The Battle of Hayes Pond was an armed confrontation between the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Lumbee Indians at a Klan rally near Maxton, North Carolina, on the night of January 18, 1958. Grand Dragon James W. “Catfish” Cole was the organizer of the Klan rally. Sanford Locklear, Simeon Oxendine and Neill Lowery were leaders of the Lumbee who attacked the Klansmen and successfully disrupted the rally.
Events leading up to the confrontation
In reaction to the US Supreme Court ruling in 1954 calling for public school desegregation, the revived Ku Klux Klan (KKK) undertook a campaign of terrorist actions throughout the American South designed to intimidate blacks from demanding even greater civil rights. Grand Dragon James W. “Catfish” Cole led the South Carolina-based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Cole targets the Lumbee
In 1956, the mixed-race inhabitants of Robeson County, North Carolina, who had unsuccessfully claimed Indian heritage under various tribal identities, succeeded in achieving limited federal recognition under the “Lumbee” label. The Lumbee campaign for federal recognition attracted the attention and outrage of Catfish Cole who considered the so-called Lumbee a “mongrel” race of largely African origin. Cole worried that the Lumbee, if successful in portraying themselves as Indians, would next attempt to “pass” as white, further blurring racial lines in the segregated South.
In 1957, Cole began a campaign of harassment designed to intimidate the Lumbee. He hoped to use his campaign against the Lumbee to build up the Klan organization in North Carolina. He believed that the “Lumbee” — marginalized even with the Indian community — would easily be frightened. Declaring war, Cole told newspapers: “There’s about 30,000 half-breeds up in Robeson County and we are going to have some cross burnings and scare them up”.
Klan violence escalates
On January 13, 1958, Klansmen burned a cross on the lawn of a Lumbee woman in the town of St. Pauls, North Carolina as “a warning” because she was dating a white man. Emboldened, he gave a strong speech denouncing the “loose morals” of Lumbee women and warning that “venereal disease” could be spread to the white population by their noted promiscuity. The Klan then struck at Lumbee men, burning a cross at a tavern frequented by the Lumbee. Cole denounced the Lumbee men as “lazy, drunken and prone to criminal activity.” The Klan then burned a cross on the lawn of a Lumbee family who had moved into a white neighborhood as a final warning for the Lumbee to remain in “their” areas.
Believing that he had the Lumbee on the run, he announced plans for a Klan rally on January 18, 1958, near the small town of Maxton, intended “to put the Indians in their place, to end race mixing”. His speeches calling the Lumbee “half n—–s” and denouncing “mongrelization” of the races, provoked anger among the Lumbee.
On the night of the rally, 50–100 Klansmen arrived at the private field near Hayes Pond, which Cole had leased from a sympathetic farmer. Cole set up the public address system and erected the cross, all under the illumination of a single light bulb. Before Cole could finish the arrangements, over 500 Lumbee men, many armed with rocks, sticks and firearms, appeared and encircled the assembled Klansmen. First the Lumbee shot out the one light, darkening the field and panicking the Klansmen. Then the Lumbee began yelling and attacked, firing shots at the Klansmen, several of whom briefly returned fire to no avail. Four Klansmen were wounded in the exchange of gunfire. The remaining Klansmen fled the scene, leaving family members, the public address system, unlit cross, and various Klan regalia behind. Cole reportedly left his wife behind and escaped through a nearby swamp.
Afterward, the Lumbee celebrated by holding up the abandoned KKK banner; Charlie Warriax and World War II veteran Simeon Oxendine were shown wrapped in it in Life magazine photos. Oxendine, Neill Lowery and Sanford Locklear were acknowledged by the Lumbee as leaders of the attack, which they called “the Klas.” Many local, state and national newspapers covered the event and captured photos of Lumbee burning the regalia and dancing around an open fire. A posse of Robeson County deputies led by the sheriff arrived on the scene, dispersing the Lumbee with tear-gas grenades and terminating the celebration.
In the days after the confrontation, a defiant Cole called the Lumbee “lawless mongrels” and denounced local law enforcement for failing to intervene earlier in the confrontation. Public opinion, however, turned against Cole. North Carolina Governor Luther H. Hodges denounced the Klan in a press statement. Cole was prosecuted, convicted, and served a two-year sentence for inciting a riot. With Cole imprisoned, the Klan ceased activities in Robeson County.
Cole’s wife, Carol Cole, in an April 3, 1959 letter raising funds for her husband’s appeal, described the battle: “A group of kinky haired so-called Indians invaded on leased land, shot up the segregation meeting with shotguns, rifles and pistols and stole my husband’s speaking equipment.”
The Lumbee celebrate the anniversary of the disrupted Klan rally, which they call the “Battle of Hayes Pond,” as a holiday.