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The Monacan Indian Nation of Virginia

The Drums of Life

Written by Rosemary Clark Whitlock, with foreword by J. Anthony Paredes and intr

Publication Year: 2008

The contemporary Monacan Nation had approximately 1,400 registered members in 2006, mostly living in and around Lynchburg, Virginia, in Amherst County, but some are scattered like any other large family. Records trace the Monacans of Virginia back to the late 1500s, with an estimated population of over 15,000 in the 1700s.
Like members of some other native tribes, the Monacans have a long history of struggles for equality in jobs, health care, and education and have suffered cultural, political, and social abuse at the hands of authority figures appointed to serve them. The critical difference for the Monacans was the actions of segregationist Dr. Walter A. Plecker, Director of the Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 until he retired at age 85 in 1946. A strong proponent and enforcer of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Law of 1924 (struck down in 1967), which prohibited marriage between races, Plecker’s interpretation of that law convinced him that there were only two races–white and colored–and anyone not bearing physically white genetic characteristics was “colored” and that included Indians. He would not let Indians get married in Virginia unless they applied as white or colored, he forced the local teachers to falsify the students’ race on the official school rolls, and he threatened court clerks and census takers with prosecution if they used the term “Indian” on any official form. He personally changed government records when his directives were not followed and even coerced postpartum Indian mothers to list their newborns as white or colored or they could not take their infants home from the hospital. Eventually the federal government intervened, directing the Virginia state officials to begin the tedious process of correcting official records. Yet the legacy of Plecker’s attempted cultural genocide remains. Through interviews with 26 Monacans, one Episcopal minister appointed to serve them, one former clerk of the court for Amherst County, and her own story, Whitlock provides first person accounts of what happened to the Monacan families and how their very existence as Indians was threatened.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

This is not the usual book from an academic press. It makes no pretense of scholarly analysis, intellectual discourse, or defense of a thesis. The author is one of the people of whom she writes, the Monacans. In a sensitive introduction, scholar Thomas J. Blumer, Ph.D., provides illuminating background on the author and situates the book’s significance by way of comparison...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am grateful to Thomas Blumer, author of a pictorial book on Catawba Indian pottery. He is also the Catawba Indian historian and has other books to his credit. Thank you, Tom, for recommending The University of Alabama Press. I am grateful for the guidance of J. Anthony Paredes, who not only provided the Preface to this work in order to set the Monacan...

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pp. xv-xix

My tenure among the Catawba Indian Nation of South Carolina began in the summer of 1970. Although I did some related work among the Eastern Band Cherokee and spent a year or so studying the Pamunkey Indians of Virginia, I had no real intention of broadening my knowledge beyond my friends, the Catawba. Over the years and as splinter Indian groups...

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1. Virginia Monacan Indians

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pp. 1-7

Within the confines of the Racial integrity Act of 1924 (Appendix J), the state of Virginia recognized only two races— white and colored— and legislated against mixed- race marriages. The law required that a racial description of every person be included on birth certificates and prevented marriages...

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2. Chief Kenneth Branham

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pp. 8-17

I am Kenneth Branham. When my cousin, Ronnie Branham, was chief of the Monacan Indian Nation from 1989 to 1994, I was the assistant chief. When Ronnie resigned because of health problems, I was elected chief in 1995 when I was forty-one years old. My dad was Rufus Branham...

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3. George Branham Whitewolf

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pp. 18-22

I am George Branham Whitewolf. My great-grandparents were Richard Branham and Christina Wise Branham on the paternal side. My maternal great-grandparents were Elisha B. Willis and Ella Adcock Willis. My grandfather was Abraham Branham and his first wife was Anna Elizabeth Willis. In 1895, she died in childbirth at the age of fifteen years...

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4. Danny Gear

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pp. 23-37

I am Danny Pultz Gear. My great- grandparents were John and Sarah Clark Pultz. My grandparents were Rufus Coolidge Pultz and Beverly Shifflett Pultz. My parents were Rufus Coolidge Pultz Jr. and Elizabeth Wilhelm Pultz. My mother, Elizabeth, was a Mississippi Choctaw. I knew...

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5. Lucian Branham— The Patriarch in 1997

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pp. 38-44

My name is Lucian Branham. I was born May 24, 1910. I’m eighty- seven years old now in 1997. My grandparents were George (Buggy) Branham and Mildred (Mallie) Roberts Branham. My parents were Walter Branham and Delia Terry Branham. My mother grew up on the Blue Ridge near Buena Vista, Virginia. Oh, Alta Terry was my other grandmother...

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6. William Sandidge, Clerk of Court

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pp. 45-53

I am William E. Sandidge. I was born in 1904 and I’m now ninety-three years old in this year of our Lord, 1997. I was clerk of court in Amherst County as were my father before me and his father before him. I am the namesake of both my father and grandfather. The Indians have been in Amherst County...

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7. Dena Branham

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pp. 54-56

I am Dena Branham. I live up the road about a mile and a way off in the woods. I’m not as young as I used to be but, no, I don’t get scared alone in the deep woods. I’m not really alone. The wild turkeys walk right up to my door and wait to be fed. I’ve never killed a wild turkey myself, so they know I’ll protect them. Wild turkey meat is too tough and too strong flavored for my...

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8. Jo Ann Staubitz

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pp. 57-61

My name is Jo Ann Johns Taylor Staubitz. My father’s name was Scott Johns and my mother’s name was Virginia Johns Branham. I have an identical twin sister whose name is Jean. Jean was raised by our biological parents and I was raised by foster parents: Chief Harry Branham and his wife, Edith. Jean and I grew up knowing we were...

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9. Lee Branham

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pp. 62-63

I am Lee Branham. I was married to Virginia Johns and we had five children. I grew up on High Peak Mountain. My folks were sharecroppers. We lived in a house that was considered a part of our wages. The house was on land belonging to the owner of the apple orchard. My father and mother and we kids all worked in the orchard. The owner gave us all the...

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10. Annie Johns Branham

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pp. 64-66

I am Annie Johns Branham. My grandmother was Kate Johns. My mother was Edith Johns and she married Harry Branham, my father. My late husband was Albert Mays Branham and we have three children. My husband passed away in 1973. I’ve always lived in Amherst County, Virginia. I attended St. Pauls Mission School, which was set up by the Episcopalian...

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11. Phyllis Branham Hicks

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pp. 67-78

I’m Phyllis Branham Hicks. My maternal great-grandmother was Kate Johns. My paternal great- grandmother was Althea Terry. My maternal grandparents were Harry and Edith Branham. My paternal grandparents were Walter and Delia Branham. My parents are Annie Johns Branham and the late Albert Mays Branham. Mom and Daddy had four children: two...

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12. Thelma Louise Branham-Branham

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pp. 79-83

I am Thelma Louise Branham- Branham. I’m the great-granddaughter of Richard Branham and Christine Wise. I’m the granddaughter of Ramsey Branham and Louise Terry. My other grandparents were John Branham and Ella Beverly. My parents were James Branham and Carsia Branham. My grandfather Ramsey’s siblings were James, Chester, Joe, and John; also William, Harry, George (Buggy), Abraham, and you, the interviewer’s, grandfather Edmund. The girls were Mallie...

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13. Eugene Branham

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pp. 84-85

I’m Eugene Branham, but most people call me “Gene.” I’m Lucian Branham’s son. Lucian holds the title of being the oldest living Monacan in Amherst County now at eighty-seven years old in 1997. Dad and I batch it and we have a good time. He does the gardening and I do the cooking and take care of the flower gardens. We share the household chores and we watch sports on television together. ...

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14. Herbert Hicks

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pp. 86-88

I’m Herbert L. Hicks Jr. My paternal grandparents were Frank Hicks and Lizzie Johns Hicks, and my maternal grandparents were Ellis Branham and Hattie Johns Branham. My parents were Herbert L. Hicks and Amy Johns Hicks Faucett. My wife is Betty, daughter of the late chief Harry Branham...

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15. Karenne Wood and Diane Shields

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pp. 89-93

I am Karenne Wood of Monacan descent. I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I commute back and forth to Madison Heights, Virginia. I work at our tribal office doing research and compiling records as we work toward obtaining our long-overdue federal recognition. There have been some books written about the Indians of Virginia including the Monacan history, but those books haven’t...

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16. Sharon Bryant

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pp. 94-103

I am Sharon Bryant and my father was Jesse James Bryant. My mother is Mary Frances Branham Bryant. My grandparents were Harry and Edith Johns Branham. My other grandmother was Kate Johns. Grandpa Harry was the unofficial Monacan chief until he voluntarily gave it up when he became very aged. Harry’s grandson, and my...

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17. Brenda Branham Garrison

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pp. 104-109

My name is Brenda Branham Garrison. My late father was Jessie James Bryant. My mother is Mary Frances Branham Bryant. My grandparents were Harry Branham and Edith Johns Branham. My great-grandmother was Kate Johns. She broke her hip when I was eight or nine years old and she didn’t...

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18. Hattie Belle Branham Hamilton

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pp. 110-112

I am Hattie Belle, the daughter of Harry Branham and Edith Johns Branham. Edith’s mother was Kate Johns, and Harry’s parents were Richard and Christine Wise Branham. I lived with my parents until I was eighteen years old when I married Willie Bay Hamilton. My father had moved to Father Judge Road when I was six months old. He rented a house from Judge and Beverly Ambler...

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19. Bertie Duff Branham

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pp. 113-121

I am Bertie D. Branham. My father was Eddie Branham and my mother was Dessie Johns Duff Branham. I have three sisters and two brothers. I’m married to Preston Branham and we have seven children, Percy, Wilburn, Regina, Janet, Michael, Annie, and William, in that order. Preston and I have one grandson,...

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20. Cecil Hamilton Terry

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pp. 122-124

I am Cecil Hamilton Terry, daughter of Charlie and Dana Hamilton. I grew up, kind of, and married Stewart L. Terry. We had seven children. Our firstborn were a set of twins and they lived only a few hours. They were jaundiced. The other five children are grown now and have families and homes of their own. As I sit here this day, talking to you, the interviewer, it is the year 1997 and I am seventy-seven years old. Trying to...

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21. Ella Branham Mays

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pp. 125-129

I am Ella Branham Mays. My great-grandparents were Richard Branham and Christine Wise Branham. My grandparents were John Branham and Ella Beverly Branham, also Ramsey Branham and Louisa Terry Branham. My parents were James Branham and Carsia Branham. Carsia was generally called “Cassie.” I have one sister, Louise (Branham) Branham, and I have three...

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22. Betty Hamilton Branham

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pp. 130-131

I am Betty H. Branham. My maternal grandparents were Rob and Rose Johns. My paternal grandparents were Reece and Alice Hamilton. My parents were Dudley Hamilton and Rose Johns Hamilton. I’m married to Colonel Branham. Colonel is not really a colonel in the armed forces. He doesn’t know why his parents so named him. I’m fifty-seven years old this year...

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23. Lacie Johns Branham

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pp. 132-134

I am Lacie Johns Branham. I am the daughter of Luther Johns and Cammie Branham Johns. My husband was the late Rufus Branham. I am the mother of Monacan chief Kenneth Branham. I also have three daughters, Marilyn, Carolyn Sue, and Edith. They are four wonderful children. I thank God for them. I thank God, too, they are of the 1940s generation with more opportunities...

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24. Cammie Branham Johns

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pp. 135-139

[This interview with Cammie was researched from an interview Cammie had with Sharon Bryant and Kenneth Branham. The interview took place for the purpose of being included in the documentary, “Reclaiming Our Heritage.” This documentary was sponsored by Virginia Life Foundation...

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25. William Carson Branham

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pp. 140-142

I am William Carson Branham, son of Preston Branham and Bertie Duff Branham. My maternal grandparents were Eddie Branham and Dessie Johns Duff. My paternal granddaddy is Lee Branham. I am fifteen years old this year of 1997. I attend Amherst County public...

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26. Heather and Holly Branham

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pp. 143-146

My name is Heather Branham. I am thirteen years old this past March 8, 1997. I’m in the eighth grade. I have a seventeen-year-old brother, Shane. He is living in Nashville. He hopes to get a break into the country music field. He writes music and lyrics as well as plays the guitar. My parents are Roger Branham and Peggy Johns Branham. My maternal grandparents were Lewis and Bertie Johns. My paternal grandmother...

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27. The Minister

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pp. 147-154

I am the minister. That doesn’t tell you beans, does it? Allow me to start over. I graduated from St. Martin’s Seminary in New York in 1965. I had majored in theology. I was assigned to work in the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland. I worked in that field for three years. I continued studying and became a captain in the church army. This is an evangelistic arm of the Episcopal church. This...

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28. Rosemary Clark Whitlock

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pp. 155-163

I am Rosemary Clark Whitlock. My parents were Frank Calvin Clark of Rockbridge County and Dora Branham Clark of Amherst County. My maternal grandparents were Edmund Branham and Elena Willis Branham, both of Amherst County. Elena was Edmund’s second wife. His first wife was Betty Ann Johns of Amherst County. My paternal grandparents...


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pp. 165-211


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pp. 213


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pp. 215-221

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381134
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354886

Page Count: 221
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Amherst County (Va.) -- Race relations.
  • Amherst County (Va.) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Monacan Indians -- Virginia -- Amherst County -- Interviews.
  • Monacan Indians -- Virginia -- Amherst County -- Social conditions.
  • Monacan Indians -- Virginia -- Amherst County -- Government relations.
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