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This Day in Georgia History

June 22, 1839

Three Assasinated for Treaty of New Echota

In the area of the Indian Territory allocated to the Cherokees in the northeastern corner of present-day Oklahoma, Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot were assassinated for their role in approving the Treaty of New Echota. Through decades of treaties, the original Cherokee Nation in the Southeast had continued to shrink in size through treaties ceding Cherokee lands to the U.S. But whites increasingly encroached upon Cherokee land, especially after gold was discovered in Dahlonega, then a part of Cherokee territory. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Nation (Worcester vs. Georgia), but President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the decision. Finally, Boudinot, Watie, and the Ridges became convinced that the Cherokees had no chance of maintaining their ancestral home in the Southeast. Though only representing a minority of the Cherokees, on Dec. 29, 1835, they signed the Treaty of New Echota giving up all claims to lands in the East in return for compensation and land west of the Mississippi River. Other Cherokees led by John Ross bitterly opposed the treaty and fought removal, but the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty. Three years later, the U.S. enforced Cherokee removal in what came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Cherokee leader Major Ridge, born around 1771 along the Hiwassee River in Tennessee, actively opposed white settlements on Indian land early in his life, even playing a role in executing an Indian chief who had ceded lands in exchange for his own private reservation. But he eventually was forced to accept the presence of whites, and even allied himself with Andrew Jackson in the Creek War in 1813-14 and against the Seminoles in 1818. Ridge was promoted to major for his military exploits and took the title as his first name. He settled in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia and became exceedingly wealthy, owning a large plantation and over thirty slaves, and sent his son John to New England to be educated in the white man’s world. Ridge and his son eventually came to believe that it was hopeless to oppose the seemingly inevitable advance of whites. In signing the Treaty of New Echota ceding all Cherokee lands in the East in exchange for new lands in the West, Ridge noted “I have signed my death warrant.” He was right. In 1837, he emigrated to the Indian Territory. Two years later, an execution squad shot and killed him as he was riding near White Rock Creek at a point one mile inside the Arkansas state line. Major Ridge’s son, John, was born in 1803 along Oothcaloga Creek in present-day Gordon County, Georgia. Educated in Connecticut, he became a Cherokee leader who initially opposed any cessation of Cherokee land to the United States. After serving in the Cherokee legislature and as an intermediary for the Creek Indians in Washington, John, along with his father, began to see the inevitability of white encroachment upon Indian lands. When the Supreme Court ruled in the Cherokees’ favor in 1832, Ridge warned his people that the decision meant little without the support of Pres. Andrew Jackson, of whom Ridge said “the chicken snake Genl. Jackson has time to crawl and hide in the luxuriant grass of his famous hypocrisy.” Ridge was correct in that Jackson refused to enforce the decision. Ridge moved to the Indian Territory in 1837, where an assassination party stabbed him to death on June 22, 1839. Elias Boudinot, born in 1804 along Oothcaloga Creek in present-day Gordon County, Georgia, was the son of Oo-watie, younger brother of Major Ridge, and cousin of John Ridge. Educated at a missionary school in Connecticut, Boudinot later became the first editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, at New Echota, capital of the Cherokee Nation. Boudinot encouraged adaptation to white civilization, urging his people to seek redress through the court system. In 1837, he emigrated west along with John Ridge. On June 22, 1839, he was brutally killed by knife and tomahawk in the third execution of the day. A fourth Cherokee to sign the Treaty of New Echota - Stand Watie - also was targeted for death, but having been warned he was able to escape the execution squads.