Sunday, June 3, 2007


If we look at the use of the word "Redbone," and it's publicized use in what is perceived to be Redbone Country, circa 1890's, the question comes to mind was it used earlier and just not written about? Did the term come out of the closet, with the media, in the 1890's or was it coined by a writer looking for a good story?

Oh, you can find a reference here and there as far back as the 1850's -- place names, people names and convoluted definitions of similar terms like "Red-i-bone" as a "ready made" critical piece to solve the puzzle -- I think the latter is stretching.

Well then, what about the Ashworth, Drake and Goins/ Goings families in the early 1800's? Were they called Redbones during that time frame and it was a secret word so secret it never turned up in print? Not a likely happening.

In early 1800, John Aaron Drake, Jr. was known as a "Mulatto" and had to undergo a Church investigation before being allowed to marry Rosalie Abshire, and -- he was a Mulatto. But, being a Mulatto then was simply a matter of a legal description. Mulatto's were mixed blood people. You could have a mix of White, Black or Indian blood, and throw in any other color less than White, and if there was Black blood in the mix, you were not marrying a White partner.

Apparently the Church investigation came back in favor of John Aaron Drake, Jr. and he was allowed to marry Rosalie Abshire. Family lore had been that he was related to Pocohontas but in reality it likely meant he was connected to a tribe within the umbrella of the Algonquin Powhatan Confederacy.

The Goins/ Goings show up in an 1810 census as "Free People of Color" (FPC) -- colored people, not Negro's, not Indians. Another legal description to define less than White, but not a Black or Negro. It was the "neither" world.

After a while, mostly out of ignorance to the legal definitions, colored people and Mulatto's became -- Negro's. I grew up in Texas being told that colored people were Negro's. Why would I question that? After all, this was long before being politically correct (PC). If you were Black, you were a Negro.

I was also told that Hispanic's were Mexican's and Mexico had lost the war with Texas and after all, they were not White. But before the War, in Texas, Mexican citizens were just like White, and it was the Indians who were inferior. Indians were buried at the missions if they were lucky, and the White folks were buried at the Cathedral -- class has it's privileges.

But back to Redbones, Mulatto's, FPC and others. Those folks in our Redbone family all hung out together, married into each others families; Drakes, Ashworth's, Dyal's, Nash, Perkins, Hargrave, Goins, Sweat's, Taylor, Mayo and others were all intermarried and often traveled together. Indians hung out with Indians, Free People of Color hung out with Free People of Color -- their own color, and Redbones hung out with Redbones.

In a letter from Albert Rigmaiden (a 2 nd cousin of mine), May 6 1893, to McDonald Furman, Rigmaiden states the following: .... "I am unable totell you how the name Red bone originated for the people who are calledRed-bone, but 'I think the Negroes' were the first to give them that name."

Rigmaiden goes on to say that the Negroes had no use or love for the Redbone's, and the Redbones did not like them any better. Rigmaiden also states in his letter that the Redbone were neither White nor Black and from what he knew, the older ones had come from South Carolina "many years ago." I think they brought the word with them from South Carolina or -- it followed them to Louisiana.

The Rigmaiden letter only lends weight to the research of Pony Hill as to where the term Redbone originated.

Rigmaiden also gives the names he is aware of such as: Ashworth, Goins, Perkins, Drake, Dial, Johnson etc. and further states: "these people keep pretty well together & Marry amongst themselves mostly." His overall letter is some what derogatory toward the Redbone people, but here's the rub. Rigmaiden's mother, the former Eliza Ryan, was related to the Drake's and Goins. The same Drake's and Goins considered to be "Redbones." Now if Rigmaiden knew at the time, he wasn't telling, but his mother had died in 1871, so he might not have been aware of his heritage.

Rigmaiden's letter is good information from the standpoint that this was his perception of what a Redbone is/ was in 1893. I don't think the definition given by Rigmaiden should be ignored or complicated by a lot of what if's. The Rigmaiden letter is a good starting point for our search of the Redbone culture -- far better than the definitions of ole "Lester."

Call me a Redbone!

Gary J. Gabehart (Mishiho, Mish-eh-ho)

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