most powerful and wealthy members of the eastern Cherokee tribes in the early 1800s. By the time John Rollin Ridge was born in 1827, the State of Georgia had discovered gold on Cherokee lands and wanted them relocated. Cherokee leaders, at first, were opposed to signing treaties with the U.S. Government, refusing to go.



But the State of Georgia confiscated Cherokee lands in 1832, including the homes and thriving plantation owned by some members of the tribe, including another prominent family, the Waties. Major Ridge and his son John opposed the removal, but because of the inevitability of the outcome of the situation, they and some of the other leaders reversed their stance on negotiating with the federal government. Major Ridge, and John Ridge, along with Stand Watie and his brothers, formed the powerful Ridge-Watie-Boudinot faction of the Cherokee council, standing in favor of the Cherokee Removal. Their signing of the Treaty of New Echota sold Cherokee lands and facilitated the removal of the Cherokee people to Indian Territory—what is now Oklahoma—an act considered treasonous by many.

Another faction of Cherokees following John Ross refused to ratify the treaty signing. This segment was known as The Anti-Removal National Party. The word was out—traitors were to be executed.

Blood Law (also called blood revenge) is the practice in traditional customary Native American law where responsibility for seeing that homicide is punished falls on the clan of the victim. The responsibility for revenge fell to a close family member (usually the closest male relative). In contrast to the Western notion of justice, blood law was based on harmony and balance. It was believed that the soul/ghost of the victim would be forced to wander the earth, not allowed to go to the afterlife, unless harmony was restored. The death of the killer (or member of the killer's clan) restored the balance. (From Wikipedia)


Members of this Ross group targeted Stand Watie and his brother, Elias Boudinot, along with their uncle, Major Ridge for assassination. On the morning of June 2, 1839, John’s father, John Ridge, was dragged from his bed by some of the tribesmen of The Anti-Removal National Party and murdered as his wife and children, including young John, looked on. This event would color John’s life until the end.

Mrs. Ridge took her family to northwestern Arkansas. Young John’s thirst for vengeance was tempered only by a young woman he met and fell in love with, Elizabeth Wilson.

They first met when John was studying Latin and Greek with a local missionary. Elizabeth worked for the missionary. John wrote to his cousin, “There is a prettily shapely girl of about 16 or 17 years, who is very friendly and gives me a quantity of enjoyment in her company, whenever I get tired of dusty pages of legal technicalities.”

Elizabeth was part Native American, and John was half Cherokee. To her, he was the handsomest man she’d ever seen, and she believed him to be a talented writer—one of the most intelligent men in the country. John was not only entranced by Elizabeth’s beauty, but the sweet honesty and goodness of her character, and her brilliance. They married in May, 1847, and though they were happy, their love couldn’t overcome the bloody images that John tried to forget, the tragedy that consumed him.


(Elizabeth Wilson Ridge--John Rollin Ridge's wife)
As an adult, he often dreamt of the morning of his father’s murder, awakening from sleep screaming. Elizabeth was at his side, calming him. She promised to help him fulfill his desire for revenge any way she could.

“There is a deep seated principle of revenge in me which will never be satisfied, until it reaches its object,” he told her.

Eventually, they traveled to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) where they joined forces with other allies of the Ridge faction, all of them eager to track down and punish those responsible for the deaths of the Major Ridge, and members of Stand Watie’s family. In the end, thirty-two of the thirty-six men who had been responsible for the murders were found and killed.

John squared off against one of the four remaining assassins, Judge David Kell. When Kell advanced on John, John shot him, claiming it was done in self-defense. But John had no faith in getting a fair trial (Cherokee court) and he and Elizabeth ran to Missouri, settling in Springfield.

John became a freelance writer, selling articles to various newspapers to supplement his salary in the county clerk’s office. He and Elizabeth now had a baby girl, Alice.



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(Alice Bird, daughter of Elizabeth and John)
The Ridges lived an idyllic life. But John’s health failed him at the age of thirty-nine. He became afflicted with “softening of the brain,” a disease that took its toll quickly through the spring and summer of 1867.

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(John Rollin Ridge and his daughter, Alice)
John Rollin Ridge, Yellow Bird, died on October 5, 1867, leaving behind a collection of fine articles, sketches and poetry. In 1868, Elizabeth published an anthology of his poetry.

Elizabeth died in 1905 and was buried beside her husband in Grass Valley.
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The Maple tree on the right was planted by Elizabeth (Wilson) Ridge's - Rollin's wife. The tree was brought back from Gettysburg by Alice Bird in 1876. On 10/10/1976, a plaque was mounted on the tree for a dedication.

Inscription on tombstone:
John Rollin Ridge
California Poet, Author of "Mount Shasta"
And Other Poems,
Born March 19, 1827 In Cherokee Nation,
Near What Is Now Rome, Georgia,
Died in Grass Valley, October 5, 1867,
In Grateful Memory


I want to offer a copy of my book, FIRE EYES, today to one lucky commenter. Please leave your contact information along with your comment to be entered in the drawing.

You can find my works here:https://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson

OF HER I LOVE
I READ but a moment her beautiful eyes,
I glanced at the charm of her snowy-white hand
I caught but the glimpse of her cheek's blushing dyes
More sweet than the fruits of a tropical land;

I marked but an instant her coral-hued lips,
And the row of sweet pearls that glimmered between--
Those lips, like the roses the humming bird sips
On his bright wing of rainbows, when summer is green.

I timidly gazed on a bosom more white
Than the breast of the swan, more soft than its down--
To rest on whose pillows were greater delight
Than all else of rapture that heaven may own.

I gazed but a second on these, and on all
That make up the sum of her angel-like form,
And ere I could think I was bound in her thrall,
And peace fled my breast, as the birds flee a storm!
I am bound in love's pain, and may never be free,
Till the bond is dissolved in her own melting kiss:
Till her loveliness, like the embrace of a sea,
Enclasps me, and hides me in the depths of its bliss.

John Rollin Ridge

36 comments:

  1. It's always interesting, but often very difficult, to view historical events and the mindset of people involved. It was good of you to give such a detached picture and let us make up our own minds. For me, sad all round.

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  2. A wonderfully romantic love story, Cheryl, and a beautiful poem. This highlights once again the tragedy of our native Americans, doesn't it? Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Blogger ate my first comment, so here's try #2.

    As someone distantly related to the Georgia Cherokee, I am overwhelmed by the Trail of Tears and how they were treated.

    Young John was at such an impressionable age when he saw his father murdered. No wonder he had terrible nightmares. PTSD if ever there was a case of it.

    Given his anguish, its amazing his poems are so accessible and beautiful. I very much enjoyed the one you posted.

    Don't enter me in the drawing. I have Fire Eyes and highly recommend it!

    Great post.

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  4. No wonder we're such good friends, Cheryl, we have very similar interests when it comes to Oklahoma and the Five Tribes! Very good explanation of the (very sad) situation!

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  5. Hi Linda,

    I can't imagine being in the position of having to make a difficult decision such as whether to "sell out" and be viewed as a traitor to my people, or keep on fighting the whites in a losing battle. No matter why his father and grandfather came down on the side they did, the outcome for young John haunted him the rest of his life. Thanks so much for commenting Linda. You're right, it was sad all around, for sure.
    Cheryl

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  6. Hey Linda S.!

    I could hardly choose which poem I wanted to post. He wrote a LOT of good poetry. If you're interested, google poems of John Rollin Ridge and you can read more. There's one called something like The Harp With Broken Strings that just brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful
    Cheryl

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  7. Hi Maggie!

    I love your new picture! Gorgeous, girl!

    My dad's great grandmother was full blood Cherokee. When I was in elementary school, I began to truly identify with my Indian side as we learned about the Trail of Tears. The older you get, the more you learn, and it just seems like only now is The Trail of Tears being recognized to be the tragedy it truly was.

    Thanks so much for your kind words about Fire Eyes, Maggie! I'm glad you stopped by.

    Cheryl

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  8. Hey Troy!

    I got excited about this. Why? I found that one of the reference books I was using was WRONG! They were saying John Rollin Ridge was Major Ridge's SON, not his grandson. I checked and double checked and triple checked to be sure. This is a published book and it's incorrect in that respect. I knew more than the book!!! LOLLOL

    I'm so glad you stopped by today, my dear friend!
    Cheryl

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  9. Together it sounds like they made quite a life for themsleves. Dangerous and exciting too. I like that Elizabeth stuck by him. I've heard of blood law in a vague way but it's interesting to see it as a traditional Native American "law". Wonderful post.

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  10. Cheryl, this so lovely and so heartbreaking. I can't even imagine a little boy bearing the horrific memory of his father's murder like that. I'm glad they had an idyllic life for a little while.

    xoxo

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  11. Great post! I really enjoyed reading it.

    mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

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  12. Cheryl--I read your post this morning before I promoted it around. Usually I wait and read the post later to save time--but it was so engrossing I read the whole thing. The story is so touching and yet, so tragic. How much does it take to love a man to help and encourage him in his plan for revenge? I wonder how many women would go along with something like that. Most, I think, would object and balk. But she truly loved him that much.

    I read a novel years ago about the Cherokee as they were burned out and turned out of their Georgia plantations, about a Cherokee woman and I believe the man was not. But he stayed with her during the horrid trek, and even when they were penned up like animals at their destination. I just remember how miserable and sickening it was. And the woman shunned the man, trying to make him leave, because he could, but he wouldn't. Very dramatic.
    Thanks for the old photos, too. Oh, I love those.

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  13. Hi Na!

    Thanks so much for coming by today. I really loved this story, because it was hard for both of them, both being of mixed blood during those times and trying to make a life together, but they did it, and were happy for many years. And it seems Elizabeth's faith in him never gave out. I'm sure she must have missed him terribly once he passed away--she lived many years without him.
    Cheryl

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  14. Tanya,
    I was thankful, reading the research material, that by all accounts he worshipped Elizabeth and one of the reasons was that she was able to commiserate with him about what had happened; she truly understood, and she vowed to help him however she could. One way was to just be a steadfastly loyal as she was to him, through everything. She encouraged him throughout his life in every aspect.
    Cheryl

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  15. Thank you Martha! I've got you entered in the drawing!
    Cheryl

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  16. Celia, thank you so much, my dear friend. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post so much. I was scrambling to get it written because I spent so much time researching it, and then there was one more link and one more link...sigh...you know how it is. But you're right--their story was just one of those I couldn't turn away from and say "that's enough"--there's tons more info about him that I just didn't have room to include. I admire that Elizabeth left Alice with John's mother and set out to see to him all the way to California, and brought him through his illness. If she hadn't gone, he surely would have died. Then she trekked back all the way home to get Alice and then back again to California! That was a lot of traveling, but she was one determined woman. Yes, I agree--her love had to be strong to agree to help him in his plan for revenge, but she knew how it ate at him. Thanks for your comments, and thanks for the promotion you did. I've been out of pocket all day, helping get my sister over to the new nursing home and getting her room set up.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

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  17. Wow, Cheryl, what a tragic and beautiful love story and history. Every time I read about the Cherokee it twists my heart.

    But as Tanya said, I'm glad Elizabeth and Yellow Bird found a bit of happiness. She sounds like an amazing woman to support him through everything. And that poem of his was so beautiful!

    --Kirsten

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  18. Beautiful and sad post, Cheryl. My grandmother's mother was half Cherokee. Even on her grave in Tennessee it reads, Cherokee. My grandmother was born in Buzzard Cove, TN and the cabin still stands though it's been added on to. Three summers ago several cousins got together to drive to the small community to see where our grandmother was born. We were able to see the cemetery but it was overgrown and full of snakes and bull nettle. It's cleaned out once a year. We hope to go back someday and find our ancestors graves.

    On Facebook today we were talking about the Massacre at Wounded Knee. What a tragedy as was the Trail of Tears. I've always felt this country did a terrible disservice to the Native American Indians.

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  19. Such a tragic, beautiful love story! I have either Cherokee or Choctaw blood from my dad's side of the family. My gr. grandmother was a half-breed. She married her first cousin, bore him many children, then lost him possibly to TB or insanity. I so identify with her and all the Indian people who suffered at the hands of our white ancestors.

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  20. Kirsten,
    I just couldn't stop reading his poetry, and somewhere when I was researching I saw where some woman had posted that she had a book of his poems that was autographed by Elizabeth. Wouldn't that be a treasure? Several of the poems I read by John were just beautiful.
    Cheryl

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  22. Linda,
    My dad's great grandmother was full blood Cherokee, and my mom's was full blood Indian, but we're not sure what tribe--we think either Choctaw or Chickasaw. I need to hire someone to track these people back and come up with the proof we need -- But my gr gr grandfather was kidnapped from his Indian family and his name was changed. My gr gr grandmother who was Cherokee had an Anglo name as well--Sarah Mannery. Cheryl

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  23. Lyn,
    A lot of Indians died of TB. I have a good friend who, as a young girl, spent many years in first an orphanage, then in a TB hospital where they did all kinds of hideous experiments on the Indians to see if they were safe treatments to use on white people. UGH.
    Cheryl

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  24. I grew up with two girls who were half Cree. The youngest married a full Chief of the tribe and it was a beautiful ceremony. That is my only relationship to Indian knowledge and history. But your historical facts are always so fascinating.
    I love history and I always learn so much from your books and your research... As always "Thanks" for the history lessons.

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  25. It's terrible the power government assumes over people and the heartless and vicious ways that officials treated Native Americans.
    What a wonderful love story. So sad though that he died so young.
    Fire Eyes is a great romance and, as you know, I love the villain in it.

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  26. Kathleen, I appreciate your support and very kind comments. THANK YOU! I'm glad you enjoyed this post--I was just fascinated, once I began researching it. I always thought the wedding ceremonies were beautiful--I have a print my sister gave me of a Cherokee wedding. Thanks so much for coming by!
    Cheryl

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  27. Sarah,
    He must have been sickly his entire life--Elizabeth was the strong one, and she lived another 30+ years after he died. Thank you for the compliment on Fire Eyes--I am so glad to find a kindred spirit on these evil villains! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! LOL And yes, the government has such control, they can do anything--especially back then. That was truly a terrible time in our history.
    Cheryl

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  28. Cheryl, We live near Fayetteville where the Ridge Home is located. This story is close to our hearts. My grandfather and grandmother were both part Cherokee and our names are in the rolls in Both Cherokee, NC and Tahlequah, OK. I would love to read your book.
    The poem is lovely and in a way heartbreaking.

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  29. Velda, how I wish my grands had put their names in the rolls! But at the time there was such a stigma, many didn't do it. Now, trying to trace it back is one of the hardest things ever! Yes, that poem is just beautiful, isn't it? and there are so many, many more! Thanks so much for the compliment!
    Cheryl

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  30. How interesting of a love story, Cheryl. I've never heard of that revenge custom before. To me he really looked fierce in those photos. :)

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  31. Hi Paisley, I thought he looked fierce, too, but Elizabeth must have seen right through that and in the research it said she calmed him with her presence. I loved working on this post--it was interesting research, for sure!
    Cheryl

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  32. Oh I love this love story and the poem. Also really enjoy the post. Thanks for sharing with us today.

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  33. Thank you, Quilt Lady! It is a great love story, isn't it? Even though it had a sad ending with him dying so young, at least he and Elizabeth had a wonderful love story during their lifetimes!
    Cheryl

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  34. We had such a lovely turnout for comments I thought I better draw two names! So here they are:

    VELDA BROTHERTON

    MARTHA LAWSON

    Congratulations to my winners!!!! Velda, I need your contact info, and Martha, I will be in touch with you tomorrow! Thanks to everyone for stopping by over the last two days--glad you enjoyed the story of Yellow Bird and Elizabeth Ridge.
    Cheryl

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  35. Cheryl, I loved this post. I'm part Cherokee, but my family hid and resisted the removal. Thanks

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  36. Very cool, Caroline--that would make a good story!
    Cheryl

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