Henry Berry Lowry
HIST 234 Final Research Exhibit
Shalom Cherian & Kelsey Jackson
Due April 27, 2010
The young man slowly took a step forward to get a better view though the thick pines surrounding him. He barely breathed as he watched his father dig a trench in the black earth, just a few feet away from where he stood hidden by the trees of the swamp. The dull sound of metal hitting the earth was interrupted by a painful moan. The young man cringed as he saw his brother curled on the ground beside the trench, bleeding profusely, and in much pain. The father, trying to fight back tears, looked at his wounded son and then at the others, for they were not alone. The hidden man’s gaze followed his father’s and his hands clenched in anger as he saw about 30 armed men surrounding his tired father and wounded brother. These men had just shot his brother; these men were forcing his father to dig the trench. A command from one of the men, ordered the father to stop digging and step in front of the trench. The father, with little choice but to obey, silently followed command, knowing in full that the trench he just toiled over was about to be his grave. A couple more commands were shouted and then the deafening sound of many rifles shattered the quietness of the silent evening. The young man in the distance watched in horror, too shocked to even make a sound or move, as he witnessed the murder of his father and brother. Everything seemed to become blurry after that: the men putting his dead brother and father in the trench, covering it, and then leaving. The young man stepped out of the darkness, and walked toward the fresh grave. The swamp that had concealed him could not conceal the sorrow, rage, and anger that the young man felt. This young man was HENRY BERRY LOWRY, and the events he had witnessed on that day were going to mark the course of his life for many years to come and change the Lumbee and Tuscarora community forever. Little did Henry Berry Lowry know that his name would evoke fear and terror in the hearts of some people, while symbolizing hope to others. Little did Henry Berry Lowry know that his legend would be larger than his life, for the Lowry War is considered one of the most important and controversial events in North Carolina history.
——> We will be presenting a PowerPoint starting here.
I. The Life of Henry Berry Lowry:
1. Selected New York Times Articles (1870-1872):
Click here to see articles:New York Times Articles
The retelling and remembering of events of the Henry Berry Lowry era is quite different for those within the Robeson Indian community and those outside the community. As a personal example, most community members remember the chilling murders of Allen and William Lowry as the beginning of the Lowry era, but as an outsider I thought the Lowry era started when he killed the first two Home guards. This difference in the remembering of the story is possibly because of the difference in which events happening at that times were told/reported. Looking through the NY Times(NYT), it is interesting to see how the story/events of Henry Berry Lowry are told in a perspective so different from that of the Lumbee community. The most striking difference found was Henry’s racial classification. Henry Berry Lowry has always been an Indian in the Lumbee community, but around 1870, to the rest of the outside world he was a “negro.” The early 1870 NYT articles about Henry Berry Lowry all state that he and the whole gang was negro. This classification is very interesting given that actual document and oral histories show that a majority of his group was Indian with a few Blacks and Whites. Did the news articles just put the term negro out of lack of information, or because the majority outside world couldn’t think of history more complex than White or Black? Gary Nash in his article The Hidden History of Mestizo America, talks about how looking at events in a biracial system of black and white, has crippled the many stories and histories of cultural and racial diversity happening since long in America. In this case, the NYT article by claiming that Henry Berry and his band were negros, was ignoring the reality the Henry Berry Lowry belonged to a community who defined themselves as not White, not Black, but Indian.
For all articles saying that his band was Negro, there seemed to be a lot of misinformation floating around. In the May 16th, 1871 article, the NYT tries to dispel talk the Lowry band was a part of the Klux Klan. The NYT assures it readers that the KKK information was erroneous for, “Lowry, Applewhite and Strong…are all negros.” However, in a July 17th, 1871 article, the first attempt is taken by the NYT to acknowledge the racial diversity of the Lowry gang. The article says that the band is “motley crew of whites and blacks”, but as for Henry Berry Lowry, “his own color is hard to fix with certainty.”
Other than attempting to racially reclassify the Henry Berry Lowry Band, the 17th July, 1871 article/story titled “Robin Hood come Again” compares Henry Berry Lowry to Robin Hood, but in a very negative light. The author calls Henry Berry Lowry a “robber baron”, who preys on the “submissive vassals.” According to the author Henry Berry Lowry led a “free and jovial life”, returning each night with the spoils he collected from his neighbors. The authors ends on a perplexed note as to why no action is being taken in a local level against Lowry and his band , for the state of things in Robeson County was a “disgrace to any civilized society…”What the author fails to acknowledge is the series of events that led to the situation in Robeson county. He fails to recognize that the men in the Lowry gang were not single men, as in the story of Robin Hood and his men, but rather, most of the men in Lowry’s gang were married and had families to look after and protect, so leading a “free” life was not applicable to them. The author of the article also failed to understand the dynamics of the local political scene in Robeson County that has been very well elaborated in McKee Evans book, To Die Game
In spite of its flawed character analysis of Henry Berry Lowry,the above mentioned article hints at an important idea. The article touches upon how possibly the land may play a part in Henry berry Lowry evading the hunting parties that were out to get him. “From this secure fortress,” taking about the inaccessible swaps of Robeson County, the author of the article says that Henry Lowry is ready to attack. As we will see in the next section, the author grasped on an idea that was powerful, because if the geographical landscape influenced how the historical events played out, then the land is an important part of the Henry Berry Lowry story.
2. The Wishart Family Papers (4624) the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
Francis Marion Wishart was in charge of organizing the fight against the Lowry gang; he became the colonel of the Police Guard manhunt. These papers give us his perspective on his attempts to subdue and capture the bandit band. Did he sincerely believe he was doing the right thing? Did he now about the murder of Allen Lowry? Does his writings deviate from the Lumbee perspective(Nowhere Else on Earth by Josephine Humphreys) of how events played out during 1960-1965?
(above) The Wishart Brothers, with a dead member of the Lowry Gang, in foreground.
3. Riddle of the Lumbee Indians by Ben Dixon MacNeill, News and Observer, Raleigh, Sunday Edition, 1926.
This news article is one piece of a four part series on the Lumbees. This particular article focuses on Henry Berry Lowry, his gang and his mission and contains pictures with descendants of Henry. Though the article does not give much new information about Lowrys, the pictures are valuable. One picture shows the Lowry house, which according to some of the readings was one of the “bigger and better” houses in Scuffletown. Another photograph is that of the “surviving daughter of Henry Berry Lowrie,” but unfortunately the article does not mention her name. Photos of people and places related to the Lowry clan have been useful when piecing together the varying stories.
(above) According to the author, the daughter of HBL is pictured in the far left corner.
II. The Lowry Gang’s Incidents and Activities:
1. The New York Herald: Map of Scuffletown, 1872
This map, pinpointed with the trail of the Gang activities, is a guide to complete understanding of what happened where and how these historical events tied into the land itself over a century ago. It is interesting to note that this land was referred to as a “kingdom” and “island” on which on Henry Berry Lowry could navigate around.
The New York Times ran a story, called “Robin Hood Come Again,” on July 22, 1871: “Lowry is the name of this robber baron of the period, and his stronghold is an island at the centre of an almost inaccessible swamp in Robeson County, North Carolina. There he dwells in state with his retainers, a motley crew of whites and blacks, runaway slaves of the war time, deserted soldiers of both armies, and miscellaneous outlaws …. His own color it is hard to fix with certainty, as some accounts make him a negro, while others assert, with no less positiveness, that he is a white man … From this secure fortress he is wont to sally forth armed to the teeth and ravage the surrounding farms …Of course the authorities have heard of all this, and they sometimes make feeble efforts to check his career. But he never hesitated to give them battle, and so far with invariable success …. These events, we learn, have plunged Robeson County into a state of terror …. Such a state of things, however picturesque, is simply disgraceful to any civilized community…” – NYT, July 22, 1871
2. Present Day Locations in Robeson County:
–> These maps tied into Elizabeth Leland’s interview of Bruce Barton; Charlotte Observer, July 16, 2002
III. Remembering the Story / the Henry Berry Lowry Legend:
A. From the “Insiders”:
1. Paul Green Papers (3693), the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library
This collection contains documents that relate to the life and work of Paul Green, a famous author and playwright. In these collections, we found tremendous information about Randolph Umberger, the scriptwriter, for the outdoor play “Strike at the Wind.” The collection has folders that contain drafts, letters, news articles that were published during the collaboration process of this famous play that stars Henry Berry Lowry. Researching these folders, especially the draft of the script, helped us understand how the writer (a non-Lumbee) imagined Henry Berry Lowry, and his attempt to bring this outlaw to life.Working along side Randy, was Willie Lowery (lumbee), who composed the music for this outdoorplay. It will be wonderful to understand the inspiration and the worth that this play has for Mr. Lowery. Though the play does not run now, the prospect of revitalization of the play can be an intergal way to remember Henry Berry Lowry. The involvement of the Lumbee community in the future plans of “Strike at the Wind” is vital. When the play was first produced and scripted, the invlovment of the community was vital to its sucess. Lumbees from all over wanted to help in the process of developing the play. For example, Mary Louise McMillan from Arlington, Va, heard about the project Paul Green was working on and offer to send a copy of “The Fine Civilized Tribe of Eastern North Carolina” a book that her father had written on the Lumbee. Below is the letter of correspondence between Mrs. McMillan and Paul Green:
2. “Strike of the Wind,” although written by an “outsider,” but had a lot of community influences, was an attempt to preserve Henry Berry Lowry’s legacy. We were able to interview Willie Lowery, the music director/lyricist for the play, to hear his perspective about the importance of keeping Henry Berry Lowry’s legend in the Lumbee community today. He said, “Wanting to keep the memory alive, and have the play ran again. Really important for the kids to get ahold of their culture.”
B. From the “Outsiders”:
1. Eagle Clippings by Jack Thorne
Jack Thorne (also known as David Bryant Fulton), was an African –American author born in North Carolina. His articles and letters constantly appeared in Wilmington and New York newspapers. He mainly wrote on racial and social matters, and the happenings in Robeson County did not escape his notice. In 1907, his book “Eagle Clippings” contained an article on Henry Berry Lowry. He claims Henry Berry Lowry was “octoroon outlaw”(Thorne, 65). He compares him to Jesse James, an outlaw of the west. He points out the relationship between the free colored people (Indians), the Whites and the Blacks. Thorne also mentions Steve Lowry, Henry’s brother and the most blood thirsty of the gang; he continues with the Gang bank robberies. He describes how members of the gang were taken to various jails and prisons. From what we could conclude, Thorne gathered his information from the newspapers of that time and he definitely had significantly different ideas about how various members were captured, including a report of a Mexican bounty hunter.
Thorne’s essay is important because it represents how the majority of the country learnt about Henry Berry Lowry. Not being a journalist, Thorne’s views may have solely arrived from gathering information that was printed in the newspapers of that time. Long before historians and researches started writing about Henry Berry Lowry, Thorne understood the importance, impact, and appreciation of Henry Berry Lowry in North Carolina.
This is an archive of material relating to the Lowry gang that was auctioned off for thousands of dollars, proving that no matter what one thinks of Henry Berry Lowry and his Gang, his legend and story had a large impact on American society and history.
IV. Suggested Further Reading:
There are many resources that present the life of Henry Berry Lowry. Some are written from the Lumbee community, while others are written from an “outside” perspective. All provide interesting information that discuss the varying myths and legends of Henry Berry Lowry. We recommend the following:
1.Evans, W. Mckee. To Die Game: The Story of the Lowry Band, Indian Guerrillas of Reconstruction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press 1971
In this thorough historically researched book about Lumbee events, Evans draws upon vast amount of primary sources to reconstruct the events of the Henry Berry Lowry era.
2.Humphrey, Josephine Nowhere Else on Earth. Penguin Books 2000
This historical fiction tells of the coming of the civil war and the events that ensue in present day Robeson County, NC, from the perspective of Rhoda Strong Lowry, the wife of Henry Berry Lowry. The author manages to give a Lumbee perspective of the events that played out around 1860-1870’s.
3.The Lumbee Indians: An Annotated Bibliography <http://linux.library.appstate.edu/lumbee/>
An online resource for scholarly information on the Lumbee Indians, this site provides listings of articles, books, clippings, and primary sources relevant to the Lowry period.
4.Magdol, Edward. “Against the Gentry: An Inquiry into a southern Lower Class Community and Culture, 1895-1870.” Journal of Social History. Vol 6, No. 3 (Spring 1973)pp. 259-283. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3786541
Magdol explains the significance and genesis of the land/Scuffletown.
5. Lumbee Oral History Collection. The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. University of Florida Digital Collection< http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc/?c=oh4&s=ohlum>
This collection provides transcripts for series of interviews conducted in the Lumbee community from around the 1970’s. Topics discussed include land, kinship, religion, Henry Berry Lowry etc. The following interviews provided substantial information about Henry Berry Lowry: Mr. and Mrs. George Ransom (1969), Rev. D.F. Lowry (1969), John Godwin, Mabe Sampson (1969), Lloyd Lowry (1970).
Paul Green Papers (3693), the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
Lowry, Malinda Maynor. Undergraduate Thesis: “Violence and the Racial Boundary: Fact and Fiction in the Swamps of Robeson County, 1831-1871.” Written for Harvard College, March 1, 1995.
Leland, Elizabeth. “The land of a legend.” Charlotte Observer Sunday, 16 June 2002.
MacNeill, Ben Dixon “Riddle of the Lumbee Indians” News and Observer, Raleigh, Sunday Edition, 1926.
Map of Scuffletown, New York Herald, 1872http://lumbee.web.unc.edu/files/2010/02/img001.jpg
Thorne, Jack “Eagle Clippings” D.B Fulton, Brooklyn, NY 1907 <http://search.lib.unc.edu/search?R=UNCb2650869>
The Wishart Family Papers (4624) the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
*The Southern Historical Collection
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