Who are My Mother's People?
I had an email the other day from someone who asked me what names are generally considered Redbone names. That question begins more arguments than it settles.
To get to it, you first have to define what a Redbone is. Is it simply someone of mixed-race ancestry any where in the
Except for a small group of families in
There are several concentrations of people with mixed-race ancestry in
The closest you can come to having an identifiable group is the kinship among various family clans in southwest
Someone once asked me, if we didn’t call ourselves Redbones, what did we call ourselves? I answered that we called ourselves neighbors, friends, and cousins. Still, there is something there; something tenuous, but always present: an underlying acknowledgment of shared circumstance beyond family blood lines. A sense of belonging that is not easily quantifiable.
When used by the dominant culture, Redbone meant someone who looked Indian, was mostly White, but who also probably had some Black blood. The only people who were called Redbones were generally being called that by others. Is that alone enough to make someone a Redbone? I’m not so sure. Calling someone a bastard doesn’t make them a bastard. So you can see why it’s very difficult to determine who is and who isn’t a Redbone.
My family has been called Redbones at least since 1892 when the Lake Charles Press screamed in a banner headline “REDBONES RAMPANT!” It referred to a gunfight between my great-grandfather, a couple of his brothers and several cousins and neighbors because a crew chief referred to them as Redbones, a name to which they took exception. The story was picked up by various newspapers around the country, prompting a letter from McDonald Furman to Albert Rigmaiden, the Treasurer of Calcasieu Parish, which inquired about the people known as Redbones.
Rigmaiden referred very specifically to a small and isolated group of families in the area north and northwest of
There is no other record of any other group being called Redbones before that or even after that. There are a couple of place names where the word Redbone is used, but there is nothing in the record to link the word’s use in that context to mixed-race people.
The group Rigmaiden referred to as being from
My regular readers know that I do not purport to be a genealogist. Genealogy is a tool I use (some might say poorly) to construct the historical timeline for the Redbones of southwest Louisiana. LV Hayes has been most generous in sharing his genealogical research. I also would like to thank the Starks Historical Society and its members for their help in researching and understanding the genealogy of our people in Louisiana and Texas.
While it’s popular to say how isolated and stand-offish the early Redbone settlers were, the facts just don’t support that conclusion. Within a generation, another dozen families had intermarried into that core group, giving birth to thousands of new mixed-race settlers and adding another dozen or so names to the list of what would become to be known as Redbones. Some of those other names
I may have missed a name or two, and others may have a different opinion about which names came first. I don’t think it matters too much. To be descended from one of those original names does not make one a Redbone. To have a name not on the list doesn’t mean that you’re not a Redbone.
All of these different names brought a unique combination of ethnicity to the mix. Some of the families were thought to have brought some African into the mix, but not having any African was a very important distinction emphasized among mixed-race families in southwest
Beginning in the 1990s, a popular movement started among people who are descended from those mixed-race families to rehabilitate the word Redbone and to use it as a collective noun for telling our stories. There hasn’t been much opposition from within the community of people who share the characteristics of the groups usually thought of as Redbone. Just the same, it’s still a slur to many people, especially those born before World War II. In another few years, there won’t be anyone who remembers the word as a racial slur.
There is an organization called The Redbone Heritage Foundation that has taken an aggressive approach to owning this term. It should be noted that these people do not have any identifiable ties to the people in southwest
For two hundred years our struggle has been to live free, work hard, and practice our religion without the burden of being called a racial explicative. My 20,000 plus cousins in southwest Louisiana are proud to be called Americans, and some of us don’t even mind when you call us Redbones, but be sure to smile when you do, and it probably wouldn’t hurt if you can add cousin to it.