Being a western writer, I have researched a lot of outlaws. And being human, of course one of them quickly became my favorite. My favorite outlaw has all of the things we look for when wanting a great legend: a Robin Hood-esque reason for becoming an outlaw, a perceived injustice, and, the thing that makes everyone fascinated with outlaws, a mysterious disappearance. Who do you think of when you hear that list? Jesse James? Butch Cassidy? Billy the Kid? But none of those are my favorite. My favorite outlaw is Henry Barry Lowrie.
Henry Barry Lowrie was a Lumbee Indian from Robeson County, North Carolina.
Lowrie, like so many other outlaws, took to a life of crime during the Civil War. Being an Indian in North Carolina during the War meant that Lowrie was harassed by the Home Guard, who regularly came and pressed the Lumbee men to work on building Fort Fischer. If a man didn’t want to be dragged into building the fort, he hid in the swamps that surrounded the area. Lowrie tired of being harassed and decided to strike back, killing two members of the Home Guard that had a long standing feud with his family.
The Homeguard struck back, accusing Lowrie’s father, Allen, and his oldest brother, William, of stealing. On March 3, 1865 the Home Guard arrested both men, convened an illegal court, and executed Allen and William Lowrie. It is said that Henry watched the executions from behind some bushes and vowed to take his revenge.
For months, Henry hid in the swamps while being considered a wanted man. On December 7, 1865, during Henry’s wedding ceremony to Rhoda Strong, the Home Guard arrested him with no warrant. Legend has it that Henry filed his way out of the jail and, still shackled, made his way home to Rhoda.
Henry started a band, known as Lowrie’s band, of disgruntled Indians, two African Americans, and one Scotsman. They started robbing rich white residents of Robeson County, earning them the reputation of being the local ‘Robin Hoods’. When the state government declared them outlaws and posted rewards for them, the band retaliated with violence. This stretch of violence resulted in the deaths of 10 members of the Police Guard and the Lowrie Band.
In 1871, the chief of the Police Guard had the Lowrie women gathered up and held them hostage in prison. Lowrie and his gang sent the chief a letter demanding the immediate release of their women or an escalation of violence and like treatment to their women-folk. What was the chief to do but release the Lowrie women?
The last known crime of Lowrie and his band came on February 16, 1872 when they raided Lumberton and stole over a $1000 worth of goods and a safe containing $20,000. The safe was later discovered, open and empty, in the sheriff’s office. It is said by some that the reward money that the government had gathered had been in that safe at Pope and McLeod’s General Store, others say that the $12,000 reward went unclaimed. But all accounts say that Henry Barry Lowrie disappeared after that heist.
While rumors abounded that Henry had accidentally blown his own head off while cleaning his gun, several others hinted that he had escaped to the West. And to further stimulate these speculations, it is said that at least twice a year, Rhoda took trips out west. She never said where she was going or who she was visiting.
While I gathered all of this information, I little cared about which version was true. We all know that rumors surround outlaws and that the truth is probably a little of all of them. But Henry Barry Lowrie stirred the ‘What if’ component of my brain like none of the other outlaw legends had.
So how about it readers, is there an outlaw, famous or infamous, that strikes a chord with you and has quickly become a favorite?