Red Thunder Cloud

Red Thunder Cloud
Red Thunder Cloud 2.jpg
Red Thunder Cloud.
BornMay 30, 1919
Newport, Rhode Island
DiedJanuary 8, 1996
Worcester, Massachusetts
OccupationSinger, dancer, storyteller, and field researcher
Parent(s)Cromwell Payne West and Roberta Hawkins West

Red Thunder Cloud (May 30, 1919 – January 8, 1996), born Cromwell Ashbie Hawkins West, and also known as Carlos Westez, was a singer, dancer, storyteller, and field researcher best known as the last fluent, though non-native speaker of the Catawba language.[1] Of African-American ancestry, Red Thunder Cloud presented himself as Native American throughout most of his life.

Anthropologist Frank Speck believed Red Thunder Cloud to be a genuine Catawba Indian and proceeded to provide him with training in field methods of recording notes for ethnological studies. Despite the fact that he became fluent in the Catawba language, Red Thunder Cloud was neither Catawba nor Native American by ancestry.[2] He worked for Speck, collecting ethnographic data and folklore from Native American groups, [3] and collaborated with several other academic experts on Native American cultures and languages.[4]

Early life

Red Thunder Cloud was born on May 30, 1919, as Cromwell Ashbie Hawkins West in Newport, Rhode Island to Cromwell Payne West of Pennsylvania and Roberta Hawkins West of Lynchburg, Virginia. Both were of African American descent. His maternal grandfather was William Ashbie Hawkins, one of the first African-American lawyers in Baltimore. From 1935 to 1937 West was employed by the Newport City wharf as a watchman and later as a chauffeur. In 1938 West began correspondence with Frank G. Speck, a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, claiming that he was a sixteen-year-old Catawba Indian. He asked Speck for help in learning more about his people and told him that he had been interested in Native American culture since the fourth grade. He claimed that he was raised by the Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island and had lived with the Shinnecock tribe since 1937. He also claimed that he learned the Catawba language from his grandmother, Ada McMechen.[4]

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