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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
JEAN CHAUDHURI MONOLOGUE
Brighton Reservation, 3
Fishing, 2, 9
Gopher, Mrs. Willy, 3-4
Hollywood Reservation, 3
Huff, Mary, 10-11
Hunting, 1-2, 5, 8-9
Nature, love of, 3, 9-11
Smith, Ella, 9-10
bear and the boy, 5
"The Hunter and the Little People", 7-8
White man, 1-2, 10
I have found that the best time to talk with the Seminoles
on the reservations is at nine or ten o'clock at night. At
that hour they seem to be more relaxed and free to talk, although
I must say that the conversation can linger until one or two
in the morning, if not longer. One young man who is about thirty
years old, bilingual, talks Creek and English, seemed very bit-
ter in talking about what the white man did to the Indians a
long time ago. I made the naive mistake of asking if the
Seminoles always ate starchy and greasy food--I had noticed .
that everything they eat seemed to be all starch and grease.
This young man, in defending the eating habits of the Seminoles,
gave me an earful:
I often hear many white people and others talk about how
poor our health is, and that our teeth are very bad. They
claim the reason for all this is the way we eat and live,
as though we alone are to blame. The kind of food we eat
today was the last resort my people took in order to have some-
thing decent in their bodies. Once they picked up the bad
habit of eating starchy foods, it has been difficult to change
this habit. These bad habits have been passed on to my gen-
The reasons for the bad eating habits began a long time
ago when the white man came and destroyed homes, gardens, family
lives of the Seminoles. They had our people on the run, and
therefore our people could not have a stable garden or hunting
ground to depend on which provided for their nutritional needs.
Before the white man come, we had all sorts of vegetables,
such as collards, spinach, wall onions and high protein meat.
We had the bear, deer and the fish in the rivers. We still
have the same kind of things, but their land and rivers are
so polluted that most of the fish aren't good to eat. We
did have starches. Their diet in those days did not totally
consist of starchy food. A combination of green vegetables,
starches and meat gave our people their nutritional needs.
Before the Seminoles' diet drastically changed, nature provided
a nutritional diet for them. Along with their health, of
course, like tending to the gardens and plucking the berries
when ripe, they knew what vegetables and protein to eat.
The white man had robbed us in so many ways. Since the
beginning of their intrusion, our people, the Seminoles, had
to go into alien territories, like the swamps. They had to
learn how to carve out a living in their strange environment,
but they managed. In the swamps, it was a little difficult
to have gardens, but our people learned to adapt themselves
to Mother Nature, because they knew, with her kindness, she
would provide nourishment for them. A long time ago, the
rivers were clean and clear, and the Great Spirit put in these
spirits fresh-water fish. There was the mullet, catfish, gar-
fish, and so forth. One could go into the river in the middle
of the morning when it was not so hot and calmly dive into
the waters and have their choice of fish, or if they were a
little lazy, they could lazily roam about in their dugout
canoes, spearing for fish.
It must have been fun in those days to hunt for turtles
and fish and other games if the white man was not in sight.
In the rivers where the water lilies grew freely and the
branches of trees served as a basking place were the haven
for the turtles to gather. They would be lined up on branches
of trees, making it relatively easy for the hunter to take
them home to their families and to be served at the family
meal. In those days, Mother Nature provided for our people.
Today we have to work hard. Most of us do not have the
same skills of the white man, so we don't make that much money.
We just make enough money to buy our groceries and pay for
small odds and ends like a car, and then our money is all used
up. But in the days of our people we totally depended on what
nature gave us, and we, in turn, took care of nature. In those
days, there was so much game to be had, if one made the spe-.
cial effort to hunt, that is. There was an abundance of wild
turkeys, bears, deer, alligator, turtles. In those days our
people understood the law of nature. They dared not kill any
more than they needed. But when the white man come into their
lives, he took everything in sight. He made a game of killing
the animals, like the bear and the deer and alligators.
My grandfather used to say, "Occasionally, when a single
hunter was looking for fish or turtles, they would dive into
spring water, and if a white man saw the Indian in the water,
the white man would practice shooting at the Indian. While
having a good time, the poor soul would be scared to death.
But after the white man's game was over, the white man would
shoot the Seminole, and only the blood would blend with the dark
and clear water. This would attract the water animals.
In those days, the white man had not learned good virtues. He
had no compassion or respect for another human life. These
white devils have imposed many changes on us, the Seminoles.
Even though they tried to destruct our people many, many
years ago, Nature continued to bless them with her natural
foods. In turn, our people were taught to respect and love
Nature, because their lives depended on her. Everything they
adored and respect. They loved the ancestral man which
sheltered the animals and the water animals, the birds that
flew in the sky. They loved everything that was free as the
wind and free as the river that flowed. Mother Nature just
had everything at her fingertips. One thing the Seminoles
knew, and that was to have warm regards for all living things
and to respect natural law, or else Mother Nature may punish the
This young man finished by saying, "I have not yet learned
to respect the white man for what he has done to the Indians.
Perhaps one day in the future, my children will find some
good virtue of white men that they can respect. Until that
time, as for myself, I can show no respect for this man called
the white man."
On the same day, July 12, 1971, I had a visit with Mrs.
Willy Gopher. She is a housewife. Her husband has one of the
largest herd of cattle on the Brighton Reservation. She
belongs to the Creek-speaking Seminoles, and she only speaks
the Creek language. She is about sixty years old. Mrs. Willy
Gopher was telling me how to cook and sew, Seminole-style. I
asked her about coontie flour and how would a person go about
making coontie flour. She thought for a while, and then she
said, "It is difficult to find coontie root zamiaa integrefolia]
around Brighton Reservation, but there is a white man who lives
in Okeechobee who knows where to find it, because he found some
roots under a bridge and gave some to my husband."
Mrs. Gopher said she used to enjoy preparing things from
nature. But these days, since no one seems interested or to
appreciate the amount of work that goes into preparing Indian
food, she does not feel the need to prepare from scratch.
Besides, she enjoys sewing a lot more these days. She said she
passed her time away by making colorful Seminole shirts and
skirts, and then she would sell them to the tribal store at
Hollywood Reservation. Her version of how to prepare coontie
flour was most interesting. She explained what coontie root
looks like and she told me how to make coontie flour.
The coontie has a thick bark from which you will make the
flour out of. Wash the bark very clean. Then take the bark, put
them in water until they become soft. Then scrape the skin
off the bark. Get a grater and scrape the bark. Then you
have to be very careful. Otherwise, if you slip, you may cut
your fingers on the grater. After scraping, you put the scrapings
in a cloth bag and pour water over it, and the water will
seep through the bag. Then you set it aside for awhile, until
it begins to rot a little, and you wash it. Sometime later,
the scrapings will turn into big worms. When you touch the
scraping, it will be very soft and will be fine. You take
out the big worms, and you sift out the big worms, drain the
water from the:bag, throw the water away, and then pour fresh
water into it. Wash it about four times, and this will give
the flour the right consistency. Take the soft scrapings out of
the bag and put them on a clean cloth. Then let it dry. After
it has dried, it will be fine powder. The powder will be
yellow in color. After this process, you can make bread out of
She told me how to prepare coontie flour, and I also asked
her what other natural things she used to make. She said at
one time she made baskets out of palmetto leaves, and I asked
her why she didn't do this anymore. She said that it was too
time-consuming, and she just didn't enjoy putting that much
work into making baskets. And I asked her what sort of baskets
did she make at one time. She said, "Oh, just little baskets,
mainly for display." But she said a long time ago, the Seminoles
used to make baskets from palmetto, and they were used like
a sifter. And I asked her what she meant by a sifter, and she
said, "Well, the sifter is made into a basket. Underneath the
basket there are tiny little holes in the bottom part of the
basket, and these little holes may be the size according to the
size of the kernels you want to be sifted. So about the size
of the kernels you want is kept in the basket, and then the rest,
like the husk and the hair of the corn, will be completely
separated. If there's dirt and some fine powder on the
corn, it won't go through in the holes, it'll go out through the
holes in the baskets."
And she also said there were some baskets that had no
holes at all, and these were used to separate the husks from
the kernels. This was done by throwing the corn or beans into
the air, and then catching it. They would toss the corn or
the beans, and the lighter husk was automatically blown away
by the wind. This would take a lot of time to do, but it was
sort of fun, because the wind would carry away the husk, and
the beans and corn were too heavy to be blown away. Therefore
the heavier kernels stayed in the basket.
Mrs. Gopher seemed anxious to talk about different customs
of the Seminoles, but she asked me to return another time when
she's had time to think about what the Seminoles used to do
a long time ago.
There was another elderly lady who I tried talking to.
She was a bit shy, and would not say too much to me at all,
but when she found out that I belonged to the Bear Clan, she
told me that a long time ago it was customary that whenever
a bear was killed, only the member of the Bear Clan was allowed
to strip and clean the bear. That particular person was first
to take part of the meat, and then the rest of the people
She said, "When our people went on hunts a long time ago,
they used mainly bows and arrows. Very few Seminoles had guns
to hunt with, since it was a luxury to have guns. Most of the
time, the Seminoles would trade whatever they had with the white
man in order to get guns, so there weren't too many guns around.
When a group of hunters went on a hunt, they would sometimes
find a fat and heavy bear. Chasing the bear, they would shoot
it. After wounding it, the poor bear would be so fat and heavy,
he would clumsily run, making it possible for any runner to
outrun him. But the runner had to be careful not to get in his
way, or that would be the end of him."
She said that every part of the bear was used for differ-
ent purposes, such as the hide being used for covers and any-
thing else that the Seminole found a need for. They also used
the fat taken from the bear. They would put the bear fat in
their soups, mix it with honey or sweet potato or pumpkin.
Then she related a little story:
At one time, there was a young man who thought well of his
skills, and he had a good time by chasing bears up a tree. He
would holler and scream and this would frighten the bear. The
bear would suddenly take an about-turn, and climb any tree
that was near. This young man would continue to holler and
scream, and the bear would go to the top of a tree. The young
man would shake the tree, thinking that this would cause the
bear to fall. But most of the time the bear would clutch his
claws into the tree and it was difficult for it to fall out.
This young man really had a good time scaring these bears.
One day, there was one bear who was frightened at first,
when he heard this terrifying screams and hollering of the young
man. He climbed up a tree, but suddenly this bear looked
straight in the eyes of his pursuer, and then he decided to
come down quickly. The poor, brave soul--the young brave--didn't
know what was happening, because most of the bears would climb
a tree, and that was it. This one bear started coming down
the tree as quickly as he went up, and the young man, his eyes
were just about to pop out. The bear come down so fast that
it caused the young man to fall to the ground, and they both
were so frightened of each other that the bear took off one
direction, and the young man took off in another direction.
They say that this young man never tried screaming and hollering
at the bears again.
Here is one technique to dry pumpkin. You first select
ripe pumpkins, and you peel off the outer rind. Then you take
the inner pumpkin--you slice it into strips about one inch wide,
and then the length of the pumpkin. Then you take these strips
and go out to your clothesline, and hang in the sun to dry,
making sure it is well-protected from flies, gnats, and other
insects. Be sure and place these strips where there will be
the most sunshine throughout the day, because it takes several
hot days to dry throughly. When they're completely dry, then
you take these strips, put it in a cool, dry place until you are
ready to use it.
The way the Seminoles used it as a vegetable was that they
would take shortening (about one and one-half tablespoons) and
sugar (about two and one-half tablespoons) and then they would
put the pumpkin in a pan and put enough water in it to cover the
pumpkin, and then they boiled the pumpkin down in water.
When it was simmered down, they'd take the pumpkin and cook
it in shortening; then they would add butter to it, and a
little bit of cinnamon and sugar. This is the way the present
day Seminole cooks his dried pumpkin.
...A great deal on corn. He made corn drinks from corn.
One corn drink that is still yet quite popular with the Seminoles
today is [Indian word]. They had varieties of dishes, such
as cornbread, corn soup, corn pudding. The Seminoles made
great use out of corn, but there were times that he would want
a finer form corn in order to make flour. In order for him to
to pound his corn into a finer powder, he had to have mortar
and pestle. Mortar is called [Indian word] and pestle is [Indian
word]. These articles a long time ago would not have been ab-
sent from the Seminoles' cooking area.
The mortar and pestle were used to pound corn for the
family meals. Usually the women would stand under a shade
tree, working away, but she always found the right time of
day to do her work, and usually this was done in the cool of
the day, or in the late afternoon. When she pound her corn,
she always made enough corn to last for several days.
Where they got the mortar and pestle was from the tree.
As we have mentioned before, the Seminoles depended on nature
a great deal. The mortar was made from a tree trunk which
had been cut into one big piece about three and a half feet
long. The bark is peeled away from the tree with a small axe,
and then they make a hole on top of the tree trunk. This hole
is bored out, and then they put hot coals in place. They put
hot coals in the hole, and then alternately burnt out, and
then they take a'chisel, and then they begin to chisel out
this burnt hole. Then they make a hollow, usually a foot
deep, and they usually leave an outer rim about three and a
half to four inches wide. The hollowed area is then smoothed,
and all the burnt part is removed. Then they clean it out,
they rinse it out, and then this is where they place their
They'll place the corn that is to be pounded--they'll
just take a handful at a time, pounding it. The corn is placed
right in the middle of this mortar, and then they take the
pestle and they pound this handful of corn. Whenever it's in
a fine powder form, they take it out and put it in a container.
The pestle is about three and a half feet long. It is
made from a pole. At the end of one pole, it is two inches
in diameter, but on the other end it is about four inches in
diameter for the length of about a foot. The purpose of this
large end is to give the pole weight in pounding the material.
The larger end is what they pound the corn with, and with it sort
of crush the corn. This is how they get their fine corn flour.
I have found that just setting around and exchanging folk-
lore has been terribly interesting to everyone. There are many
who strain their memories trying to remember some stories that
have been told to me when they were young people, or when they
were children. Many of them vaguely remember different stories.
Others have entertained the idea of telling their stories,
but never had a chance to tell anyone, because no one seemed
to really care to listen. In these late-evening get-together
sessions, many of them felt free to tell their stories, even
though some were incoherent, fragmented. Others told their
stories as though they just heard it yesterday. There are
many stories of the little people, how they can play tricks on
people, or sometimes, how they can be helpful. This is one
story I enjoyed hearing, "The Hunter and the Little People:"
Long time ago, they say that a young man went on a hunt.
He went from hunting grounds to hunting grounds, but failed
to find any meat. The young hunter became exhausted, hungry and
discouraged. He fell asleep. In the meantime, there were some
little people who found him sleeping. These little men were
also known for being great hunters. They woke the big hunter
up, and when he woke up, he was startled to see the little men
"Don't be frightened,"the little men told the big hunter.
The hunter said, "I have had very bad luck today. I went
to hunt food for my camp, but I did not even see a rabbit."
The little men listened, and they said, "If you will
take us across the river over there, if you will help us across,
we will help you to find a nice deer that will make your village
happy, and we'll also help you to clean and prepare the meat."
The hunter, thinking it was a deal, accepted and agreed to
take the little men across the river. Just as the little men had
said, to his astonishment, the big hunter saw all sorts
of game to be killed. His mind intoxicated with the thought
of killing a lot of deer, he picked up his bow and arrow and
started to shoot each deer, but the little men shouted to him
and said, "Do not be overcome with the plenty of food.; We
take care of the game here, and we do not kill any more than
we have to eat. You told us that you needed only one deer to
take back to your camp. We will help you get one deer, as we
promised. We will help you to clean the meat so that your
people will not have to clean it, but you must not kill. We
feel that you would kill as many as you want, but this is
our law. Please obey our laws, or else you must die your-
self." The big hunter, nodding his head, apologized, asked
for forgiveness, and he said that he did not know that you
had your own laws to live by.
While at the camp of these little people, the big hunter
appreciated the hospitality displayed by these little men.
Before they would let him go home, they insisted that he stay
and have food with them, and that he also stay all night.
The following morning they will take him on a hunt. So the
big hunter accepted this invitation. During the night, the
drums and the shells were rattling, and the singers were singing.
The leader of the dance began to circle around, and people
began to join in the dance. The big hunter took part in the
dance, and he took the ceremonial drink with the little people.
The next day at twilight, all the little hunters were
ready to go on the hunt. They woke the big hunter up. With
skill and ease, their scouts, who followed the tracks of the
deer, whispered, "There is a deer quite near us. We will take
this deer." As they surrounded the deer, hundreds of arrows
pierced the body of the deer, and the deer fell.
As swift as lightning, the little hunters stripped the
deer and cleaned it. Careful not to throw anything away, they
dried the meat. The rest of the meat that was not to be dried
was roasted and put into baskets. They gave the prepared
deer to the big hunter, and told him it was their honor to
help get a deer for him and his camp.
The big hunter being very grateful, gave his many thanks
to the little people and made his way home. When the villagers
learned that it was the little people who had helped the hunter
get the meat for the village, they showed great respect for
the little people.
The Seminoles believed that hospitality was a good virtue
to have. Another virtue was not to kill any more than was
necessary, and showing great respect for another person no matter
how different the person may be from you. These virtues come
through in the story of "The Big Hunter and the Little People."
A long time ago, when talking about hospitality, the Seminoles
believed that when a guest came to their homes, food must be
shared as free as the running water. It was a privilege to
give; it was a token of friendship, and if they gave to one
person, they had to share with all that were present. They
were careful not to kill any more than was necessary. They
were careful of their wild game, just as the same way the white
man with their possession of cattles and guns.
To show great reverence and respect for another man was
another prime virtue. The Seminoles, many years ago, believed
that [Indian word], our god, had provided everything that the
heart could wish for. We, as the people, were made under his
creation; therefore, we have to have respect, no matter who the
person may be.
I was talking to Ella Smith. She's about seventy years
old. She was very reluctant to talk into my tape recorder,
so I just set it aside. I asked her if the Indians enjoyed
living with nature as a way of life. She and I had a hard
time understanding each other, but what came through, it made
sense. She said:
Living with nature was a way of life. My father often
used to talk about how they hunted and fished, and how they
would cut down trees to make their dugout boats, and to make
many uses of the tree, to keep them warm on cold nights. To
me, all this seemed so exciting. We did the same thing when
I was a young woman. I didn't know it until people told me
later that I had a hard life. In those days, it was so much
a part of our lives, second nature, cutting down trees, building
our own chickees, making our own things to pass the time away,
joking and singing with your fellow man.
Today, you hardly ever see any Indian families working to-
gether. The young people go off to themselves. The families
no longer make a project of cutting down the palmetto trees,
cutting the palmetto palms. These things are no longer in
sight. But in my days as a young woman, it was a joy to
have a family working together like that. We were happy
because we knew what the land meant to us.
The meaning of the land to the Indians is something hard
for other people to understand. His land is his mother, not
to be tampered with. The dust of the land is the dust of our
people. This land has been handed down for many years. My
grandfather used to say, "It was our people who hunted and
fished and died for many, many hundred years." To take the land
was like taking the life away from him.
The land in the Georgia-Alabama area where some of our
people came from, they say, were rich farming lands. In my
grandfather's days, these farm lands...each family had their own
plot of land, and they worked it; also the communal garden plot
where everyone took part in tending to the garden. Whatever
fruit it bore, everyone divided it up equally.
The tribe would farm potatoes, beans, corn, pumpkins,
and just before crack of dawn in those days, men and women
would be out in the fields, tending to the crops, singing
and working together. I'm sure the work was very hard, but
they enjoyed it. My grandfather said he did as a little
boy, because he would have one of the men explaining what
happens, how the sun sends its warm rays upon the earth, and
how the rain gives the thirsty ground some water. It is like
being without water for many, many days, and losing strength,
and when the water comes, the rains come to pour itself on
Mother Earth. This gives nourishment and strength to the
grounds so they can bring forth good corn for the people to
eat, bring forth good things for the people to eat. Everything
worked together for the best of man, and planting crops like
this, you would have a storyteller telling you how the plants
grew and what made the plants grow, and how the people had to
be careful in taking care of the soil. Otherwise, nature would
not respond. We had to take care of our gardens. Otherwise
we would not have a good crop.
There were so many things that happened in those days as
a young girl. As a young child, I had many opportunities
to hear my grandfather talk about the time that he was in
Georgia-Alabama area, and then how they came to Florida. One
thing I remember my grandfather saying many, many times was
never to trust a white man. If you see one, hide. Otherwise
you will no longer live. He would tell many stories about how
the white man would attack a party of Indians, and for their
own sadistic pleasure and gratification, they would torture
the Indians, and leave them there for the vultures to eat.
Once in awhile, if the Indians were being chased by the white
man, another band of Indians would come to their rescue,
chasing the enemy away, and then coming back, helping the
helpless Indians if they were wounded. Most of the time, white
men killed the Indians, filling their bodies with bullets, or
sometimes hacking the Indian and the cattle to pieces. My
grandfather saw this on many occasions.
After listening to this lady, I thought of what Mary Huff
told me. Mary Huff is a Seminole-Creek, and she is seventy
years old. She was talking about the cruelties performed
by the white man. And she said:
The cruelties of the white man cannot be denied. Preserving
God's nature will never be done, because the greed of man has
poisoned his mind. For the true destroyer is a true believer
in thinking. Everything he is doing is in the name of progress,
for it has been a couple of centuries of human suffering and
conflict imposed on the Seminoles. The destruction have faced