I was at sea for nearly a month last November…on a ship…rocking…constantly. “Rocking” doesn’t really describe it well enough, so feel free to use (courtesy of thesaurus.com) teetering, wobbling, reeling, staggering, shaking, swaying, wavering, lurching, or weaving. Point being it sucked because it made reading and working on my great American novel damn near impossible. Which meant there was plenty of time for storytelling while enjoying a cigar and a drink. One of my colleagues happens to be of Native American descent (our third man disputed this to me later, claiming, “Hairiest Indian I’ve ever seen.” I may have doubted it myself—not for the same reason as the very un-pc comment—but I was in Lumberton, North Carolina a few years ago where I became acquainted with the Lumbee tribe). But I digress. This colleague had good tales to share. Sitting in a circle in a tiny cabin, heads low, turning shades of blue and green, we listened to stories you can't find in books. "All I tell you is oral tradition," he said taking a swig of his drink, adding, "Let the ghosts dance." I took a puff on my cheap Black and Mild cigar sat back and smiled within: this person is a character. He repeatedly used the term “American Indian” which I asked him about, "Hell, you're a native American Dave." He continued on, speaking of ceremonial customs, peace pipes, visions, etc., with spirited delivery and passion for his heritage but whenever he mentioned the name Henry Berry Lowrie, his voice rose up even more. And so did my curiosity. Being unfamiliar with the legend of Lowrie, I listened closely jotting down notes here and there.
When we finally returned to land and once again had access to the Internet (the seagulls have a nice bandwidth free zone out there), I typed in Lowrie and jumped back. The guy on the boat has a strong resemblance to the 19th century outlaw. And the tales? It's unfair, I know, to build up all this stuff I’ve heard and yet not deliver the stories, but many of the yarns spun that seasick evening are available online. Plus, I'm not sure what will become of my hand-scratched notes. Perhaps my fictional Cash Laramie will meet up with the Lumbee legend. Until then here's the Wikipedia article with said photo. And for those of you who like old newspaper articles, here's the October 7, 1871 NY Times with quite a fascinating look at his gang and their "misdeeds."
Legends of North Carolina
The Museum of the Native American Resource Center
Henry Berry Lowrie - Lumbee Regional Development Association, Inc