SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
INTERVIEWEE: HOWARD OSCEOLA
INTERVIEWER: JEAN CHADHURI
C: You wouldn't be, by the way, the descendant of the great Osceola,
0: Yes, I am--about third or fourth generation, somewhere along that
C: Do you consider him as a great war hero?
0: Yes, I do.
C: A great warrior?
0: Yes Ma'am, I do.
C: Oh, very good. Alright, most history books tell us Seminoles
means "runaway or untamed Indian". Do you agree with this
0: I don't know. Well, the word Seminole really means, in the
Indian language, just "untamed" or "wild." It doesn't neces-
sarily refer to the Indian people themselves.
C: Is this what the old Seminoles tell you, or did you get this out
of history books?
0: That's what I know. That's what the old people told me. That's
just the language, that's just a part of the language.
C: Okay. What stories have you heard telling how the Seminoles
came in this area?
0: Well, from what my father told me, it's different from what I
put down a while ago. He said that the Creeks were already
here, and they were just one; and after the war, they just
wanted to divide up and go their own ways. The ones that
went--along the Tamiami Trail--they were known as the Miccosukees.
But the Creeks that were already here before, they just called
themselves the Seminoles, because the Indians that came down
from Alabama and Georgia joined them also.
C: In 1817, there was a general by the name of Andrew Jackson.
Have you ever heard of him?
0: Yeah, I heard of him in history books and what my father told
C: Was he a good guy or a bad guy?
0: He was a bad guy from what I believe, but my father told me
that the Indian people had a chance to kill him, but they
let him go so he'd go back to Washington and write about it.
C: That's good. His intentions--Andrew Jackson was to get new
territory for the United States. Do you know the story how he
got the land?
0: From what I believe, the land all belonged to the Indians, like
what they call the United States today. And the white people
came over and they just kept taking more land and more land
C: Why do you think they wanted the land, the white settlers?
C: Greedy, that's right, because it was very good, fertile farm
lands, weren't they?
0: Right. Yes, they were.
C: And also, history tells us that, in 1819, the territory of Florida
was given, or ceded to the United States by Spain. How in the
world did Spain get Florida?
0: That's just on the white man's point of view.
C: Very good. Also, you saidthere was a Ponce De Leon, is that who
you were talking about? What did he do?
0: Like I said, that's what the history book says. He came from Spain;
he was one of the explorers that set out and he founded Florida.
That's what it says, but the Indian people were always there.
C: Well, you know, years ago, the Seminoles were farmers and stock
raisers and whenever the slaves were being given a rough time in
the South, they opened their doors to these estee lustes [black
men]. They showed them hospitality, but other than hospitality,
why did they bring in the estee lustes?
0: Well, the white people treated them bad, also, and make slaves
out of them. The Seminole people themselves did not keep
slaves, I don't believe; and since they were then treated bad
by the same people, they just opened their doors to them, be-
cause the estee lustes, like you said, used to help them fight
C: Okay. When we were talking before taping, we talked about
hospitality. To everyone we talked to, hospitality seems to
be a very important role in the Indian life. What can you
say about this?
0: Well, like you travel from one reservation to another--you want
to spend the night there. They'llmake accommodations for you so
you can spend the night there, and they'll give you a meal as
soon as you want. They'll usually give you meals all the time.
Like if they come down here and visit you, you're going to do the
same thing for them.
C: Oh, very good. Around the 1820s, between 1820 and '30, you know,
the Indians were becoming fugitives--they would hide around in
the swamps. How do you think they got their food to eat?
0: Well, there's different ways. There's a lot of game out in the
Everglades and also, the Indian people used to keep storage bins--
these were located all throughout the Everglades. This was a
large shelter like, and they would put all their food and clothing
in there; and if they got burned out, they would always have the
storage bin there to last them, until they could find some more
C: Did the Seminoles waste their food? If they killed a deer, and
if they could only just use the part, did they leave
the rest, or did they use everything on the deer?
0: Mostly they used everything on the deer. Like the hide would
be maybe a coat, or maybe shoes, and like they couldn't cook
it all that day--they'd usually dry it or smoke it, I guess.
They'd probably just put it away and save it.
C: You know who taught the Estee Hutkee [white men] to barbecue?
0: Taught them how to barbecue? I don't know. They might have been
barbecuing a long time first.
C: Were the Creeks and Seminoles enemies, traditionally, or do you
0: No, they helped each other out.
C: Okay, you said they helped each other out, but didn't you say
before that they were the same people?
0: Yeah, but right after I said that--that's when they divided into
two groups, but they still helped each other out. But they
were from the same one.
C: Right. Okay, around 1832 the government wanted the Seminoles to
go out to the West, or to be removed out of this area. Andrew
Jackson was the one that was the full force behind the Indian
Removal Bill. Andrew Jackson, you know, he was a:,great Indian
fighter. Have you heard any stories of how he forced the
0: One tactic that they used was often money--when they had a
Seminole family that would take money and move on to Okalhoma
C: Have you ever heard of the Paine's Landing Treaty? This is the
signing of the treaty with the government, and the government
claimed that the Seminoles, you know, signed this treaty so
that they would be sent out to the West. And then also, there's
another story saying that most of the Seminoles didn't want to
go out west. Do you believe this?
0: That's true. Most of the Seminole people, I would say all of them,
did not want to go. They just wanted to stay down here in Florida.
It's just when Andrew Jackson and his army started coming down
here to Florida.
C: Why didn't they want to leave this area? They were gonna get
good housing and good skills, good schools according to the
government. Don't you think this was sort of nice?
0: According to the government. I really don't believe that,
because, like when I went to school in Oklahoma, they told me
that it was nice, but it could have been treated a whole lot
C: That's right. Well, do you know how much it cost the government
around 1835 through 1842? Do you know how much money it cost
0: Cost them to do what?
0: Dollars...it cost them 1500 lives, and a lot more, but they pro-
bably didn't count all of them.
C: Do you think Osceola understood how much money he cost them?
0: No, I don't think so.
C: If he knew, do you think he would have been happy?
C: Twenty million, and looking at the lives of one Indian that's
been killed, trying to get moved from his own land--I don't
think you could put it that way.
C: Yeah. Very good. That's a beautiful answer. Okay.
In order for them not to move away from these areas,
this beautiful Florida area, there were great leaders who came
up to protect our land and our people. And these great leaders
were Osceola, Gatsosee and Billy Bowlegs.
Can you tell me a little bit about Osceola and Gatsosee?
0: Well, Osceola, that's the earliest--my great-great-great-grandfather.
They say he was real clever and that he picked his own time and
place for fighting the soldiers and he never did hardly loose
any battles. Wildcat was also a younger warrior. They just kind
of took over, and most of the young warriors, the Seminole warriors
really didn't want to move into Oklahoma. They wanted to stay
on their own land, so they followed him.
C: Who was the strongest leader who opposed the removal, all the
0: That was Osceola.
C: Osceola. What did he do to one of the treaties?
0: It says, in the history book, that he stuck his knife in one of
the treaties and it shows statutes of him, different
C: You know Osceola was a young man. History books also told us that
he was a little under thirty years of age at that time. He must
have been a real good leader. What are some of the things he did
when he was helping his people during these crucial times?
0: He would always think of the men--older men, women and children
first. After he had them out of the way.... He usually never
fought a battle unless he had them out of the way, safely out
of the way.
C: Each time the military leaders would say, "We'll bring the
Seminoles to, you know, we'll persuade the Seminoles to
move out." Were they successful?
0: No. We're still here.
C: We're still here, uh huh. In 1837, can you tell us how they
0: It was under a flag of truce. The white people broke in and
took him captive then, when he came up to speak about the
C: This was at Fort Moultrie. Osceola, you know, we know that he
died there in 1838. What else did they do to Osceola even after
he had gone through all of this hardship? What was the last
fatal thing that they did to him?
0: My father said that they cut.his head off. For awhile it was
in Washington, and now, he believes that it's over across the
seas in Paris or someplace. In Paris, and they cut off his head.
C: And you know, in 1838 there were only about 150 Seminoles left
and today there are more than 1500 Seminoles in this area. Isn't
that right? Or are there more?
0: That's about the right figure, I believe. About five years ago
it was 1500, so it should be pretty close to about 2000, a little
C: And I noticed that every year you all have a skit--sort of a
memorial to Osceola. Do you enjoy doing this in this area?
Does this give you a heritage that you're proud of?
0: You mean like a play?
C: Uh huh.
0: Yes, they do that because they're real proud of him, because
he's one of the great leaders that we had.
C: And today, are there anyone that you can think of who would
be a great leader among the Seminoles?
0: You mean right now, today?
C: Right now.
0: Joe Dan Osceola is, I think, in his own right, one of the best
that we've got right now.
C: Okay. And then the Seminoles are divided into two groups. What
0: That's what they look at today as the Seminoles and Miccosukees.
Alright, now let's turn away from history a little bit.