This man is Henry Berry Lowrie. For seven years, he and his band of Lumbee Indians, former Union soldiers, and ex-slaves would fight a guerrilla war against white supremacists in North Carolina.
Most Lumbee land in had been stolen by the time the Civil War broke out in 1861. Left with no legal recourse, Lumbee Indians were forced to accept a life of oppression and destitution. When the Confederate army began construction of Fort Fisher, the threat of starvation and malaria deterred slaveowners from sending their slaves to work on it. Whites began kidnapping and enslaving Lumbee Indians. By the war’s end in 1864, most Lumbee males had fled to hide out in the swamps to avoid slavery.
In March of 1865, a local Confederate police force, known as the Home Guard, discovered that a Lumbee carpenter had been helping escaped Union soldiers flee north. The Home Guard executed the carpenter and one of his sons. To Henry Lowrie, the murder of his brother and father would be the final tipping point.
Lowrie formed a gang (made up mostly of teenagers, including himself), and from the forests and swamps, they implemented classic guerrilla tactics. His reputation quickly grew. Lowrie became so bold that he’d break into the homes of plantation owners, wait for their arrival, and demand to be fed at their dinner table before he robbed them. One night, Lowrie breaks into the home of Sheriff Rueben King, one of the wealthiest and powerful men in Robeson County. King moved to attack Lowrie, but before he could, he was gunned down by George Applewhite, a Lowrie gangmember who had been lurking in the shadows. With the murder of a sheriff, the Lowrie Gang became the most wanted men in the country.
By 1871, the bounty on Daniel Lowrie was up to $20,000, equivalent to roughly half a million dollars today. The state militia took drastic measures, kidnapping the wives of the Lowrie gangmembers, including Henry’s wife Rhoda. There was an attempt made to free the wives as they were being escorted to jail, in which three militiamen were killed. But it was unsuccessful, and the gang was forced to retreat. Several days later, Lowrie writes a letter to Colonel Wishart, leader of the local militia. He threatened to kidnap and execute the white women of the town. Terrified, Wishart frees the Lumbee women.
In September 1871, the Lowrie Gang steals $20,000 from the Lumberton General Store. This would be their final crime. Within a week, Henry Berry Lowrie vanishes from the swamps, never to be heard from again. As with most folk heroes, there are many rumors surrounding his fate. Some claim he accidentally shot himself cleaning a double-barreled shotgun, while others suspect he took the money and fled west. It’s said that his wife Rhoda, who remained in North Carolina after her husband’s disappearance, would take frequent mysterious trips out west. Regardless, without his leadership, nearly every member of his gang was subsequently captured or killed.