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Christopher Oakley’s article “When Carolina Indians went on a Warpath” recounts a 1958 civil rights event in Robeson County Indian history that many of our grandparents still boast and brag about today. Oakley describes the Indian intervention when the Klu Klux Klan lead by James “Catfish” Cole decided to hold a rally at Hayes Pond in Maxton, NC. Cole’s intent was to speak against the “mongrelization” or mixing of Indians and whites in Robeson County. He viewed these two groups as incompatible and argued that something must be done to address the problem. He believed Indians should know their place in society. He held rallies and proclaimed that Indian in Robeson County were a group mixed breeds, which in his mind constituted them as mongrels. Local newspapers publicized the rally but to little avail. On rally night, Klansmen were tremendously outnumbered by Lumbee and Tuscarora tribesmen. According to reports, Klansmen were outnumbered 10 to 1. Although many gunshots were fired, the Klansmen scattered into the swamps and luckily no one was hurt. “Catfish” Cole was humiliated and never returned to Robeson County. However, Indian men did help him after his defeat. In fact, they helped to pull his car out of the ditch.

After the battle, newspapers from across the nation published articles that announced the victory of Robeson County Indians over their racist counterparts. However, many newspapers got the story wrong. Some newspapers inaccurately reported who was actually involved, identifying the Cherokees as the victors and giving a nod to the historical figure Sequoyah. Other papers reported that the Indians warhooped, an action stereotypically associated with Western Indians. This language was used to create a particular mental picture in the reader’s mind, and that image was of a decidedly different Indian than the ones in Robeson County. Oakley’s title “When Carolina Indians went on a Warpath” ironically describes the journalistic problem; how could reporters describe the actions of Carolina Indians, when most people were unaware of the Indians in the state? Reporters resorted to stereotypes that the public could identify as generic “Indian”, like the stereotype of a warpath.

The actual event at Hayes Pond is a great example of real Indian identity in Robeson County. The community united to defeat a common threat, and they carried weapons to defend themselves. Nonetheless, they still assisted by helping to remove Cole’s car, because they were both being gracious and making sure that Cole left town. I would argue that these aspects are identifiably Indian and demonstrate Lumbee and Tuscarora values in Robeson County. However, journalists missed out on reporting these facets of the encounter. Maybe they thought the public would not recognize these Indian values, or maybe the reporters themselves did not consider these values to be “Indian”.

This article made me question how Indians in Robeson County saw their relationship with other Indians, specifically Western tribes. With regard to healing practices, did people feel pressure to adopt Western healing traditions to authenticate their Indian identity? Did they actually take on Western healing ways to prove their Indianness?

To investigate this issue, I would like to look at contemporary usage (which may be more intertribal or based on stereotypically, identifiably “Indian” practices) versus historical usage of sweetgrass and tobacco. There are 4 herbs (tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar) that are known throughout Indian Country as sacred or healing herbs. However, I do not believe sweetgrass grows anywhere in NC. When did NC Indians adopt sweetgrass? Where does it come from?

Another specific issue that comes to mind is traditional tobacco. Does tobacco have specific meanings within the Lumbee and Tuscarora communities given that our families and ancestors are deeply involved in the growing, tying and production of tobacco? Smoking cessation projects such as the one run by the Lumbee Tribe and the Healing Lodge reference traditional or medicinal tobacco versus commercialized tobacco cigarettes. To determine whether or not our people have always made this distinction and research if it is a NC specific or a pan-Indian practice, I could contact these programs. Some resources I could use include:

I notice that this site references mainstream resources to stop smoking. Do these programs rely on specifically Lumbee ideology to encourage “traditional” or “medicinal” use, or are mainstream American smoking cessation resources the foundation of these programs? Do they use a combination of the two?
This research project on sweetgrass and tobacco would need interviews to fully understand the picture. I could interview people in my grandparents’ generation who worked in the tobacco fields to understand their relationship with tobacco. For instance, my grandmother talks to crops to encourage them to grow. This may be one example of a traditional Indian practice that a New York Times reporter might overlook as “Indian”, even though Indians are generally the only ones who do this practice in Robeson County. I think that my interviews would produce even more specifically Indian practices that originate in Robeson County as well as some pan-Indian practices that people may have adopted. I’d be curious whether they adopted outside healing practices as a way of asserting a public Indian identity, whether they learned them from friends of other tribes, or what other ways they learned about non-Lumbee practices.

One Response to “Coty Brayboy Reflection #7”

  1. mmaynor

    Ive heard Calamus root helps people stop smoking.

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