- Major Ridge
This portrait of Major Ridge was painted by Charles Bird King in 1834.
Born 1771, exact date unknown
Great Hiwassee, present-day Tennessee
Died June 22, 1839 (aged 67 or 68)
White Rock Creek, AR
Cause of death Assassination Nationality American Ethnicity American Indian Citizenship United States Occupation Cherokee Leader Spouse Sehoyah (Susannah Catherine Wickett)
Children John Ridge
Major Ridge, The Ridge (and sometimes Pathkiller II) (c. 1771 – June 22, 1839) (also known as Nunnehidihi, and later Ganundalegi) was a Cherokee Indian member of the tribal council, a lawmaker, and a leader. He was a veteran of the Chickamauga Wars, the Creek War, and the First Seminole War.
Along with Charles R. Hicks and James Vann, Ridge was part of the "Cherokee triumvirate," a group of younger chiefs in the early nineteenth century Cherokee Nation who supported changes in how the people dealt with the United States. He became a wealthy plantation owner, slave owner and ferryman.
Ridge signed the controversial Treaty of New Echota of 1835, supported by the minority Treaty Party. It required the remaining Cherokee inhabiting tribal lands in the southeastern United States to cede the lands to the US and relocate to the Indian Territory. Opponents protested to the US government and negotiated a new treaty the following year. After Indian Removal to what is now Oklahoma, in 1839 Major Ridge was assassinated by tribal members under Cherokee Blood Law for alienating the land, as a majority had opposed removal.
Ridge was born into the Deer clan in the Cherokee town of Great Hiwassee, along the Hiwassee River (an area later part of Tennessee). His father was named Tatsi (sometimes written Dutsi). Tatsi may have at one time been called Aganstata, but this was a common name among the Cherokee, as was the practice of changing one's name, which Tatsi's son did. Ridge's maternal grandfather was a Highland Scot immigrant; thus, Ridge was 3/4 Cherokee by ancestry, and one of the many Cherokee of his time with partial European (especially Scottish) heritage.
From his early years, Ridge was taught patience and self-denial, and to endure fatigue. On reaching the proper age, he was initiated as a warrior. Until the end of the Chickamauga wars, he was known as Nunnehidihi, meaning "He Who Slays The Enemy In His Path" or Pathkiller (not the same as the chief). For most of his later life, he was named Ganundalegi (other spellings include Ca-Nun-Tah-Cla-Kee, Ca-Nun-Ta-Cla-Gee, and Ka-Nun-Tah-Kla-Gee), meaning "The Man Who Walks On The Mountain Top."
Besides small raids and other actions during the wars, Nunnehidihi took part in the attack on Gillespie's Station and in Watts' raids (from their encampment on the Flint River) in the winter of 1788–1789; the attack on Buchanan's Station in 1792; the campaign against the settlements of Upper East Tennessee in 1793 (that resulted in the massacre and destruction of Cavett's Station); and the so-called "Battle of Hightower" at Etowah. (Before the 1793 campaigns, he had taken part in a horse-stealing raid against the Holston River settlements that had left two men dead.) The subsequent pursuit of his band by the frontiersmen ended at Coyatee (near the mouth of the Little Tennessee River). Several leading Cherokee were killed and others wounded, including Hanging Maw, the chief headman of the Overhill Towns.
When Nunnehidihi was 21, he was chosen a member of the Cherokee council. He proved a valuable counsellor, and at the second session proposed many useful laws. After the Chickamauga war, he changed his name to Ganundalegi, which the English version simplified as "The Ridge".
In 1807, Chief Doublehead was bribed by white speculators to cede some Cherokee land. The National Council of the Cherokee Nation determined this to be a capital crime, and directed Ridge, James Vann, and Alexander Sanders to execute Doublehead. (Vann became too drunk to participate. The other two men used guns, knives, and a tomahawk to dispatch the old chief in a schoolmaster's house at the Hiwassee Garrison in Tennessee on August 9, 1807).
Ridge acquired the title "Major" in 1814, during his service leading the Cherokee alongside General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend during the Creek War against the Red Sticks. He also joined Jackson in the First Seminole War in 1818, leading Cherokee against the Seminole Indians.
After the war, Ridge became a wealthy planter and slave owner of African Americans. Major Ridge married Sehoyah (Susannah Catherine Wickett), daughter of Ar-tah-ku-ni-sti-sky ("Wickett") and Kate Parris, about 1800. He built and was the first owner of the house now used as the Chieftains Museum at the Cherokee town of Head of Coosa (present-day Rome, Georgia). Major Ridge also owned a profitable ferry and, in partnership with a white man named George Lavender, a trading post.
Ridge had long opposed U.S. government proposals for the Cherokee to sell their lands and remove to the West. But, Georgia efforts to abolish the Cherokee government and the rapidly expanding European-American settlements caused him to change his mind. Advised by his son John Ridge, Major Ridge came to believe the best way to preserve the Cherokee Nation was to get good terms for their lands from the U.S. government before it was too late. On December 29, 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 land in what is now Oklahoma and annuities. The treaty was rejected by the party of Chief John Ross and a majority of the Cherokee National Council. The US Senate ratified the treaty.
Ridge, his family, and many other Cherokee emigrated to the West in March of 1837. The treaty had been signed in December 1835 and was amended and ratified in March 1836. The terms of the treaty were strictly enforced. The Cherokee (along with their slaves) who remained on tribal lands in the East were forcibly rounded up by the U.S. government after 1838. Those remnants were the last people to make the journey popularly known as the "Trail of Tears".
In the West, the Ross faction blamed Ridge and the other signers of the Treaty of New Echota for the crime of alienating communal land and for the hardships of removal. In June 1839, Cherokees of the Ross faction assassinated Major Ridge, his son John, and nephew Elias Boudinot, to remove them as political rivals and to intimidate the political establishment of the Old Settlers, which the Ridge faction had joined. The Old Settlers were Cherokee who had gone to the West before removal, about 1818.
Among Ridge's killers was Bird Doublehead, whose father Chief Doublehead had been slain by Major Ridge. Another killer was Bird's half-brother, James Foreman. In 1842 Stand Watie killed Foreman. Watie was Ridge's nephew and a brother of Elias Boudinot, who had also been assassinated by Foreman for signing the Treaty of Echota. In 1839 he had been targeted for assassination but escaped. During the Civil War, he served as Principal Chief of pro-Confederate Cherokees after Ross and the Union-supporters withdrew to another location. He also served as a Confederate general and was the last to surrender to Union troops.
Ridge and his son are buried, along with Stand Watie, in Polson Cemetery in Delaware County, Oklahoma.
- Arbuckle, Gen Matthew: "Intelligence report and correspondence concerning unrest in Cherokee Nation," Congressional Serial Set 365, 26th Congress, House Document 129 .
- Brown, John P, Old Frontiers: The Story of the Cherokee Indians from Earliest Times to the Date of Their Removal to the West, 1838. Southern Publishers, Kingsport, Tn, 1938 (Arno Press Reprint Edition, New York, 1971).
- Dale, Edwards Everett. Cherokee Cavaliers; Forty Years of Cherokee History as Told in the Correspondences of the Ridge-Watie-Boudinot Family. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1939.
- Ehle, John. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. New York: Doubleday, 1988. ISBN 0-385-23953-X.
- Wilkins, Thurman. Cherokee Tragedy. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1970).
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