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The Lumbee are a Native American tribe recognized by the state of North Carolina. The name "Lumbee" is based on the Indian name for the Lumber River which winds through Robeson County, North Carolina. 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 of Native Americans originally inhabiting the coastal regions of the state of North Carolina. Some members claim descent from the Tuscarora.
In 1956, the United States Congress passed House Resolution 4656, known as the Lumbee Act, which recognized the Lumbee as American Indians. However, the Act also specifically prohibited the Lumbee from receiving federal services ordinarily provided to federally recognized tribes through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the only tribe in this circumstance, the Lumbee have sought full federal recognition through congressional legislation. Federal recognition through congressional legislation is generally opposed by some recognized tribes, most recently in 2007.
The area of North Carolina today occupied by the Lumbee is called 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 are "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 characteristically Lumbee names 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 since defined as characteristically Lumbee, "is all Free Negors 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 Indians). 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 characteristically Lumbee names were classified as "Mulatto."
Alarmed by the Nat Turner 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, property holdings, or literacy (the franchise had sometimes depended on the latter 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 Freedmen'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 any Indians.
The first recorded reference as to the origins of the present-day Lumbee population was made in a petition by 36 white Robeson County residents in 1840, in which they described ancestors of the Lumbee as being a "free colored" population that migrated originally from the districts round-about the Roanoke and Neuse Rivers (Sider's "Living Indian Histories" page 173).
The first record of any tribal designation was in 1867. Under investigation by Lieutenant Birney of the Freedmen's Bureau for the murder of several individuals claimed as Lumbee ancestors, pastors Coble and McKinnon wrote a letter that said the Lowry gang claimed to be from Tuscarora: "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." 
In 1872 George Alfred Townsend published "The Swamp Outlaws" in reference to the famed Lowrie Gang. Townsend described Henry Berry Lowrie, the leader of the gang, as being of mixed Tuscaroraand white blood and then went on to state in reference to Pop Oxendine that "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." Townsend's anecdotal statements would be reiterated three years later in both the Memoirs of General Jno C. Gorman and in Mary Normant's The Lowrie History (which has been largely discounted by professional historians.)
In 1885, Hamilton McMillan proposed the theory that the Lumbee were the descendants of England's "Lost Colony" who intermarried with the Hatteras, an Algonquian people. The Roanoke colony disappeared during a difficult winter, 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 Croatans for help, but weather prevented them from seeking survivors. After that, English historians never mention the colony again, and it was believed destroyed by starvation.
In Robeson County, Lumbee ancestors were officially classified as Indian only after Reconstruction in 1885, as the Democrats sought to regain power in the state. Prior to 1885, Lumbee ancestors were usually described as colored, free colored, other free, mullato, mustie, mustees, or mixt blood in surviving records. In the first federal census of 1790, the ancestors of the Lumbee were enumerated as Free Persons of Color. The U.S. Census did not have an "American Indian" category for non-tribal Indians until 1870. Up until the 1960 census, census enumerators, who were often from the community, classified individuals by sight or in discussion with community members, in some cases determining the "race" of a particular individual.
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. 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 "into the main" (according to White) 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 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 record has been found of such a group between Lawson's History of 1709 and MacMillan's reference to early settlers' finding English-speaking Indians in later Robeson County. MacMillan 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."
The Lost Colony legend implied that the entire Lumbee population grew out of intermarriage among survivors of the 121 stranded colonists and the Hatteras (Croatan) Indians. But mobility among tribes, combined with other phenomena such as the slave trade in Indians, and the fact that the present site of the Lumbee settlement was until the mid-nineteenth century largely inaccessible swamplands, suggest it might have been a destination for other Indians who chose to live apart from more structured society, whom anthropologists called tri-racial isolates.
Genealogists Paul Heinegg and historian Dr. Virginia E. DeMarce  have, using an array of primary source historical documents, been able to trace the migration of some individuals claimed as Lumbee ancestors from the Tidewater region in Virginia into Northeastern North Carolina and then down into present-day Robeson County, North Carolina. Many of the surnames of the original colonists are still found among the Lumbee of today. Unlike MacMillan or others noted above, Heinegg found that 80 percent of the free people of color in the 1790 and 1810 census were descended from African Americans free in Virginia during the colonial years. These families were started by unions and marriages between white women and African men, who worked and lived together in the early years of the colony, whether free, indentured servant or slave.
Lumbee-claimed Surnames from the 1790 North Carolina Census Index: Bennett • Berry • Brooks • Cooper • Cumbo • Dial • Hunt • Locklileer • Lowery • Martin • Oxendine • Sampson • White •
A more recent legend holds that the Lumbees descend from Cherokees who fought with the British against the Tuscarora in the war of 1711-13 under Colonel John Barnwell of South Carolina. The Cherokees supposedly 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 Lumbees 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 of the Carolina Piedmont, the Waccamaws of the lower Cape Fear region near Wilmington and the Woccon of the central coastal region of North Carolina, all probably of Siouan linguistic stock, were the major tribes who were ancestors to the people known in the 1930s as Croatan Indians. In the 21st century, these three Indian tribes are 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, Waccamaw, and Woccon already mentioned, the Cheraw, 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. From this point, only 30 miles from the Lumbee's main city of Pembroke, North Carolina, they could have possibly taveled 60 miles to the west to join Catawbas in South Carolina); traveled 30 miles east to join the Lumbees in North Carolina; or stayed in South Carolina, in isolated rural communities.
A number of Robeson Countians reject the modern Lumbee label as fictitious 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. The Tuscaroras left their homes in northeastern North Carolina to migrate north to New York, where they joined the Iroquois League by 1722. Tuscarora tribal leaders determined that the emigration was complete by 1802. Some current residents in Robeson County claim to be descended from Tuscarora stragglers who stayed behind. The Lumbees have advanced the so-called Tuscarora hypothesis in their bid to be recognized by the United States as a legitimate Indian tribe.
The Lumbee claim to Tuscarora heritage is hotly contested by both the federally recognized Tuscarora nation in New York and the unrecognized Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina. The recognized Tuscarora tribe asserts that only a few Tuscarora remained behind and that, separate from the tribe, they were no longer recognized as members.
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 Tuscaroras had lived. This made intermarriage with Tuscarora stragglers 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 and 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.
Historians have documented in 1600 there were 28 or 29 Indian tribes living wholly or partly in what is now North Carolina. Today the state formally recognizes eight groups: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Haliwa-Saponi Tribe of Indians, Sappony Indians of Person County, Meherrin Tribe of Indians, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, the Lumbees, and the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe as American Indians or of Indian origin. Of these, only the Cherokee are a distinctly unified group with unitary tribal origins, a distinct culture and language. The others are identified for practical purposes as being "of Indian origin". They do not speak distinct languages. Many American Indian tribes of the east coast became extinct in the decades soon after initial European contact, largely from European diseases to which they had no natural immunity, and warfare, including inter-tribal warfare. The Cherokee and Tuscarora alone have survived as tribes.
Mobility and trading with whites were possible because of Indian trails through Lumbee country. 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 west and ran southeast to the South Carolina coast.
In 1885 Democratic state representative Harold MacMillan introduced legislation to classify the "free people of color" in Robeson County as Croatan Indians so they could have the separate schools they asked for - otherwise under segregation their children would attend schools with freedmen's children. This was the first government recognition of the people as Indians. MacMillan's success created a three-caste society in Robeson County. Prior to 1885, surviving administrative records described Lumbee ancestors as "colored", "free colored", "other free", "mullato" [sic], "mustie", mustees, or "mixt [sic] blood".
Skeptics of MacMillan's claim about Croatan Indians argue that the Democratic politician was motivated by a desire to gain the votes of the Lumbee, who had been voting Republican. After the Civil War, free people of color were enfranchised again by the 15th Amendment, which protected suffrage for all male citizens, regardless of race. It was passed chiefly to provide suffrage to the new citizens who were freedmen, or emancipated slaves. MacMillan's success in gaining Indian classification for the traditionally free people of color in Robeson County gave them distinct social status. It enabled them to have a school separate from that for the children of newly emancipated slaves.
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. While he concluded the majority were Indian, such tests are no longer considered valid determinants of ethnicity.
In the late 20th century, genealogical researchers used a greater variety of historic records to study the family lines of free people of color in North Carolina. They found that 80% of those identified as free people of color (or "other free") in the Federal censuses in North Carolina from 1790-1810 were descended from African Americans free in Virginia during the colonial period. Most of those free African-American families in Virginia were descended from unions between white women (servant or free) and African or African-American men (servant, slave or free). These relationships and children reflected the fluid nature of relationships among the working classes in the early colonial years. From documenting family histories through original documents, Heinegg and DeMarce have traced most Lumbee ancestors and have been able to construct genealogies that show the migration of specific families and individuals from Virginia to North Carolina.</ref>
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 MacMillan 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 MacMillan's claims.
Land records show that beginning in the second half of the 18th century, ancestral Lumbees took titles to land described in relation to Drowning Creek and prominent swamps such as Ashpole, Long, and Back Swamp. The Lumbee settlement with the longest continuous documentation from the mid-eighteenth century onward is Long Swamp, or present-day Prospect, North Carolina. Prospect is located within Pembroke and Smith townships. 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 Siouan petition, 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 Cumbo, "Revils" (Revels), Hammonds, Bullard, "Lockileer" (Locklear), Lowrie, Barnes, Hunt, "Chavers" (Chavis), Strickland, Wilkins, Oxendine, Brooks, Jacobs, Bell, and Brayboy 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 the Nat Turner Rebellion of 1831, the state passed amendments to its original 1776 constitution that 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 and thus could no longer vote, bear arms without a license, serve on juries, or serve in the state militia.
Anthropologist Gerald Sider recorded accounts of "tied mule" incidents in which 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, by giving up a portion of his land. Sider only recounted stories which he had been told in the late 1960s. Robeson County land records do show an appreciable loss of Indian title to land during the 19th century, but mostly because of failure to pay taxes and other more common reasons. No 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 with the conviction of Noel Locklear in State v. Locklear for the illegal possession of firearms. But in 1857, William Chavers, another Lumbee ancestor from Robeson County, 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 after that many generations, they were legally classified as white). Two years later, in another case involving a Lumbee ancestor 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 cases were brought by members of the proto-Lumbee community against each other. They used the racist laws to settle petty disputes amongst themselves.
As the war progressed and the Confederacy began to experience increasing labor shortages, the Confederate South 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 enslaved African Americans 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. Others succumbed to starvation, disease and despair. Documentation of conscription among the Lumbee is difficult to locate and 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; many of these later drew Confederate pensions for their service. Others tried to avoid coerced labor by hiding in the swamps. While hiding in the swamps, some men from Robeson County operated as guerrillas for the Union Army, sabotaging the efforts of the Confederacy, and sought retribution against their Confederate neighbors.
Perhaps the most famous Lumbee is Henry Berry Lowrie (also spelled Lowry), who organized an outlaw group 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 others who were not related through kinship. The Lowrie gang included free men of color and also freed slaves and whites.
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 a large stockpile of rifles intended for use by the local militia from the Lumberton courthouse.
Lowrie's gang avenged the deaths of his father and brother by killing the county sheriff and several of the other men responsible. The gang plundered plantation storage bins and smokehouses of local elites.
In 1868, the state declared Lowrie and his band outlaws. The reward for capture climbed to $12,000, second only to that offered for Jefferson Davis. Robeson's white power structure and the governor of North Carolina requested the aid of Federal troops and federal detectives to apprehend North Carolina's most famous outlaw. Lowrie enjoyed wide support, and he and members of his band were seen at public events. Reports of the Lowrie band's deeds received national coverage; their exploits were described in the New York Times and in Harper's Magazine. Lowrie's last-known act occurred on February 16, 1872, when he and his band stole $20,000 worth of goods from a Lumberton store. They also managed to take the store's safe, which contained approximately $22,000 in cash.
Most believe that Henry Berry Lowrie accidentally shot himself while cleaning his shotgun. Some, however, claimed to have seen Lowrie long after his reported death. All the members of the Lowrie band except one eventually died violently. Henderson Oxendine, a member of the gang, was publicly executed by the state of North Carolina.
The war the Lowrie gang waged against the establishment in Robeson County had far-reaching consequences. The mixed-blood 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 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." Townsend's description was repeated three years later in both the memoirs of General Jonathan C. Gorman and in Mary Norment's The Lowrie History (1895).
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 provided separate schools for whites and blacks (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 to the tribe on which to build their 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 century's end, the Indians of Robeson County established schools in eleven of their principal settlements.
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."
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 opposed any 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 explicitly acknowledged that the federal bill of 1913 was intended to extend federal recognition on the same terms as the amended state law. Moreover, while the bill passed the Senate but not the House, the chairman of the House committee also abrogated any 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 also 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, anthropologist from the Bureau of American Ethnology, and Indian Agent Fred Baker to determine the origins and evaluate the authenticity 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 House Resolution 4656, which recognized the Lumbee as having Native American origins but withheld recognition as a "tribe", was passed by the U.S. Senate on May 21, 1956, by the United States House of Representatives on May 24, 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 of recognition at the time. 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 incudes a no-gaming clause. The bill still needs approval by the full senate and the President before becoming law.
During the 1950s, the Ku Klux Klan sought to wage a campaign of terror in the American South to suppress growing activism of the Civil Rights Movement. The Klan primarily targeted African Americans. In 1957, after adoption of the Lumbee Act, Klan Wizard James W. "Catfish" Cole of North Carolina began a campaign of harassment against the newly named "Lumbees", claiming they were "mongrels" and "half-breeds" who had overstepped their place in the segregated Jim Crow South. A group of Klansmen burned a cross on the lawn of a Lumbee woman in the town of St. Pauls, North Carolina because she was dating a white man. For two weeks, the Ku Klux Klan continued to attack the Lumbee community by burning crosses while Cole planned a massive Klan rally to be held on January 18, 1958, near the town of Maxton, North Carolina. Cole predicted that 5,000 rallying Klansmen would remind the Lumbee of "their place." Cole's rhetorical attacks against them plan to hold a Klan rally within their territory provoked the Lumbee to confront the Klan.
Celebrated today in Robeson County as the "Battle of Hayes Pond", or "the Klan Rout," the resulting confrontation made national news. Over 500 armed Lumbees overwhelmed and scattered 50 Klansmen (not the planned 5,000). Before Cole had a chance to begin the Klan rally, the Lumbee suddenly appeared, fanned out across the highway, encircled the Klansmen, and opened fire. Four Klansmen were wounded in the first volley – none seriously; the remaining Klansmen panicked and fled. Cole reportedly escaped through a nearby swamp but was later apprehended, charged, and convicted for inciting to riot. He served a sentence of two years. The Lumbee celebrated the victory by burning the Klan regalia and dancing around the flames, making native whooping noises.