NEH APPLICATION COVER SHEET
CMB No. 3136-0086
1. Individual applicant or project director
a. Name and mailing address
Name Mernit, John M.
(last) (first) initiall)
Address 2 rWest 16th Street
New York, N.YV 10011
b. Form of address: I
c. Social Date of
Security # birth 5/7/49
(mo day yr)
d. Telephone number
Office: 212 4 2/ 929767 ome2 d /9297672
a. Major field of applicant Media
or project director ___(
f. Citizenship] U.S.
2. Type of applicant
a. n by an individual b. KI through an org./institution
If a, indicate an institutional affiliation, if applicable, on line 11a.
If b, complete block 11 below and indicate here:
c. Type Television Production
d. Status Private Nonprofit
3. Type of application
a. new c. P renewal
b. [ revision and resubmission d. D supplement
If either c or d, indicate previous grant number:
4. Program to which application is being made
Humanities Projects in Media
5. Requested grant period
From: 4/92 To: 4/93
(month year) (month.year)
6. Project funding
a. Outright funds
b. Federal match
c. Total from NEH
d. Cost sharing
e. Total project costs
7. Field of project 8. Descriptive title of project
A3 Osceola and the Seminole Tars
9. Description of project (do not exceed space provided)
OSCEOLA AND THE SEMINOLE WARS will be a one-hour documentary for
television, presenting this little-known chapter in American
history to a broad national audience. It will tell the story of
Seminole resistance to U.S. expansion into Florida in the period
1804-1842, focusing on the life of Osceola, a leader of the
Seminole resistance. The film will also examine the legacy of
the Seminole Wars in present-day America.
10. Will this proposal be submitted to another government agency or private entity for funding?
(if yes, indicate where and when): 11/91
11. Institutional data
a. Institution or organization: d. Name and mailing address of institutional grant administrator:
Independent Production Fund. Inc. Padron, Anthony
(name) (as,) (,,rst) (initial)
~New York, N Y. Independent Production Fund. Inc
b. Employer identificationnumber 11-8081037 45 West 45th Street, 15th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10036
c. Name of authorizing official: _______w __________
Padron, Anthony icily) (stas) (Zip codet
lat) (first) (initial)
Dir. of Administration & Telephone:212 2216310 Form of address I
('t") Finance (area code)
By signing and submitting this application, the Individual or the authorizing official of the applicant Institution (block 11c) Is provid-
ig the applicable certifications regarding the nondiscrimination statutes and Implementing regulations, federal debt status,
debarment and suspension, a drug-ree workplace, and lobbying activities, as set forth In the appendix to these guidelines.
Note: Federal law provides criminal penalties of up to $10.000 or imprisonment of up to fiv years. or both, for knowingly providing false information to an agency of the U.S government 18
U.S.C. Section 1001
Please check appropriate boxes:
O Adult D Radio 0 Planning 0 Production
O Children 0 Television 0 Scripting
For NEH use only
COVER SHEET CONTINUATION
OSCEOLA AND THE SEMINOLE WARS will be produced under the auspices
of The Independent Production Fund, Inc., a 501(c)(3)
corporation. The IPF was formed in 1988, primarily to produce
programs for television in the public interest. Previous IPF
productions have been "America at Risk," a history of the
consumers' rights movement, and the series, "The Public Mind,"
with Bill Moyers, about public opinion and mass media, for PBS.
The IPF is currently developing a series entitled, "Sweet Land of
Liberty," about civil liberties in the United States.
OSCEOLA AND THE SEMINOLE WARS will present a forgotten chapter in
American history, a story of Native American resistance to U.S.
expansion into Florida in the early 1800s. In addition, it will
examine the legacy of this history in the present day. Specific
questions to be addressed include what factors determine what
parts of our history are emphasized and what parts are ignored,
how the Native American resistance to white expansion can be
incorporated into a more inclusive American history, how cultural
differences between whites and Seminoles affected the Wars, and
how this history can be made more relevant to today's Americans.
The program will be a documentary film, one hour in length.
John Mernit, Producer/Writer.
Jean de Seqonzac, or Joel Shapiro, Cinematographer.
Donna Marino, Editor.
James Billie, Chairman, Seminole Tribe of Florida.
John K. Mahon, former Chairman of the Department of History,
University of Florida,
William C. Sturtevant, SbahoM of the Department of Anthropolgy,
Patricia R. Wickman, Historian, former Senior Curator of the
State of Florida.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Subject Matter 1
Historical Narrative 5
History of the Project 10
Proposed Format 11
Relation to the Seminole Tribes 14
Plan of Work 17
This is a request for planning funds leading to the production of
a one-hour film about Osceola and the Seminole Wars.
We anticipate that subsequent proposals will be made to the
Endowment for scripting and production support.
It was a war the United States never won. It cost the U.S. tens
of millions of dollars and the lives of some 1500 soldiers. The
enemy was vastly outnumbered, but used hit-and-run guerrilla
tactics to harry the U.S. troops and flee to safety. The war
divided the American people, as many protested against their
country's unjust policies and unethical tactics. One of the
enemy leaders became renowned throughout the land, and six
American towns still bear his name.
In short, it was America's first Vietnam.
Yet today, very few Americans are aware of the story of Osceola
and the Seminole Wars. This little-known chapter in American
history was played out over 150 years ago, as U.S. troops tried
to oust the Seminole Indians from Florida. The repercussions
were vast. The Seminole Wars changed the map of the United
States, helped put a strong-willed general into the White House,
affected the course of slavery in the South, and ultimately saw
thousands of Seminoles relocated to a distant reservation in
Oklahoma. It is not a story the United States can be proud of.
It is, however, one that Americans should know about first,
because it helps correct our idealized view of our nation's
history. Unflattering episodes in American history like this
one, particularly those involving ethnic minorities such as
Native Americans and African Americans, have tended not to
receive adequate treatment, "repressed" by our national
consciousness and "forgotten" or consigned to a footnote to the
otherwise inspiring saga of our nation's birth and growth. But
without acknowledging such episodes in our history, we are more
likely than ever to be involved in similar ones today.
The story is also important because it highlights the valiant
efforts made by Native Americans to defend their homeland in the
face of overwhelming odds. Since such chapters in our history
have most often been told from the perspective of U.S. expansion
westward, from the view of settlement of "virgin" land, the
stories of Native American resistance have too often been
ignored. As historian John K. Mahon wrote, in his book, History
of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842, "I have become
increasingly convinced that had the Second Seminole War been
fought by other-than-Indians, it would have been in the
mainstream of American history as one of the great struggles of a
people less numerous and less powerful than their foes to
remain in their homeland. As history got written, however, this
conflict, apart from the thrust of so-called white progress, was
Even where the stories of Native American resistance have been
told, they have tended to be concentrated on the stories of
larger western indigenous groups, who stood in the way of
American "manifest destiny." The histories of smaller eastern
indigenous groups like the Seminoles have tended to be
overlooked. This is particularly true in the realm of mass
media. As Mahon wrote about the Seminole Wars, "These wars have
been pushed out of view by an almost psychopathic pre-occupation
with the fights against the plains tribes, fights enlarged to
monstrous proportions by fiction, radio, the movies and
television." Although this story resulted in Florida becoming
part of the United States, determined in part the ethnic make-up
of Oklahoma, was a training ground for many of the subsequent
generals of the Civil War, and caused widespread popular support
for the Seminoles' cause throughout the United States, it has not
received the treatment it deserves.
And even when our media have told the stories of conflict between
Native Americans and white settlers, they have generally been
told from the white man's point-of-view. Native Americans have
been portrayed as the enemy, a foil for the heroic exploits of
cowboys, cavalry and other white western adventurers. Seldom
have the stories of indigenous heroes like Osceola been told to a
national audience. We think of them as "Indians" rarely as
individuals, men who led their people in the most trying of
times, faced with untenable choices between capitulation and
death. Native Americans today deserve to see their ancestors
given their rightful place in our collective history.
But this story is important not just to Native Americans. One of
the goals of this project is to highlight this story as part of
our American heritage "our" meaning all Americans. In the
past, there was a tendency to tell American history from the
point of view of European settlers and their descendants. If
American history, culture and institutions were seen as the
product and property of these white Americans, then other ethnic
groups, particularly Native Americans, were seen as existing
outside the realm of an "American way." The goal would be either
to banish these groups to positions of exile apart from this
white America, or to assimilate these groups, and "their" history
and culture, into the larger white American traditions, generally
in a subordinate or watered-down state. Conflicts with these
ethnic groups were seen as obstructions in the flow and
development of the American way, when in fact, these conflicts
were an integral part of the creation of what we now call
Indeed, it is startling that such an important chapter in
American history as the Seminole Wars, which had significant
impact on the course of the growth of our nation, should be so
little-known today. As indicated above, this can be explained by
the fact that Native Americans were the heroes of this story, and
the fact that God was clearly not on our side. In fact, the
support engendered at the time for Osceola and the Seminole cause
among white Americans is due at least in part to the fact that
the traditional "American" values that we hold dear such as
freedom, honor, and fairness were embodied by Osceola and the
Seminoles, and violated by the U.S. government in Florida. Thus
one of the goals of the project will be to point out how our
history is not objective, that what we emphasize in our history,
what we remember and what we forget, is often determined by such
factors as the particular viewpoints of the reporters, the ethnic
make-up of the subjects, and the degree to which this history
supports or contradicts our values as a nation.
In his time, Osceola's courageous exploits won the admiration and
support of many white Americans. Today, by humanizing and
retelling this one episode of indigenous resistance, we can
enrich the heritage of all Americans. At the same time, by re-
examining the actions of our government against non-white
indigenous groups in a campaign of national expansion, we can
draw parallels to the present, providing a fuller and more
realistic historical context for our nation's actions today.
It should be noted that another reason for this story's relative
obscurity in the American consciousness is clearly the
marginalized position of the Seminoles today. With only about
10,000 Seminoles, split into two tribes in Florida and Oklahoma,
the Seminoles have not been as well-recognized as other
indigenous groups. Many of the Seminoles today live on
reservations, with little interaction with the larger society.
Further, the Seminoles have no written language, and their
recording of history is purely oral. Many Seminoles do not speak
English, and there are no Seminole writers telling their stories
in English to a larger audience. And Seminole cultural
traditions even tend to hamper the development of Seminole
academic historians who might concentrate on research into the
story of Osceola. As one Seminole explained, "Among Seminoles,
when someone dies, we don't speak of them, we leave them in
peace." A further goal of the project will be to examine how
Seminole cultural traditions played a role in the events of the
Seminole Wars, and as well, how those traditions influence the
way this history has been communicated today.
Differing cultural traditions and perceptions of each other
between Seminole and white were major factors in the Seminole
Wars, and will be treated in the film. For example, the U.S.
military leadership in Florida was often frustrated in dealing
with the Seminoles, because they had great difficulty signing a
treaty with one Seminole leader that would stand for all the
Seminoles. This was because the Seminoles didn't operate in the
same hierarchical structure as the U.S. government and military.
For their part, many Seminoles were incensed that the U.S. would
take agreement from one chief as meaning agreement for all the
Also central to the film will be the ways in which white
perception of non-whites as "other" made the Seminole Wars
possible, and further, how desire for property took precedence
over other human values. For one, co-existence with the
Seminoles was never an option for the U.S. Segregation onto
reservations was the only possibility considered. And although
there was an interim period in which the Seminoles were offered a
reservation in central Florida, Andrew Jackson had always felt
that the only solution to the "Indian problem" was for all the
Indians to be re-located west of the Mississippi. Then, once the
wars commenced, the U.S. military acted in ways toward the
Seminoles that they never would have in fighting, say, the
British. The most famous example was the capture of Osceola
under a flag of truce, which caused much condemnation on the part
of northern Americans. This white valuation of non-white as
"lower" than white, or "uncivilized," was then used by whites as
an excuse for acting in uncivilized or ignoble ways toward the
non-white. Highlighting this theme in the film is important in
light of similar actions on the part of the U.S. in modern times,
most obviously in U.S. military perceptions of gookss" in
White attitudes toward African-Americans also played a major role
in the Seminole Wars, and in fact, were among the principle
causes of the wars. African-Americans were not people, but
property. As such, those of them who moved south from Alabama
and Georgia into Spanish Florida around 1800 were seen as stolen
or escaped goods, and were to be pursued and returned to their
rightful owners. Tension regarding runaway slaves seeking refuge
in Florida was one of the principle causes of the First Seminole
War. Then, in 1837, a dispute over the status of African-
Americans who had joined the Seminoles led to the opening of the
Second Seminole War, when the U.S. qualified its promise to allow
these African-Americans to migrate to Oklahoma with the
Seminoles, under pressure from slave-catchers.
In addition to communicating this little-known chapter of
American history to a broad audience, the film will examine some
of the reverberations of that history in the present. The film
will look at what has been passed down from this story to the
present, both among white Floridians and among Seminoles in
Florida and Oklahoma. It will see how attitudes prevalent in the
history, particularly between white and non-white, have developed
in the present day. It will present appropriations of culture
and history between the two groups, and examine why these
particular aspects of the story have been borrowed or
incorporated by each group. And it will show what happened to
the property at question in the Seminole Wars, what has become of
it today. By weaving the present into past, the film will make
history come alive, and underline the impact and relevance of
this story to Americans today. (This approach is treated in
greater detail under "Proposed Format" below.)
OSCEOLA AND THE SEMINOLE WARS will treat primarily the period
between 1804 and 1842 in Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma. In
telling the story of the First and Second Seminole Wars, it will
focus on the life of Osceola, one of the leaders of the Seminole
resistance. In addition, the film will examine some of the
echoes of this history in the present day.
In the early 1800s, tensions were increasing between the Creek
Indians of Georgia and Alabama and the white settlers who
continued to push westward in search of new homesteads. White
men murdered Creeks, and Creeks raided white settlements. In
1813, a group of Creek warriors killed 327 Americans at Fort Mims
in southern Alabama. Some months later, General Andrew Jackson
led U.S. forces in retaliation, wiping out a thousand Creeks at
the battle of Horseshoe Bend. Other forces swept through Creek
settlements in Georgia, scattering the Creeks into hiding in the
wilderness. Among the refugees was a ten-year-old half-breed
Creek, named Billy Powell, later to become Osceola, a leader of
the Seminole resistance.
General Jackson forced the Creeks to cede two-thirds of their
territory to the United States. Many of the Creeks who lost
their land, like Billy Powell's family, headed south to seek
refuge in Florida, then owned by Spain. There they joined the
Seminoles, cultural relatives of the Creeks, whose members had
moved south from Georgia and Alabama in the early 1700s.
But the Creeks and Seminoles weren't the only non-whites living
in Florida. There was also a large population of blacks, both
slaves and free. Many of these blacks had been acquired by the
Seminoles from white owners, and were taken to live in Seminole
villages as dependants. Some intermarried with the Indians, and
their offspring were considered free. Some blacks rose to
important positions among the Indian groups; others formed their
own mixed or all-black villages and lived a Seminole lifestyle.
In addition, runaway slaves from the north sought sanctuary south
of the border and came to live in these villages. They were
pursued, however, by posses of slave-catchers, who crossed the
border into Spanish territory to seek them out, clashing with
Indian and black alike, and accusing the Seminoles of harboring
fugitives. In 1817, a skirmish between U.S. troops and Seminoles
on the north-central Florida border at Fowltown escalated into
the First Seminole War. General Andrew Jackson wrote to
President James Monroe, "let it be signified to me through any
channel that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to
the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished."
Further fighting between indigenous Americans and whites caused
President Monroe to grant Jackson's wish. Jackson's forces
stormed through Florida, killing many Creeks and Seminoles and
capturing others. Among the prisoners were the fourteen-year-old
Billy Powell and his mother. Jackson also captured the cities of
St. Marks and Pensacola from the Spaniards, whom he blamed for
not controlling the Seminoles. In 1819, Spain ceded the Floridas
to the United States, and in 1821 Jackson was named the
Among the new owners, there was widespread agitation to round up
all the Seminoles and ship them off to less valuable land west of
the Mississippi. Not only were the Seminoles harboring runaway
American "property," they were also standing in the way of
further white settlements in Florida. But the Seminoles were
spread out across the territory, often in uncharted wilderness.
So instead of fighting them, in 1823 the administrators called
together as many Seminole chiefs as they could at Camp Moultrie,
below St. Augustine, and got them to sign a treaty giving the
Seminoles a reservation in central Florida. In exchange for
moving to the reservation, the Indians were promised cash
annuities, food, tools for farming, livestock and they were
told the government would protect them forever "against all
One of the men who moved onto the reservation in 1825 was
Osceola, now 21 and a respected leader of a small group of
Tallassee Seminoles. The former Billy Powell had received his
adult Seminole name, which meant "Black Drink Singer." The Black
Drink was an important medicine used for spiritual purification,
a purgative imbibed before going into battle or holding council,
and its use was accompanied by a the long cry of a singer who
served the brew. On the reservation, Osceola and his group
followed the leadership of the Seminole headman, Micanopy.
Micanopy saw cooperation with the U.S. as the best way for the
Seminoles to live in peace, and Osceola became one of the native
"policemen" who helped keep order on the reservation.
But the Seminoles faced trying conditions. There had been no
time for the relocated Seminoles to plant crops before winter
came. Facing starvation, many of them stole food from adjoining
white settlements. And when spring finally came, it became
apparent that the land to which the Seminoles had been confined
was so poor that not much could be grown on it. Even the
territorial governor of Florida wrote to Washington that the
swampy land was "entirely too wet for cultivation.., poor,
unhealthy...wholly unfit...sandy...under water." Even the best
of the land was "worth but little; nineteen-twentieths of their
whole country within the present boundary is by far the poorest
and most miserable region I ever beheld."
Still, the Seminoles were not allowed off the reservation to hunt
for food. Meanwhile, slave-hunters from the north were allowed
to search the Seminole villages for runaways. Seminoles who
protested that they had bought the slaves themselves, or that
others were free blacks, were not believed. As a result of these
conflicts over runaways and food, whites began firing upon
Seminoles, and Seminoles retaliated with attacks on whites.
The turmoil led to further calls for the removal of the Seminoles
to land west of the Mississippi. Andrew Jackson, who had made
much of his reputation fighting the Creeks and Seminoles, was now
in the White House. In 1830, Congress passed the Removal Bill,
giving Jackson the authority to relocate all the southeastern
Indian tribes to reservations in the west. In 1832, at Payne's
Landing, on the Oklawaha River, Colonel James Gadsden met with
representatives from some of the friendlier Seminole villages.
Using an ambiguously worded treaty and a corrupt interpreter, the
Americans got the Seminoles to agree to inspect new land in
Oklahoma, and if they were satisfied, to move there within three
years. Six of the chiefs travelled to the area around Fort
Gibson, Oklahoma, and under duress, may have agreed to move.
Back in Florida, the U.S. government interpreted agreement from
the six chiefs as meaning that all the Seminoles would leave
Florida for Oklahoma. Many Seminoles were incensed. Osceola,
who until then had been cooperative with the Americans, refused
to leave, and became a leader of the Seminole resistance.
In 1834, at Fort King, General Wiley Thompson called the Seminole
leaders together and told them they would have to leave Florida.
He said if they didn't go peacefully, they'd go in irons, and
that their annuities would no longer be paid to them. One story
has it that at this point, Osceola rose and told the American he
could keep his money, but the Seminoles would not move. At a
later meeting at Fort King, the Americans were told that
Micanopy, the Seminole headman, would not recognize the Treaty of
Payne's Landing, and would not leave Florida. General Thompson
tried one final time. Sixteen chiefs agreed to sign a new
removal agreement, four, including Osceola, refused. A legend
(probably apocryphal) has persisted to this day that when Osceola
was asked to make his mark, he angrily drove his knife through
the treaty, pinning it to the table, with the words, "That's your
heart, and my work."
In any case, Osceola's position had changed from one of
cooperation with the Americans to one of resistance. A few
months later, Thompson had Osceola arrested for his openly
defiant attitude. Osceola appeared to relent, and signed the
the removal agreement to obtain his release.
The chiefs who agreed to removal had one more objection. They
were going to be placed near Creek tribes that were ancient
enemies of the Seminoles, and wanted a government agent assigned
to them in Oklahoma for protection. When this request was
denied, they reconsidered their agreement. Many of the chiefs
now agreed to a policy of resistance for all Seminoles. Soon, in
December 1835, Seminole warriors began a series of raids against
U.S. troops in Florida. The Second Seminole War had begun.
It was to be a costly war for the United States, reminiscent of
the Vietnam War in our own time. Osceola and other war chiefs
led their followers in hit-and-run attacks and ambushes,
devastating the U.S. troops in Florida. In one ambush, General
Wiley Thompson was killed, in another, over 100 troops under
Major Francis Dade were almost completely wiped out. President
Jackson was forced to send reinforcements. Fresh troops marched
into Florida, commanded by Major General Edmund P. Gaines and
General Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812. Neither
succeeded, as Osceola's bands continued to surprise and outflank
the American troops, then disappear into the hostile swampland to
regroup and fight again. A succession of commanders, leading
ever-larger armies of thousands of troops, failed to drive the
Seminoles from their land.
But by March of 1837, facing a protracted stand-off, the war-
weary Seminoles were ready to negotiate a settlement. Chief
Micanopy and a number of other leading chiefs agreed to emigrate
to Oklahoma. But many white settlers and slave-catchers objected
to a provision in the agreement allowing African-Americans who
had joined the Seminoles to emigrate with them, and General Jesup
partially retracted his promise. Meanwhile, Osceola and other
war chiefs still opposed emigration. In a daring confrontation,
they surrounded the camps of Chief Micanopy and Chief Jumper near
Fort Dade, and abducted the S4minole leaders. The Seminoles
returned to their policy of resistance, and the U.S. resumed its
pursuit of them. Jesup wrote to Washington, "The country can be
rid of them only by exterminating them."
By this time, U.S. removal policy was being questioned by whites
in the Northeast and throughout the rest of the nation. But the
government pressed on. By autumn of 1837, the U.S. forces had
had several successes, and some of the Seminoles were willing to
negotiate again. A meeting was set up between General Joseph
Hernandez and Osceola, who was now suffering from malaria. The
meeting took place at Osceola's camp, where a white flag of truce
was flying. The Seminoles made it clear from the outset that the
flag signified truce, not surrender. But when the Indians said
they wanted peace, not emigration, the U.S. troops took them
prisoner. They were marched off to confinement at Fort Marion,
St. Augustine (now the Castillo de San Marcos.)
The capture of Osceola under a white flag brought a storm of
protest throughout the nation. "We disclaim all participation in
the 'glory' of this achievement of American generalship," read a
typical editorial in the Niles National Register. "If practiced
towards a civilized foe, [it] would be characterized as a
violation of all that is noble and generous in war."
Jesup used a similar tactic to arrest Chief Micanopy under a flag
of truce, and sent him to join Osceola at Fort Marion. But the
escape of twenty Seminoles convinced Jesup that a more secure
prison was needed, and he shipped the prisoners to Fort Moultrie,
on Sullivan's Island at Charleston, South Carolina. The
Seminoles' brave resistance brought the sympathy of the local
populace, and made Osceola something of a hero. The Charleston
Courier wrote, "In our humble opinion, he has been to the full,
as much sinned against as sinning.. Treacherous he may have been,
but we cannot forget that he was provoked by treachery, and
captured by treachery. We are fairly even with him. We now owe
him the respect which the brave ever feel toward the brave."
But at 34 years of age, Osceola was dying, the victim of chronic
malaria and acute tonsillitis. The prison doctor wrote that a
half-hour before his death, Osceola asked for his full battle
dress, and put it on along with his war paint. He shook hands
with all the officers in attendance and bid farewell to his wives
and children. Then he lay down, placed his war knife across his
chest, and breathed his last breath.
(The prison doctor neglected to write that he subsequently cut
off Osceola's head and kept it as a memento in his home, where
according to a family rumor he occasionally hung it on his sons'
bedstead to punish them for misbehaving.)
Meanwhile, other Seminoles continued the fight through the
Florida swamps. A number of American military leaders, including
Zachary Taylor, pushed the Indians further south into the
Everglades, and many were captured and shipped to Oklahoma. But
several hundred Seminoles never capitulated, and when the
government gave up the war in 1842, they were hiding in the
swamps of southern Florida. Today, their descendants live on
four small Seminole reservations, proud that they never
surrendered their homeland to the U.S. invaders.
History of the Project
The project was initiated by television producer John Mernit
early this year, when the story first came to his attention.
Mernit began research into the story on his own, originally using
printed sources in the collections of the New York Public
Library, in bookstores, and from the catalogs of university
presses. It soon became clear that academic guidance would be
necessary to separate out which sources were the most accurate
and essential, and to suggest further source materials and
avenues of research. Mernit then began contacting authors of
some of the principal works in the field, cross-referencing
suggestions of scholars to arrive at those most directly involved
in research into this story. An advisory panel was formed,
consisting of John K. Mahon, professor emeritus of history at the
University of Florida, William Sturtevant, Chairman of the
Department of Anthropology at the Smihsonian Institution, and
Patricia Wickman, former Senior Historian of the State of
Florida. Mernit expects to expand this panel to include an
authority on the life of Andrew Jackson, most probably Robert
Remini, Professor of History at the University of Illinois at
Chicago Circle. Through telephone conversations and exchanges of
correspondence, the advisors helped producer Mernit to separate
myth from reality in recreating the history of Osceola and the
Seminole Wars. In addition, they made suggestions for further
telephone research with other scholars and experts who would have
input into the story. The advisors also have helped ascertain
what artifacts and sites that were important to this story remain
in the present, and where such sites are located, as well as
providing leads as to where original sources, such as paintings,
lithographs, dairies, and journals can be found.
Further input was provided by members of the Seminole Tribe of
Florida, and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, in telephone
conversations with John Mernit. Such input is particularly
important in identifying which Seminoles would be the best
sources of oral histories about Osceola and the Seminole Wars,
what current Seminole activities might be reflective of themes in
the historical story, and the impact that Seminole cultural
traditions had on this history, as well as the ways in which
those cultural traditions influence the way the story is told
As this project is in the early stages of development, this
planning grant application is the first application for financial
support that has been made.
OSCEOLA AND THE SEMINOLE WARS will represent something of a
departure from the standard treatment of historical themes in
documentaries. In most such films, typified by the PBS series,
The American Experience, history is presented as a self-contained
series of events, with a beginning, middle and end. The films
rely heavily on archival footage and photographs, and any
location filming is limited to those sites which remain
unchanged, which look the same today as they did at the time of
the historical event being depicted. There is a strenuous
attempt to re-create the history, to present scenes that purport,
if only on a subliminal level, to be "real," to be accurate
representations of a time and place long gone.
This is all well and good, and similar devices will be employed
in this film. But using only such an approach is extremely
limiting. For one thing, it means that history prior to 1850 is
rarely treated in American television, other than by
dramatization, because it predates the invention of motion
pictures and the widespread use of photography. A perusal of the
titles produced by The American Experience over its first three
seasons shows few subjects which took place prior to 1850, if
any. The reason is simple: reliance on a narrow, traditional
format that requires archival footage has placed such subjects
off-limits for the series.
Such an approach is also limiting stylistically. The necessity
to stretch meager visuals to cover narration for which there is
no footage of the actual event can result in films which are
dull, even precious in tone. They can be poor examples of the
use of film as a medium, bringing little to the audience that
could not as easily have been communicated in print.
OSCEOLA AND THE SEMINOLE WARS will broaden the reach of
historical documentary beyond this traditional format. It will
attempt to create a style and format that make possible an
engaging presentation of historical events that occurred prior to
Central to our approach will be to examine the reverberations and
echoes of this story in the present. The story of Osceola and
the Seminole Wars will be told chronologically, and it will be
the spine of the film, the framework upon which all else hangs.
But interspersed with this history will be shots and sequences
from the present which reflect this history or reflect upon it.
Where sites such as battlefields and forts exist in their
original state, or have been reconstructed, they will be
included. But other sites that bear no resemblance to their
appearance in the early 1880s may also be included.
This is the story of a struggle for property, both geographic and
human, of territorial possession and migration. The shape of the
land we see today was determined in no small part by the removal
of the Seminoles in the Seminole Wars. It is appropriate that
the visual outcome of this story be intertwined with the telling
of the historical events. In this way, although the history will
be presented in a linear fashion, the film itself will weave the
present into the past, allowing both eras to exist side-by-side.
At times, the threads of this weave may be just a single shot;
for example, if we're talking about a route taken by a Seminole
war party, we may see that route today, through the window of a
car travelling on the route, now a paved highway. Or, the
threads may be entire sequences. If we're discussing the
intentions of Andrew Jackson, we may visit the Springtime
Tallahassee Festival, where the greatest honor is to be chosen
the man who will portray Jackson in the pageant. Such a sequence
not only allows us to discuss Jackson in history, it also gives
us insight into the way Jackson is perceived by northern
Floridians today. This juxtapostion of history and its effects
will deepen our understanding of both. Similarly, we may digress
briefly to a football game at Florida State University, to
present the debate over "Osceola," the school's mascot, a student
dressed as an Indian who rides a horse along the sidelines.
Such an approach will help bring history alive, bring it
literally into the present. Viewers will have a much greater
appreciation of what this history means to them, how it has
shaped and affected their world. It will not be some esoteric
story of no relevance to them, but rather an explanation of how
some of the features of their geographic, cultural and social
environment came to be.
This approach will also allow us to incorporate more of present-
day Seminole culture into the film. We will of course look at
the current location and property of the Seminoles on
reservations in Florida and Oklahoma. We'll also include aspects
of current Seminole culture that reflect or are similar to the
era of our story.
Having made a case for a more radical treatment of this story,
let us stress that the use of the present will not replace the
past but be added to it. The central story, and the principal
filmic elements will be historical. Those elements are as
- Visits to battlefields, forts and other original sites.
Several of these sites have been preserved in part or
reconstructed, including Fort Toulouse in Alabama, Fort
Gadsden, Fort Foster, and Fort Marion in Florida, Fort Moultrie
in South Carolina (where Osceola is buried), and Fort Gibson in
Oklahoma, as well as the Horseshoe Bend Battlefield and Dade
Battlefield. Terrain similar to sites in the story still
exists at or near the original sites, often in nature
- Paintings, drawings and maps from the period.
A number of paintings and drawings of Osceola exist, as well as
portraits of some of the U.S. military leaders and of course,
President Jackson. There are also drawings of sites from
Spanish Florida. In addition, several maps from the early
nineteenth century pinpoint the exact locations of all the
major battles and negotiations between the U.S. and the
Seminoles, as well as the precise battlefield deployments of
one of the major engagements.
- Contemporary accounts from journals, diaries and newspapers.
There are a number of eye-witness accounts written by soldiers
and other observers, which give detailed descriptions of the
negotiations between the Seminoles and the U.S. military,
including the capture of Osceola. Newspaper articles and
editorials chronicle indignation among northern and midwestern
journalists, as well as the accord given Osceola by the city of
Charleston, S.C., where he spent his last days. And Osceola's
imprisonment and death are described in the diary of
Dr. Weedon, the attending physician.
These contemporary accounts will be read by actors in the film.
- Artifacts remaining from the period.
Although extremely limited, there are some remnants of Seminole
life from the period, including a few articles of Osceola's
- Artists' renderings commissioned specially for the film.
Important scenes will be reconstructed by artists, after
consultations with historians assuring accuracy of
representation. These renderings will be blended with the
readings of journal entries and appropriate sound effects to
bring these scenes to life.
- Interviews with leading historians of the Seminole Wars.
As much as possible, these interviews will be filmed in
original settings. The comments of these historians are
expected to tell a significant part of this story.
- Oral histories of present-day Seminole Indians.
The Seminoles of the period had no written record of their
experiences. While oral histories handed down over generations
cannot be relied upon for strict accuracy, they can show how
the Seminoles view this episode in their history. And where
oral histories are supported by other evidence, they can be
used to tell the story.
Almost nothing has been done on this topic at all. The only film
or television presentation that the producer has encountered is
Black Warriors of the Seminole, which was recently produced by
WUFT in Gainseville, and seen on some PBS stations. This half-
hour video does incorporate some material that would be included
in OSCEOLA AND THE SEMINOLE WARS, but its focus was much more
narrow, namely the role played by blacks allied with the
Seminoles in the Second Seminole War.
Relationship to the Seminole Tribes
Producer John Mernit has had conversations with several members
of the leadership of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Although this film is not an
anthropological study, but rather a presentation of a chapter in
American history, input from the tribes is an integral part of
this project. The Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida,
James Billie, has a deep interest in this story and would like to
see it communicated to a broader audience. Chairman Billie has
offered his support to the project, and will act as a consultant
and liason, referring the producer further to appropriate
members of the tribe.
John Mernit, Producer/Writer. John Mernit is an independent
producer and writer of documentaries for television. Over the
past decade, most of his work has been for PBS. He was one of
the founding producers of "Adam Smith's Money World," the
national PBS economics series, and in addition to dozens of half-
hour programs, produced all of the series' one-hour specials:
"Adam Smith in the New China" (Emmy Award nomination for
writing), "Thunder from the East: The U.S.-Japanese Trade War,"
and "The New Russian Revolution." Mr. Mernit also produced the
first two seasons of "Innovation," the WNET/13 science series for
PBS, for which he won an Emmy. In addition, he produced several
segments of "3-2-1 Contact," the Children's Television Workshop
science series for children on PBS, and "No Time to Waste," a
Greenpeace children's special on the environment for PBS.
Mr. Mernit's other credits include several films about
international economics for the International Monetary Fund,
"Smoking: Everything You and Your Family Need to Know," with
Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, for HBO (ACE Award, Scott
Newman Drug Abuse Prevention Award, CINE Golden Eagle), and
"James Michener's U.S.A.," a series of one-hour films about
different regions of the United States, hosted by the author.
Mr. Mernit was educated at Harvard College, and speaks fluent
German and some French.
Jean de Segonzac or Joel Shapiro, Cinematographer. (subject to
availability at time of filming)
Jean de Segonzac has done cinematography for dozens of prime-time
PBS programs, including numerous programs for "Frontline" and
"Nova." His other cinematography credits include "Gorbachev's
Soviet Union," a special PBS series with Hedrick Smith, "Portrait
of Milos Forman," for "American Masters" on PBS, two films for
the "Portrait of America" series for TBS, and "Common Threads:
Voices from the Names Project Quilt Memorial," for HBO. He
worked with producer John Mernit on "Smoking," a film about the
health risks of cigarette smoking with Surgeon General Dr, C.
Everett Koop, for HBO.
Joel Shapiro has also done cinematography for numerous PBS prime-
time programs. He has shot a great many programs with Bill
Moyers, including "Oren Lyons, the Faithkeeper," "Beyond Hate,"
"A World of Ideas," "The Power of the Word," "Facing Evil," and
"Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth." He was also
cinematographer for "Jamake Highwater's Native Land," for PBS.
He worked with producer John Mernit on "Adam Smith in the New
China," a PBS special.
Donna Marino, Editor. Donna Marino has edited numerous programs
for PBS, ABC and independent productions. Her credits include
two films with Bill Moyers, "Amazing Grace," and "All Our
Children," for PBS, as well as "Thomas Hart Benton," with Ken
Burns. She was the editor of "The Ten Year Lunch: The Wit and
Legend of the Algonquin Roundtable," for "American Masters" on
PBS, which won the 1988 Academy Award for Feature Documentary.
She also edited "God, Darwin, and the Dinosaurs: The Evolution-
Creation Controversy," for Nova on PBS.
Consultants (in alphabetical order)
James Billie, Consultant. James Billie is Chairman of the
Seminole Tribe of Florida. As noted above, he will act as a
liason with the rest of the tribe, suggesting appropriate people
to provide oral histories, act as interpreters, and provide input
into cultural practices of the Seminoles.
John K. Mahon, Academic Consultant. John K. Mahon is Professor
Emeritus and former Chairman of the Department of History at the
University of Florida. He is the author of History of the Second
Seminole War, 1835-1842, and editor of Reminiscences of the
Second Seminole War by John Bemrose, among numerous other books
on American military history. Professor Mahon is widely
recognized as the pre-eminent authority on the conduct of the
Second Seminole War.
William C. Sturtvant, Academic Consultant. William C.
Sturtevant is u t of the Department of Anthropology at the
Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Sturtevant has worked among the
Florida Seminoles and published a number of articles about this
work. Of particular interest to this project was his research
into oral traditions of Osceola among the Florida Seminoles, and
the difficulty of separating "pure" Seminole oral history from
that which incorporates stories about Osceola from non-Seminole
Patricia R. Wickman, Academic Consultant. Patricia Wickman is a
Florida historian and former Senior Curator for the State of
Florida. She is the author of the book, Osceola's Legacy, which
examines practically every remaining artifact and record of
Osceola's life to separate the facts of his life from the many
myths that have grown up around it. Ms. Wickman has done
prodigious research into primary sources of paintings, drawings,
dairies, journals, as well as having surveyed virtually
everything written about Osceola. Her expertise in this source
material, as well as her knowledge of historical sites in
Florida, will be essential in locating and assembling this
material for the project.
The project expects to add an academic consultant with expertise
in the life of Andrew Jackson and his relations with the Creeks
and Seminoles. We expect to ask Robert V; Remini, Professor of
History at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, to join
the panel when he returns from travel in Europe shortly.
Professor Remini is the author of the definitive three-volume
biography of Andrew Jackson.
Plan of Work
This request is for a planning grant that will cover two months
of full-time work on the part of producer John Mernit. Since it
may not be possible to execute this plan in one concentrated two-
month period, and Mr. Mernit's commitments for next year are at
the moment uncertain, the grant period requested will be one
year, from April 1, 1992, to April 1, 1993.
Weeks 1 3:
John Mernit will continue library research in New York and
telephone and letter exchanges with the members of the advisory
panel, refining the main themes of the film, and determining the
locations of important sites and primary sources.
Weeks 4 7:
John Mernit will visit locations in Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma,
and Washington, D.C.:
1) to meet personally with advisors in Florida and Washington,
D.C. These meetings will help determine the course of location
searches and ascertain where primary source material may be
found, as well as evaluate the research accomplished to date
2) to ascertain what sites remain from the time of Osceola, and
to determine the current appearance of important sites from the
3) to meet with members of the Seminole Tribe to record
preliminary oral histories and determine other elements of
current Seminole life which may be appropriate for inclusion in
4) to research present-day reverberations of this history, and
5) at the conclusion of location scouting, to consult with the
advisors to evaluate the results of these surveys and make
suggestions for incorporating all research findings to date into
a detailed film treatment
John Mernit will organize the research information obtained from
the trip and put together the first draft of an outline for the
As this is a request for a planning grant, the present
bibliography is not as extensive as will be surveyed by the time
of actual scriptwriting and production. Works used thus far
Boyd, Mark Frederick. "Asi-Yaholo or Osceola." Florida Historical
Quarterly 33 (January-April 1955): 249-305.
Buker, George E. Swamp Sailors: Riverine Warfare in the
Everglades, 1835-1842. Gainesville: University Presses of
Coe, Charles H. "The Parentage of Osceola." Florida Historical
Quarterly 33 (Janaury-April 1955): 202-205.
Garbarino, Merwyn S. The Seminole. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Goggin, John M. "Osceola: Portraits, Features, and Dress."
Florida Historical Quarterly 33 (January-April 1955): 161-192.
Kersey, Harry A. Jr. The Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes: a
Critical Bibliography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
Lippard, Lucy R. Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural
America. New York: Pantheon, 1990.
Mahon, John K. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842.
Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1967.
Motte, Jacob Rhett. Journey into Wilderness: An Army Surgeon's
Account of Life in Camp and Field during the Creek and Seminole
Wars, 1836-1838. Edited by James Sunderman. 2d ed. Gainesville:
University Presses of Florida, 1963.
Neill, Wilfred T. "The Site of Osceola's Village in Marion
County, Florida." Florida Historical Quarterly 33 (January-
April 1955): 240-246.
Porter, Kenneth W. "Osceola and the Negroes." Florida Historical
Quarterly 33 (January-April 1955): 235-239.
Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American
Empire, 1767-1821. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
------ Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-
1832. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.
------. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy,
1833-1845. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.
------ The Life of Andrew Jackson. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
Rogin, Michael Paul. Fathers & Children. New York, Alfred A.
Sarkesian, Sam C. America's Forgotten Wars: The
Counterrevolutionary Past and Lessons for the Future. Westport,
Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984.
Sturtevant, William C. A Seminole Sourcebook. New York: Garland,
----------. "Notes on Modern Seminole Traditons of Osceola."
Florida Historical Quarterly 33 (January-April 1955): 206-17.
Waldman, Carl. Atlas of the North American Indian. New York:
Facts On File, 1985.
Ward, May McNeer. "The Disappearance of the Head of Osceola."
Florida Historical Quarterly 33 (January-April 1955): 193-201.
Wickman, Patricia R. Osceola's Legacy. Tuscaloosa: University of
Alabama Press, 1991.
[Welch, Andrew.] A Narrative of the Early Days and Remembrances
of Oceola Nikkanochee, Prince of Econchatti, a Young Seminole
Indian; Son of Econchatti-Mico, King of the Red Hills, in
Florida; with a Brief History of His Nation, and His Renowned
Uncle, Oceola, and His Parents, Written by His Guardian. 1841.
Reprint. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1977.
Wright, J. Leitch Jr. Creeks and Seminoles. Lincoln: University
of Nebraska Press, 1986