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Major Ridge

Major Ridge, whose Cherokee name meant "walking-the-mountain-tops," is best known as one of the men who signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota authorizing the removal of the Cherokee Indians. Once in Oklahoma, his political enemies assassinated him as a traitor who betrayed his people to the U.S. government.

Ridge, however, is not easily stereotyped. On one hand, he was a full-blooded Cherokee, careful of his people's sovereignty. In 1805 he executed chief Doublehead for accepting bribes to cede Cherokee territory. Nonetheless, Ridge was also highly acculturated. He was a wealthy slaveholder who lived in a frame house, married an Anglo woman, and educated his children in missionary schools. He served the Cherokee nation as a member of the Lighthorse Guard (the Cherokee police force), treaty commissioner, ambassador to the Creek Indians, and member, speaker, and cochief of the National Council.

Ridge advocated cooperation with the U.S. government. He urged the Cherokees not to join Tecumseh's resistance movement against the United States, and he fought with Andrew Jackson against the Creeks and Seminoles. Eventually, Ridge came to view resistance to removal as futile and relocation as in the Cherokees' best interests. Not surprisingly, the removal treaty also protected Ridge's interests, shielding his land from confiscation during the removal process and providing him a generous land grant in the West. Whether he acted from self-interest or nationalism, Ridge was a major figure in Cherokee politics and his death deprived the Cherokee of an experienced leader.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010