The Lumbee are a distinct ethnic group of southeastern North Carolina. Numbering over 50,000, they are primarily located in Robeson County. They identify themselves as a tribe, although some consider them a melange of Native American, black and white strains, similar in that fashion to groups such as the Melungeon people of the Appalachians or the Redbone of the Southeast. Local lore holds that the tribe includes descendants of the Lost Colony who intermarried with the local Native Americans, but this is highly unlikely.
During the Civil War, Henry Berry Lowrie led an outlaw gang that committed a number of robberies and murders. He became a folk hero whose story is remembered in an outdoor drama called "Strike at the Wind".
The Lumbee are not recognized as a tribe by the U.S. federal government, although they do have recognition on the state level.
On January 18, 1958, armed Lumbee Native Americans chased off an estimated 5,000 Klansmen and supporters led by grand wizard Catfish Cole at the town of Maxton, North Carolina.
The 40,000+ members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina reside primarily in Robeson, Hoke and Scotland counties. The Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the ninth largest in the nation. The Lumbee take their name from the Lumbee River which winds its way through Robeson County. Pembroke, North Carolina is the economic, cultural and political center of the tribe.
Popular theories today speculate that the ancestors of the Lumbee were either Tuscaroras or Cheraw and related Siouan-speaking Indians who have lived in the area of what is now Robeson County since the 1700s. However, there is no conclusive documentary evidence to support these theories. In pre-Civil War documents, Lumbee ancestors are consistently identified as white, black, mulatto, or colored. In Robeson County they are never identified as Indian until after the Civil War.
The Lumbee people have been recognized by the state of North Carolina since 1885, and at the same time established a separate school system that would benefit tribal members. In 1887, the state established the Croatan Normal Indian School, which is today The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. In 1956 a bill was passed by the United States Congress which recognized the Lumbee as Indian, but denied the tribe the welfare benefits accorded a federally recognized Indian tribe. Full federal recognition that would bring full access to federal Indian money is currently being sought.
The earliest document showing Indian communities in the area of Drowning Creek is a map prepared by John Herbert, the commissioner of Indian trade for the Wineau Factory on the Black River, in 1725. Herbert identifies the four Siouan-speaking ommunities as the Saraws, Pedee, Scavanos, Wacomas. (Note: Drowning Creek is presently known as the Lumber River, and flows through present-day Robeson County. Many Lumbee people also know it as the Lumbee River.)
In 1754, it was reported that there was an settlement consisting of 50 families located on Drowning Creek, although there is no racial identification in that document. In fact, it states that there are no Indians in the county.
In 1771, a convicted felon by the name of Winsler Driggers was captured "near Drowning Creek, in the Charraw settlement" (South Carolina Gazette October 3, 1771). For people who believe the Cheraw hypothesis, this mention confirms that the settlement on Drowning Creek in 1754 was a Cheraw settlement.
However, most historians familiar with the region in that time period would discount this reading of the Driggers article as out of context and incorrect. The "Charraw" reference is most likely used in that newspaper story as a place name, not a tribal name.