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.

http://www.lva.virginia.gov/chancery/full_case_detail.asp?CFN=015-1897-017#img

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

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About robertajestes

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

4 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.”

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