9th Ward Daily Photo via rl reeves jr

The Big Chief of the White Eagles never backed down.

When part of Lawrence Fletcher’s gang broke off to form their own tribe, they stole tambourines and a drum as they split the White Eagles practice spot in Gert Town.

Fletcher knew that he had to reclaim the stolen goods, and he did it as only a big chief could.

Born on this day in 1921, the future chief of the White Eagles Indian gang came up in a time when the Indians settled their beefs with knives, fists and pistols.

Hostility between rival gangs was common in those days.

After the theft, the White Eagles got together and went to the upstart gang’s practice space on Magnolia Street in Central City. Fletcher made his men wait a block away while he walked into enemy territory.

He gathered the stolen goods, turned and strolled out the door as his young rivals watched and did nothing. He was the prettiest chief they’d ever laid their eyes on and they knew better than to mess with the man.

There are and have been dozens of black masking Indian gangs in New Orleans for over a century. Tribes like the Creole Wild West, Eighth Ward Hunters, Yellow Pocahontas, White Eagles, Wild Treme, Mandingo Warriors, Wild Squatoolas, Guardians of the Flame, Wild Tchoupitoulas, Congo Nation, and the Yellow Pocahontas have roamed the streets of our city for generations.

Lawrence Fletcher only masked with the White Eagles.

But if we are to tell his story we must first speak on Robert Lee aka Big Chief Robbe.

Robert Nathaniel Lee was born in New Orleans on May 21, 1915. He would become Fletcher’s mentor and provide him entrée into the world of the Indians.

Mr Lee began masking in the late 20s when he joined the Creole Wild West as Spy Boy. He rose steadily through the ranks, became friends with Fletcher, and eventually became Big Chief of the Creoles.

Speaking on the Indian tradition in an interview with The New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1996, the Big Chief said, ”It all started when young men ran away from their masters and lived with the Indians as Indians. After slavery, they began to spread out, but they never forgot the tribes they lived with. At first, the Native Americans thought we were making fun of them. But they found out better.

After reviving the Golden Blades, Big Chief Robbe founded the White Eagles along with Isaac “Mr Ike” Edward, and Fletcher. Ever the nomad, the Big Chief then migrated from Uptown all the way down to the Lower 9th Ward where he established the Ninth Ward Hunters. Robbe’s charisma was so profound that he was asked to be Big Chief of all four tribes he was part of.

“I never asked to be chief of a tribe in my life, and I was chief of four tribes.” “The fellows who wanted to have the tribe came to me and asked me to be the chief.”

Born six years after Big Chief Robbe in 1921, Lawrence Fletcher was drafted into the army during WWII and was taught to be a tailor a skill that would serve him well as he developed a reputation as the finest sewing Big Chief in the entire city.

Black Masking Indians used to put fire to their ornate suits the day after St Joseph’s night but that custom has largely fallen by the wayside.

Ike Edwards loved to brag on Big Chief Fletcher claiming that the chief, in addition to his suit-making skills, was a “very, very good fighter”

The ability to brawl would’ve come in handy in those times as Indians were known to settle their differences with their fists.

As Big Chief Tootie Montana recalled (There are) men who’d walk the streets here, real dangerous people. I’m talking about men who’d kill you with their fists. Stone killers. Today people run to the Indians. During them days people would run away from the Indians.

The Big Chief goes on to speak on how violent the olden days of the culture were and mentions legendary old Indians like Spy Boy Dolphy and Lil Yam Springham.

Come the mid-part of the 20th century, the violence was beginning to abate. Robert Lee, Ike Edwards, and Lawrence Fletcher were drinking in an uptown tavern when the the White Eagles were brought to reality. I was not able to find out the name of the bar but I believe the year to be 1948.

After leading the tribe for three years, Big Chief Robbe handed off the leadership of the group to Lawrence Fletcher.

He would be the second of the White Eagle big chiefs, a list that would go on to include Donald Harrison Sr., Jake Millon and Eugene “Junior” Thomas.

In 1953, eventual Big Chief Monk Boudreaux got his start with the White Eagles as second Spy Boy, and that same year Big Chief Lawrence abdicated his top spot.

Big Chief Bozo aka Clarence Davis ascended and became the ruler of the tribe. He would end up being shot and killed in July of 1995.

Big Chief Lawrence Fletcher went on to work at the Sewerage and Water board before he passed away.

You know the Indians made the dust come up at that second line.

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Sources:
Big Chief Harrison and the Mardi Gras Indians By Al Kennedy
The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans By Ned Sublette
Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restorations in Post-Katrina New Orleans by Clyde Woods
“He’s the prettiest”: A tribute to Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana’s 50 years of Mardi Gras Indian suiting by Kalamu ya Salaam
Transforming Ethnohistories: Narrative, Meaning, and Community edited by Sebastian Felix Braun

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