Known to some as a local hero and to others as a criminal, Henry Berry Lowry and his armed band, consisting of Lumbees, African Americans and one “buckskin” Scot, fought the Home Guard during the Civil War and the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. The outlaw robbed from planters and redistributed wealth. He mysteriously disappeared after robbing $28,000 from the sheriff’s office in 1872.
One of twelve children, Lowry was born in 1845 and reared in Robeson County. He claimed to be Tuscarora.
During the Civil War, Confederate armies and the state of North Carolina conscripted Lumbees to build fortifications in Wilmington and elsewhere. Many dodged the conscription agents and hid out in the county. As a result, the Home Guard tracked down dodgers and conflict resulted. The eighteen-year-old Lowry formed a guerrilla band that fought back.
In 1864, Lowry killed two men. One accused him of stealing hogs and the other, a conscription officer, insulted and mistreated women in Lowry’s community. The Home Guard could not find Lowry, but they “tried, convicted, and executed” his brother and father for the crime.
During Reconstruction, Lowry waged war against the Ku Klux Klan and continued raiding plantations and members of what would become the Democratic White Supremacy movement. Republican governor, William Woods Holden, outlawed Lowry in 1869 and the state offered $12,000 for his capture: dead or alive. No bounty hunter ever asked for the amount, but authorities tried various ways to capture Lowry. In one instance, the Police Guard held hostage some wives of the Lowry band. Lowry threatened to implement widespread violence if the women were not released. Knowing Lowry made genuine threats, the Guard colonel released the wives.
Lowry’s activities have become legend. Many consider him a Robin Hood, for he robbed (and killed) the powerful in Robeson County. He was also captured three times and found a way to escape each time—once, filing through jail bars. Legend says he single-handedly routed 18 militiamen in one gunfight near the Lumber River. His last robbery and disappearance contribute greatly to his mystique: In 1872, he mysteriously disappeared after robbing the local sheriff’s office and taking $28,000.
His death is disputed. Some believe he died during or shortly after the heist, but others reported seeing him a few years later sitting quietly at a funeral. In the 1930s, some claimed that he was still alive.
After his 1872 disappearance, the Lowry Band was without its namesake and leader. Their exploits ceased, and in few years, almost every member of the band had been captured or killed.
Carl Waldman, Atlas of The North American Indian (New York, 2009) and North Carolina Museum of History, “Legends of North Carolina: Henry Berry Lowry Lives Forever” http://ncmuseumofhistory.org/edu/ed_md_tw_leg2.html (accessed February 4, 2011).