January 11, 2015

Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina


The Lumbee Tribe is the largest indian tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the ninth largest tribe in the nation that does not have Federal Recognition. They have been recognized by the State of North Carolina since 1885.

Official Tribal Name: Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina
Address:  6984 NC Hwy 711 West, PO Box 2709, Pembroke, NC 28372      
Phone:  910-521-7861
Fax: 910-521-7790
Email: tmaynor@lumbeetribe.com

Official Website: www.lumbeetribe.com

Recognition Status: State Recognized – a bill for Federal Recognition is before Congress as of January 7, 2015.

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

The Lumbee take their name from the Lumber River originally known as the Lumbee, which winds its way through Robeson County. The name “Lumbee” was chosen in a referendum conducted by community leader D.H. Lowrie.

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings:

Name in other languages:

Region: Northeast

State(s) Today: North Carolina

Traditional Territory: The ancestors of the Lumbee were first observed in 1724 on the Drowning Creek (Lumbee River) in present-day Robeson County.

Confederacy: (Theories of origins)

Lost Colony of Roanoke

In 1885, the Democratic politician Hamilton McMillan proposed a fanciful theory that the mixed race inhabitants of Robeson County were descendants of England’s “Lost Colony of Roanoke”, who intermarried with what he described as the “Croatan Indians.”  The Roanoke colony disappeared during a difficult winter, but the colonists reportedly left the word “Croatan” carved into a tree, hence the name McMillan gave the proto Lumbee.

McMillan’s theory was part of a Reconstruction era effort to woo the proto Lumbee to the Democratic Party by creating an “Indian” school system that would free these new “Croatan Indians” from sending their children to school with the children of the recently emancipated slaves.

No mainstream historian has endorsed the Lost Colony theory. Croatan was the name of an Indian village, not a tribe. There is no genetic, genealogical or archeological evidence linking the Lumbee to the Lost Colony. Genetic testing shows a largely African origin of the Lumbee, and there were no slaves among the Roanoke colonists. As for the English surnames of the Lumbee, none match the surnames of the Roanoke colonists.

By the early 1900s, “Cro” had become a racial epithet, used by Robeson County whites with a knowing sneer to describe their “Indian” neighbors. The Lumbee themselves abandoned the Lost Colony theory of origins in 1911, dropping “Croatan” from their tribal name, calling themselves the generic “Indians of Robeson County.”

Cherokee descent

The proto Lumbee first began identifying as Cherokee Indians in 1915, when they changed their name to the “Cherokee Indians of Robeson County.” Four years earlier, they had changed their name from the “Croatan Indians” to the generic “Indians of Robeson County.”

In his unpublished 1934 master’s thesis, graduate student Clifton Oxendine theorized that the Lumbee descended from Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee. Citing “oral traditions,” Oxendine suggested that the Lumbee were the descendants of Cherokee warriors who fought with the British under Colonel John Barnwell of South Carolina in the Tuscarora campaign of 1711-13. He said the Cherokee settled in the swamps of Robeson County when the campaign ended, along with their Tuscarora captives.

The Oxendine theory of Cherokee origin has been uniformly rejected by mainstream scholars. First, no Cherokee warriors are listed in the record of Barnwell’s company. Second, the Lumbee do not speak Cherokee or any other Indian language. Third, Oxendine’s claims of oral traditions are completely unsubstantiated; no such oral traditions survive or are documented by any other scholar. The Lumbee have abandoned this theory in their documentation supporting their effort to obtain federal tribal recognition. The federally recognized Cherokee Nation categorically rejects any connection to the Lumbee, dismissing the Oxendine claims as “absurd” and disputing that the Lumbee qualify as Native American.

In 1934, calling themselves the “Cherokee Indians of Robeson County,” the proto Lumbee joined the National Congress of Indians. They were subsequently expelled at the insistence of the recognized Cherokee tribes.

The Lumbee have largely abandoned claims to Cherokee descent.

Cheraw descent

Shortly after abandoning the Croatan label and changing their name to the generic Indians of Robeson County, the proto Lumbee seized on the speculations of Indian agent McPherson that they may be related to the defunct Cheraw, a band of Siouan speaking Indians that had been reduced by war and disease to 50 or 60 individuals by 1768.

The 1915 McPherson Report said in reference to the Cheraw (quoting the Handbook of American Indians, 1906):

“Their numbers in 1715, according to Rivers, was 510, but this estimate probably included the Keyauwee. Being still subject to attack by the Iroquois, they finally—between 1726 and 1739—became incorporated with the Catawba…. They are mentioned as with the Catawba but speaking their own distinct dialect as late as 1743 (Adair). The last notice of them in 1768, when their remnant, reduced by war and disease to 50 or 60, were still living with the Catawba.”

The Catawba are a federally recognized tribe. The McPherson Report does not explain how or when the remaining four or five dozen Cheraw identified in 1768 separated from the Catawba and became the ancestors of the Lumbee. No mainstream historians have endorsed the McPherson report, and the Catawba dispute the claims of the Lumbee to Indian origin. The Lumbee themselves have abandoned the claim to Cheraw descent, not even identifying the Cheraw as one of the “seven tribes” from which they claimed descent when they created the Lumbee identity in the 1950s.

Siouan descent

After repeated rejections under the Croatan, Cherokee and Cheraw labels, the proto Lumbee petitioned the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1924 for recognition as “Siouan” Indians. This petition was rejected largely on the grounds that Siouan was a language, not a tribe. Moreover, there was no record of the Lumbee or their ancestors having ever spoken the Siouan or any other Indian language. In fact, immediately before and after the Siouan petition, the proto Lumbee claimed descent from Iroquian speaking Cherokee Indians. It is unclear whether the proto Lumbee did not realize that there was no such thing as a Siouian tribe or whether they were perhaps trying to fashion an Indian sounding heritage that would not be immediately disputed by actual Siouan speaking tribes.

Keyauwee descent

In 1933, John Swanton wrote that the Siouan-speaking Keyauwee and Cheraw of the Carolina Piedmont were the most likely Indian ancestors of the people known from 1885 to 1912 as Croatan Indians and later as the Indians of Robeson County. He suggested that surviving descendants of the Waccamaw and the Woccon likely lived in the central coastal region of North Carolina. In the 21st century, these tribes are extinct as groups, except for a small band of Waccamaw that live on Lake Waccamaw and have been recognized by the state.

Swanton traced the migration of Southeast tribes. In addition to the Keyauwee, Cheraw, Bear River, Waccamaw, and Woccon already mentioned, he noted that the Eno and Waxhaw migrated from Piedmont, South Carolina northeast to the north-central part of North Carolina, then back south again to a point on the Pee Dee River just south of the border of the two Carolinas.

According to Blu, by the 1770s remnant Indians, from the once distinct tribal communities of the Cheraw, Keyauwee, Hatteras, Waxhaw, Sugaree, Eno, and Shakori, gathered along the Lumbee River, near the border that now divides North and South Carolina. Some of these Indians moved further southward to join with the few surviving Catawba, but the majority settled near the pines, web of wetlands, and river that bear the name of the Lumbee. Over time in a process of ethnogenesis, they identified as a people.

Tuscarora descent

Several “Indian” families of Robeson County have oral traditions first recorded in the 1870s that they are descended from the Tuscarora, an Iroquoian-speaking tribe that migrated from the Great Lakes area and established themselves in present day North Carolina near the Roanoke and Neuse Rivers prior to the period of European colonization. The proto Lumbee never made application under the Tuscora label, as those Robeson County Indians claiming Tuscora descent dispute the Indian origins of their so-called Lumbee neighbors.

The Robeson County Tuscora have likewise failed to find acceptance. In the 1920s, they made contact with the Mohawk Nation, and when rebuffed, organized the Tuscarora Indians of North Carolina.

The actual Tuscarora were defeated by British colonists and their Indian allies in the Tuscarora War of 1713, and those who survived migrated north to New York. By 1722, they had been accepted by the Iroquois League as its sixth nation. Tuscarora tribal leaders in New York declared that the migration was “complete” by 1802 and that any Tuscarora stragglers remaining in North Carolina were separate and not under the “same council fire.”

Robeson County residents claiming descent from the Tuscarora dispute the Indian origin of the Lumbee and criticize the Lumbee for attempting to hijack their Tuscarora identity. The Tuscarora claimants believe their attempt to achieve recognition have been hurt by the Lumbees and their wildly fluctuating theories of Indian origin.

Descent from “seven different Indian tribes”

In 1955, when petitioning the United States Congress for recognition as “Lumbee Indians,” Robeson County community leader D.H. Lowrie testified that the Lumbee were descended from “an admixture of seven different tribes, including the Cherokee, Tuscarora, Hatteras, Pamli and Croatan.”



Land Area:
Tribal Headquarters:
Time Zone:

First European Contact:

Population at Contact:

Registered Population Today: Around 55,000

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Name of Governing Body: Tribal Council
Number of Council members: 21 members elected from 14 Districts
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers: Chairman (Tribal Chair), Tribal Administrator,

Elections: Elections are held for 4 year terms.

Language Classification: Linguists believed they spoke the Carolina Algonquian language, also known as Lumbee.

Language Dialects:

Number of fluent Speakers:



Beginning in the middle Archaic period between 6,000–8,000 years ago, relatively unusual artifacts such as an Eva-like basal-notched projectile points began to appear. The presence of stone and, later, ceramic artifacts suggests cultural exchange from elsewhere, which continued through the archaeological record.

Artifacts more commonly found in Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia, on the outer Coastal Plain as well as in the Piedmont and the mountains, have been found alongside local artifacts more typical of prehistoric Indians in Robeson County. This suggests that the region has for thousands of years been a zone of cultural interaction.

The earliest document showing Indian communities in the area of the Lumber River is a map prepared by John Herbert, the commissioner of Indian trade for the Wineau Factory on the Black River, in 1725. Herbert identifies the four Siouan-speaking communities as the Saraws, Pee dee, Scavanos, and Wacomas. Modern-day Lumbee claim connection to these settlements, but none was located in present-day Robeson County.

The ancestors of modern-day Lumbee had not yet occupied Robeson County when the area was first surveyed by the English in the 1750s. A colonial surveying party reported in 1754 that “No Indians” lived in Bladen County, which at that time included present-day Robeson County. The adjacent Anson County, whose indefinite borders stretched west to Cherokee territory, was identified as a “a frontier to the Indians”.

Ancestors of the Lumbee, identifiable by surname, were first found in Robeson County in the 1770s. A 1772 proclamation by North Carolina Governor Arthur Hobbs, derived from a report by his agent, Col. Rutherford, head of a Bladen County militia, listed the names of inhabitants who took part in a “Mob Railously Assembled together,” apparently defying the efforts of colonial officials to collect taxes.

The proclamation declared the “Above list of Rogus [sic] is all living upon the Kings Land without title.” Later a colonial military survey described, “50 families a mixt crew, a lawless People possess the Lands without Patent or paying quit Rents.” The families have been identified by surname as direct and founding ancestors of numerous modern-day Lumbee. They were classified at the time as “mullatos,” a term for mixed race, generally African and European.

Land patents and deeds filed with the colonial administrations of Virginia, North and South Carolina during this period show that individuals now claimed as Lumbee ancestors migrated from southern parts of Virginia and northern parts of North Carolina. In the first federal census of 1790, the ancestors of the Lumbee were enumerated as Free Persons of Color, who were generally of mixed race. In 1800 and 1810, they were counted in “all other free persons”.

During Reconstruction, when these “mullato” families first asserted an Indian heritage, attempts were made to revise history to place the Lumbee ancestors in Robeson County several decades earlier. Hamilton McMillan wrote in 1885 that Lumbee ancestor James Lowrie received sizable land grants early in the century and by 1738 possessed combined estates of more than two thousand acres (8 km²).

Dial and Eliades claimed that another Lumbee ancestor, John Brooks, established title to over one thousand acres (4 km²) in 1735, and Robert Lowrie gained possession of almost 700 acres (2.8 km²). These claims, however, were false, as a state archivist noted that no land grants were issued during these years in North Carolina. The first land grants to documented individuals claimed as Lumbee ancestors did not take place until more than a decade later, in the 1750s. None of the various petitions for federal recognition has relied on the McMillan, Dial or Eliades claims.

Land records show that beginning in the second half of the 18th century, persons since identified as ancestral Lumbee took titles to land described in relation to Drowning Creek (Lumber River) and prominent swamps such as Ashpole, Long, and Back swamps. According to James Campisi, the anthropologist hired by the Lumbee tribe, this area “is located in the heart of the so-called old field of the Cheraw documented in land records between 1737 and 1739.”

The location of the Cheraw Old Fields is documented in the Lumbee petition for recognition based on Siouan descent, prepared by Lumbee River Legal Services in the 1980s. But, other researchers point out that the Cheraw fields were actually in South Carolina, not in North Carolina. In 1771, a convicted felon by the name of Winsler Driggers was captured “near Drowning Creek, in the Charraw settlement” was hanged under the Negro Act. This mention, along with no evidence that a new settlement was established or the old settlement was abandoned, does not confirm that the settlement on Drowning Creek in 1754 was a Cheraw settlement.

Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, many migrants from Virginia entered the frontier area. In the 1790-1810 censuses, descendants of these families were classified as both white (European American) and free people of color, which included people of African and Native American descent, as well as African and European. The settlers held few slaves.

Late 20th-century researchers have traced 80 percent of the free people of color in North Carolina listed in those two decades of censuses to African Americans free in Virginia in colonial times. Based on court records, land deeds, indentures and other material, Paul Heinegg found that the mixed-race families were descended mostly from white women (which is what gave them free status so early) and men who were African or African American in unions of the colonial years.

In addition, some African male slaves had been freed in Virginia as early as the mid-17th century. Together with free white women, they founded free families of several generations before migrating to other areas. In the early years of the southern colonies, working-class whites and Africans lived and worked closely together, marrying and forming unions. Many free people of color migrated to frontier areas to gain relief from the racial strictures of the coastal plantation areas.

Pension records for veterans of the American Revolutionary War in Robeson County listed men with surnames later associated with Lumbee families, such as Samuel Bell, Jacob Locklear, John Brooks, Berry Hunt, Thomas Jacobs, Thomas Cummings, and Michael Revels. In 1790, ancestral Lumbee such as Barnes, Bell, Braveboy (Brayboy), Brooks, Bullard, Chavers (Chavis), Cumbo, Hammonds, Hunt, Jacobs, Lockileer (Locklear), Lowrie (Lowry/Lowery), Oxendine, Revils (Revels), Strickland, and Wilkins were listed as inhabitants of the Fayetteville District; they were enumerated as “Free Persons of Color” in the first federal census.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes: See Above.

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies:


One form of self-governance in the early 20th century was exhibited by a fraternal organization known as the Red Men’s Lodge. By 1914, lodges existed in Prospect, Magnolia, Pembroke, Saddletree, Oxendine, and Union Chapel. Lodge members maintained social order, carried out ceremonies, marched in parades, and conducted funerals.

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Lumbee Homecoming is a celebration held annually since 1970. Homecoming is important in bringing together members of families, many from great distances, for a weeklong celebration of Lumbee culture. Festivities include a parade, a powwow, pageants, and other cultural events.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:

Lumbee patchwork is a traditional Lumbee craft. Drawing on the abundant flora around them, they adapted the end of the Long Leaf Pine cone into a design for their blankets, rugs, and clothing.






Economy Today:   A variety of enterprises including an industrial park, farming, small businesses and the University contribute to the economy.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs

Education and Media:

In 1887, the state established the Croatan Normal Indian School, which is today the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Tribal College: University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Lumbee Chiefs & Famous People:

Chris Chavis – A professional wrestler. 

Kenwin Cummings – NFL player (linebacker); attended Wingate University.

Ashton Locklear – Gymnast and 2014 world champion with the United States team.

Kelvin Sampson – Athletic collegiate and professional coach, assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team of the National Basketball Association.

Malinda Maynor Lowery – Filmmaker and historian. Documentary, In the Light of Reverence, a film featuring three tribal nations, the Hopi, the Winnemem Wintu, and the Lakota Sioux, and their struggles to protect three sacred sites: Devil’s Tower National Monument, the Four Corners in Arizona, and Mount Shasta. Author of the 2010 book, Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South , a comprehensive account of Lumbee political and social life under the segregation regime in North Carolina and broader region.

Dr. Joseph B Oxendine PhD – Chancellor of University of North Carolina at Pembroke 1989-1999, interim president of Catawba College 2011, professional baseball player (Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League), author of American Indian Sports Heritage and Psychology of Motor Learning.

Clint Lowery – Lead guitarist and backing vocalist of the rock band, Sevendust and Dark New Day

Jana (Sampson), two time Grammy-nominated singer. She has won 10 Nammy Awards.

James Lowery – Detroit rapper better known as Anybody Killa.

Brantley Blue – First Indian appointed to the Indian Claims Commission, later became the Commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission.

Dean Chavers, Ph.D. – Director of Catching the Dream, formerly called the Native American Scholarship Fund.

Ben Chavis, Ph.D. – Author and advocate of high-quality urban education. Founder of Oakland’s American Indian Public Charter School. Dr. Chavis’ school won several major academic awards in public education from the California Department of Education and United States Department of Education during his leadership.

Earl Cranston Lowry – U.S. Chief Surgeon of the European Theatre of war at the end of World War II; President Blue Shield for the State of Iowa from 1950–60; highly decorated.

Julian Pierce – Lawyer. In 1988, Pierce ran for a newly created Superior Court Judgeship in Robeson County but was shot and killed at home. Ballot counts gave the victory to Pierce. He would have been the first Native American to hold the position of Superior Court Judge in the state.

Helen Maynor Scheirbeck – Appointed by Congress to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Board of Directors, and continues to serve as NMAI’s Assistant Director of Public Programs.

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

Following the Nat Turner Slave Rebellion of 1831, the state legislature passed amendments to its original 1776 constitution, abolishing suffrage for free people of color. This was one of a series of laws passed from 1826 to the 1850s which the historian John Hope Franklin characterized as the “Free Negro Code,” erecting restrictions on that class. Free people of color were stripped of various political and civil rights which they had enjoyed for almost two generations.

They could no longer vote or serve on juries, bear arms without a license from the state, or serve in the state militia. As these were obligations traditionally associated with citizenship, they were made second-class citizens.

In 1853, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s restrictions on free people of color’s bearing arms without a license. Noel Locklear, in State v. Locklear, was convicted for the illegal possession of firearms. In 1857, William Chavers from Robeson County was arrested and charged as a free person of color for carrying a shotgun without a license. Chavers, like Locklear, was convicted.

Civil War Era

A yellow fever epidemic in 1862-63 killed many slaves working on the construction of Fort Fisher near Wilmington, North Carolina, then considered to be the “Gibraltar of the South.” As the state’s slave owners resisted sending more slaves to Fort Fisher, the Confederate Home Guard intensified efforts to conscript able-bodied nonwhites as laborers. Documentation of conscription among the free people of color in Robeson County is difficult to locate.

Some Lumbee ancestors aided the Confederacy and served mostly as slave laborers. Others are documented as drawing Confederate pensions for their service. Larger numbers sought to avoid coerced labor by hiding in the swamps. During that period, some men from Robeson County operated as guerrillas for the Union Army, sabotaging the efforts of the Confederacy and robbing local whites.

The Lowrie War

Early in the Civil War, North Carolina turned to forced labor to construct her defenses. Several Lowrie cousins, excluded from military service because they were free men of color (also called free blacks), had been conscripted as laborers to help build Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, North Carolina. Henry Berry Lowrie and several of his relatives took to the swamps where free blacks resorted to “lying out” to avoid being rounded up by the Home Guard and forced to work as slave laborers.

The Lowrie gang, as it became known, resorted to crime, committing robberies and murders against white Robeson County residents and skirmishing with the Confederate Home Guard, growing bolder as the war turned against the Confederates. In December 1864, the Lowrie gang murdered James P. Barnes after Barnes accused Henry’s father, Allen Lowrie, of stealing hogs. Next, the gang killed James Brantley Harris, a Confederate conscription officer who had allegedly taken liberties with Lowrie women who had been left behind by the swamp dwelling men.

The Confederates struck back, searching Allen Lowrie’s home in March 1865, finding firearms which he was forbidden to possess as a free black. The Home Guard convened a summary court, convicted Allen Lowrie and his son William, and executed them. Henry Lowrie reportedly was watching from the bushes.

Even after the Civil War, the Lowrie gang continued to commit robberies and murders. The attempts to capture the gang members became known as the Lowry War. The Lowrie gang consisted of Henry Lowrie, his brothers Stephen and Thomas, two cousins (Calvin and Henderson Oxendine), two of his brothers-in-law, two escaped slaves who had joined the Lowries, a white man of unknown identity but probably a Confederate deserter, and two other men of unknown relation and identity. On December 7, 1865, he married Rhoda Strong. Arrested at his wedding, Lowrie escaped from jail by filing his way through the jail’s bars.

Lowrie’s gang continued its actions into Reconstruction. Republican governor William Woods Holden outlawed Lowrie and his men in 1869, and offered a $12,000 reward for their capture: dead or alive. Lowrie responded with more revenge killings. Eluding capture, the Lowrie gang persisted after Reconstruction ended and conservative Democrats took control of North Carolina government, imposing white supremacy.

As most of its crimes were directed against whites, the Lowrie gang gained the sympathy of free blacks who refused to cooperate with efforts to stop them. It was in the pursuit of the Lowrie gang that the mythology of Indian heritage first developed among the free blacks of Robeson County. To escape the jurisdiction of the Freedman’s Bureau, the Lowries maintained that they were not free blacks but Tuscara Indians.

In February 1872, shortly after a raid in which he robbed the local sheriff’s safe of more than $28,000, Henry Berry Lowrie disappeared. It is claimed he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his double barrel shotgun. As with many folk heroes, the death of Lowrie was disputed, and he was reportedly seen at a funeral several years later. Without his leadership, however, all but two members of the Lowrie gang were subsequently hunted down, either captured or killed.

Racial tension during Reconstruction

In 1868, the North Carolina legislature elected during Reconstruction passed a new state constitution which established a public education system for the first time in North Carolina. In an effort to re-establish white supremacy, the following year the state legislature required segregated schools to be established for whites and blacks. The new school system did not distinguish between blacks who had been free before the Civil War and those who had been freed from slavery only after the Civil War. In the binary view of Reconstruction era society, all those of African descent were lumped together. Free blacks, many of whom had been free since the colonial period and some of which had owned black slaves themselves, objected to having to send their children to school with the children of former slaves.

State recognition as Indians, not free blacks

Following Reconstruction in the 1880s, Democratic state representative Hamilton MacMillan came up with an idea to thwart the success of the biracial Populist movement in the 1880s which combined the strength of poor whites and blacks. MacMillan proposed that the historically free blacks of Robeson County were not black at all but rather Indians. He proposed a state law calling them “Croatan Indians” and creating a system of Croatan Indian schools. McMillan’s success in gaining an Indian classification for these free blacks gave them a social status above other blacks. The newly minted Croatan Indians gratefully voted for MacMillan and his fellow Democrats and were authorized to have Indian schools in Robeson County. By the end of the 19th century, the “Indians of Robeson County” (as they then identified) established schools in eleven of their principal settlements.

Ku Klux Klan conflict

During the 1950s, the Lumbee made nationwide news when they came into conflict with the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist organization headed by Klan Grand Dragon James W. “Catfish” Cole. Cole began a campaign of harassment against the Lumbee, claiming they were “mongrels and half-breeds” whose “race mixing” threatened to upset the established order of segregated Jim Crow South.After giving a series of speeches denouncing the “loose morals” of Lumbee women, Cole burned a cross in the front yard of a Lumbee woman in St. Pauls, North Carolina, as a “warning” against “race mixing.” Emboldened, Cole called for a Klan rally on January 18, 1958, near the town of Maxton. The Lumbee, led by recent veterans of the Second World War, decided to disrupt the rally.

The “Battle of Hayes Pond”, also known as “the Klan Rout”, made national news. Although Cole had predicted over 5,000 Klansmen would show up for the rally, less than 100 and possibly as few as three dozen attended. Approximately 500 Lumbee, armed with guns and sticks, gathered in a nearby swamp, and when they realized they possessed an overwhelming numerical advantage, attacked the Klansmen. The Lumbee encircled the Klansmen, opening gunfire and wounding four Klansmen in the first volley, none seriously. The remaining Klansmen panicked and fled. Cole was found in the swamps, arrested and tried for inciting a riot. The Lumbee celebrated the victory by burning Klan regalia and dancing around the open flames.

The Battle of Hayes Pond, which marked the end of Klan activity in Robeson County, is celebrated as a Lumbee holiday.

Early efforts to gain federal recognition

The people achieved state recognition as “Croatan Indians” in the 1880s. In 1911, at the request of the tribe, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation changing their name to “Indians of Robeson County.” In 1913, over the objections of the existing federally recognized Cherokee Nation tribes in Oklahoma, which were federally recognized, the North Carolina legislators added “Cherokee” to the name of the Robeson County tribe. The tribe petitioned for federal recognition as “Cherokee” Indians, but it was denied. From 1913 to 1932, North Carolina legislators introduced bills in Congress to change the name of the people to Cherokee and gain federal recognition, but did not succeed.

In the early 20th century, North Carolina requested federal assistance for information related to the status of Indians in the state. The Southeast tribes had been subject to Indian Removal in the 1830s, and had reservations in Oklahoma. Those Indians remaining in the state were considered state and federal citizens; there were no Indian reservations in the state. The legislature was chiefly reviewing issues related to the state’s treatment of the Cherokee living in the state.

In 1915, the report of Special Indian Agent O.M. McPherson of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was sent to the North Carolina legislature. He primarily reported on the Cherokee in the state. He noted that the Indians of Robeson County had developed an extensive system of schools and a political organization. He thought that, as state-recognized Indians, they were eligible to attend federal Indian schools. But, as they were highly assimilated, spoke English, and already worked in the common state culture, he doubted that the federal Indian schools could meet their needs. Congress did not provide any additional funding to support education for Indians in North Carolina.

In 1924, the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina petitioned for federal recognition as “Siouan Indians;” their request was rejected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Congressional committees continued to refuse to have the federal government assume educational responsibility for the Indians of Robeson County, as they were state citizens and part of that public responsibility.

Federally commissioned reports

In the last century, numerous federally commissioned studies related to the Lumbee were conducted by anthropologists, ethnologists, and historians. They reflect changing concepts of what constituted Indian identity. In 1912, legislation was introduced to the US Senate to establish a school for the Indians of Robeson County. When the bill was sent to committee, it requested information from the Department of the Interior. The Indian Office sent Charles F. Pierce, the Supervisor of Indian Schools, to Robeson County to conduct a study of the tribe. Pierce reported that the state and county were providing funds to educate the 1,976 school-age Indian children. He also stated in his report that “…one would readily class a large majority [of the Lumbee] as being at least three-fourths Indian”.

On April 28, 1914, the Senate called for an investigation into the status and conditions of the Indians of Robeson and adjoining counties. The Indian Office sent Special Indian Agent O.M. McPherson to the county to obtain information regarding the educational system of the tribe. In his report, submitted to the Senate on January 4, 1915, he wrote:

“While these Indians are essentially an agricultural people, I believe them to be as capable of learning the mechanical trades as the average white youth. The foregoing facts suggest the character of the educational institution that should be established for them, in case Congress sees fit to make the necessary appropriation, namely the establishment of an agricultural and mechanical school, in which domestic science shall also be taught.”

John Reed Swanton, a noted anthropologist-historian, reported on possible origins of the Indians of Robeson County in his work on Southeast Indians. He wrote:

“The evidence available thus seems to indicate that the Indians of Robeson County who have been called Croatan and Cherokee are descended mainly from certain Siouan tribes of which the most prominent were the Cheraw and Keyauwee, but they probably included as well remnants of the Eno, and Shakori, and very likely some of the coastal groups such as the Waccamaw and Cape Fears. It is not improbable that a few families or small groups of Algonquian or Iroquoian may have cast their lot with this body of people, but contributions from such sources are relatively insignificant. Although there is some reason to think that the Keyauwee tribe actually contributed more blood to the Robeson County Indians than any other, the name is not widely known, whereas that of the Cheraw has been familiar to historians, geographers and ethnologists in one form or another since the time of De Soto and has a firm position in the cartography of the region. The Cheraws, too, seem to have taken a leading part in opposing the colonists during and immediately after the Yamasee uprising. Therefore, if the name of any tribe is to be used in connection with this body of six or eight thousand people, that of the Cheraw would, in my opinion, be most appropriate.”

In 1935, Indian Agent Fred Baker was sent to Robeson County in response to a proposed resettlement project for the Lumbee. At the time, it was attempting to organize as a tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which largely applied to Indians on reservations. Baker reported:

“…I find that the sense of racial solidarity is growing stronger and that the members of this tribe are cooperating more and more with each other with the object in view of promoting the mutual benefit of all the members. It is clear to my mind that sooner of later government action will have to be taken in the name of justice and humanity to aid them.”

D’Arcy McNickle, from the United States Office of Indian Affairs, came to Robeson County in 1936 to collect affidavits and other data from Lumbee people registering as Indian under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. McNickle stated, “…there are reasons for believing that until comparatively recently some remnant of language still persisted among these people.”

In the 1960s, Smithsonian ethnologists Dr. William Sturtevant and Dr. Samuel Stanley described the Lumbee as “…larger than any other Indian group in the United States except the Navajo”, and estimated their population as 31,380 Lumbee (from North and South Carolina) in 1960.

Indian New Deal

The federal Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 was chiefly directed at Native American tribes on reservations. It encouraged them to re-establish self-government, which had been diminished since the founding of reservations and the supervision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

At this time, the Indians of Robeson County renewed their petition for federal recognition as a tribe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) sent John R. Swanton, an anthropologist from the Bureau of American Ethnology, and the Indian Agent Fred Baker to evaluate the claim of the Indians of Robeson County to historical continuity as an identified Indian community. In 1934, the future Lumbee revived their claim to Cherokee identity, joining the National Congress of American Indians under the name, “Cherokee Indians of Robeson County.

Swanton speculated that the group were of Cheraw and other eastern Siouan tribal descent, as these were the predominant Native American peoples historically in that area. At this point, the Indians of Robeson County split on their identification as Native Americans: one group supported the Cheraw theory of ancestry. The other faction believed they were descended from the Cherokee, although the tribe had historically occupied territory in the mountains and western part of the state rather than the area of Robeson County. North Carolina’s politicians abandoned support for the federal recognition effort until the tribal factions agreed.

In 1952, under the leadership of D.F. Lowrie, the tribe voted to adopt the name “Lumbee.” The North Carolina legislature recognized the name change in 1953. The tribe petitioned for federal recognition.

Lumbee Act

The Lumbee Act, also known as H.R. 4656 (Pub.L. 84–570, 70 Stat. 254), passed by Congress in late May 1956 as a concession to political lobbying and signed by President Dwight David Eisenhower, designated the Lumbee as an Indian people. It withheld recognition as a “Tribe”, as agreed to by the Lumbee leaders. The Lumbee Act designated the Indians of Robeson, Hoke, Scotland, and Cumberland counties as the “Lumbee Indians of North Carolina. “as requested by the Lumbee HR 4656 stipulated that “[n]othing in this Act shall make such Indians eligible for any services performed by the United States for Indians because of their status as Indians.” It also forbids a Government relationship with the Lumbees and forbids them from applying through the BARS, B.I.A. process for recognition. This restriction as to eligibility for services was a condition which tribal representatives agreed to at the time in order to achieve the name for their group. The Lumbee have never been a sovereign nation or had a treaty with the federal government. They lived the same as any other colonial and U.S. citizens as individuals. Lumbee spokesmen repeatedly testified that they were not seeking financial services; they said they only wanted a name designation as Lumbee people.

Petitioning for full federal recognition

In 1987, the Lumbees petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior for full federal recognition. This is a prerequisite to receive the financial benefits accorded federally recognized Native American tribes. These were generally associated with tribes who had reservations established for them and a history of a tribal relationship with the federal government. The petition was denied because of the Lumbee Act.

The Lumbee resumed lobbying Congress, testifying in 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1993 in efforts to gain full federal recognition by congressional action. All of these attempts failed in the face of opposition by the Department of Interior, the recognized Cherokee tribes, including North Carolina’s Eastern Band of the Cherokee; some of the North Carolina Congressional delegation, and some representatives from other states with federally recognized tribes. Some of the North Carolina delegation separately recommended an amendment to the 1956 Act that would enable the Lumbee to apply to the Department of Interior under the regular administrative process for recognition. In 2004 and 2006The tribe made renewed bids for full recognition, to include financial benefits.

In 2007 US Senator Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina introduced the Lumbee Recognition Act. It was not acted on. On January 6, 2009, US Representative Mike McIntyre introduced legislation (H.R. 31) to grant the Lumbee full federal recognition. The bill has since garnered the support of over 180 co-sponsors, including that of both North Carolina Senators (Richard Burr and Kay Hagan). On June 3, 2009, the US House of Representatives voted 240 to 179 for federal recognition for the Lumbee tribe, acknowledging that they are descendants of the historic Cheraw tribe. The bill went to the US Senate. On October 22, 2009, the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved a bill for federal recognition of the Lumbee. The bill includes a no-gaming clause, which adjourned for 2010 without taking action.

The Lumbee Recognition Act was introduced into Congress on January 7, 2015. If passed, the bill would provide full federal recognition to the Lumbee Tribe.

In the News:

Further Reading:

The Only Land I Know: A History of the Lumbee Indians (The Iroqouis and Their Neighbors)

The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian People

The Lumbee (Indians of North America)

Herbal Remedies of the Lumbee Indians

Legends of The Lumbee (and some that will be)  

State Tribes K-M
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