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The Ridge/Watie Family and Cherokee History 
Updated 5/28/2009

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President Andrew Jackson told the Ridge family he wanted the Cherokees out of Georgia no matter what, even though the US Georgia Supreme Court said they could stay.

Cherokee Chief Major Ridge was a patriotic man. He did what he thought was best for the Cherokee people, therefore, he, son John Ridge, nephews Elias Boudinot (changed his name from "Buck" Watie) and Stand Watie (Major Ridge's brother was David Oo-Watie), and several other Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota, which traded Indian lands in Georgia for acreage in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The treaty was signed and dated December 29, 1835, in Elias Boudinot's home in New Echota, Georgia. Stand and John signed the 1835 treaty on 3/1/1836 in DC.  New Echota was the Cherokee capital between 1825-1839.

John Ridge wrote the Cherokee law that called for treason if an Indian sold his land. After signing the treaty, he said "I have signed my death warrant."

The Ridge/Watie Family and the treaty party moved west comfortably under the protection of the U.S. Government. The rest of the Cherokee people were expected to do the same.

The Cherokee people were upset because the treaty was not voted on by the majority. They also did not want to leave Georgia. Principal Chief John Ross stalled and asked the government for more money and provisions. Jackson did not like John Ross. Jackson called him a "villain," "greedy," and a "half-breed" who cared nothing for the moral or material interests of his people. `The treaty had a final removal date and that forced the rest of the Cherokees to leave. The treaty led to the infamous "Trail of Tears." Four thousand out of sixteen thousand died on the journey including Mrs. Ross.

After the Cherokees were relocated to Oklahoma, a band of Cherokees assassinated Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot on June 22, 1839. A man who saw Elias assassinated, rode Samuel Worcester's horse "Comet" to warn Stand Watie. Stand escaped on the horse.

For years, Cherokees were divided by those that followed the Ridge/Treaty party and those that followed Principle Chief John Ross. Many believed that John Ross had them assassinated but it was never proven. The assassins were never brought to trial. When John Ross heard of Major Ridge's fate, he said "Once I saved Ridge at Red Clay, and would have done so again had I known of the plot." The feud went on for years, even after Oklahoma became a state in 1907. John's own brother Andrew Ross signed the treaty but was not assassinated. In fact, the treaty was an idea of Andrew's. William Shorey Coody, a nephew of John Ross, was also affiliated with the treaty party.

President Jackson knew that the Cherokee would survive and endure. He was right. Today, there are three governmental bodies - Cherokee Nation West, Cherokee Nation East, and the Original Cherokee Community of Oklahoma.

The Civil War did as much damage to the Cherokees as did the "Trail of Tears." Eighty percent of the Cherokee people wanted to fight for the Confederates. John Ross was a northern sympathizer. Cherokees fought against each other.

Past historians have always had unkind words for the Ridge Family and treaty party. Historians are now saying that the treaty may have saved the Cherokee people from total destruction. If interested in learning more about the Cherokee Nation, read "Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People," by Thurman Wilkins, University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

Cherokee Chief Major Ridge (1771-1839) is buried at Polson Cemetery in OK, near Southwest City, Missouri. John Ridge (1802-1839), is buried next to him. Major Ridge's home in Rome, Georgia, is the Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home, a national Historic Landmark and a certified historic and interpretive site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.  His Indian name is KA-NUN-TLA-CLA-GEH, meaning "The Lion Who Walks on the Mountain Top." The white man shortened it to Ridge. General Andrew Jackson of the United States Army gave Ridge his name "Major" after Ridge led a force of Cherokees in the Battle of the Horseshoe against the Creeks. Cherokee Indians had previously used no surnames. Major Ridge's and John Ridge's portraits are in the Smithsonian archives.

Sequoyah is believed to be related to the Ridge/Watie Family but it has not been proven. He was illiterate but spent 12 years writing the Cherokee alphabet which consisted of 86 English and German letters. Cherokees learned the language in just a few weeks. Sequoyah was highly praised and the Cherokee language is the only language in the world that was written by one person. Sequoyah was also known as George Gist or Guess.

Elias Boudinot is Stand Watie's brother. He was born Kilakeena "Buck" Watie (1802-1839) and later changed his name. Elias was the first editor of the first Indian newspaper in the country, the "Cherokee Phoenix." The newspaper was a four page weekly paper written in English and Cherokee. With the help of missionary Samuel Worcester, he translated the New Testament and several hymns into Cherokee. "Amazing Grace" was sung so often on the "Trails of Tears" that it almost became the Cherokee national anthem.

Elias is buried close to Samuel Worcester in the Worcester Mission Cemetery at Park Hill, near Tahlequah, OK., the current capital of the Cherokee Nation. A historical marker is by his grave. When Samuel Worcester saw the slain body of Elias, he said "They have cut off my right hand!" Elias was hit in the head six or seven times with a tomahawk. Elias was assassinated near his grave.

Stand Watie was born Degataga Oo-Watie (12/12/1806-9/9/1871).  He was found innocent of killing James Foreman by reason of self-defense.  James boasted of having bushwhacked Major Ridge and wanted to kill Stand. His lawyer was George Washington Paschal. George was married to Major Ridge's daughter, Sarah Ridge. George wrote two books that brought him fame: A Digest of the Laws of Texas (1866) and The Constitution of the United States Defined and Carefully Annotated (1868).

Stand was the only Indian to become a general and also the last Confederate general to surrender an army. Stand's historical marker and grave are located in the Polson Cemetery. His gravestone is near the Ridge's.

Sarah Ridge's (1814-1891) historical marker and grave are located in Smith Point, TX. Her gravestone is in the McNeir Cemetery. As a child, Sarah became good friends with Major Ridge's friend, Sam Houston.

Major Ridge's father OGANOTOTA, died when Ridge was in his youth and Ridge was adopted.  Major Ridge married Susannah Wickett.

In Tahlequah, the play "Trail of Tears" is performed every Saturday night for several months during the year.

Several Cherokees did not make the journey to Oklahoma. Instead, they hid in the mountains of North Carolina. They didn't follow Major Ridge or John Ross. The play "Unto these Hills" is an account of their journey north and is performed in Cherokee (Qualla Boundary), North Carolina, several times a year. "Unto these hills" comes from Psalms 121, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made Heaven and Earth." (KJV) Cherokee is west of Asheville, NC.

 

 "The Ridge/Watie Family and Cherokee History" was written by Brian Paul Ridenour, along with various newspaper clippings, Ridge/Watie Family tree, and several books about the Cherokee people, Major Ridge, Stand Watie, Elias Boudinot, Forest McNeir, and John Rollin "Yellow Bird" Ridge (John Ridge's son).

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