The Battle of Hayes Pond: When Native Americans Defeated the KKK
In the wake of the recent increase in high-profile displays of white nationalism and neo-Nazi sentiment, I've been thinking about how my own community has been affected by these types of extremists. Though I am not Lumbee, this story about the Lumbee and the KKK sticks in my mind. It shows how Native Americans have opposed these racist ideologies in the past.
When the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education called for the desegregation of schools, the Ku Klux Klan was not pleased. In fact, the impending integration energized and, to some extent, revived the Klan. In 1958, in Robeson County, North Carolina, this tide of racism culminated in one of the strangest battles in American history: the Battle of Hayes Pond.
What made Robeson County the setting for this drama? They had a unique racial mix, including 40,000 white residents, 30,000 Native Americans and 25,000 African Americans. They also had the attention of a Klan leader, James W. “Catfish” Cole who held particular ire toward the local Native American tribe, the Lumbee, whom he believed to be largely of African descent.
Before The Rally
In their typical style, the Robeson County Klan, as led by Catfish Cole, showed their anger through acts of nighttime terrorism. First, they burned a cross in the yard of a Lumbee woman who was dating a white man. Next, they burned a cross in the yard of a Lumbee family that had moved into a predominantly white neighborhood. Both of these, Cole said, where to send a strong message against “race-mixing” (qtd. in “New Battle, Old Problems”).
Around the same time, Cole announced that the Klan would hold a rally outside of the town of Maxton, at a place called Hayes Pond. The explicit purpose of the rally was to “put the Indians in their place” and to solve part of the “integration problem” (qtd. in “New Battle, Old Problems”). They chose to hold the rally in spite of clear warnings from the local police not to do so. That would turn out to be a mistake.
From Rally to Battle
About 100 Klansmen arrived in the field at Hayes Pond and set up their rally with only a KKK banner, a public address system powered by a portable generator, and a single light-bulb for illumination. The weak light cast by the bulb was insufficient to show the Klansmen that they were surrounded by hundreds of Lumbee, silent but angry.
From there on, various accounts disagree on the precise events. However, it is clear that a Lumbee sharpshooter shot out the lightbulb, plunging the Klansmen into darkness and chaos. The two sides fell into fighting, both sides armed with both improvised weapons and firearms—though no one was seriously injured or killed. The Klansmen were overmatched and unprepared, and fled in terror, abandoning their friends, family, and pieces of Klan paraphernalia. Catfish Cole himself abandoned his wife, opting to flee through the woods without her. She then crashed their car into a ditch and had to be assisted by the victorious Lumbee.
The Lumbee celebrated their victory in the field with singing and dancing. They collected and burned much of the Klan paraphernalia, though two of the leaders of the Lumbee resistance, Simeon Oxendine and Charlie Warriax, were photographed wrapped, laughing, in the abandoned KKK banner.
In the aftermath, the Klan was effectively driven out of Robeson County. The only people arrested after the rally were Cole and other Klansmen. Never again was a Klan rally or meeting held in Robeson County.