Tuesday, May 23, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner, excerpt seven)

from The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 1/3) by Bryan Wagner

Brother Tillman is one of the most famous leaders of the Mardi Gras Indians, and he is still revered, especially among the Uptown tribes. Brother Tillman’s career began in the 1910s and lasted into the 1940s. There are competing accounts of his parentage and early years, but there is agreement that Brother Tillman became Big Chief of the Creole Wild West after the tribe split, with one faction, led by Tillman, moving uptown and keeping the name, and another faction staying in the Seventh Ward, renaming itself the Yellow Pocahontas. Brother Tillman was notorious as a tough man. Police records show dozens of arrests, including on in 1923 after a four-way battle between tribes on Valence and Annunciation Streets, reported in the Times-Picayune under the headline, “Negro Indians Go on Warpath.” There are amazing stories about Brother Tillman, including one told by Paul Longpre, former Big Chief of the Golden Blades, who remembers how Tillman evaded the police in 1927 by faking his own death. There was a wake, with Tillman’s body laid out for display and police in attendance to confirm he was dead. When the casket was on the way to Holt Cemetery, Brother Tillman climbed out and hid in the back of the hearse. When the casket was buried, everyone, including the police, believed Tillman was gone, only to be shocked when he appeared out of nowhere to lead his tribe on Mardi Gras. Brother Tillman is depected poignantly in his later years in a WPA-sponsored folklore anthology, Gumbo Ya-Ya (1945), and exalted in an obituary, “Fabulous ‘Indian Chief’ Laid to Rest,” on the front page of the Louisiana Weekly.

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