Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I've used this term several times to describe the Bearhead Creek area between Singer and Starks, Louisiana, and have been politely corrected a couple of times for it. LV took me to task saying that neither Starks nor Singer were there until late 19th century. I should have included the entire Neutral Zone which came into being after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase when the American and Spanish generals decided not to start a war over the differing claims of Spain and the United States as to the western border of Louisiana. The Americans claimed to the west bank of the Sabine River. The Spanish thought it was the Calcasieu River. As a result of their decision, the area between those two rivers became a haven of outlaws, slave smugglers, and Redbones who seemed to prefer the ambiguity of the Neutral Zone to the racial codes in the rest of Louisiana and the South.

After Moses Ashworth was killed in the early 1830s, his widow, Anna, took her kids and went back to there, probably to be closer to her parents, Drury and Rhoda Bunch. When the Texans went after us in Jefferson County, Texas in 1856, those family members who were forced from their homes came back as well.

Maybe the Neutral Zone isn't the homeland for some of our extended families's memories. If home is where you're always welcome, then for my several branches of Redbone Families, the Neutral Zone has been our home for almost two hundred years. That's about as close as we're going to get to having a homeland. Texas has never been a haven for Redbones. Home to many Redbones, yes indeed, but not a welcoming place nor a place of refuge. That distinction goes to Louisiana.

This is also where our families began to have a group identity. There is disagreement about whether we were an identifiable group in South Carolina that decided to migrate together or whether the families came independently as family groups, several at a time. It seems certain that by the late 1800s, whether or not our families saw each other as related in any way other than family ties, the dominant White culture did see us as an identifiable group and was calling us Redbones. Judging from the reaction of my great-grandfather, Amos, and his brothers Austin and Dempsey, and Old Josh Perkins, the word was considered offensive. Was it the word they found offensive, or was it being lumped into a group with whom they felt no identity or kinship? I'm betting it was the word. There is evidence that the dominant White culture did not necessarily consider it an offensive word though. In Don Marler's book about Redbones, there is a lettter from a newspaper editor in Lake Charles to Dr. Furman in South Carolina who was studying the South Carolina Redbones and was attempting to link the two people. In the letter, he used the term Redbone in a descriptive way and not derogatorily.

For the past couple of years I have tried to refrain from using it based on my family history and experience. I never heard my grandmother use it. I never heard any of my aunts or uncles use it. My mother dislikes the word, but I believe she is more uncomfortable with being considered a Redbone than she is by the word itself. A younger generation of family members proudly think of themselves as Redbones. Being outnumbered and outvoted, I'm capitulating. Even though my mother isn't a Redbone, I am and I will use the word in my stories again. I'd like to thank those of you who have taken the time to give me your opinions. I've learned a lot from your stories.

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