By Paul Johns
But he didn’t forget his father’s murder and in 1849 he killed one of the murderers. He then fled to Springfield and after a short time joined with a group of young men headed to the gold fields of California.
John Rollin Ridge didn’t find gold, but he did find lasting fame in California. He worked as a newspaper editor and in 1854 he became the first Native American novelist when he published a popular fictional account of a California outlaw entitled “The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit.” He died in that state in 1867.
John Rollin Ridge, grandson of the Cherokee leader Major Ridge, wrote a dime novel about Murrieta; the fictional biography contributed to his legend, especially as it was translated into various European languages. A portion of Ridge's novel was reprinted in 1859 in the California Police Gazette. This story was picked up and subsequently translated into French.
Although biographical sources generally held that Murrieta was born in Chile or Mexico, a few reported that his mother's family were of mixed-Cherokee and Anglo-Protestant ancestry. Her family was said to have migrated to either Mexico or, questionably, Chile from the Southeastern United States and to have adopted European customs, such as private land ownership and a plantation system. (Note: The Cherokee were one of the Five Civilized Tribes in the Southeast United States and had adopted many European-American customs before the 1830s.) His mother was said to have married into the Murrieta family, which was connected to the colonial Spanish landed elite. Many scholars dispute the purported Murrieta-Cherokee ancestral connection.
Comment: I don't know if Ridge was really the first Native novelist. After all, Indians had participated in the Anglo-American culture since the mid-1600s. I would've guessed that someone preceded him.
The connections here are interesting. The Cherokee Ridge joined the Gold Rush, which caused the deaths of many California Natives. And he wrote about Murrieta, who may have had some Cherokee ancestry.
For more on the Ridge family, see Aftermath in Trail of Tears and Removal in Trail of Tears.