How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m part Indian?” I’ve lost count! But during the 6+ years that I researched my book, African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes, I found out a lot about Black Indians in Chattanooga. Let me share what I’ve learned with you.
At one time, all the vast region around Lookout Mountain in every direction belonged to the Cherokee. From Ross’ Landing, the starting point of Chattanooga, Tennessee, there was a muddy road that continued on to Rossville and the little house of the area’s leading Cherokee, John Ross. But there was another trail; one that veered off the muddy road and headed toward Lookout Mountain. It was along this trail that Indian settlements could be found here and there.
The Cherokee were known to have slaves, but many of the African Americans residing with them lived free. It was a fairly common practice for Indians to embrace runaway slaves, freedmen or drifters. Indians believed African Americans had “great medicine” in their bodies because they were immune to the devastating diseases of the white man, and they had survived the grueling tasks the white man heaped upon them. And since the African American had, through enslavement, lived in close proximity to the white man, he had learned white man’s ways. In Indian eyes, this made African Americans experts on white mentality and activities.
For these reasons, African American runaways, freedmen or drifters often earned a place of respect in the tribe. They intermarried, creating Black Indian offspring, a race and culture unique to itself. These bonds of trust, friendship and matrimony were very strong in those days, and still exist in the new millennium.
Here is a photograph of my great-grandmother and another “part Indian” from Chattanooga–Mrs. Beulah Flemister Tipsey. Great Grandma Beulah told my grandmother many stories of how her own mother was a full-blooded Indian squaw and her father was a dashingly-handsome half-black, half-Indian man. This photo was taken in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.
And so, I suppose I can now join the masses and say with pride and conviction: “I’m part Indian,” too.
Well, that’s all for now. Tune in on Friday, June 11th for the conclusion of: I’m Part Indian: Black Indians in Chattanooga.
Also, be sure to pick up your copy of African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes and find out about other African American personalities from long ago. Just click on the icon to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon.com’s website, where you can make your purchase.
Best wishes and happy researching,