SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
INTERVIEWEE: Mr. Sam Tommie
INTERVIEWER: Dr. Harry Kersey
DATE: March 14, 1969
In this interview Sam Tommie discusses the Seminole's
need for education and their various attitudes toward it.
His early attempts to establish a reservation for the
Seminoles using the radio, and even travelling to New York
are recounted as well as the ensuing hostility from his
own people. Tommie tells of his conversion to Christianity,
his calling as a preacher and the status of Christianity on
Big Cypress at the time of the interview, 1969. Finally
he gives details about marriage customs and patterns of
BBI, (Baptist Bible Institute, Lakeland), 7
BIA, Seminole Agency Superintendent at Dania, 3, 8
customs, changes in, 14-15
DeVane, Albert, 14, 21, 23
education, 1-4, 15-16
King, Willie (missionary), 3
marriage and lineage, 19-22
Christian conflict with traditional, 11-13
Christian conversions, 14, 17-18
Ripley, Bob, 9-10
Stranahan, Mrs. Frank, 3
attempts to establish reservation, 3, 9-10
education, opinions of, 4-6
radio message, 5-6
Tommie, Tony, 1-3
tribal punishment and discipline, 11-12, 14
I: This is an interview with Sam Tommie, one of the elders of the
Seminole Tribe. We began the interview by discussing with Mr.
Tommie how his brother, Tony Tommie, first went to school in Ft.
Lauderdale in 1915, and how this was received by the Seminole
Tribe. Interviewer is Dr. Harry Kersey, Florida Atlantic Uni-
versity, assisted by Mrs. Eleanor Mooney. Proir to the begin-
ning of the taping, Mr. Tommie told us that his brother was in
no way coerced to go to school, and had actually broken the
tribal tradition to do so. We resume the interviewing at that
Your brother volunteered?
T: Yes, he volunteered. You know, why does these Seminoles, like
monkies, don't have no education? Why? The Seminole's custom
is pretty strict--tradition they call it--pretty strict. Any
Indian should have a pencil and book and study, they punish
them, you see. Don't learn any white peoples' way; don't learn
that. See, you 'sturbing for Indian law and then tradition,
you see. That's why these old people at my age they say don't
have one single educations. But my brother, he just went, see?
I: In spite of this resistance?
T: He wants to learn a better way, you see. Like he knows Indian
tradition and Indian law pretty well, you see. But he wants
more; he wants more. That's why he went to school--to learn
a better way, you see; English, writing, see. Things like
that. But he didn't get punishment. He didn't get any.
I: How did he escape that? Why do you think he didn't get any?
T: I hear him a few times. He talked to 'em, to this tribal lead-
ers one time, two times. Say, "Here I am. I'm studying for
your people, here I am. All right, kill me." But they don't
do it, you see. "Here I am. I'm trying to learn. I'm trying
to help my own people. I'm trying to learn a little more about
this country and how the white people could live."
Some time ago, way back yonder, you see, white people mis-
treated the Seminole people for way long, long time. These
people, they 'fraid to...this man here could learn and work
for the white man gonna do something to these people, you see.
That's what they...they'd never thought about; the leaders
never thought about it, but he...his work like that. "I'm
just trying to help your people. I go to school, learn how
to talk to the white people. Learn and to read."
I: How old was he at this time?
T: He's thirteen years old when he started.
I: That was awfully mature thinking for a boy that young.
T: Yes it was.
I: Did your parents mind?
T: No sir. Not a one. By himself he just volunteered to go to
school, and he learned. Seven years he finished high school
in Ft. Lauderdale. He's a fast learner. He went to the In-
dian football team in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for two and a
half years. And he come home.
I: But he did finish high school in Ft. Lauderdale?
T: Yes, he did finish high school here. And these people here,
the Broward County officials here, and they sent [him] up there
you see. That's a government school, boarding school, you see,
and they sent him.up there. Stay there for two and a half years
and come home. He worked for his own people. About two and
a half years.
But he didn't know he was sick. He didn't know he had a
trouble. But he come home two and a half years later. He exam-
ined his body, you see. His lung is all gone. Tuberculosis.
T. B., you know? And he went to two or three hospitals now,
but he can't do any good. They sent him up to Arizona Indian
school...I mean hospital. Then he come home. Doctor say he
was too far gone. He died in his home. Right over here where
the racing is.
I: And how old was he when he passed away?
T: He just thirty-eight. He thirty-eight years old when he died.
There's no other leaders. No other leaders in the Everglades,
in Okeechobee and all around. But this brought Tony people,
white people. See, they thought I get a chief's job, but I'm
afraid of my leaders, you see.
I: And they thought you would...?
T: Yes. I know he's gonna do something to me, you see. But I
said, "All right, I'd like to do it, but nobody to educate
to talk the English with him. White people and your people."
[They said], "Your brother doing a good job. He's trying
to get this established reservation right here by him, see, in
1925. And no other reservation right here in the state of Flor-
I: Did he work with Mrs. [Frank] Stranahan during this?
T: Um hmm.
I: I talked to Mrs. Stranahan some, and she thought very highly
of him, and I recall now....
T: Yes sir. And I volunteer too, you see. I say, "I'll be glad
to, but I'm just...I don't know but my leaders, tribal leaders,
gonna do me anything or not, but I just...I will." So we had
a council. We organized a little council meeting. It's very
small, four or five members, over here in Dania. And that
time Mr. [Willis] King from Oklahoma [a Baptist missionary]--
he's a Creek Indian--and he show us something little bit about
his tribe, what they doing in his home, you see, back home.
So I say, "Well, we never have been the things in business like
that. No Indians know anything about like that in this tribe.
But Mr. King, he talk to white people. He say, "This the
man. I know he's good one, but he's afraid of his tribe."
But these counselors talked to me about it and say, "Well, don't
be afraid. They just don't know anything. They don't know any
of the white people ways. They just talk." I say, "I know
it." That's the way my brother is, you see, at that time.
So I says, "All right. So I take this seat for my brother,
you see. And, maybe 'bout a year later and a little more, them
government man, and agency here, you see. He wants me to lead
him up yonder to Okeechobee and the Everglades and Fort Myers.
All around, you see. All these Indians they scattered around
all over the country at that time. Then, I went with him to talk
to them about educations.
I: When was this? About when?
T: That's 'round about 1929 and'30 and '35. This man here, he
work about seven years, you see. His name Mr. Glenn. [B.I.A.
Seminole Agency Superintendent at Dania]. We went 'round and
talked to 'em. And then, they against me all right. But they
didn't do anything to my body. They just talked, you see.
And anyway, we worked it out. Talked to 'em. Gradually talked
to one of the family, to one another and all around. Some fam-
ilies they listen to me and some not--but the leaders, they
don't want to listen to me, you see. All right, I worked for
my people. Of course, my brothers won't, so I said, "This
education we talking about is not religious. Education's a
good thing for the whole world, everywhere. Don't matter what
kinda peoples are. Nationalities, different countries, dif-
ferent languages and all that, but education is a good thing
for family, you see."
All right, I have five children at that time. I send
'em to school over here on the [Dania] reservation. They got
a little bit of school over here.
I: That's the one they opened in 1926?
T: Yes. '26. Then I got five and the other man's got four.
We got nine children that go to school here. I've give it to
this family I got all mines in the school now. The
first grade and second grade. But when I finish the high school
they gonna go for business school someday, but not now. I'm
trying to urging for my family, my children, to learn to better
way; to learn. So, I said, "When I come back again, maybe next
month or maybe six weeks from now, I want to talk to your child-
rens. Next time I'll go around."
You know, they told them their leaders already. See they
council together. All right, Mr. Connor come here. That was
all right. When I get there, they line up, you see. "Don't you
talk to your people about education. If you gonna do it, we
gonna do something to you. You know who we are?" I said, "Yes."
All right. But I answered to they questions. I say, "Lis-
ten, my brother he went to school, but I'm not. I never went
to school in my life. He's know the better way than I am, but
the next twenty years, maybe twenty-five years--I don't know
how long it's gonna be--these Indians, they ain't got no, have
to make their way of living anymore." What I'm seeing, I'm
talking about future times. But now, they all hunt together.
Don't have to work every day. And those days there's a lot
of games in the woods. All you have to do is kill fish, birds,
deer meat and anything. They can get a lot otter or wild hogs
and bear and all these things. They don't need to come to the
store to buy food, you see. Like they do today.
I say, "It's gon' be gone someday. Games gon' be played
out someday." I was reminding them, you see. Try to remind
them to think it over, you see. So I said, "This way maybe
your daughter or my boy, the next fifty, forty, forty-five
years, maybe they don't get no job if they don't have educa-
tion, but what I'm doing now, mine, I want them to educate.
I'm sending them to school everyday. I want them to live,
to help themselves. I'll be gone someday, you see. You'll
be gone someday, too. These young ones, try to help them,
you see. So I...that's what I'm trying to do."
All right, they don't want to listen to me. "You take
white man's word."
I say, "No. It's been written in the books. Nobody
know who wrote that, but long, long time ago." But they
didn't say I'm no white man to write this book. But this
is a education. It's a good thing for the whole world.
But I said, "Your child and my childs are uneducated
today. How do you going to make a difference? I believe
in all my heart, the next forty, forty-five, fifty years
they be asking.... Maybe boss man--maybe your boy, your
girl, my girl, maybe he wants to get a job. Maybe boss man
he might ask him first thing education. What are you gonna
do? What's your daughter gonna do? Maybe your daughter
say, 'No sir, I never went to school.' All right, they don't
want you. What do your boy say, 'I never went to school.'
'All right, we don't want you. We want the people have edu-
cation. We need the workers.... We needithe workers all
right. We need the man to talk the.English, can read, make
reports, make everything.' What's your child gonna do?
What's your son gonna do?"
I left there, and two weeks later go back again. It's
getting worse. Getting worse. I thought they was gonna
do to me for that time, but they didn't.
All right, I came here 1949. I came here--I had a good
friend of mine in Broward County officials, and I talk to
them about it, and I make two trips, three trips, around
the Everglades but they don't listen to me. I say, "Well,
they had a little radio station over there, and I wanted
to talk to my people. I like to visit them all, but I like
to talk to my people. But 'bout education." So I say, "You
can have all you want. My brother, he's running for radio
station over here. You can take all you want; thirty minutes,
forty minutes, forty-five minutes, an hour."
And I went there to talk to 'em, you know and they say,
"You can have all you want. What time do you want it?"
I say, "Saturday morning."
They say, "All right." He give me forty-five minutes.
I talk to 'em on the air, you see. They hear me.
Two weeks later when I visit them, they say, "Well, we
I say, "I know it."
They say, "But do you want these Indian children to go
I say, "Yes sir. Can't make it. I don't know. I'm
not talking about now. Maybe five or ten more years, maybe
your child go to school, but we trying to urge 'em to now
while they young, you see."
I told the parents about it, you see: "But, any your
child wants to go to school, don't make them discouraged.
I told you a few times about this games they might be gone.
Your child wants to go to work. My boy or my daughter wants
to go to work. You don't think 'bout that way, but I do,
'Bout four years later, I was talking on the air all
I: Oh, you kept up this, you kept talking on the air?
T: Yes. Keep talking, sure.
I: Now this is primarily to Miccosukee speakers?
T: Yes. I speak both languages, you see. Creek and Miccosukee.
When I was up in Okeechobee I preached the Creek language,
and when I come down in the Everglades, you see, I speak
I: Did you find a big difference in the attitude of the people
up around Okeechobee?
T: No sir.
I: Were they more willing to send their children to school?
T: Yes sir. 'Bout four years later I heard from Ft. Myers, one
girl and three boys they send them to school...they started.
We got seven here and three in Ft. Myers that started school.
Now we have 300, nearly 400 enrollment for Seminole children
enrollment in public school now.
I: But this was all starting about '49, to get them into the
public school here?
T: And we got it, and after that, then, preachers used to come
to my reservation over here. He preached to me one Sunday
morning. About the soul, you see. Life. And I was thinking
about it. I just sat there and thinking, thinking. And I
was thinking about my tribe. So I think I done pretty good job
for my people. I established at two reservations ever since
I been to work there, Brighton and Big Cypress reservations.
I work hard; we got that land. We got the Big Cypress land.
And all come together. Have little school on;the reservations.
That's fine. Nobody would speak to me much--broke my heart.
Now, how much work and I got get a preach. So I give the
whole, my work, and pick up the Bible and preach. I don't know
who sent me to BBI [Baptist Bible Institute in Lakeland, Florida].
I think the Lord did it. 'Bout six months later I got a nice
letter come from BBI. It said any Indians, uneducated Indians,
or any colored men, any of them, to come to go to school. We
got good teachers here, if you want to learn English, want to
learn the Bible, we can teach you both. So, I say, "Yes sir,
I'm the one that need it."
I: What year was this?
T: That's 1952.
T: Now, when I get there I don't have the education at all. Now
they have a room for first grade class in the morning. In the
afternoon, the Bible class. All the way for four years. And
I finished the tenth grade, you see...school. And I am graduated
to BBI--I made the Bible courses in four years. They give me
certificate. Say, "you done a good job. You got to go back to
work your tribe." So I come back. I had my own church over
here in this church.
I: Which church is this? On the [Hollywood] reservation here?
T: Yes. On the reservation. It's right on the other side of that
I: Right. That where Billy Osceola's at?
T: Yes. Had my own church for six and a half years. I got 375
members, that time. Before I go to BBI, I preached to the fields,
missionary work...mission work, you know. For three years I
established the new mission over there. When I come home and
I went to preach in Everglades and Okeechobee and all these on
the Tamiami Trail, they call them. Then I had to over. I got
household and church. I ask him to loan me some board. See, I
wanted a bigger church, you see. This was a little bitty church
that time. So they build me a big church now.
I: When did they build that for you?
T: They build that in '52. Then I started there and preached for
six and a half years. Then I, those two missions back in here,
Big Cypress and Brighton, I was the pastor here. I don't have
any workers or any other Indians working for me, but anyway I
start. So anyway, I do that to organize church--these two churches
and four organized church now. These two reservations and this
one here. We got three. That's the Baptist people.
Then, after that I went back to the mission field, but there
was still a big charge here. And I picked back for the mission
field for nine years. Now, I'm retired in 1967. Now, no, '68.
I been before the Lord saved me, and I was in Everglades,
this country here. I'm only the one to started to leading for
their tribe. And a good job, work hard. Superintendent Glenn,
he wrote this, all this what I been doing, you see. I don't know
what it is--I think they got him in the records somewhere, some-
place. And I ask him to, the congress of these Indians, they
need the reservations, they need to the medical cares and every-
thing. They got disease and that kind. You see, we have lose
much Indians to tuberculosis and hook worms, these two, that
time. And I worked for the government people for a few weeks.
They don't believe. I say, "Well, all right, I got about half
the tribe standing behind me. They sent me up here to tell you
what they need in that corner of Florida. Well, if you don't
believe it, I'm going back home, and I go t superintendent at
home. If you want to know, you ask him."
So they sent the letter. Say, "Mr. Tommie been here." You're
the superintendent, but they never say a word about that but,
"Mr. Tommie come here, he asks us for the reservations, piece of
land, and the Big Cypress and another piece of land. Did you
know anything about it?"
The superintendent say, "Yes sir, I know."
All right now, we work hard. Him and I together, we work
Before that--you know Bob Ripley, "Believe It or Not," from
New York? He called me one time. He was in airplane. I was
in the woods; I had to camp there. And somebody told him I lived
there in the woods. I seen him fly, come around and 'round
the edge and go "vroom." Come on back and come on back and low,
low all the time. I don't know what's wrong with this man here.
I just watch and watch, watch him. All right, I seen him land
on an open place out yonder. Look like somebody waving his hand
like that, and I did too, you see. And I heard his word, you
see. "You Mr. Tommie?" I said, "Yes sir."
All right, so he come on 'round again. He dropped something,
a note, you see, a little rock. It's for wrapped up little rocks,
you know. Here's your note. Go 'round and gone. And I picked
up and read it. Picked up and read it, you see. Mr. Bob Ripley,
he's in that plane, you see: "I want you to come to see me.
George Washington Hotel tomorrow morning." That's in West Palm
So I went there and find him. [He] say, "I hear you doing
work for your tribe?"
I say, "Yes I did, but I don't know it's gon' do any good
He ask me, he say, "Did you afraid to come to New York City?"
I say, "No."
"All right, I pay your way. I pay you back. I pay your
hotel. Anything you can get, I'll pay. I want you to tell him
for us, the world. I want you to talk. I'm gonna ask you a
"All right," I say, "Naw, I'm not afraid."
So, all right, he went back to New York. He sent the ticket
fare. Train, no airplanes. Just a few, you see, at that time.
He send me tickets and I jump on the train, you know. And I get
there and he called me on the phone. I say, "Yes sir, the Taft
Hotel on Sixth Street."
All right, I say, "Yes sir, here I'm in my room now."
All right, [he said], "I want to come see you."
All right, so pretty soon he come up there and talked with
me, you know, and, "Tomorrow night I want you to come to the
office and rehearse. See if it's all right, start it."
I says, "All right." When I get there at eight o'clock,
we rehearsed three times, you see. And oh, I mean, the next two
nights later, lots of people and the music and everything. Bob
Ripley sits on the other side of and I sit over here.
I dressed up the chief costume you see. Bob Ripley asks me ques-
tions and answer.
So it's times ring the bell. Bob Ripley got up and I got up
and walked to meet and shake hands, you know and talk to him and
acquainted with him, you know, and pretty soon he say, "Well,
we want you to tell us about your work back in the Everglades.
Now, here you seem worried 'bout somebody said your tribe need
taking care of."
I say, "Yes I do."
Say, "What's wrong for your people?"
I say, "Well, no help. No nothing. Most disease. Tuber-
culosis and hook worms."
"Why no doctors there?"
I say, "Doctors in town."
"Well, you have a government taking care of them?"
I say, "No. They have reservations. Just a little bit
reservation.... But they don't have any help."
Say, "Why don't they send help to you over there?"
I say, "I don't know. And, anyway, we need it now. We
need it now."
So, Bob Ripley ask me, says, "You told me for twelve ques-
tions, but about twenty questions already."
All right, all right, it's over. "All right, I'm glad to
come here in New York City. Never have been before. I'm glad
you give me the word."
"I think you gonna get help. I think somebody gonna help
All right, when I come home about six or seven weeks later,
the United States government secretary, they wrote me long good
letter. See we wake him up, you see.
I: What year was this you were up there?
T: That's uh...'40, no '38. 1938.
Then, "Here we go send you two men. I want you to lead
these two men to show 'em the...your people how to live. How
poor they been living; what's wrong for your people?"
I says, "All right, I'll be glad to."
So he sent me two men. I show 'em all 'round. "This family
here, nine people died in that in this camp, on the chickees.
You see, nine people. In the next place, about seven people. No
doctor, no other kind of medical care, anything. They died in
this camp. Over here, all around."
I: Now this was out in the "Glades" or...?
T: Yes. Everywhere. Big Cypress. Now he wrote it down. Wrote it
down. Everything I told him. I show 'em to him. He wrote it
down and he went back and say, "Well, we gonna have a meeting.
After the meeting, I'll write you again." So, they went back and
after a meeting, all right. "We gonna get you reservations.
We gonna get you a place to live. No white man gonna bother you
anymore after you get fixed up."
So he did. I have two reservations by me. Establishing
Big Cypress and Brighton. Now, everything I done for my people.
But I thought that my tribe was gonna kill me before I established
these reservations. But anyway, that's a good thing I did. Ed-
ucation. Talked on the radio.
My cousins over there, he talked to me one time. "This,
my tribe leaders they don't know much about it, but they just talk.
I'm glad you done a good job."
I say, "I know it." So that way I know we don't have any
trouble. We have Seminole boys good way education high school
now, today. Very good. Very...speak very good English. But this....
Go ahead and asking me a question?
I: Yes. I was wondering--are most of the Seminole people now
T: Yes. Yes sir, this reservation about...I say, 'round about,
over three hundred people here in this reservation. But we got
over hundred and fifty, you see, here on the reservation. On
the Big Cypress Reservations, we got about three hundred and
seventy-five people there. I say, 'round about hundred and twenty-
five [Christians]. Brighton Reservation, nearly all of them.
Maybe two or three families just unsaved.
I: What about the rest of the families? What do they follow? Do
they follow the traditional medicine bundle and the green corn?
T: Yes sir, that many of them. Yes sir, they still doing now.
They still doing every year now.
I: Are they angry at you for being Christian? I mean, do they
mind your being...?
T: Oh yes. Sure, sure.
I: Do they get angry about it?
T: Well, they don't let us come into their...they just have it on
a certain time of the year. In July or June, these two months
of each year they have a ceremony. All kinds of ceremony. Out
in the woods, you see. Don't let no white mans come in here.
Now they do now. But before that, my earlier days, they don't
let nobody. No other tribes, except just their tribe to have
a ceremony and laws, court and all different kinds to.... And
they got a judge, you see. They got two judges in each reserva-
tion. And now, they have to go to court now.
But these people I'm talking about, they believe the state
law, these Christian people. But out here in. the Everglades,
the Miccosukee, they don't believe. They doing their own ways.
Punish their own ones.
One man ask me about it. He say, "How do they punish their
I say, "Well, this is the way they do it: My childrens...
I can't punish mine, they won't let me. If I do, they punish me."
Why? I say this, "I don't know what you call this. The
elders, the Bible say, the elders, the old way--the Old Testament.
The elders gonna do it. Whoever, and the oldest one in the fam-
ily, they call him eldest. They are the ones gonna punish, you
see. I can't do it, my childrens" All right, the next group,
the same thing. The next group, same thing.
All right, in next ten or twelve months past, whoever done
so badly, they never to get punishment, they send them to green
corn dance. A ceremony dance. Let this judge talk to 'em.
Somebody report it, you.see. And bring him. So you have two
officers, you see. All right, they bring it over there. They
have a court. They don't have a court in the family, you see,
in the home, but once a year; they bring it over there.
The judge ask him questions. They answer, you see. All
right, somebody to gonna be guilty, to be punishment today.
"Yes sir," the judge say, "Yes sir. This boy here, this girl
here, this man here. Need punishment, take it away." They carry
him out in the woods; they tie him on a tree.. Knot the rope.
Then skin tie him on both feet and hands and altogether put him
in the sun. No drink of water, no nothing. No bread. First
punishment is two days. All right, the same boy, the same man
do it again, it's two more days. Four days. All right, do it
again, two more days. See there, on and on.
That's the way it... that's the way that they do punish their
own way, see. Now, all right, this boy here, if you a good boy
next year, that's all. If you a good girl this year, all right.
But do it again, you get two more days in the sun, on the tree.
All the way. Four times, get rid of them. Don't have to pun-
ish anymore. That's the way they do it. They still doing it
I: They still doing it down on the Trail?
T: Oh yes. They have to bring 'em. They'll bring 'em. They can't
I: How is the judge appointed?
T: They judge for every year now. They judge...appointed for every
year now. Before that, about ten years, you see. Five or ten
years. Now they change a lot. This over here, the judge, I think
it's 'bout two years now. This their own. I don't know if they
gonna appoint another one for next summer or not. Now that's
the way they do. Their own way, you see.
I: Well, do the people on the Big Cypress still do that as much?
I know the people down on the Trail may, but how about the peo-
ple who live on Big Cypress itself? I thought they were mostly
T: Well, Big Cypress Reservation, they don't go there, they cere-
mony. They don't go. No. Because they think they disturbing
for the law, you see. They don't let 'em go, you see. Just go
I: Well now there are two churches out on Big Cypress, aren't there?
I: What about the other group? Now, you're with the Southern Bap-
tist group, are you not?
T: Yes sir. I understand you.
I: Now, how about the other group. What are they?
T: The other ones are the same as the churches like we have, you
see. The same denominations but...
I: Just a different church.
T: ...just a different church.
I: Are they sponsored by the Southern Baptists as well?
T: Yes. No. No. They call them independents. Independent Bap-
tist Church, you see. They don't teach like the Missionary
Baptist people to teach. This here over here, too, you see.
There's another one over there....
I: There's two on each reservation, aren't there? Two.churches
on each reservation?
T: Yes sir. Everyone. That's right, the same church over here,
independent. Now these Seminole people in the reservations,
they send their children to school. They come back home and
study, they don't send them to ceremonies anymore. No more.
I: Nobody on any of the reservations follows the old religious way?
They are all Christian on the reservation?
T: Yes sir. There are some unsaved people, but they don't go. I
don't know why, but they just...unless they want to go, I don't
I: But even those who are not church members as such still don't
go to the Green Corn?
T: I know for one family...two families in Big Cypress, they come
to church service sometimes. But they don't go to their cere-
monies out there. I don't know why, but I never did ask them
to why they don't go anymore. Everyone up to twelve years old
on up they have to be there all the time before. See young ones
all right, if they don't go, it's all right, but twelve years old
on up got to be there, every one of us. But now, I don't know
how they work now. I used to work for my leaders for eight years
one time before the Lord saved me. And I know how the people
get punished. I have one of my church members now that they pun-
ished for four days. That boy is a good man, very good man, a good
Christian man now. They killed one boy. They get punished for four
days. He's the one tho told me this--how they punish.
I: Why do you think that two churches formed on each reservation?
You've been a spiritual leader of the tribe for so long, why did
one group break away and form its other church? Was this a
political difference [rather] than a religious difference?
T: No. They just...I don't know whether you would call this here
nature. They call them to natures to teach them and in they
heart. Whatever they want to do. They do as they please, you
They got one man ask me about it one time. I don't know,
but he's a book writers, too, Mr. [Albert] DeVane in Lake Placid--
he ask me questions. He had a lot of pictures; old, old pictures.
1700, 1800, 1900 and so on. He show me the pictures like that.
This clothes, 1745, nothing but the buckskins. No cloth
from that pack. But I say fifteen to eighteen years later, there's
another pictures here. Say, there's a very big difference, you
see. All right, another eighteen, twenty years later, there's
another picture here.
T: He ask me questions. I say I don't know. Nobody knew. No chief
ever tell them to think your clothes after fifteen years. No-
body ever tell them. But they just wear what they want, I think.
Hairdresses different too, you see. Women braid before, long hair
and man have too, you see. The braided hair., you know. But now
you won't hardly find one.
I: Well, this is true.
T: First Seminole Indian to go to barber shop is Oscar John. Oscar
John, his name was the first Seminole boy to go to the barber shop
is Oscar John.
I: Was that here locally?
T: He was in Brighton.
I: And he was the first one to go to the barber shop?
T: He's the first one. He like to get punished, too. Get a haircut,
he like to. But they just didn't do it. That's 'round about
1916. 1916 he get a haircut. Now, all Seminoles go the barber
shop and get a haircut and shave, too. All go.
And, that's the way these Indians here...nobody knows the
way they change, but just like the old ways--you remember you study
about the Old Testament, you know. The people of the Old Testament
they don't wear just like clothes we.wear now; they don't do it.
They don't have it like that. But at the New Testament you can
see the difference, you see. The Lord came here on this earth,
teaching and knowledge, everything, clean life, you know, and
everything. That's where it started to change, you see. All
the time. Now, they never had radio before. But you find in
Jeremiah, you find in Jeremiah prophet. Any nation, any other
nations, except in the Lord's work believe in Gods in heavens.
They gonna spread the knowledge. They gonna spread their knowledge.
They don't matter unsaved man. It don't make any difference. If
they got in his mind and his heart, they can do little things.
Wristwatch, little gears in there, little bit, this small, little
tiny, but they can put it together. I'll give the knowledge from
my unto these people. See, that's where it started.
I: Let me ask you something particularly about this knowledge.. Those
of us who have worked out on Big Cypress in the day school--I'm
out there quite a bit seeing the children working with the teachers
and so forth--sometimes we get discouraged because we don't think
the people really care about their children coming to school.
I know the children come. They attend well, but I'm concerned
about the fact that the parents at home don't tend to do much to
help the children. This has concerned me. Did the people out
there really want the school? I think a school started there in
1940, wasn't it?
I: Were you instrumental in having that school started? Were you
the one that had it started? Or did the people really want it?
T: Yes sir. The people really wanted it. The parents need it, you
see. They need to establish a school out there. But here's what
you talking 'bout: You know these parents uneducated people, but
now some young people have a good education. But parents never
have been to the school, but they got a good children, you see.
Good family. They never has been done anything, you know. School
children just like this little girl here come home, she need a
little help, she need a little help, you see.... All right, some
of your people they help your child, you see, what the teachers
told them. All right. Some white girls have helped them to study,
but Indians don't because they don't have it, they don't learn it.
They don't know how to answer it, you see.
T: That's why I'm study this now for a while ago. Math. My daughter's
son, he done this work here. And these uneducated family...the
parents, they just don't care they gonna help them or not, but
that's the way they are. And they need to help, but the under-
educated parents, you see, ain't no help.
I: Well, that's what I was hoping would happen with this class that
I started. This is what we wanted to do. We wanted to offer
reading and writing and arithmetic to parents so that they could
help their children, and we were disappointed that more of them
didn't come. The only thing we have been able to figure are the
ones who came--the ones who are taking the class with us--are the
ones who are most interested in schooling.
T: It is. Then, that's a problem. But these parents, they went to
school before. They help their children to make the good study,
you see. But these old ones like me, you see, and they just don't
care about to go school and....
I: Oh, but they are not like you. I think you would come, see.
But there are some out there a lot younger, a lot younger than
you, should be coming. Women in their thirties who certainly
T: We got good families, educated families now. They doing a pretty
good job for their families, you see. They help to study and
make the good grades. But I'm talking 'bout these uneducated
parents, you see. That's awful hard for their children, you see.
I: When you preach out there, do you encourage these parents to keep
their children in school?
I: They hear this in the churches as well, then. We aren't fight-
ing anybody, in other words?,
T: Now this, this is what he needs the help. We help him,
you see. This is his brother's, Morgan's, Morgan Billie. That's
my oldest daughter's boy. We help them, and each one....
I: Is that Dorothy's boy?
T: Yes. Now these others, Big Cypress where I came from, I'm work-
ing for the church over there now. Some few parents who come to
see me about helping their family, you see, they went to school.
I did this sometime. I help them sometime. And they are doing
a pretty good job. But the rest of them, they don't ask me,
come to see me, they don't ask any questions to help this child.
I: Now you the only preacher out there?
T: Yes sir.
I: When do you preach? On Sunday and Wednesday?
T: Yes sir. Every Sunday.
I: Do they have a prayer meeting during the week?
T: Oh yes. They have their prayer meetings and Sunday school and
brotherhoods and training units.
I: Are Wednesday night...?
T: Yes sir. Prayer meeting every Wednesday night.
I: That's why I've been missing you. I'm out there on Monday and
Thursday night. I've been missing this man for a year. When
I'm here, he's out there; and I'm out there on Monday and Thurs-
day, he's here.
T: You see me Saturday night and Sunday morning and all day Sunday,
you see. And Monday I go to someplace, you see. Visit to the
I: Do you think the people will be converted as time goes on?
T: You mean Big Cypress? And the Everglades?
I: And out on the Trail there?
I: Well, Big Cypress is mostly now. One church or the other. Are
T: They don't come here too much now, you see. Used to come here
every Sunday. We have maybe fifteen or twenty over there now.
They go to Big Cypress, you see. They don't come here. It's
so far away from here, you see.
T: Big Cypress is closer.
I: From the Trail?
T: Yes sir. They used to come here. Only one church before, but
now they have a church over there.
I: From what you're telling me then, there are no members, no Sem-
inoles on any of these three reservations that still keep a
medicine bundle or anything of this?
T: Oh yes.
I: Are there?
T: Yes sir.
I: There are a few?
T: Yes sir.
I: How many would you say still follow the old way? Could you even
I: I've been assuming, and this just shows you how wrong I could
be, that there wouldn't be more than a handful of people who
followed the old religion. I thought most were Christian now.
I thought most were....
T: There are a little over fourteen hundred now, the population,
all the state, scattered around the Everglades and Big Cypress.
I'd say 'round about 30 or 40 percent are for Christianity, you
I: Only 30 to 40 percent?
T: Yes. They got 'round 'bout five or six hundred Christians in
the whole state of Florida here. Seminole and Miccosukee to-
gether. But the rest of them they just can follow on to the old
I: Even the youngsters?
T: Yes. Ask me questions for one another thing for one time on white
people. How do they parents to do their own way? I say, to the
teaching of the livings, that all. Teach them to the way they
living when they get old. And, how do they get married? I say,
well, they get married like this. A boy and a girl have an
engagement for this month and the next month, they don't have to
get married right away, like we do today. They have to wait
in ceremony in June. All right, parents important, you see.
Parents important. When they get there they have a marriage
ceremony man there, you see. He's the one that's gonna do it,
you see. All right, he give them the instructions first you see.
And he ask them questions for the relatives first, you see.
Then they come to talk to this couple. Say, "You know a little
bit about the Indian traditions and laws to marriage business?"
These two couples say, "No, we don't know too much."
Says, "All right, I'm going to give you now, so you don't
lose it, you come back to see me next week."
All right, we went back next week. They ask questions.
He answered them. Say, "Yes, you're right." you don't
understand. They don't understand that. They don't get mar-
ried. 'Cause they don't know how to....
I: This is what the traditional group...this is the way they still
T: That's right. All right, next year, they give them until the
time the next year. Next year, they talk to them. They learn
better; they get married.
I: How do they marry them?
T: How 'bout it. They married by the marry ceremony man.
After that, they been good dance. Call them wedding dances,
you see. They give them all the instructions first and ask them
to later, sometimes for one year. Now, these people here, they
don't have to wait to next year. They can get married whenever
the time comes, you see. They want to. Now, they ask about
they parents teach to their boy man to teach his sons; his wife
will teach the daughters, you see. When they get old, do this,
you can make a living. All right, they teach him how to take
care of his wife. His sons, he teach him how to hunt, how to skin
and anything. Save a meat, save the meat, you see. Teach him
how to make the canoes, teach him to get things to support his
family, his wife, you see. And the mother teach the daughter
how to help the husbands. Takes time, about two or three months.
I: Is this the way it has always been going on? As long as you...?
I: You remember when they did it here?
T: No. No.
I: Did they do it that way here when you were a youngster?
T: Oh yes. Sure. That's the way they do it. That's the way they
teach me, too. I don't know if I was taking care of my wife right
or not, but I just....
I: Just out of curiosity, were you born here, Mr. Tommie? In the
Ft. Lauderdale area?
T: Right here. This my home town. My old home town.
I: When were you born here? What year?
I: 1901. You go way back, man.
T: 1901. That's the way they teach them before, but they don't do
anymore you see, but over there they do. And, sometimes, I don't
know what you...do you know anything what they,say 'bout the clans?
The clans means this family here, all the clans, this family here
is a Bird clans, and this man here the Tiger clans and all that,
all around. Let's see: Otter, Bear and Deer; Bird and Wind,
Tiger. There's some Fox here for this area. Then don't get
married for the same clans. They don't do it; they won't let
you. -All right, they can get married to another clan you see,
or this Bird clan can marry the Tiger clan. All right, if it gets
mixed up--they get married to each other--they get punished.
I: How does this work for the Christian Indian? Do they still observe
the clan line?
T: No. Well, let's see. They still do it, but these Christian
people, the don't do anymore. They get married by the preacher
now, like anybody. And that's the way that Mr. DeVane ask me
questions, you see, a lot of times. The marriage ceremony, they
don't let them to get married to the same clan. It's the law.
All right, sometimes they don't get support. The husband don't
give support to his wife. His clan will take her away from him,
you see. They don't feed enough. They get hungry--no clothes,
no nothing. All right, there's another one, listen, there's
another one: All right, his wife not support like he ought to,
his clan take her away from him, you see. All right, we support
each other, we go a long ways.
I: With the traditional Indian group, did the children still get
their name from the clan of the mother?
T: No sir.
I: Even those who still follow the clan line, do their children...?
They take the name of the father, though?
T: One clan teach their own ways, another clan should teach their
own ways, another clan and so on all the way. That's like that.
And these two couples, they don't have any trouble, you see; they
raise their children, you see. But they watch, see. They watch.
All right, they take it away from them sometimes. But, I don't
see them doing....
I: If a man who was a Seminole man who was Fox....
T: Yes. No Fox.
I: Wolf? Okay, if he's a Wolf clan and he marries a woman who is
in Wind, what would the children be?
I: They would be Wind? They take their clan lineage...they keep
the name of the father, but their clan membership is that of their
T: That's right. Wolf. That's the way they do it. All right,
my father he is a Bird clan, but my mother is a Tiger. I'm in
the Tiger clan.
I: Right. So you could not marry into a Tiger?
T: No sir. Not Tiger.
I: That's what we were talking about.
T: My wife's a Bird. The Bird clan, you see. I raise the Birds,
you see. Our children. I raise the Birds.
I: Now this used to be, as I understand it.... A long time ago,
if he married a Bird, he would go live in the camp of a Bird.
Does that still hold true with some of the...?
I: It's still that everyone just runs his household, but they main-
tain the clan lineage. This is interesting. How long has it
been since they didn't go to live with the wife's household?
T: You mean, how long did it take what?
I: Well, it used to be as I understand it--this is from studying
the history of the tribe--that when a man married a woman, they
would set up their camp with the woman's family, or close by.
They would make their home near the woman. Has this been true
T: I ain't never heard of that.
I: Well, this could be something that ended, you know, way before
the turn of the century. But this used to be, way back.
T: Let me tell you this: All right--different tribes, different
ways. Maybe lots of different tribes here in this country, you
see. Maybe another tribes ways you might study. You may study
for another tribe, you see. That's why we got confusing some-
times,.you see. Somebody wrote the books I been study sometime,
you see. They wrote the books about the Seminole people, but I
never know the things about like that but they wrote it, you see.
I never heard of it, but it's too far away for me. I can't de-
scribe, you see. Way back yonder, but long as I know, when I was
ten or twelve years old what did my parents to teach me, you see.
Different tribes and different ways, that's the way they teach
me, you see. You can't get married to your own clan--you can't
do it. You see, that's the way they teach me. But way before
it's different tribes all kinds of tribes in the state of Florida.
They doing it their own way. This tribe has they own way. On
and on like that. I told Mr. DeVane, see, I can't tell you for
1800, 1700, you see. Things like that, you see.
I: You can only speak for now.
T: That's right.
I: This has been our interview with Mr. Sam Tommie, March 14, 1969.