William McKee Evans’ book, To Die Game, is a worthwhile piece of scholarly literature. The book, fully entitled To Die Game: The Story of The Lowry Band, Indian Guerrillas of Reconstruction, tells the story of the Lowry family, the ancestors of today’s Lumbee Indians. To Die Game argues that the Lowry gang committed its acts of violence as justifiable acts of revenge against the brutal actions of the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederate Army. Ultimately, the author’s substantial academic credentials, coupled with his extensive scholarly research, makes To Die Game an excellent look into the lives of the Lowry Band.
William McKee Evans’ academic background is impressive, and makes him clearly adequate to undertake a project like To Die Game. Evans is an emeritus professor of history at California State Polytechnic University Pomona. He is also the author of Ballots and Fence Rails: Reconstruction on the Lower Cape Fear. As university professor, Evans has the scholarly background and academic ability necessary to undertake a challenging project like the telling of the history of the Lowry gang. In addition, William McKee Evans is a Lumbee himself, bringing a both note of authenticity to the book, and a potential for bias toward the Lowry gang.
In the book, published by the Louisiana State University Press, Evans tells the story of the Lowry gang. The book begins as the father of the Lowry gang is murdered. It is this murder that sets the gang bent on revenge. Evans follows the gang through their subsequent attempts to get even.
The book follows the life of Henry Berry Lowry, a Lumbee Indian who was thrown in jail for the killing of a Confederate official. Lowry escaped to the swamps with a group of supporters who rapidly became notorious for their violent acts. In large part, they hid in the swamps in order to avoid being conscripted into labour for the Confederate Army. Notes Evans, “But as the fever ravaged the lower Cape Fear, as planters protested the harsh use of their slaves whom the government had requisitioned for building the forts, as the Yankee fleet drew closer, the Confederacy’s appetite for healthy Indian bodies increased. More and more Indians were hiding in the swamps and fewer were growing corn.”
The Lowry gang terrorised leaders of military companies for five years. They had huge support from many local Native Americans and African-Americans. Henry Lowry disappeared in 1872. Following his disappearance, bounty hunters eventually murdered many other members of his band.
The main thesis of To Die Game is concerned with the Lumbee’s fight against white suppression. In the book, Evans seems to suggest that the Lowry’s acts were certainly justified by the brutal actions of the Ku Klux Klan, and that the Lowry’s acted out of revenge against the murder of Calvin Lowry, the father of Henry Berry Lowry. He also suggests that the Radical Republicans of the time may have been able to successfully bring about social changes if they had adopted some of the Lowry’s techniques.
To Die Game is based primarily upon a great variety of primary sources. Evans’ approach to researching the book was to delve headlong into historical research. He uses a wide variety of primary resources. As such, he has unearthed a great variety of important, and sometimes simply notable, facts and opinions on the ancestors of today’s Lumbee tribe. Evan’s research led him to include sources from the California State Archives, among other worthwhile historical sources, and a great deal of his sources date back to the 1800s.
This thoroughness in academic research makes the book a credible and interesting accounting of the events surrounding the Lowry gang. In using a plethora of primary sources, Evans not only establishes the credibility of his account, but he also infuses life into the subject.
Evans’ extensive research is apparent in his thorough in his discussion of the Lowry gang. He describes the gang’s existence from its very beginning to the very end, interspersing a great deal of information about the political and social situation of the times.
To Die Game is clearly written by an individual who is biased toward the Lumbee situation and the Lowry’s as well. By beginning the book with the murder of Calvin Lowry, he clearly wants the reader to sympathize with the Lowry clan, and its desire for revenge against the Confederate Army. In his description of the murder of Calvin Lowry, Evans’ writing arouses sympathy for the outnumbered young man. Says Evans, “It was already to late to get away when he saw the danger. Calvin spotted a band of about twenty-five armed whites approaching his house, and they had already seen him. It was a detachment of the Home Guard under Captain Archibald McCrimmon.”
Despite Evans’ clearly apparent bias towards the Lowrys, he never falls prey to romanticizing their violent acts. Instead, he chooses to let the events speak for themselves, making a more balanced accounting. All in all, Evans’ accounting is made more credible by this balance.
In summary, William McKee Evans’ book, To Die Game, is a worthwhile piece of scholarly literature.
While Evans is clearly biased toward the Lowry’s and their fight, his ample use of primary sources lends him great credibility. In addition, Evan’s refusal to romanticize the violent acts of the Lowry gang also gives his book further credibility. Taken together, Lowry’s extensive research and thorough treatment of his subject matter make To Die Game an excellent addition to the literature on the Lumbee people.
Evans, William McKee. 1971. To Die Game: The Story of the Lowry Band, Indian Guerrillas of Reconstruction (Iroquois and Their Neighbors). Louisiana State University Press.
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