This week we sit down with American Studies scholar Angela Pulley Hudson about her book, Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians. Her book investigates the history of Warner McCary and Lucy Stanton. McCary was an ex-slave from Mississippi who refashioned himself Okah Tubbee, claiming to be the lost son of Choctaw chief Mushulatubbee. Stanton was a divorced white Mormon woman from New York who reinvented herself as a Delaware Indian named Laah Ceil. Angela describes how the couple used popular notions of "Indianness" to disguise their backgrounds, protect their marriage, and make a living.
Warner McCary was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1810 or 1811. When his master died in 1813, he freed the rest of Warner’s family. However, Warner remained enslaved to his two freed siblings, but he secretly earned a small income of his own through fishing, flute performances, and ventriloquism. In 1839, Warner was freed by his half-brother and became a militia fifer and flute player. He had already adopted an Indian persona when he met Lucy Stanton in 1845. He was baptized into the Mormon Church, and they were married. After their marriage, Warner adopted the Okah Tubbee alias, and began performing as a Choctaw flutist. Stanton also took an alias, performing as a Mohawk / Delaware Indian, Laah Ceil. When their musical career wanes, the two are able to support themselves through practicing medicine.
While no genealogical evidence exists to suggest that McCary was actually Choctaw, his racial identity is unknowable. Angela suggests that his heritage is irrelevant in many ways because he was never claimed by Choctaw people, and his performances were based on popular culture ideas of Choctaw people. According to Angela, the biography of Tubbee and Ceil is more important because of what it reveals about the region, the nation, and ideas of Indianness. She notes that once the two start performing as Indians together, they never perform farther south than Washington D.C. To Angela, the regional boundedness of their performances demonstrates how beliefs about Indians varied from place to place.
We would like to thank today’s special guest, Angela Pulley Hudson. Angela is an Associate Professor of History at Texas A&M. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies at Yale in 2007, and she is the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants for her research on American Indian history, the cultural history of the U.S. South, and the intersection of African American and American Indian experiences. We would also like to thank the American Antiquarian Society for allowing us to host this conversation.
Buy Real Native Genius here.
Many thanks to UNC Press for the details for this week's post. Check out their complete catalogue of books, many of them focused on the greater South, here.