When Redmen Aren’t Red Men

I’m always grateful when one of our readers send me original Native documents with names.  In this case, hat tip to Yvonne for sending me this information about the Onieda Tribe #88, Improved Order or Redmen, also called the Independent Order of Redmen from Staunton, Va.

Yvonne found this suit at the Virginia archives in the Chancery suits for Augusta Co., VA.


redmen chancery

On November 1, 1894, the suit states that a group of men formed an unincorporated voluntary association called the Oneida Tribe #88, who purchased, then leased space in a building to other groups, one of which was suing them.

redmen chancery2redmen chancery3redmen chancery4

First, I found it odd to find Oneida in Virginia, and second, the number 88 threw me.  I read through the first few pages of the document, shown above, and then I decided to see what I could find about this tribe.  What I found was shocking.

The Independent Order of Red Men weren’t Indians at all, although many of their rituals were indeed based on those of Native Americans.  They were white men who formed a fraternal organization by that name.

The Improved Order of Red Men traces its origin to certain secret patriotic societies founded before the American Revolution. They were established to promote Liberty and to defy the tyranny of the English Crown. Among the early groups were: The Sons of Liberty, the Sons of St. Tammany, and later the Society of Red Men.

Their rituals and regalia are modeled after those used by Native Americans. The organization claimed a membership of about half a million in 1935, but has declined to less than 38,000.

On December 16, 1773, a group of men—all members of the Sons of Liberty—met in Boston to protest the tax on tea imposed by England. When their protest went unheeded, they disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, proceeded to Boston harbor, and dumped overboard 342 chests of English tea. (See Boston Tea Party.)

However, for the next 35 years, each of the original Sons of Liberty and Sons of St. Tamina groups went their own way, under many different names. In 1813, at historic Fort Mifflin, near Philadelphia, several of these groups came together and formed one organization known as the Society of Red Men. The name was changed to the Improved Order of Red Men in Baltimore in 1834. In the late 18th century, social and benevolent Tammany Societies, named after Tamanend, were formed. The most famous of these was New York City’s Society of St. Tammany, which grew into a major political machine known as “Tammany Hall.” Around 1813, a disenchanted group created the philanthropic “Society of Red Men” at Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia. From this, the “Improved Order of Red Men” was later formed as a working man’s drinking group similar to the Odd Fellows fraternal organization.

In 1886, its membership requirements were defined in the same pseudo-Indian phrasing as the rest of the constitution:

“ Sec. 1. No person shall be entitled to adoption into the Order except a free white male of good moral character and standing, of the full age of twenty-one great suns, who believes in the existence of a Great Spirit, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and is possessed of some known reputable means of support.”

The restriction to white males remained until 1974 when the “all white” clause was eliminated.

The Order has a three tiered structure. Local units are called “Tribes” and are presided over by a “Sachem” and a board of directors. Local meeting sites are called “Wigwams”. The state level is called the “Reservation” and governed by a “Great Sachem” and “Great Council” or “Board of Chiefs”. The national level is the “Great Council of the United States”. The Great Council consists of the “Great Incohonee” (president), and a “Board of Great Chiefs”, which includes the “Great Senior Sagamore” (first vice-president), “Great Junior Sagamore”, “Great Chief of Records” (secretary), “Great Keeper of the Wampum” and “Prophet” (past president). The headquarters of the Order has been in Waco, Texas, since at least 1979.

So, of your family tells you that your male ancestor was a member of an Indian tribe, it may well be true, but it may not be the kind of tribe you had in mind.

Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improved_Order_of_Red_Men


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Fraternal Organizations, Oneida. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to When Redmen Aren’t Red Men

  1. J.J. says:

    The Indians of Robeson County (Lumbee) had their own Red Men Lodges.

  2. Rhonda says:

    Some members also had symbols on their tombstones, much like the Masons and Woodmen of the World. So if you come upon a grave that has a big Indian Chief head on it, or the initials “T.O.T.E”, that means they were members of Order of Red Men. They also had several pins made that you may find men wearing on their lapels in old photos.

  3. This is an event that happens every year in the City of Laredo Texas. The event is called George Washington’s Birthday Celebration and has been around for 120 years. To my knowledge there has not been any attempt to halt the event for the misinformation, misleading and desecration of Native American Culture and Heritage.

    You can read the rest at http://www.wbcalaredo.org/about-us/history/

    “On the morning of February 22, 1898, Indians and white men engaged in a “battle” for control of Laredo, Texas. The “battle,” centered at City Hall was fiercely fought, but to no avail.

    In the end, the defenders fell and the mayor presented the key of the city to the Great Chief Sachem as a sign of unconditional surrender. The Great Chief in turn presented the key to the lovely Princess Pocahontas, who represented a lost tradition, “a vanishing race.” The ensuring celebration among neighbors lasted for two days, culminating with the reenactment of the “Boston Tea Party.” Thus was born the annual celebration of George Washington’s Birthday in Laredo, Texas.

    One of the most asked questions is, “Why celebrate Washington’s Birthday on the border?” The answer must be attributed to the original planners of the celebration, the patriotic Improved Order of the Red Men, local chapter Yaqui Tribe #59, whose members included prominent Laredoans of both Mexican and American ancestry. The committee was looking for a traditionally “American” holiday to celebrate that might offer the best of all cultures influencing the heritage of Laredo’s citizens.”

  4. Sharon Perry says:

    Aug., 1893. The Narragansett Tribe No. 25 of the
    Improved Order of the Redmen loaded the smaller of the two large pieces on a railroad flat car and took it to Cookeville.
    “Nee Yah Kah Tah Kee,” meaning “Standing Stone” and a tomahawk were inscribed on the stone.
    A dedication of the Standing Stone monument was held on Oct. 17, 1895. The crowd was said to be around 3,000. The stone had been brought back and placed on a pedestal for all to see on land donated by the Cumberland Coal Company. The monument still stands today in downtown Monterey, next to the Monterey Branch Library.
    The town began celebrating Standing Stone Day in 1979, mainly through the efforts of Dr. Opless Walker,

    (Dr. Walker is President in the Local chapter of Order Of Redmen
    Tribe No. 25 in this part of Tennessee Today )

    “Our Native American Heritage, written by Dr. Opless Walker, Cherokee Ambassador To Oklahoma.

    On October 9, 1981, Dr. Walker, in appreciation for the research he had done to aid the Cherokee Indians, was made Ambassador to The Cherokee National during ceremonies conducted by Chief Ross Swimmer in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

    Upper Cumberland Genealogical Association was formed December 6, 1975 at a meeting held at the Putnam County Library in Cookeville TN. The following officers were elected at that meeting: President – Dero A. Darwin Jr.; Vice President – Mrs. Juanita M. Heard; Secretary – Callie Melton; Treasurer – Dr. Opless Walker.

    Dr. Opless Walker grew up in an historical environment. Being raised by a mother who was a direct descendant of the Cherokee Indians, Dr. Walker was taught many traits of the Native Americans.
    On October 9, 1981, Dr. Walker, in appreciation for the research he had done to aid the Cherokee Indians, was made Ambassador to The Cherokee National during ceremonies conducted by Chief Ross Swimmer in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

    The Improved Order of Red Men is a national fraternal organization that believes in…
    Perpetuating the beautiful legends and traditions of a once-vanishing race and the keeping alive some of the traditional customs, ceremonies, and philosophies

    I have been able to disprove this Standing Stone myth , and prove his All White heritage through research.

    The people of Overton Co. Tn, all claim Nettle Carrier aka Talotiskee is where they get their Cherokee heritage. If any one is interest in either of these Cherokee, I have complete Bio’s on them . Please contact me


      I would love to have some information. I have an Abraham Winninngham that people are linking to a daughter of Chief Nettle carrier but I am on the fence about that. I would like to have something more than hearsay. The story goes they had a daughter named Margaret Peggy and she married a Henry Cravens which is one of my grandfathers. They are trying to put this daughter with Dragging Canoe but he died before she was born
      Thanks for any information. Debbie

  5. JC says:

    I have my great grandfather’s documentation from the Fraternal Order of Red Men which I am trying to investigate. Any references or ideas would be greatly appreciated!

    • Brianna M Ward says:

      Hi JC,
      I am a current member of the Degree of Pocahontas, the women’s auxiliary of the Improved Order of Red Men. I would love to chat with you regarding the documentation you’ve found, if you would like.

      Have a great day!

  6. The order of Red Man in Hanover Pa had a number of actual Native Americans as members as far back as the 1940s. So at least in Hanover, PA. the whites only stipulation was not adhered to.

  7. Sharla says:

    we have 3 generations of men with the middle name as Redman (different spelling, same concept), but we know that the first came from my great grandfather who gave his son the middle name- and so it has continued without knowing where it came from until recently. I did not carry the tradition as I didn’t even know what it meant. Is there any way to find out who the members are or were in the distant past to see if this was the reason for the name?

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