The Lumbee are a Native American tribe recognized by the state of North Carolina and the US Government. The name "Lumbee" is derived from the word lumber or Lumber River, which winds through Robeson County, North Carolina. The river was named for the extensive lumber trade in the region in the early 19th century. Purnell Swett is the Lumbee tribal chairman. In 1885, the Lumbee were recognized by the State of North Carolina as Croatan Indians. They unsuccessfully sought federal recognition thereafter. In 1952, after a request from tribal members, the Robeson County Commissioners conducted a tribal referendum on the tribal name. Tribal members voted for adoption of the name "Lumbee Indians of North Carolina". The Lumbee claim to be descendants of the Cheraw and related Siouan-speaking tribes originally inhabiting part of the coastal regions of the state of North Carolina. However, some members disagree and claim to be descendants of the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora tribe who originally inhabited northeastern North Carolina. In 1956, the United States Congress passed H.R. 4656, known as the Lumbee Act, which recognized the Lumbee as Native Americans. In consultation with the tribe as a condition of recognition, Congress at the same time excluded the Lumbee from receiving the federal services ordinarily provided to federally recognized tribes through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the only tribe in this circumstance, the Lumbee have since then sought full federal recognition through congressional legislation. Federal recognition through congressional legislation is supported by some federally recognized tribe and opposed by others, including the Tuscarora Nation of New York, most recently in 2007. For instance, the Cherokee Nation [of Oklahoma] has outwardly supported the Lumbee tribe's efforts for federal recognition through Congress with many past and current principal chiefs making public statements to the fact. Including, the recently deceased Wilma Mankiller who was principal chief from 1985-1995. Ironically, unlike their brothers and sisters to the West, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians [of North Carolina] have consistently opposed Lumbee efforts for federal recognition
The Lumbee are a Native American tribe recognized by the state of North Carolina and the US Government. The name "Lumbee" is derived from the word lumber or Lumber River, which winds through Robeson County, North Carolina. The river was named for the extensive lumber trade in the region in the early 19th century. Purnell Swett is the Lumbee tribal chairman.
In 1885, the Lumbee were recognized by the State of North Carolina as Croatan Indians. They unsuccessfully sought federal recognition thereafter. In 1952, after a request from tribal members, the Robeson County Commissioners conducted a tribal referendum on the tribal name. Tribal members voted for adoption of the name "Lumbee Indians of North Carolina". The Lumbee claim to be descendants of the Cheraw and related Siouan-speaking tribes originally inhabiting part of the coastal regions of the state of North Carolina. However, some members disagree and claim to be descendants of the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora tribe who originally inhabited northeastern North Carolina.
In 1956, the United States Congress passed H.R. 4656, known as the Lumbee Act, which recognized the Lumbee as Native Americans. In consultation with the tribe as a condition of recognition, Congress at the same time excluded the Lumbee from receiving the federal services ordinarily provided to federally recognized tribes through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the only tribe in this circumstance, the Lumbee have since then sought full federal recognition through congressional legislation. Federal recognition through congressional legislation is supported by some federally recognized tribe and opposed by others, including the Tuscarora Nation of New York, most recently in 2007.
For instance, the Cherokee Nation [of Oklahoma] has outwardly supported the Lumbee tribe's efforts for federal recognition through Congress with many past and current principal chiefs making public statements to the fact. Including, the recently deceased Wilma Mankiller who was principal chief from 1985-1995. Ironically, unlike their brothers and sisters to the West, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians [of North Carolina] have consistently opposed Lumbee efforts for federal recognition
History of the Lumbee
The area of North Carolina today called home by the Lumbee is Robeson County. Until 1787 it was part of Bladen County. When North Carolina Governor Matthew Rowan dispatched surveying parties in 1753 to count Indians in the state, the report stated there were "no Indians in the county."
Colonial tax records from 1768 to 1770 identified Thomas Britt as the only Indian in Bladen County. Britt is not a surname traditionally associated with Lumbee families. Inhabitants of Bladen County with surnames that have been traditionally associated with Lumbee families were classified as "Mullato" in the tax records.
A colonial proclamation in 1773 listed the names of Robeson County 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], which included many names of those since defined as traditionally Lumbee families, "is all Free Negors [sic, Negroes] and Mullatus living upon the Kings Land." A colonial military survey described, "50 families a mixt crew a lawless People possess the Lands without Patent or paying quit Rents." 
In the first federal census of 1790, the ancestors of the Lumbee were among those enumerated as "free persons of color", a category used to describe all free non-whites (including mixed-race European-Africans, Indians, and mixed-race European-Indians). Basically, anybody who was a not pure white was counted as a free person of color. In subsequent censuses, they were counted in "all other free persons" or "Mulatto." In the 1870 census, the first in which "Indian" was a separate category, almost all Robeson County residents with surnames since associated as Lumbee were classified as "Mulatto." Many states choose to subject Indians to such state census policies because it was beneficial to have more people for Congressional representation and it was less a headache to deal with a sovereign nation withn your borders whom you couldn't count or tax. It's similar to why southern states wanted to count their slaves as persons for census records to get an edge over northern states. The only difference is that in this instance, both the north and south realized the potential to count their Indians as "other" or "colored" allowing them to "massage" their numbers and get more representation and often more federal money.
Alarmed by the Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831, North Carolina and other southern states enacted a series of laws known as the Free Negro Code, which curtailed the rights of "free citizens of color". In 1835, North Carolina adopted a new constitution abolishing their right to vote, which had been granted by the 1776 constitution. During the debate, Judge Gaston of Craven County stated the majority of free persons of color in North Carolina in the colonial period were the descendants of white women who had unions with black men and were "therefore (because of the race of the mother) entitled to all the rights of free men." The legislature rejected his argument and revoked the right to vote of free people of color, regardless of their maternal ancestry, birth status, property holdings, or literacy (the franchise had sometimes depended on the latter two requirements.)
In 1840, thirty-six white Robeson County residents signed a petition complaining that Robeson County had been "cursed" by the presence of what they described as being a "free colored" population that migrated originally from the districts near the Roanoke and Neuse rivers.
The first recorded reference to any members of the population as Indian dates from 1867, shortly after the American Civil War. During a multiple murder investigation by a Lieutenant Birney of the Freedman's Bureau, two suspects wrote a letter that referred to the Lowry gang: "They are said to be descended from the Tuscarora Indians. They have always claimed to be Indian & disdained the idea that they are in any way connected with the African race." The Freedman's Bureau had jurisdiction over the newly emancipated slaves, not free Indians.. So a report that denied and restricted their own power or authority over the Lumbee is given much respect and viewed in high regard.
In 1872 George Alfred Townsend published The Swamp Outlaws, about the Lowrie Gang. Townsend described Henry Berry Lowrie, the leader of the gang, as being of mixed Tuscarora and white blood and then went on to say of Pop Oxendine, "Like the rest, he had the Tuscarora Indian blood in him...If I should describe the man by the words nearest my idea I should call him an Indian gypsy."
In 1885, Hamilton McMillan proposed the theory that the Lumbee were the descendants of England's "Lost Colony", who intermarried with the Hatteras (Croatan), an Algonquian people. The Roanoke colony disappeared during a difficult winter, reportedly leaving behind the word Croatoan carved into a tree. When other Englishmen found it there, they recognized "Croatoan" as the homeland of some friendly Indians. They thought the Roanoke colony went to the Croatan people for help, but weather prevented the English from seeking survivors. After that, English historians never mention the colony again. The consensus is that the colonists died of starvation.
Although McMillan officially proposed Croatan as the official designation for the Indian people, he noted, "They say that their traditions say that the people we call the Croatan Indians (though they do not recognize that name as that of a tribe, but only a village, and that they were Tuscaroras), were always friendly to the whites."
The state legislature accepted McMillan's proposal, identifying traditionally free people of color in Robeson County as Indian in 1885, after Reconstruction, at a time when the Democrats were seeking to regain political power. They had lost to an interracial Populist-Republican coalition in the previous election. Democrats supported the Robeson County people's request to have a separate school for their children. As traditionally free people, they did not want their children going to school with the children of freedmen. McMillan suggested they be classified as Croatan Indians. Prior to 1885, Lumbee ancestors were usually described in surviving records as colored, free colored, other free, mullato, mustie, mustees, malungeon, or mixed blood.
Skeptics of McMillan's claim about the Croatan Indians of Robeson County, argue that the Democratic politician was motivated by a desire to gain the votes of the free people of color, who had been voting for Republican candidates. After the Civil War, free people of color were enfranchised again by the Fifteenth Amendment, which protected suffrage for all male citizens, regardless of race. It was passed chiefly to provide suffrage to the millions of new citizens who were freedmen, or emancipated slaves. McMillan's success in gaining Indian classification for the traditionally free people of color in Robeson County gave them distinct social status separate from the freedmen and their descendants. It enabled them to have a school separate from that for the children of emancipated slaves.
Lewis Barton, a local historian who published a book on the Lumbee in 1967, contends records of the disappearance of the English colony are not inconsistent with accounts in the 1730s of Native-European mixed-bloods in Robeson County. Similarly, Lawson reported of Hatteras Indians: "These tell us that several of their ancestors were white people, and could talk in a book, as we do; the truth of which is confirmed by Grey eyes being found frequently amongst these Indians, and no others." Barton explained the apparent inconsistency of colonists' having moved 50 miles (80 km) "into the main" about 1587-88, and the Hatteras Indians seen by Lawson, by saying there was travel between the coast and the Robeson County site, 100 miles (160 km) from the coast. Barton said very old members of the tribe told him that, before the age of automobiles, there was annual horse-and-wagon traffic to the coast each fall to catch fish and gather salt. This practice is greatly diminished today, but it is still usual for members to make a week's camping stay on the coast, catching and preserving fish.
No historic record has been found of such a mixed Indian-European group except for Lawson's History of 1709 and McMillan's 1885 reference to early settlers' finding English-speaking Indians in later Robeson County. McMillan claimed the first settlers found Indians there, holding lands in common, but tilling the soil, speaking English, and practicing "many of the arts of civilization." This assertion has not been supported by other historians.
The Lost Colony legend suggested that the entire Lumbee population grew out of intermarriage between survivors of the 121 stranded colonists and the Hatteras (Croatan) Indians.
A more recent legend holds that the Lumbee descend from Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee, some of whom fought with the British against the Tuscarora in the war of 1711-13 under Colonel John Barnwell of South Carolina. The Cherokee stayed in the swamps of Robeson County when the campaign ended. Barnwell's record of troops showed no Cherokees in his company. Later research also cast doubt on whether he marched through so-called Lumbee country on his way to the campaign.
Oxendine and others hold to the oral tradition among some Lumbee that their forefathers participated in the Tuscarora campaign with Colonel Barnwell, and had some origin in the Cherokee. Although there were no Cherokee in the Barnwell campaign of early 1712, there were Cherokee in the force led by Colonel James Moore of South Carolina the following year.
Swanton (1933) believed that the Keyauwees and Cheraw of the Carolina Piedmont were most likely the primary ancestors of the people known from 1885 to 1912 as Croatan Indians. He also believed that there were likely remnant descendants from the Waccamaw of the lower Cape Fear region near Wilmington, the Woccon of the central coastal region of North Carolina and the Bear River, all probably of Siouan linguistic stock, In the 21st century, these tribes are all extinct, except for a small band of Waccamaw who live on the shores of Lake Waccamaw in the heart of their old country.
Swanton traced the migration of tribes in the East. In addition to the Keyauwee, Cheraw, Bear River, Waccamaw, and Woccon already mentioned, 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. Swanton states that all of them, with exception to the Keyauwee, were mentioned as travelling west to join the Catawba; Swanton argued that the Keyauwee were probably the most influential contributor to the Robeson County Indian population. He believed it was more appropriate to call Robeson County Indians descendants of the Cheraw as the Cheraw were more well known from the historic record.
The McPherson Report states 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 McPherson Report also notes (quoting Indians of North Carolina, p. 216): “In 1738 smallpox raged in South Carolina and worked great destruction, not only among the whites, but also among the Catawba and smaller tribes. In 1759 it appeared again, and this time destroyed nearly half the tribe.” This report was the first related to Robeson County Indians in which the Cheraw were mentioned. Scholars did not suggest there was any significant, if any, influence from the Cheraw, or any other smaller Siouan-speaking tribes, in the Robeson County area.
A number of Robeson County residents reject the modern Lumbee label and claim descent from the Tuscarora Indians, an Iroquoian-speaking North Carolina tribe that suffered defeat at the hands of the British colonists in 1713. Some Tuscarora left their homes in northeastern North Carolina to migrate north to New York, where they joined the Iroquois League as its sixth nation by 1722. Tuscarora tribal leaders in New York determined that the emigration was complete by 1802, because any Tuscarora who decided not to migrate to New York with the council fire were choosing to live separate from the Tuscarora Nation. However, only approximately one third of the North Carolina Tuscarora migrated to New York; one third are known to have been captured and sold off into slavery after the Tuscarora War; and about one third are known to have simply stayed in the area of Roanoke River. The latter is the Tuscarora group from whom some Robeson County Indians claim descent.
Lumbee claim to Tuscarora heritage is contested by both the federally recognized Tuscarora Nation of New York and the unrecognized Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina. The recognized Tuscarora tribe asserts that only a few Tuscarora remained behind and that, separated from the tribe, they were no longer recognized as members. Their descendants thus could not claim to have continuity with the tribe and its traditions.
Proponents of the Tuscarora hypothesis make two arguments. First, the migration trail of Lumbee ancestors from coastal Virginia to Robeson County passed through the territory in which the Tuscarora had lived. This made intermarriage with Tuscarora a possibility. Such intermarriage does not mean that a tribal culture continued, however. Second, historical references to members of the outlaw Henry Berry Lowrie gang of the Reconstruction era described them as of partial Tuscarora descent.
In the 1920s, some Robeson County Indians made contact with individual members of the Mohawk Nation, an Iroquois tribe politically related to the Tuscarora. These mostly rural Robeson County Indians began to express a Tuscarora identity. They strongly objected to the Lumbee name and to the Cheraw theory of ancestry. Many associate with the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina, which is recognized by neither the United States government nor the federally recognized Tuscarora nation.
Traditional Indian trails through Robeson County provided paths for trading and migration. Oxendine mentions the Lowrie trail, which skirted the central part of Lumbee country. This trail linked to the trading path from Virginia to western South Carolina at its western end, and crossed Swanton's "Wilminton, High Point, and Northern trail" near the heart of Lumbee country; it ran from northeast to southwest. The Cheraws-Winya Bay trail originated 30 miles (48 km) west and ran southeast to the South Carolina coast.
In the early decades of the 20th century, various Department of Interior representatives described the Lumbees as having Native American origin, and assigned them variously to one tribe or another.
In 1936, Carl Seltzer, a physical anthropologist engaged by the federal Department of the Interior, conducted an anthropometric study of several hundred self-identified Indian individuals in Robeson County. He concluded the majority were Indian. But, such tests are no longer considered valid determinants of ethnicity.
In 1754, a surveying party reported that Anson County was "a frontier to the Indians." Bladen County abutted Anson County which at that time extended west into Cherokee territory. The same report also claimed that no Indians lived in Bladen County (which at that time contained what today is Robeson County). Land patents and deeds filed with the colonial administrations of Virginia, North and South Carolina during this period show that individuals claimed as Lumbee ancestors were migrating into southern North Carolina along the typical routes of colonial migration from Virginia and obtaining land deeds in the same manner as any other migrants. In the first federal census of 1790, the ancestors of the Lumbee were enumerated as Free Persons of Color. In 1800 and 1810 they were counted in "all other free persons."
In 1885, Hamilton McMillan wrote that Lumbee ancestor James Lowrie received sizeable 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 John Brooks established title to over one thousand acres (4 km²) in 1735, and Robert Lowrie gained possession of almost seven hundred acres (2.8 km²). But, a state archivist has noted that no land grants were issued during these years in North Carolina. The first land grants to documented individuals claomed as Lumbee ancestors did not take place until more than a decade later, in the 1750s. The Lumbee petition for federal recognition did not use material from McMillan's 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 and prominent swamps such as Ashpole, Long, and Back Swamp. 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."
But, the Lumbee petition for recognition based on Siouan connection, prepared by Lumbee River Legal Services in the 1980s, shows that the Cheraw Old Fields, sold to a Thomas Grooms in the year 1739, were located not in North Carolina but in South Carolina, near the current town of Cheraw. This was more than 60 miles (100 km) from Pembroke.
Pension records for veterans of the American Revolutionary War listed men with surnames later associated with self-identified Lumbee families, such as Samuel Bell, Jacob Locklear, John Brooks, Berry Hunt, Thomas Jacobs, Thomas Cummings, and Michael Revels. In 1790, ancestral Lumbees 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, and enumerated as "Free Persons of Color" in the first federal census.
The year 1835 proved to be critical for all free people of color in North Carolina. Following Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion of 1831, the state legislature passed amendments to its original 1776 constitution; it abolished suffrage for "free people of color." This was one of a series of laws passed from 1826 to the 1850s that 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, bear arms without a license, serve on juries, or serve in the state militia.
The twentieth-century anthropologist Gerald Sider recorded accounts of "tied mule" incidents. Reportedly a white farmer tied his mule to the post of a neighboring Indian's land or let his cattle graze on the Indian's land. The white farmer then filed a complaint for theft with the local authorities who promptly arrested the Native farmer. The Indian usually had to agree to pay a fine, or in lieu of a fine, give up a portion of his land. Sider recounted stories which he had been told in the late 1960s. While, Robeson County land records show an appreciable loss of Indian title to land during the 19th century, the documented causes are failure to pay taxes and other common reasons. Not one "tied mule incident" has yet been discovered in Robeson County records.
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, now considered a Lumbee ancestor because of his surname, was arrested and charged as a "free person of color" for carrying a shotgun. Chavers, like Locklear, was convicted. Chavers promptly appealed, arguing that the law restricted only "free Negroes," not "persons of color."
The appeals court reversed the lower court, finding that "free persons of color may be, then, for all we can see, persons colored by Indian blood, or persons descended from Negro ancestors beyond the fourth degree" [meaning that with less than one-eighth African ancestry, they were legally classified as white]. Two years later, in another case involving a free person of color from Robeson County, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that forcing an individual to appear before a jury to show skin color was the same as forcing him to provide evidence against himself. Most of such racial cases were brought by members of the proto-Lumbee community against each other. They used the racially discriminatory laws against each other to settle petty disputes amongst themselves.
As the war progressed and the Confederacy began to experience increasing labor shortages, it began to rely on conscription labor. 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." North Carolina's slave owners resisted sending more slaves to Fort Fisher. Robeson County, along with most eastern North Carolina counties, began to conscript young free men of color. A few were shot for attempting to evade conscription, and others attempted to escape from work at Fort Fisher. Some succumbed to starvation, disease and despair. Documentation of conscription among the free people of color in Robeson County is difficult to locate. The practice may have been limited to a few specific areas of the county.
Several dozen Lumbee ancestors served in regular units in the Confederate army; they are documented as drawing Confederate pensions for their service. Others tried 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 seeking retribution against their Confederate neighbors.
Henry Berry Lowrie (also spelled Lowry) was notable for organizing a gang during the Civil War. Most of the gang members were related, including two of Lowrie's brothers, six cousins (two of whom were also his brothers-in-law), the brother-in-law of two of his cousins, in addition to a few not related through kinship. The Lowrie gang included free men of color and also freed slaves and whites. The Lowries claimed to be Tuscarora Indians.
The gang committed two murders during the Civil War and were suspected in several thefts and robberies. After an interrogation and informal trial, Robeson County's Home Guard executed Henry Berry Lowrie's father and brother as General William T. Sherman's army entered Robeson County. Shortly thereafter, Henry Lowrie and his band stole rifles and killed the county sheriff and several of the men responsible for his family losses.
The war the Lowrie gang waged against the establishment in Robeson County had far-reaching consequences. The Indian community developed a sense of being unique, possessed with a separate identity and history, while Henry Berry Lowrie would become a culture hero to the Lumbee people.
In 1872 George Alfred Townsend published The Swamp Outlaws, a history of the Lowrie Gang. Townsend described Henry Berry Lowrie as being of mixed Tuscarora, mulatto, and European ancestry: "The color of his skin is of a whitish yellow sort, with an admixture of copper—such a skin as, for the nature of its components, is in color indescribable, there being no negro blood in it except that of a far remote generation of mulatto, and the Indian still apparent." Townsend also stated in reference to Pop Oxendine, "Like the rest, he had the Tuscarora Indian blood in him...If I should describe the man by the words nearest my idea I should call him an Indian gypsy."
In 1868 the legislature elected under Reconstruction created a new constitution, which established a public education system in North Carolina. The following year, the state legislature approved a measure that required segregated, separate schools for whites and blacks (in the binary society, traditionally free people of color, or mixed race, were mostly included in the latter category). Many Lumbee ancestors complied with the legislation and sent their children to Freedmen's Bureau schools. Other traditionally free people of color refused to enroll their children in schools for freed slaves. In Robeson County, this impasse ended when, in 1885, North Carolina formally recognized the historically free people of color in Robeson County as "Croatan Indians", through the effort of Democratic representative Harold MacMillan. He suggested that the free people of color were survivors of England's "Lost Colony" at Roanoke Island who had intermarried with the Hatteras, an Algonquian people. MacMillan was working to distinguish the mixed-race people from the freedmen, and to recruit them as Democratic voters. That same year, the North Carolina General Assembly approved legislation that authorized a public school system for Indians.
Within the year, each Croatan Indian settlement in the county established a school "blood committee" that determined students' racial eligibility. In 1887, tribal members petitioned the state legislature to request establishment of a normal school to train Indian teachers for the county's tribal schools. North Carolina granted permission. Tribal members raised the requisite funds, along with some state assistance that proved inadequate. Several tribal leaders donated money and privately held land for schools. In 1899, North Carolina representatives introduced the first bill in Congress to appropriate funds to educate the Indian children of Robeson County. Another bill was introduced a decade later, and yet another in 1911. In 1913, the House of Representatives Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on S.3258 in which the Senate sponsor of the bill reviewed the history of the Lumbee and concluded that they had "maintained their race integrity and their tribal characteristics."
Robeson County's Indian Normal School evolved into Pembroke State University and later still, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. By the 19th-century's end, the Indians of Robeson County established schools in eleven of their principal settlements.
Ku Klux Klan conflict
During the 1950s, Ku Klux Klan chapters attacked activists with the Civil Rights Movement and African Americans who were advancing in communities. After North Carolina adopted the Lumbee Act in 1957, Klan Wizard James W. "Catfish" Cole began to harass the "Lumbee", claiming they were "half-breeds" who overstepped their place in the segregated Jim Crow South. Klansmen burned a cross on the lawn of a Lumbee woman who was dating a white man. Cole planned a large Klan rally on January 18, 1958, near the town of Maxton. The Lumbee decided to confront the Klan.
The "Battle of Hayes Pond", or "the Klan Rout," made national news. Some 350-500 armed Lumbees overwhelmed and scattered 50-100 Klansmen (not the planned 5,000). The Lumbee appeared, encircled the Klansmen, and opened fire. Four Klansmen were wounded in the first volley – none seriously; the remaining Klansmen panicked and fled. The Lumbee celebrated the victory by burning Klan regalia and dancing around the flames.
When the Croatan Indians petitioned Congress for educational assistance, their request was sent to the House Committee on Indian Affairs. It took two years for the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, T.J. Morgan, to respond to the Croatan Indians of Robeson County, telling them that, "so long as the immediate wards of the Government are so insufficiently provided for, I do not see how I can consistently render any assistance to the Croatans or any other civilized tribes." [sic, in contrast to Indians on reservations.]
By the first decade of the 20th century, congressional legislation was introduced to change the Croatan name and to establish "a school for the Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina." Charles F. Pierce, Supervisor of Indian Schools, investigated the tribe's congressional petition, reporting favorably that "a large majority [were] at least three-fourths Indian" as well as law abiding, industrious, and "crazy on the subject of education." Pierce also believed that federal educational assistance would be beneficial. But, he opposed such legislation since, in his words, "[a]t the present time it is the avowed policy of the government to require states having an Indian population to assume the burden and responsibility for their education, so far as is possible."
A committee report of 1932 acknowledged that the federal bill of 1913 was intended to extend federal recognition on the same terms as the amended state law. The chairman of the House committee abrogated assumption of direct educational responsibility to the Indians of Robeson County by the federal government. He believed they were already eligible to attend Indian boarding schools. Thus, the federal government was meeting its responsibility to the Indians of Robeson County through Indian boarding schools, such as Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
The next year, Special Indian Agent O.M. McPherson investigated the tribe under the auspices of the United States Senate. He found the Indians of Robeson County had developed an extensive system of schools and a political organization to represent their interests. While he, like Pierce before him, noted that Robeson's Indians were eligible to attend federal Indian schools, he doubted that these schools could meet their needs. Despite McPherson's recommendations, Congress decided not to act on the matter.
With passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, the Indians of Robeson County redoubled their efforts for access to better education and federal recognition. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) sent John R. Swanton, an anthropologist from the Bureau of American Ethnology, and Indian Agent Fred Baker to determine the origins and evaluate the claim of the Indians of Robeson County. Swanton speculated that Robeson's Indians were of Cheraw and other eastern Siouan tribal descent.
At this point, the Lumbee population split into two groups. One group supported the Cheraw theory of ancestry. The other faction believed they were descended from the Cherokee tribe. North Carolina's politicians abandoned the federal recognition effort until the tribal factions agreed on an identity.
The Lumbee Act, also known as H.R. 4656, which recognized the Lumbee as having Native American origins but withheld recognition as a "tribe", was passed in late May 1956 and signed by President Dwight David Eisenhower on June 7, 1956. The Lumbee Act designated the Indians of Robeson, Hoke, Scotland, and Cumberland counties as the "Lumbee Indians of North Carolina." HR 4656 also 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." This restriction as to eligibility for services was a condition tribal representatives had agreed to at the time in order to achieve recognition. In testimony before Congress, Lumbee spokesmen repeatedly denied that they wanted any financial services; they said they only wanted recognition as American Indians.
The Lumbees have repeatedly sought federal recognition as an Indian tribe, going before Congress in 1899, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1924, 1932 and 1933 with petitions variously claiming to be Croatan, Cherokee, Siouan and Cheraw Indians.
In 1952, the Lumbees adopted their present identity, naming themselves for the Lumber River, which winds through Robeson County, North Carolina. In 1956, Congress passed the Lumbee Act, saying that the Lumbee were entitled to call themselves the "Lumbee Indians of North Carolina" but as a condition of recognition, denying them access to financial and other services accorded to other recognized Indian tribes. In testimony before Congress, Lumbee spokesmen denied that they wanted any financial services; they said they only wanted recognition as American Indians.
In 1987, the Lumbees petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior for federal recognition, in a bid for financial benefits accorded recognized Native American tribes. The petition was denied because of language in the Lumbee Act stating that the Lumbee were ineligible for federal benefits.
The Lumbee then resumed lobbying, going before Congress in 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1993 with bids for federal recognition by Congressional action. All of these attempts failed in the face of opposition not only by the Department of Interior but also by the several 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 recommended an amendment to the 1956 Act that would enable the Lumbee to apply to the Department of Interior under the regular application process for recognition. The tribe made renewed bids for recognition with financial services in 2004 and 2006, and again in 2007 with introduction of the Lumbee Recognition Act by North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole.
On January 6, 2009, US Representative Mike McIntyre introduced legislation (H.R. 31) intended to grant the Lumbee Indians 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 the descendants of the Cheraw tribe. The vote will go on 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. The bill still needs approval by the full Senate and the President before becoming law. The Lumbee also hired a gaming casino firm Lewin LLC in 2010 to lobby for a casino but later terminated their agreement.
The Senate adjourned for 2010 without taking action.