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Stories from the Scotsman
The 19th century Scots who fought US racism


IN THE vast wildernesses of an emerging nation, they were the few prepared to mix their Scottish culture and heritage with natives despised as savages by other Europeans. They married native Americans, learned their language, adopted their lifestyle and fought for their rights.

The impact of 19th century Scots on the native tribes of the modern United States is immense and it is common to find native Americans with names such as MacDonald, MacKenzie and Ross.

In a new book, Twa Tribes, by Tom Bryan, a Canadian historian living in Scotland, the influence of Scots is examined through the lives of three men from Nairn, Easter Ross and Dunbartonshire. Alexander Ross, Charles MacKenzie and Hugo Reid emigrated and while they made fortunes, they became dedicated to fighting racial injustice. Bryan said:

"Political correctness is normal and desirable today, but they were pioneers in a distinctly un-PC world."

One of the greatest champions of tolerance was Ross, born in Nairn in 1783. Ross, who died in Manitoba, Canada, in 1856, was a fur trader with the Hudsonís Bay Company, but in 1824 he joined an expedition to Oregon. He married Sarah, a princess of the Okanaga, and had a family. His two daughters married ministers, one of them the Rev George Flett, the first person of mixed blood to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister in the western US.

Reid became a naturalised Mexican citizen in what is now California and married Viceoria, of the Gabrielino tribe. He had arrived as a rancher in 1832, but began to record his observations on the plight of the local tribes. His letters, which are housed in the Library of Congress, provided a unique history of the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Los Angeles missions and were invaluable in winning justice for oppressed peoples.

Mackenzie was born in Easter Ross in 1774. In 1803, he entered the service of the North West Company and a year later embarked expeditions to the Missouri natives.

Bryan added:

"MacKenzie was married to his native wife for 50 years.

"The three men represent a unique group, who left an indelible mark on history."

JIM MCBETH
Tuesday, 17th June 2003

The Scotsman


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