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The Red Man and The Blues
by Max Haymes
(converted to web format from the original typescript by Alan White)

Chapter I: The Five Civilised Tribes - The Red/Black Link From Slavery on Down

William S. Willis stated in 1971 that "Virtually nothing has been done comparing the plight of Negroes and Indians since the now out-of-date Almon W. Lauber, "Indian Slavery in Colonial Times within the Present Limits of the United States" (Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1913)."(1). If it was true for Indians and blacks generally,-it was even more so regarding red men and the Blues singers in particular. What is more, the picture is not much different today. Willis also says that "North of Mexico, the Colonial Southeast was the only place where Indians, Whites, and Negroes met in large numbers."(2). This area of the U.S.A. had the largest and most concentrated population of blacks in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and continues to do so today.

The southeastern states were also the home of the Five Civilized Tribes. Murray tells us that the five tribes are "The Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles."(3). It is fairly obvious that two masses of 'racially inferior' people, according to the white man, living in the same states are bound to interact and even inter-marry. There are many references to these tribes, by Blues singers, as we shall see later; especially the Cherokees.

The latter are described as "a large and powerful tribe who, at the time of European contact, lived in the region of the southern Allegheny and Great Smoky Mountains and adjacent areas of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama."(4). Later on, the Cherokees also inhabited parts of Arkansas and Texas, thus covering all the main sources for the Blues with the exceptions of Mississippi and Louisiana. Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, first came across these people in 1540 in "...eastern Tennessee, and adjoining parts of Georgia and Carolina (sic)."(5). In the same year de Soto also met the Chickasaw "... in the region of what is today northeastern Mississippi."(6). The Choctaw were found in the same state, "At the time of European contact they lived in the central and southern areas of what is now Mississippi."(7). In the late eighteenth century some of the Choctaw moved into Louisiana and Arkansas. (see Ch. III). The Creeks were in Georgia and Alabama until removal (see Ch. III) as were the Seminoles until, in an effort to "...escape retribution or annihilation." from the whites, they "... drifted into Spanish Florida,"(8).  It was in the obscure and steamy swamplands of the latter that the U.S. Government experienced their costliest Indian battle (the Seminole Wars) in extricating the Seminoles and removing them to the new Indian Territory in what was later to become the state of Oklahoma. Florida, too, was a source, although a minor one, of the Blues.

The Five Civilized Tribes of the southeastern states, we are told, were so called because they "settled down" quickly to white/European ways of life. 
Or put another way, offered little resistance, compared to the Plains Indians, to the white man's plundering of their lands, homes, and food supplies. The Seminoles, presumably being a blatant exception! Murray tells us that the Five Tribes "... adapted promptly to new conditions in the early nineteenth century, becoming efficient farmers, producing their own newspaper - even owning black slaves."(9). I will be returning to the latter phenomenon, shortly. There is an illustration showing seven Cherokee headmen "during a 1730 visit to London" (10), with knee-breeches, jackets and shirts, the caption says "By the Revolution Cherokees knew European ways"(11). Also, a state of 'civilization' was "a state that the Southern nations - the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks - were at last beginning to approach."(12). But not yet the Seminoles!

When the U.S. Government, headed by John Quincy Adams, (c.1827) attempted to have the southeastern tribes removed by 'peaceful persuasion', these tribes, not unreasonably, argued "... an unshakeable attachment to their ancestral homes." (13). They also strongly objected to the removal suggestions as "...each group - Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and, to extent the Seminoles in Florida - had made remarkable strides in agriculture, handicrafts, and self-government." (14). They improved their talents for breeding livestock, spinning cotton and milling flour.  One of their number, "a quarter-breed Cherokee", whose Anglicised name was George Guess and a genius by any standards "...invented a written alphabet that many Cherokees learned enthusiastically." (15). Guest' Indian name was Sequoyah, after whom the giant redwood trees were named. All these tribes, at one time or another, owned black slaves.

Debo says the Indians, and "especially the Cherokees and Choctaws, began to adopt the white man's institutions"(16). And "... some of their leaders began to operate plantations worked by Negro slaves."(17). Another report informs us that "By the early 19th century there were many prosperous, privately owned Cherokee plantations. It is reported that in 1825 the Cherokee owned no less than 1,277 Negro slaves."(18). The Creeks too, "On their strikes into South Carolina they confiscated property, including numerous slaves whom they refused to sell."(19). When answering complaints, the Creeks replied that "they were told by the General before they went into Carolina that whatever plunder they got should be their own property and that they saw the King's Army Seize upon all the Negroes they could get upon which they did the same and intended to carry them to the Nation."(20). Willis writes that in "...1773, David Taitt, Indian agent, threatened to cut off the Creek trade unless the Indians returned fugitive Negroes."(21). This referred to runaway slaves who had sought refuge in and around Indian villages, but Willis adds that "Indians were bona fide slave traders. They stole Negroes from White slaveholders in order to sell them to other While slaveholders."(22). In fact on European contact, all of the southern tribes "...radically changed their costume and quickly took over cattle, slaves, and many arts."(23). By the 1820's many half-breed Indians of the southeastern tribes had risen to a position of some power and influence, principally by acting as negotiators and mediators for the Indians land "...between the less sophisticated Indians and the white Americans."(24). This power-oriented role brought its rewards and "...many of the new leaders had valuable plantations, mills, and trading establishments..."(25). The Cherokees and Choctaws in particular "...took pride in their achievements and those of their people in assimilating the trappings of civilization."(26). If the same sort of inhuman liberties occurred affecting black women by Indian, slaveholding, plantation owners as they did with many of their white counterparts, it is small wonder that the Indian strain, particularly Cherokee, is extant in many Blues singers.

However, by the end of the Civil War, "The Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles had been induced to grant full citizenship to their former slaves..." (27), and "The Choctaws and Chickasaws had secured an optional provision in their peace treaty, and the United States agreed to remove the freedmen within two years and colonize them elsewhere if the Indians should decide against adoption. Both tribes promptly voted for their removal, but the United States failed to take action. Finally, after twenty years, the Choctaws adopted their freedmen and gave them the limited economic, educational and political privileges permissible under the treaty; but the Chickasaws, except for a temporary weakening in 1873, continued to petition for the fulfillment of the treaty during the remainder of the tribal period."(28). 

But nearly five years later, the black or 'colored' population of Indian Territory were still without most of basic human rights. A committee on behalf of "...the Colored People of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations"(29), in a letter to the Senate in Washington, stated that "...although freed from slavery by the result of the late war, we enjoy few, if any, of the benefits of freedom." (30).

While both the Indian (a classic mis-nomer) and the American black continue to be ethnic minorities in the U.S. and often live in comparative harmony today, history shows us this wasn't always the case. "According to John Bricknell, an early eighteenth century reporter, Indians had "a natural aversion to the Blacks"(31). Willis goes on "In 1763, George Milligan Johnston, a South Carolina physician, opined that this hostility was mutual and spoke of the "natural Dislike and Antipathy, that subsists between them (Negroes) and our Indian Neighbours."(32). But there was nothing natural about the creation of that mutual dislike and antipathy. There was a very conscious effort on the part of the whites to ensure a divide and rule policy operated. It is not difficult to understand the cause of this line of thinking, even if at the same time, one does not condone it. The whites in South Carolina in the eighteenth century "...comprised a fear-ridden minority of the population."(33). Fearful of the Indians who had arms and therefore military strength, and fearful of the black slaves who in their ever-increasing numbers, posed the threat of insurrection, not without reason. The obvious and logical process of thought in white minds was "...that that Indians and blacks might join against them."(34). This fear perpetuated into the early nineteenth century. In Georgia, British actress Fanny Kemble stated the case for white women in the South, c-1838: "...a slave population, coerced into obedience, though unarmed and half-fed, is a threatening source of constant insecurity, and every Southern woman to whom I have spoken on the subject has admitted to me that they live in terror of their slaves."(35).

So the whites needed to keep these two ethnic minorities from uniting with each other and feeling a common bond. They set about instilling fear in the hearts of slaves by probably regaling them with horror stories about what Indians did to them if captured. Actually, not without some justification. The whites also employed slaves as soldiers to fight against Indians. On the other hand, the scheming whites offered payment to Indians for the return of runaway slaves. The native Americans, knowing the terrain, were far more efficient at tracking down the slaves, than their white counterparts. Many blacks who successfully escaped from their white oppressors, dived into the swamp regions and ended up in and around Indian villages. But once the whites offered rewards for the return of slaves, the Indians in complete antipathy with their customs, would round up the unfortunate blacks and shepherd them back to their white "owners".

As James Glen, a retiring governor of South Carolina, said in 1758, to his inexperienced successor "it has been always the policy of this government to create an aversion in them (Indians) to Negroes."(36). And earlier in 1725, "Richard Ludlam, a South Carolina minister, confessed that "we make use of a Wile for our prest Security to make Indians and Negroes check upon each other least by their vastly Superior Numbers we should be crushed by one or the other" (37). In 1739, whites blamed an epidemic of smallpox which wiped out around 1000 Indians and nearly destroyed the Cherokees' faith in their gods, and had their priests destroying "...the sacred objects of the tribe"(38), on the blacks. The whites told the Indians that "...new slaves from Africa had brought the disease to Charles Town"(39), (later Charleston). Whites also contributed to the created aversion referred to above, "... by using Negro slaves as soldiers against Indians. These slaves were rewarded with goods and sometimes with their freedom..."(40). Also "During the Second Natchez War in 1729, the French accused some Negro slaves of plotting insurrection with the Chouacha Indians, a small harmless tribe living near New Orleans. Although the accusation was unfounded, they armed the Negroes and ordered them to attack this tribe as the sole means of saving their own skins. An on-the-spot reporter tells us that "this expedition rendered the Indians (in Louisiana) mortal enemies of the negroes."(41).

Yet despite the white man's concerted efforts to alienate black man from red man, a more sympathetic attitude between the two races seemed to flourish. In the earlier part of the nineteenth century some Indian religious leaders reflected a more harmonious attitude towards the black man. Because of political reasons regarding Indian removal and also slavery "...a leading Choctaw left the church of a Presbyterian missionary from the North and organized a Cumberland Presbyterian Church which was more in line with his sentiments towards the Negro." Also, on recounting the hard fight that the Seminoles put up in the 1830's and '40s to retain their lands. Eaton tells us "One of the chief reasons for their fierce struggle to remain in their native haunts was that many fugitive-Negroes who had mingled their blood with the tribe were living among them, and in the process of removal (see Ch. III), they might be reclaimed by white masters." The Seminoles were a "...branch of the Creeks who had emigrated into Florida at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and their name in the Creek language meant "runaways", or "separatists".(44). Latter-day black singer/authoress, Sheila Ferguson states that "As the poorer Africans lived alongside the Indians, in both freedom and slavery, and intermarried ... they gained from them their knowledge of native vegetables, roots and herbs."(45).

As Foster said in 1935 "The States included in the Southeastern culture are the ones in which, by far, the most frequent intermingling occurred between Negroes and Indians to a degree not known by most persons. This is very largely due to the fact that these States have comprised our greatest slave culture area." (46). Foster continues: "The Creek influence upon the Negroes of Alabama and Georgia has its visible effects."(47).

So it would seem that whether the two races lived in relative harmony and equality or under the cloak of the 'slave/master' syndrome, intermarriage and 'intermingling' took place. As most of the Blues singers who made reference to the Indian were from the same areas as the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Seminoles, it would seem more often than not that any Blues singer's claim to Indian blood would be of the strain of one of these Five Civilized Tribes. In the next chapter we will be examining the ancestry of these tribes and also the possible links of other smaller tribes who once lived in 'Blues country' in the Deep South.


l.  R..L. Nichols & G.R. Adams. p.293

2.Ibid. p.74.

3. D.Murray. p.45.

4. Encyclopedia Americana. Vol.6.  p.399.

5. Ibid. Vo1-15. p.390.

6. Ibid. Vol.6. p.437.

7. Ibid. p.621.

8. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p.160.

9. Murray. ibid. p.6.

10. D.Lavender. p.37.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid. p.179.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. A.Debo. p.3.

17. Ibid. p.p.3-4.

18. Encyclopedia Americana. Vol.6.  p.400.

19. J.H. O'Donnell,III. p.82.

20. Ibid.

21. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p.78.

22. Ibid. p.83.

23. Ibid. p.7.

24. Ibid. p.134.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Debo. ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. H. Aptheker. p.622.

30. Ibid. p.619.

31. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p.75.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid. p.74.

34. Ibid.

35. F.A.Kemble.p.342.

36. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p.79.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid. p.80.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid. p.81.

42. Ibid. p.131.

43. C.Eaton. p.275.

44. Ibid.

45. S. Ferguson. p.11.

46. L.Foster. P.-P-15-16.

47. Ibid. p.16.

Chapter II  - Some Probable Recent Ancestry Of The Five Civilised Tribes


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Text (this page) Copyright 1990 Max Haymes. All Rights Reserved.
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