Chieftains History

Since 1969, the Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home, through its passionate team of volunteers and staff members, has worked diligently to save the Major Ridge Home and interpret the complex story it represents. Major Ridge, the first known owner of this house, was a Cherokee leader who played a pivotal role in Native American and United States history of the 19th century. Chieftains now seeks to become a leading visitor destination through a rehabilitation of the Major Ridge home and farm that will immerse visitors in early 19th century Cherokee culture and the momentous events that led to the Trail of Tears, the 1830s expulsion of Cherokees from their ancestral homelands in the Southeast.

Major Ridge moved into this home and two-hundred acre farm along the banks of the Oostanaula River around 1819 and lived here with his family during the tumultuous years that preceded the removal of the Cherokees from their native lands. A former warrior, Major Ridge became a leading statesman who rose to prominence and wealth in the Cherokee Nation. His home, farm, and lifeways exemplify the rapid changes that shaped his nation’s experience as Cherokees faced increasingly hostile state and federal policies.

Ultimately, Major Ridge broke with the majority of Cherokees and reversed his longstanding resistance to removal. He argued that “a great storm” was coming and that the only way to save the Cherokee Nation was to get out of its path. In December of 1835, he joined his son John Ridge and nephew Elias Boudinot in leading a minority faction in signing the Treaty of New Echota ceding all remaining Cherokee Nation land in the Southeast to the U.S. Government. Although never sanctioned by the Principal Chief or National Council of the Cherokee Nation, the Treaty of New Echota was ratified by the United States Senate on May 17, 1836. When most Cherokees refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the treaty, U.S. forces came into their homeland and forced them westward on a devastating journey that has since become known as the Trail of Tears. As he is said to have predicted when he signed the treaty, Major Ridge and his son and nephew paid the ultimate sacrifice. The three were killed by other Cherokees on June 22, 1839, in fulfillment of Cherokee law prohibiting unauthorized land sales.

The story of Major Ridge and Cherokee resistance and capitulation to government deportation will be preserved and interpreted for visitors at Ridge’s historic home and farm. A visit to this historic site will be a journey through history that yields sorrow as well as beauty. By gaining perspective on the past we may hope to build a vision for the future.