How did an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Become Famous Indians?

real native genius Picture this: A white Mormon and an ex-slave marry and then travel around the country pretending to be Native Americans. That sounds like something out of a dime novel or a Hollywood film, right? In truth, it actually happened! During the 1840’s Lucy Stanton and Warner McCary earned a living by masquerading as Native Americans. On February 27, Dr. Angela Pulley Hudson will be coming to BYU to discuss the fascinating tale of this couple. The event will be held at 7 p.m. in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium.

“It is an important glance into the fluidity of racial identity at the time, how people ‘passed’ for one race or another, and early moments of monetized appropriation of Native culture and religion by non-Natives,” said Dr. Brenden Rensink, director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies.

Dr. Hudson will be discussing her book Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians. In it, not only does she explore the lives of McCary and Stanton, she also examines Americans’ perceptions of Indians and how that impacted antebellum culture.

Stanton and McCary

Who were Stanton and McCary? The latter was an ex-slave who provided for himself by performing music—whistling and playing the flute and fife. Stanton was a divorced Mormon who was captivated by the LDS doctrine regarding the Lamanites or Indians. Eventually, the two met, married, and began calling themselves Okah Tubbee (McCary) and Laah Ceil (Stanton.)

“Before and during their marriage they shared a particular history of performing as Indians in a variety of contexts: from Mormon meeting houses to packed concert halls, temperance rallies to doctors’ offices. Their story ranges across the nineteenth century from the deep South through the Great Lakes region, to the Midwestern frontier, across the northern border with Canada, and into the Mountain West. Along the way, they entertained Americans from many backgrounds, penetrated the inner circle of the nascent Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and fled all sorts of legal jeopardy” said Dr. Hudson.

Impact

“In contemplating the Indian character, there is an interest thrown around it, which cannot fail to impress the mind of every inquiring person, although the Indian race is fading away…there is a charm thrown around their past history, and the most lively emotions are created in the mind of the Patriot and Philanthropist in contemplating their past and present history, and are led to look upon the high and lofty bearing of the red man, with the most intense admiration,” said Rev. L. L. Allen in his book about Okah Tubbee.

During the time of McCary and Stanton, the concept of Indianness was constantly in flux, and the two played a role in it. “They were not simply impersonating Native people—they were helping to shape the popular cultural phenomenon of Indianness,” said Dr. Hudson.

Dr. Hudson

Texas A&M University provided the following biography of Dr. Hudson: Angela Pulley Hudson joined the history faculty in 2007 after receiving her PhD in American Studies from Yale University. She specializes in American Indian history, the 19th-century U.S. South, the representation of American Indians in popular culture, and the intersection of American Indian and African American lives. She has held fellowships from the Newberry Library, the American Philosophical Society, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, among others.

 

 

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