Indian Nation and the Blues (pt. 1)

by
bo_carter

Bo Carter

edited from Max Haymes (http://www.earlyblues.com):

The eastern territory in Oklahoma, the ‘Indian Nation’, was admitted to the United States in 1907, along with Oklahoma Territory. But because of lack of law and order and relative freedom from white oppression, which attracted working-class blacks, Blues singers up to thirty-five years later still referred to the “Territo” or “Nation”.

Another factor which would draw working-class blacks to the Nation, was that up until the middle of the 1920’s, cotton “…ranked above wheat as Oklahoma’s cash crop. It was grown throughout the southern half of the state, but the southwest was the real cotton section.” In the autumn, during the picking season, “…the towns were filled with happy Negroes rich with picking wages.”

Blues Singer State of Origin Tribe
Champion Jack Dupree Louisiana Cherokee
Scrapper Blackwell North Carolina Cherokee
Andrew Baxter Georgia Cherokee
Jim Baxter Georgia Cherokee
Sam Chatmon Mississippi Choctaw?
Robert Wilkins Mississippi Cherokee
Lowell Fulson Oklahoma Creek
Roy Brown Louisiana Shawnee?
Charlie Patton Mississippi Chickasaw or Choctaw?
Bo Carter Mississippi Choctaw?
Poor/Big Joe Williams Mississippi Cherokee
Leadbelly Louisiana Cherokee
Louisiana Red Mississippi Cherokee/Apache
Earlene Lewis Oklahoma Cherokee

Nearly two-thirds of the singers listed (again, the list is not exhaustive), have in fact blood-ties with the once large and powerful tribe Cherokee nation. For example, it is reported of pianist Champion Jack Dupree, that “As Jack’s mother had been a full­blooded Cherokee, he was permitted to bead himself, and belong to a Cherokee gang.”

Then there is Memphis-based guitarist, Robert Wilkins, who was born in Hernando, Miss. of whom Spottswood says: “His ancestry was Negro on his father’s side, white and Cherokee Indian on his mother’s.

Cherokee ancestry is also attributed to Scrapper Blackwell, erstwhile partner of Leroy Carr, who was “…of Cherokee descent.”

Slaven reporting on the origins of Mississippi’s Big Joe Williams (who often referred to himself as “Poor Joe”) says: “He was part-Cherokee, and his father John Williams was known locally as “Red Bone”.

The famous folk and Blues singer, Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) was “born on January 29, 1885 on Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport, Louisiana, the only child of farmer Wesley and part-Cherokee Indian Sally Ledbetter.”

David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards said of Sam Chatmon:  “Sam’s grandmother ‘Creasie’ Hammond was herself ‘half-Indian and half-white,’ he reported.”  Chatmon being a guitar-picking member of the popular black string band, the Mississippi Sheiks, who recorded extensively in the early 1930’s. At least one of Sam’s brothers, Bo Carter, who left the Sheiks early on to pursue a solo career, is recollected as “A racial hybrid of Indian, white and black descent,”

For the most part, those blacks who aspired to a bourgeois, white, middle-class way of life (and its values!), were often in a parallel state to that of the red man. It is a significant and also a consistent fact that someone of mixed racial blood is identified with the “lowest” category. So part-Indian, Bo Carter, naturally sings as a full-blooded Negro, when he refers to the general situation as described above:

“Oh! the white man wears his broad-cloth,
An’ the Indian he wears jeans;

But here come the darky with his over-halls on,
Just a-scratchin’ o’er the turnip greens.”

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