Chapter Thirteen 2
Chapter 13 – page 3
c. 1900 Indian Chief Billy Barlow
There are three separate references to Native American Billy Barlows. Because of the meagre details it is impossible to tell for sure whether or not they are connected, but it would appear that they are not. One is known to us from the diary of a settler on the West Coast of Canada around 1900.
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The diary entries call this Billy, Chief Billy Barlow, and it is noted that he is head man of the local Native village.
He would once perhaps have been a Shaman. The title of Chief was a European idea. How he came by the name Billy Barlow is not mentioned, but both George Coppin and Sam Cowell had taken the music-hall Billy to Canada back in the 1860s, and both had been received with great enthusiasm.
Another Billy Barlow appears in a photograph labeled “Billy Barlow – Ute.” It depicts a proud-looking man of indeterminate age posing in the tribal costume of a Plains Indian. There is no date and no details about him. If he was a member of the Ute Nation he is unlikely to have been in Canada or the area where the third Billy Barlow lived. However, one reference claims that there was a Billy Barlow in Oklahoma who was a Ute or maybe a Choctaw.
The third Billy is on an enrollment form with very little information. It is noted only that between the years of 1898 and 1914 there was a Native American Billy Barlow who was a male, a parent, and of the Creek Nation. The Creeks were not near the Utes nor were they near Canada. The Creeks and the Choctaw lived in the same area, and there is room for speculation about a link between the second and third Indian Billys. The outfits of the Plains Indians, with their beads and fringes and feathers, became the standard costume for Native American performers in Wild West shows. If the Billy Barlow in the photograph was in show business, maybe even taking his name from the show-world, he would have been unlikely to wear the costume of either the Creeks or the Choctaws. Did he call himself a Ute because it fitted better with the show-going public’s idea of Indian costume? Was he deliberately vague about his origins, except on the one official document, for the same reason?
1914 and 1937. The Deaths of Two Minstrel Billy Barlows
On the 14th of October 1914, the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, woke to the headlines:
WILLIAM BARLOW SHOT
The story, in the New York Times, went on to tell of the murder of the “….formerly widely known minstrel…”
The story claimed that William Barlow’s wife had also been murdered and that an “unidentified negro” was responsible for the attack. A posse had set out in pursuit of the suspect. A calmer account, based more firmly on the facts, followed some days later. Here Barlow was not named as William at any point in the article but as “Billy” Barlow.
“….. “Billy” Barlow was 60 years of age. He was well known in theatrical circles, and was at one time a minstrel of wide fame. …..”
Barlow’s twenty-three-year-old wife had in fact survived the attack, which had involved a hatchet rather than a gun. The couple’s two young children, Billie and Laura, were unharmed. It is not clear where this minstrel “Billy” Barlow fits into the picture.
There was a group of Barlow Brothers, who performed alone as Barlow’s Minstrels, and also in combination with other minstrel troupes, at the end of the 19th century. There are many sheet-music covers that have them on their title pages. None of the records show any of the brothers using the name Billy Barlow, although one was called William. Another William Barlow died in 1937 at the age of eighty-five. He had appeared in two silent movies. At his death he was called, “the last of the Barlow Brothers Minstrels.” Nowhere is he called Billy. The Billy Barlow murdered in 1914 would seem to be of the right age to also belong in this family.
Further on into the 20th century, it seems to me that it becomes less and less likely that the name Billy Barlow was used to intentionally connect with the 19th-century Billy Barlow.
A Black saxophonist by the name of Bill Barlow was quite well-known in the middle of the 20th century, and he may have been responsible for the nick-naming of entertainers around this time. A saxophonist in the little town of Walpeup in Victoria, Australia was known as Billy Barlow, and was probably named for Bill Barlow.
The Song – Billy Barlow – After 1865
In America, as long as Company C of the 109th Pennsylvania Volunteers met for reunions after the Civil War, the Billy Barlow song called Lookout Mountain probably lived on among the companions of its author, John Valleau. It must never have had more than limited appeal.
IN THIS SECTION:
HEY HO RAGGEDY-O:
A Study of the Billy Barlow Phenomenon
(written by Joy Hildebrand)
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