This was written by John D. Loudermilk, a singer/songwriter who recorded as "Johnny Dee" and wrote "Tobacco Road
" for The Nashville Teens and "Ebony Eyes
" for The Everly Brothers.
Loudermilk managed to cut ten of his own albums between the years 1961-1979; he hit the charts with ten of his own singles between the years 1957-1967, and had tremendous success writing songs for other artists. Working from Nashville, Tennessee, he also wrote hit songs for the Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Stonewall Jackson, and Sue Thompson. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976.
The song is about the plight of the Cherokee Indians, who in 1791 were displaced from their home in Georgia to a reservation in Oklahoma. Raiders frontman Mark Lindsay, whose ancestry was part Indian, thought that this would be a good song to record.
A country singer named Marvin Rainwater recorded an early version of this song
called "The Pale Faced Indian" in 1959. Rainwater, who was part Cherokee, incorporated chanting into it.
"Indian Reservation" wasn't the only song John D. Loudermilk wrote for Rainwater along this theme: "Half-Breed" (not the Cher hit), was another one. That song, about the struggles of a man whose father is white and mother is Indian, reached #66 in 1959.
The first hit version of this song was recorded in 1968 by a British singer named Don Fardon, who took the song to #20 in the US and #3 in the UK. Raiders used more keyboards and modern production elements in their 1971 rendition, which reached #1 in the US in July that year.
When Casey Kasem, host of the popular radio show American Top 40 asked John D. Loudermilk about writing this song, Loudermilk embellished a story about meeting a Cherokee indian named Bloody Bear Tooth who told him about the plight of his people. Kasem repeated the story on his show, giving the song an intriguing but false backstory.
When Loudermilk released an album called Volume 1: Elloree in 1971, he wrote "P.S. My regards to Bloody Bear Tooth" in the sleeve notes.
The group was formerly known as Paul Revere and the Raiders. This song became not just their biggest hit, but the best-selling single for Columbia Records. Isn't it ironic that a song like this, brimming with simmering rage and an implied threat to retake the land for the natives, was written by a white country songwriter, recorded by a band named after the white European patriots whose colonization of the US took the land from the Cherokees in the first place, and sold by Columbia Records, a company originating as "Columbia Graphophone Company" in the UK?
Mark Lindsay didn't sing lead on this, guitarist Freddy Weller did. Instead, Lindsay produced the single.
The last line of the song was prophetic. The Eastern and Western bands of the Cherokee Nation became one again on April 6, 1984 when the tribes officially reunited at the Red Clay Council Grounds (now a state park) outside Cleveland, Tennessee.
In the category of "lists guaranteed to stump you on trivia night," we present the guitarists and bass players of Paul Revere & the Raiders, active at some point since their founding in 1958: Robert White (1958-1961), Richard White (1958-1961), William Hibbard (1958-1961), Ross Allemang (1962-1963), Steve West (1962), Dick Walker (1962-1963), Drake "Kid" Levin (1963-1967), Jim "Harpo" Valley (1966-1967), Phil "Fang" Volk (1965-1967), Mike "Doc" Holliday (1963-1965), Charlie Coe (1963-1968), Keith Allison (1968-1975), Freddy Weller (1967-1973), Jamie Revere (1980-1990).
The Kentucky soul group New Birth recorded a new version of this song called "African Cry" in 1972, with the lyrics changed to reflect the African-American experience.