Monday, January 30, 2017
The Seminoles - A Walk Across Florida
I came to a trading post grocery. I went inside and since business was slow, an Indian lady proprietor and I got to talking.
After I answered her question about what I was doing, she told me some interesting Indian stories and information. She talked about when she was a little girl living on a hammock in the Everglades. As a girl, the proprietor had many duties. One of them was to help grind corn meal. She said that her family would squeeze the juice out of the sugar cane to make syrup. They had a chickee (a palmetto thatched open side shelter over a cypress log frame.) She still has one next to her house to have picnics under…...
She said that her children learned three languages. Some of their words today are the same as Spanish. Until 1821 Florida was under the control of the government of Spain. The Indians moving into Florida would have interacted with the Spanish, learned their language, and used some of their words.
She talked about a medicine man she knew who would pray to God when he made his herbs. She remembered when the first Christian Seminoles came from Oklahoma to visit him.
The Seminole Indians have a very difficult but interesting history. They are made up of Creek Indians who moved to northern Florida from the Georgia and Alabama river valleys during the early 1700’s and again in the early 1800’s. They moved because of pressure from both other Indian tribes and the white men moving inland from the coast and wanting their land.
The story of these Indians was an ongoing saga of betrayal and deceit. It was a story of treaties made between the U S Army, the government, and the settlers with the Indians, with no intention of ever abiding by them. It was a story of the land set aside by these treaties not being protected from incursion by the land-hungry settlers. It was a story of meetings called under the pretense of a white flag of truce and then the Indians and their chiefs arrested and imprisoned. Their life journey was overwhelmingly sad.
The Indians were joined by runaway slaves from southern plantations. Most of the slaves who escaped were from the colonies of Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. They were originally from the West African coast. The Indians had their freedom (they thought), but these blacks were fighting for theirs and this together with their many similar customs: ownership of the land by the tribe, close family groups, drums and rattles as part of their customs, magic, headdresses used for special occasions, decorating of the face by painting, and animal stories and myths. They also brought to the Indian way of life their knowledge of agriculture. Their African system of tribal justice also served them well in the Indian formal meetings.
The first Seminole War started in 1817 when a U.S. military commander attacked a Seminole Indian village to take their chief captive….. In 1830 the U.S. government passed and President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act…..
The Second Seminole War was from 1835-1842. There were 3,000 Seminoles fighting a guerrilla war against 20,000 to 30,000 U. S. troops. Even with the odds in their favor, the U.S. government had many embarrassing defeats. In October of 1837 their leader Osceola was captured by the U.S. Army using a ruse saying that they wanted to talk peace…..
The third and final war was in 1855. The government used three methods to capture the last of the bulk of the Seminoles: the enormous number of forts manned with troops, boat patrols running up, down and around the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee and the Big Cypress Swamp, and lastly a bounty system* put in place to bring them in…..
The Seminoles never surrendered as a nation. They call themselves the “Unconquered People.” Most of the Seminole Indians living in Florida today are descendants of those 200-300 Indians who eluded capture.
The remaining Seminoles lived in the back country of the Everglades on the high areas called hammocks. There they could plant food and hunt. They only started to venture out to trade during the last part of the 18th to early 19th centuries. Today there are six Seminole Tribes on Florida reservations. These are Brighton, Big Cypress, Hollywood, Immokalee, Fort Pierce, and Tampa. The Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation* has a land area of approximately 57,000 square miles. Its population is somewhere in the area of 800 to 1,000 persons. There is vegetable, sugar cane, orange and grapefruit farming, along with cattle ranching.
I was truly enjoying talking to this Indian lady. We must have conversed a couple of hours. My detour to go through the Brighton Seminole reservation had been well worth it. She wished me well, and I was off.