Redbone (ethnicity)

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Redbone is a term historically used in much of the southern United States to denote a multi-racial individual or culture. In Louisiana, it also refers to a specific, geographically and ethnically distinct group.


The term had various meanings according to locality, mostly implying multiracial people.[1] In Louisiana, the Redbone cultural group consists mainly of the families of migrants to the state from South Carolina following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.[1] These individuals may have ancestral ties to the Melungeons. The term Redbone became disfavored as it was a pejorative nickname applied by others; however, in the past 30 years the term has begun to be used as the preferred description for some creole groups, including the Louisiana Redbones.

Louisiana Redbone Cultural Group[edit]

The Louisiana Redbone historically lived in geographically and socially isolated communities in the southwestern Louisiana parishes, ranging from Sabine Parish in the northwest and Rapides Parish near the center of the state down to Calcasieu Parish in the southwest,[1] and also including parts of Orange County, Texas and Newton County, Texas. This area is roughly coextensive with what was once known as the Neutral Ground or Sabine Free State, an area of disputed sovereignty from 1806 to 1821 that was primarily bound on the east by the Calcasieu River and the Sabine River on the west.[2] Most, although not all, families ancestral to the Louisiana Redbones came from South Carolina (where they were at times classified in some census records as "other free persons").[1] A review of newspaper articles, land grants, census records and other documents referring to the Redbones indicates that the main settlements of Redbones to southwestern and south central Louisiana and southeastern Texas took place over the course of many years,[3] although some members of Redbone families are noted as settling in the Neutral Ground before 1818 when the land was finally and officially considered part of the United States.[4]

The ambiguity as to the origins of the members of the Redbone community and the prevailing cultural attitudes held by those living in the same region as the Redbone community but who were not part of the community is shown in a letter written in 1893 by Albert Rigmaiden, Calcasieu Parish Treasurer, to McDonald Furman, a South Carolinian who conducted private ethnological research.[5] Rigmaiden wrote that he was unable to explain how the name Redbone originated and stated that "they are neither white nor black & as well as I can find out, the oldest ones came from S.C many years ago. . .they are not looked on as being -- Negros -- Indian nor White people. . ."[6]

Newspaper references to individuals whose families are considered part of the historical Redbone community are notable mainly for those Redbones who settled along Ten Mile Creek in Rapides Parish and Allen Parish, although other settlements (primarily two communities - one in what is now Newton County, Texas and one along Bearhead creek in what is now Beauregard Parish). Members of this settlement were referred to as "Ten Milers"[7][8] or as "Red Bones" [9][10][11][12] in the 19th century. However, the term "Red Bone" was also used to refer to individuals of mixed race with some African American ancestry who were not a part of what is currently considered the "Louisiana Redbone" community.[13]

In the frontier of Southwestern Louisiana, the settlers successfully resisted classification as non-white. In 1837 and 1849, several of the members of the Redbone community were indicted for illegal voting on the charge that they were of color rather than white. The state court found them all not guilty in both instances, thus establishing that the Redbone community would be legally considered white.[7] However, references to the Redbone community and its members in 19th century newspapers tend to be wildly divergent, ranging from making no mention of racial make up,[7][14] to stating that the members were white,[7] to stating that the members were African American[15][16] to stating that the members were of Indian extraction [17] to the assertion that the members were of unspecified mixed race.[18] These newspaper references do have the commonality of all pertaining to violent actions either within the community or perpetrated by members of the community.

Two incidents of violence are particularly notable, one due to the statement of Webster Talma Crawford and one due to amount of newspaper coverage the incident received. The Westport Fight occurred December 24, 1881 in southern Rapides Parish. As per the Crawford account, friction between the more recent settlers and the Redbones had been simmering for much of the month before exploding into a fight that involved several families in the community and ended in the burning down of a store owned by some of the recent non-Redbone settlers.[19] The Bearhead Creek incident took place in what is now southern Beauregard Parish on August 2, 1891. This battle also occurred due to similar tensions between Redbone and more recent, non-Redbone settlers and left six men dead as well as several others wounded.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26]

Both incidents illustrate the friction that existed between new, non-Redbone settlers to the region and the existing Redbone population, and it is these incidents in particular that may have cemented the non-Redbone view of this population as being both clannish and violent; however, a close reading of the incidents reveals that the tensions causing the fights arose primarily due to the prejudices of the new, non-Redbone settlers to the community. It is worth noting that the census records from the early to late 19th century list many non-Redbone families settling in the same regions as the Redbones[27] who, from the evidence of the existing records, lived peacefully with members of the Redbone families, even, in many cases, marrying into Redbone families.[28]

During the days of the Jim Crow Laws, the schools located in the geographic location of the Redbones accepted Redbone students as white[29] and a review of United States Census records in the late 19th and early 20th century shows that families traditionally considered as members of the Redbone community were mainly recorded as white. Additionally, according to the marriage records and census records, individuals who were from these families married either other members of the Redbone community or individuals who were listed in the census records as white and not members of the Redbone community.[28]

Though their descendants now number over 20,000 and are dispersed to other states, especially eastern Texas,[30] academically the group has been termed "largely unstudied."[1]

In literature[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Everett, C.S. "Brass Ankles/Red Bones," Vol. Ed. Celeste Ray, 6 Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (University of North Carolina Press 2007), pp. 102-104
  2. ^ See Adams-Onís Treaty.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Claims to Land Between the Rio Hondo and Sabine Rivers in Louisiana. Communicated to the Senate January 31, 1825
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d The Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, 28 August 1857 p. 2
  8. ^ New Orleans Time Picayune, 9 September 1877
  9. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 6 August 1891 p.8
  10. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 5 August 1891 p.1
  11. ^ The New York Times 5 August 1891
  12. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 3 July 1897 p.8
  13. ^ New Orleans Times 31 July 1874
  14. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 3 July 1892
  15. ^ The Springfield Daily Republican 28 August 1857
  16. ^ The New York Times 28 August 1857
  17. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 6 August 1891
  18. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 5 August 1891
  19. ^
  20. ^ Dallis Morning News 4 August 1891
  21. ^ Times Picayune 5 August 1891, p.1
  22. ^ Times Picayune August 6, 1891
  23. ^ Baton Rouge Daily Advocate 7 August 1891
  24. ^ Times Picayune August 9, 1891
  25. ^ New Orleans Item 11 August 1891
  26. ^ Dallas Morning News 11 September 1891
  27. ^
  28. ^ a b
  29. ^
  30. ^ See Regulator-Moderator War

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