Saturday, June 9, 2007


Redbones were outlaws in Louisiana by some folks standards, but did they just not want to fit in with the dominant society? Is that why they seemed clannish or standoffish to other folks?

Of course, it may have been the fault of other folks, the dominant society that was standoffish. Certainly any group of people whether by race, religion or family ties who set them selves apart from other groups could be considered snobbish, clannish, standoffish or stuck up -- there are terms to fit every case, and those terms fit every side.

Mostly these isolation's from the majority begin with a lack of understanding about other peoples standards or lifestyles and compounded, in this instance, by a color line.

Look at the attention paid to the Melungeons of Newman's ridge. The comments about the "Ridgers" likely ranged in the 1800's from "who are they" to "what are they doing up there?" And, skin tones had a great deal to do with it."They just don't look or dress like us, and they don't associate with us!" Maybe some of this was about being too nosy about your neighbors business. Maybe it started with back fence gossip. You know the type, statements prefaced with "you know, they say that."

The elusive "they" still lives on even today when some folks wish to support their personal view. If you read the literature on the Redbones, you will find that most all of them, who are traceable, originated from within the original thirteen colonies -- seemingly North-South Carolina for the most part before arriving in Mississippi. Louisiana and Texas may have been an after thought or just part of the Westwaqrd migration. They did not just spring out of the ground in Southwest Louisiana.

There is no mystery about where they came from. The mystery is the coined term "Redbone," there is no proof it was coined in Louisiana. Other than Louisiana, you can still find Redbones from the Carolina's through Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas.

Louisiana references include Black Lake near Baton Rouge, Natchitoches and Lake Charles (near Westport). This should not be a surprise as these place names have been, in the past, known trade areas that attracted a working class "work" force.

Redbones lived all over Louisiana and still do, but of course, you will always find Redbones who will wail that they are more Redbone than the next Redbone or this area over that area is the "true" Redbone seat of power.

But the truth again is that Redbones are scattered all over the land. There are no more or less numbers of Redbones in Starks or Bearhead Creek than there are in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Natchitoches or Alexandria -- perhaps even Texas -- I even know of one in Oakland, California.

In the 1890's, Redbones were described as being dark in coloration but not Negroes. In fact, this Southwest Louisiana official (Lake Charles, Albert Rigmaiden, 1842-1910) stated he knew a great many of them and noted that these people had migrated from the Carolina's and they hated the Negroes as much as the Negroes hated them. Of course, in many quarters, if you were dark in coloration, you were a suspected Negro. But never a mention of Mediterranean groups or Middle Eastern peoples.

By 1941, the description had changed to a mixture of White, Indian and Negro. But in one travel brochure, it was mentioned that the Redbones lived around Black Lake (Baton Rouge area) and were a combination of "maybe" Portuguese Maroons from the Gulf Coast and Indians (a Melungeon theory -- "maybe").

The writer of this brochure seems to be unsure of the facts concerning the so called color line and is likely writing his personal persuasions rather than a research paper based on fact. But what is of significance is the place name -- Black Lake -- a known place in near Central Louisiana where Redbones were "said" to live.

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

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