SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
INTERVIEWEE: G= Unknown girl
INTERVIEWER: I= Jean Chaudhuri
[There are other unknown informants
speaking in this manuscript.]
DATE: July 10, 1971
Big Cypress, 8, 10, 14
Bowlegs, Billy, 12
Brighton Reservation, 8, 10, 11
Bureau of Indian Affairs, 15
Dancing, 3-5, 13
Drinking, 3-4, 16
Food, 13, 16
Green Corn Dance, 4, 8-9, 13-14
Hollywood Reservation, 8, 10, 17
Hunting, 5-6, 8, 12
Land ownership, 1, 14-15
Law and punishment, 2, 10
Medicine, 7, 9-10, 12, 14
Miccosukee, 8, 10
Osceola, Chief, 14-17
Osceola, Robert, 14, 17
Religion, 5, 8-9
Seminole-Creek, 8, 10
Thompson, General Wiley, 16
Tradition, 4-8, 13, 16
White impact,l-2, 4, 6-7, 9-10, 12, 14
I: This interview was on July 10, 1971. The young person I'm
talking to is a high school dropout. She was raised around
all the reservations, she said. She wasn't specific.
What is your name?
G: For this, I don't have a name. I'm just an Indian.
I: Are you a reservation Indian, or a city Indian?
G: Reservation Indian.
I: In talking with different Indians in your peer group, do they
feel as though these lands belong to the white man or to the
G: To the Indians.
G: Because the white man came over here and they took our lands.
They didn't give us anything for them; they didn't even ask
us for them. They just took them.
I: Yeah, in the name of "progress." What did they mean by progress?
G: Their progress...they cut down our trees for their progressive
cities, and covered our earth with their pavements and oils.
Today the swamps are overflowing with dead animals, and one
could hardly go swimming because the waters are so polluted.
At one time, the state was one of the greatest places for a
variety of game. There were deer and bear and panther, and
wildcat, and otter...beaver.
I: No buffaloes, though. The present day Indian really feels
as though their land has been raped, huh?
I: What is your opinion of Indian traditions?
G: Well, unlike the white man, the Seminoles weren't selfish or
greedy people...that makes up the white man. He didn't want
to own all the land. He wanted to share it with others, and
and that's probably one reason why it was so easy for the
white man to take our land. We wanted to share it with him,
but he just came in and grabbed it as soon as we offered him
to use it. Anyway, it was our way of life to take all the
comfort we could from it, but not to abuse it.
The Seminoles, I often wonder where they've gone. It
seems like most of them have gone the white man's route,
and they don't want to return to their principles that make a
people honest and honorable. Like the forest, the Indian is
gone. Our forefathers were driven from their ancestral land.
I: You're talking about honor and honesty. You mean to say
the white man doesn't have this?
G: No. They speak of having it, but they contradict themselves
in what they do. They're always there to grab, and that's
not honorable. Any way they can, they're going to get what
they want to get. That's not an honorable man to me. An
honorable man is someone who believes something good, and
holds to that belief, and doesn't' go around contradicting
his beliefs by his actions; that's what white men do.
You'll be their friends one minute, and as soon as you do
something materialistically against them, whether you know it
or not, they'll turn around and sue you. That's not an honorable
man, and white men are like that.
I: You mean to say a long time ago Indians did not sue each other--
they didn't have this legal system where they would sue each
G: No, they didn't.
I: What was one of the virtues that the Indians had that they
often held as the highest esteem?
G: I think it was their hospitality. That's one of the best-
known traits of the Indian is their hospitality. I have been
to Indian homes, people that I don't even know, and right
away I am welcomed. I am fed, I am given everything that is
theirs, and most of the time, it's very little; but they have
it there to share, and many of their traditional ceremonies
are that of sharing. They like to give. They don't like
I: What if it's given to them? What do they do?
G: Well, then they like to take.
I: How about children? You hadn't mentioned before we started
putting it on tape that children a long time ago really
weren't homeless. Even today it's....
G: They aren't. They aren't homeless, even today. The Indian
family isn't made up of just the mother and the father and the
children. The Indian family is made up of the mother, the
father and the aunts, the uncles, the grandparents, friends,
very close friends, boyfriends--but that's the understood
way of the Indian. I mean, people are just that way. It's
born into them, and if something happnes to the parents,
or say the parents don't want to take care of their children
or something like that.... In comparison to the white man's
way--right away,they'll take those children and put them in
some alien home that they don't know the people or anything,
but in the Indian way of life, the grandparents or the aunts
or the uncles.... I mean, they're kept within the family;
they're kept within familiar surroundings, and they're loved
within the whole family that way. Their grandparents aren't
somebody they go to visit just once in a while. Most people
I know, the grandparents hang in there. They live with...like
the children, the older people are taken care of too, within
their families, and they play an important role in the family.
I: Do you'see this kind of way of life dying out in present day?
G: Well, to a certain extent. But even our "apple Indians" are
kind of nice.
I: The expression used here was that among many Indian groups.
"Apple Indians" are Indians that are considered white inside.
They may be red on the outside, but they are white--meaning
that they have white values. This is what we are Feferring to.
There is another familiar word that is used for Indians
if they're Indians, but had not really participated in their
tribal dances or their Indian way of life. They're called
"watermelon Indians," meaning green on the outside, but red
on the inside. This is what we were referring to.
I: Is there a lot of drinking problem on the reservation?
G: Yes, there is. There's a lot of drinking on the reservation.
I wouldn't say it was a problem, though, 'cause it's fun.
I: Why do they drink? You said it was fun?
G: Yeah, and that's because there isn't anything else to do that's
fun. Before, we had our social dances. We had them all the time.
They were a part...just like in white society they go bowling
or something like that, you know, we had our social dances,
and ceremonies and stuff like that.
I: The old Green Corn Dance, stomp dance, huh?
I: Have you stomp danced?
I: Twice or so?
G: Yeah, but.... You know, there's a funny thing. I mean, this
has all been forbidden. Even there's a lot of schools that
they used to send the Indians to, and they forbade them to
speak the language and to have anything to do with things
that are Indian.
I: So they taught them to go the white man's way and drink?
G: Yeah, and then they left them with nothing on the reservation
in the line of social life, except visiting. I mean visiting
your people and stuff like that. But then, to make it fun,
they take the drinks.
I: I noticed that most of the young people travel in groups.
Why is this not one young person belongs to one boyfriend or
anything? They're all just buddies.
G: I think it's because we have been brought up with that attitude
of sharing. Myself and a lot of friends of mine, they don't
like to be associated with just one person, and sort of limit
their ability to really share. It's just because they like to
have fun with everybody, not to be associated with one
person or to be alienated from the group. They don't like
to be pointed out from the group either.
I: What are some of the young people's feelings toward other old
Indians who may want to believe in their medicine man and
still wear their tribal dresses, and the men wearing their
long hair? Do the young people--at least within your group--
do they see this good? Is this beneficial to the Indian?
G: Yes, I think it is in my group. It gives you a feeling of
pride to see this in our people, because you identify with
them. They're Indians, and it's part of you, so there's
a feeling of pride in your people. Although we have a
lot of things like.... I like white man's music, rock and
roll, stuff like that, but then I can't really say that that's
mine. This is mine. This is me, because I'm an Indian, and
I think most of the young people feel that way. They feel a
sense of pride when they see....
I: You mean, you don't think the stomp dance songs are funny
songs, that they're something to be made fun of? That's some-
thing to be cherished, something to be proud of?
G: Yes, it is. It's something to be proud of.
I: Many of the Indians feel as though when they're going around
the fire, or going around the circle, this is a unity. Do
you feel a unity when you're dancing with your Indians in a
G: Yes, I do. The way of the dance is a unity sort of thing,
so it naturally instills that feeling within you.
I: Since you sort of find your religion in your dances or your
ceremonials...a long time ago, do you think the Indians were
bascially religious people?
G: Yes, they were religious people.
I: Did they have a collection plate?
G: No. That's why they're religious. They didn't go around
preaching about God and stuff like that. They didn't go
around preaching that, and trying to make people get all ex-
cited about it. They were just basically religious. They
knew their creator, and they knew everything that was provided
for them was from God--The Great Spirit. They didn't
have to go around and tell people that, because they were
just brought up knowing that. It's in their ceremonies.
It's in just about everything they do. It is in everything
they do. You know, like when a white man goes shopping and
gets food from the store, he doesn't say, "Oh, thank you for
this, and thank you for that," and stuff like that. He
doesn't even think about it. But when the Indian went hunting,when
he killed an animal, he didn't just go killing a bunch of ani-
mals just to see how many he could kill. He killed one to eat,
and he was thankful for it. He didn't waste any part of it. The
Indian gave thanks to God in everything.
I: I know one old man was telling me exactly what you're saying--
that they make use of everything, that they just didn't kill
unnecessarily. They may eat the turtle, but they would make
a turtle shaker for their dances, and this would aid the singers.
It was a helpmate, and in everything we saw God, our creator,
the Great Spirit, whatever we wanted to call him, and we
recognized him in all things. Even with the turtle, we gave
him thanks. We said, "Thank you," and then we would convert
that into a turtle rattler, Everything was used, and to not
use it was a sin.
Anyway, do you think that most of the young people are
going more the white man's way, or the Indian ways? Are they
thinking about the old Indian traditions, or what exactly is
the young Indian going towards?
G: I think when an Indian is brought up close to his family, which
most Indians are, he knows his Indian ways and things like this.
But a lot of times, he thinks that the white man's ways...I mean,
that's the way you're supposed to be, because they're the
dominant society, and so he'll go that way. A lot of Indians,
because of the white man being the dominant society, he'll
try to erase his Indian background.
I: These are "apple Indians" again?
G: Yeah. But then there are many young Indian people that I know that
within their Indian society, they are Indian; they don't care to
learn or become white. Although they accept a lot of white
things, and they like them, they still don't care to be labeled
I: To like white man's things is not becoming "non-Indian", because
you can like many things, but at least the impression I've
gotten from talking to different [people,] is the values....
Your responsibility to another man--being kind to another man,
showing hospitality--these were the principles that you have
lived by, and just because you listen to rock and roll, this
doesn't ruin this type of value that's been instilled in you.
I think this is the impression I've been getting thus far.
Have you heard any stories where the Indians were fighting
the white soldiers and an Indian might have gotten lost, or
went strayed from his group or anything?
G: Oh yeah. I remember one story that I was told. There was
this one soldier who strayed from his group; he was a lonely
soldier, all alone....
I: Soldier or warrior?
G: Warrior. But they're soldiers too. Anyway, he would try to
find his people who he knew were hiding, and he'd be traveling
by day and night trying to find his people. Of course, he'd
be really afraid, just terrified because he was alone, and he
knew there was white men around. If he saw them--a white
man or white men--if he saw them coming, he'd kill himself
so that he wouldn't be taken captive by them. He'd rather
die than be prisoner by them.
I: Why? Was it because the white man was cruel, or why was he
G: He was afraid because they'd castrate him. You know, there
were other times when a lonely soldier would see a group of
Indian people on a trail, and usually they were friendly like
all Indians, and so that would make it real easy for this lonely
Indian to join the group and fight along their side. He'd rather
join an Indian group.
I: There were many instances we use a lot of Indian humor, which
you'll find with many Indians. Sentences we say, it's quite
funny to us, so excuse us if you don't understand it.
Can you tell me a little bit about medicine men? Are they
frauds, or do they just play a minor role within the Indian
group of the Seminoles?
G: No, they don't. If somebody said that the Indian medicine man
was a fraud, then they would be saying that all white ministers
and priests are frauds, because that was the function of the
medicine man: to counsel. He could direct spiritually the way
of life, but he was unlike the white man's ministers and priests.
He was also a doctor who was very close to our Mother Earth.
I: He uses a lot of herbs and things.
G: Yes, he uses a lot of herbs. He doesn't use chemicals and things
like that in his medicine. He uses natural things, you know,
and he's very close to the earth. He knows all plants and
things of his surroundings. He knows what's good and what's not
good, and he knows what to use and what not to use. The two
things the spiritualness and the medicine part, they coincide
with each other.
I: When you talk about spiritualness, it's almost like a Christian
going to church and finding peace within himself, or was this
much broader with the Indian?
G: Yes, I think it was much, much broader with the Indian. An
Indian didn't have to go to church to find peace, or have to
go to the minister just to find peace, and then it wears off,
and then he goes back again. It wasn't that sort of thing.
He always could find peace within himself, within his teachings
and things, and if there was something he didn't know, or
something like that, he could always finally ask this through
a medicine man.
I: Many of the young people I talked to are very much interested
in reviving some of their traditional ceremonies. They felt
as though in the days past there were all sorts of ceremonies
that the Miccosukee and Seminole-Creeks used to do; these days
there's only an annual ceremony--the Green Corn Dance. There
used to be another fall ceremony, called the hunting ceremony,
which is no longer performed. They were saying that they would
like to see some of their ceremonies revived. Many of the
young people participated in the Green Corn Dances this year,
and they would like to see some of their hunting dances revived,
their war dances, and their ceremonial protection rites.
They used to have a ceremony for planting crops and burying
the dead, and just praying for one another--healing the sick.
Also, there was an elaborate ceremony of giving of names; they
still do it in Big Cypress. As far as giving names, they
would like to see the two other reservations get more involved.
This is Hollywood and Brighton Reservation. Big feasts would
go along with these ceremonies. Most of the young people from
Big Cypress area that I just accidentally ran into are very
much interested in reviving some of these ceremonies. How suc-
cessful they will be, I don't know.
What this group from Big Cypress that I ran into..there was
one young man among them. None of these young people would
reveal their names, but it was interesting to talk. We
were all setting under a chickee while we were talking, and they
felt very free to talk about thdir feelings, their hopes, and
what they hoped to accomplish in whatever they're doing. One
young man said, "You know, we need to revive some of our trad-
itional dances or ceremonies. We need to make it more of our
way of life. Every year we get together for Green Corn Dance;
that's not enough. We have to have something that should be
kept together at least once a month."
Listening to his grandfather and uncles, as a child growing
up, he felt that just listening to stories.... The Miccosukee
people were very religious, very close to nature, and just
like the Seminole-Creeks, when they did their Green Corn Dance,
it was an expression of giving offering and giving thanks
to the Great Spirit or the Breathmaker. This was their way
of worshipping the great god, since we know all things was
made by the creator.
He said sometimes he thinks of all the atrocities that
have happened in the past, but he cannot linger with the past,
he cannot think of the past, because this only robs him of the
constructive things he can do today. Otherwise, he grows to
hate the dominant society.
He said since the time of exploration and exploitation
of the Indians by the white man, there has certainly been many,
many changes that the traditional Green Corn Dance have gone
through. Fortunately, the medicine men were given certain med-
icine bundles to be carried on through generations, and if it
wasn't for the bravery of the medicine man protecting the
medicine for us to have at the annual Green Corn Dances, then
we would absolutely not have nothing that would inspire us, or
that we would feel close to. But we do have medicine men who
have carried medicine bundles for generation after generation.
It has been handed down generation after generation.
Our people were very religious. The white man thinks we
were very superstitious, but it depends on what our way of thought
is. We were religious, because we, as Miccosukees, strongly
felt that everything had life to it; everything breathed,every-
thing was created by the Breathmaker, and life was given to
even the tinest little ants that crawled. Ants might bite you
and give you a miserable time, but there was a purpose that
the Breathmaker had made the little ant. Even the herbs and
different types of things that we have, they were all given for
a reason. We depended on nature--the trees, the fish, the sun,
the moon, the wind, the streams, lightening, thunder, all these
things, we communicated wtih nature. What I mean by com-
municated, we actually communicated, because many, many years
ago.... Today they don't do it; some of our old women will go
out into the woods and pick some herbs and some things to cook
with, but I'm talking about many, many years ago when the whole
tribe thought of it as a way of life that we just did things with
nature. Nature fed us, nature took care of us, nature kept
us clean; and this was our whole way of respecting nature, and
we just communicated with nature, and we believed in spirits.
There were good spirits and bad spirits. The bad spirits
could cast evil spells upon us. Then, if we became sick by the
evil spirits, we went to our medicine man, and the medicine
man took a walk with nature, and nature provided the medicinal
herbs that were given to our bodies, and our bodies became
better for it. We just interacted and lived with nature, but
this is no longer done.
I think that we, the Indians on Big Cypress, are more
closely aware of our relationship to nature than even the
Brighton Indian Reservation, because Brighton Indian Reservation
was one of the first reservations to be brainwashed into
Christianity. They were the first ones that they started working
on as far as trying to Christianize them. They've been quite
successful. You can go there, and the majority of the Indians
on Brighton Indian Reservation are Christian Indians. To talk
and to live in the old traditional way...in their eyes, they
think it's a sin. So it's not a comfortable feeling to talk
about traditional habits unless the opportunity is there; and
the opportunity is rarely there, becasue those who talk about their
traditional ways are people who are alienated from the church,
and they like their Indian ways.
You know, I'm not romanticizing the Indian, I'm not saying
that he was all good, and nature really took care of him.
That isn't it. A long time ago, the Seminoles--whether they're
Miccosukee or Creek--they suffered from sickness; they suffered
from being hateful to each other, there were gossip and other
things like this, but it wasn't carried over to a certain extent.
I'm not saying that the Indian was all goody-goody, because out
of madness, one Indian may kill another Indian. If this hap-
pened, the council itself would have a meeting to decide what
the sentence would be, and the sentence would probably say
that he was to be executed. If the sentence was passed then
the Indian could choose the person who would kill him, or the
council will choose a person they thought was worthy to execute
the killer or the murderer. After the sentence was passed, then
the person who was convicted was allowed to go home, and he had
to promise that he would return on a certain day. If the tribal
council told this convicted person that he should return within
a month, the person who was convicted would promise to be
back within that month. Within that time period of one month,
he was allowed to go home--to go back to his friends and relatives
and tend to his crops and do whatever he needed to do--but that
once that one month went by, he had to be at the tribal council
and meet his execution. His word or his promise that was
made, he had to keep, because even though he was a murderer,
he did keep his promise, and he did show up at the tribal council
or wherever the execution was going to take place. The Miccosukees
did have their downs and ups; they did occasionally kill each
other. It wasn't all love and romance, that the Indian was a good
guy and that he lived in the land of utopia. It wasn't like
that. They did occasionally fall by the wayside. Some did not
adhere to the value system of the Miccosukees.
We were talking about how nature provided food for the
Indians and everything, and he sort of chimed in. "You know,"
he said, "I believe that nature provided so much, but during the
times our people were being chased by the white people, they
didn't have time to look for the right kinds of food that they
depended on for their basic needs. They had to grab anything
that was in sight. If they saw berries, they had to grab it.
There were many, many areas where it was completely barren and
hardly anything grew that was edible. So the life of the
Seminole is very difficult, at least for the early Seminoles.
It was just really difficult for them to live and then to be
forced into the swamps, running always, running away, was really
hardships of living conditions, and there was a lot of sickness."
He said his grandfather told him that running away and
going into the area where there were a lot of mosquitoes, people
became sick. Some had to be left along the way. There were times
that they had to build a lot of grave boats and life was just
really strenuous on the life of the Seminoles during the time
period that they were being chased by the white man. He said
that he felt as though the other people were giving the impres-
sion that the life of the Seminole was just beautiful as far
as depending on nature for food. It was, if they were settled
and remained stationary in one area, but when they were on the
run, they were really facing hardships. There were times that
they were practically starving, some Indian groups, and to say
that they had it made, "I can not hardly agree with this,
because, according to my grandfather, he said that in his
father's and grandfather's time, they really had to scratch
for a living. It was just about time they would hidedried meat
in little dugouts. They would dig holes in the ground, and by
the time they would hide their dried meat, thinking they had a...."
One day I decided to take a drive to visit a set of twins
who I had been hearing about. No one ever visit them because
they claimed that the twins were hard of hearing, and the
conversation was quite slow. People would wind up just shouting
at each other. I thought I would visit these twins myself.
When I got there, I understood what the people had been
saying. I had a difficult time in trying to make myself heard
when I tried to talk to the set of twins. They are 103 years old.
They live near Brighton Reservation, about ten miles away from
the reservation, and they depend on welfare to take care of their
basic needs. They live in an isolated place that, at one time,
according to the Seminoles, Billy Bowlegs camped.
The twins are both hard of hearing, but they talk sim-
ultaneously, making it difficult for the interviewer to talk
with them. They have, within their camp, three small chickees--
one they use to eat on, another where they sleep, and there's a
small cooking area where the logs are made into a wheel form.
This is where they cook.
I decided to go in back of their camp to look around. As
I was going west of the camp, they suddenly became excited,
and they were hollering at me not to go back up that west side
of their camp. I asked why, and they said that they just re-
cently had new medicine planted out there. This medicine was
to ward off the evil spirits that may come around their area.
They've always had medicine that protected them, and they
didn't want anyone to be going back there.
They were saying that in their village, no one ever came
around, because of the medicine. They felt free to go fishing,
felt free to hunt whatever they wanted to. To be 103 years
old, they're quite spry. They go fishing. They go gopher
hunting, and they do everything for themselves, but they do
talk both at the same time, which you don't know what one is
The two little old ladies had taken a walk that morning;
they had been just walking around, and there were some sur-
veyors of men putting up fences. They were putting it up,
and one twin said to another, "Oh my heavens, look. They're
fencing us in. White men is again invading our land." One
twin who was quite an activist said, "Well, I'm going to go up
to that white man and tell him that he has no right to be fencing
us, that they've taken everything from us, so why should they
fence off this land."
But the second twin, who was quite opposite from the first
twin, who is sort of passive, said, "We better not bother with
those white men. You know how white men are." They suddenly
felt as though they were living back in the 1800s or so.
The brave twin went swiftly to the white man who was surveying
his property and setting up the fence, and the active twin told
this white man, talking at all times in Creek, saying that "You
know, you white devil, you've come here, you've robbed us of
our land, you have polluted our river streams, we feel as though
we have been confined to a small area, we don't feel free to
roam about, everything you own now, and here you are, taking
the last little bit we have." She says she talked to this white
man up and down, and she shook her finger at him. And this
white man looked, startled, at her, and he didn't say a word,
and then after quite some time, he said something in English
she didn't understand. She says that she really felt as though
she blew off her steam to this white man.
She went back to her sister, who was waiting for her a
couple of hundred feet behind her. So the passive twin asked,
"What did he say?"
She said, "I don't know, but I really told him off. But
the only thing worries me is that I'm afraid that he didn't
understand what I said." They really felt proud of the act
that they performed that morning, and they talked about it.
They were getting ready to eat while I was visiting
with them. They had sofkee. They had turtle soup. You could
see the claws of the turtle in their soup. They were quite hospitable.
They tend to live in the past, and it was fascinating to
hear them talk. They talk so fast and so loud that you really
cannot communicate with them too well, but I hope to see them
as often as possible. They didn't want to talk into my tape
because they didn't know exactly what I was doing. They are
true, lively, little old women. They stand only about five
feet tall. They wear long, traditional Seminole dresses, and
the transparent blouse top. They wear little bangs in front
of their hair, and then they wrap their hair in a little knot,
and they are 103 years old. They tend to talk about their father
had said this, or their grandfather had said this. Just the
essence of what the message is, I have not yet been able to
comprehend, but I hope to see them as often as possible.
I really felt wonderful about visiting the twins. The
young girl who took me out there is fourteen years old, and her
name is Mary Lee. She said she went to the Green Corn Dance.
While I was driving I was talking to her, and I said, "Mary Lee,
you said you went to Green Corn Dance, that you go to the
Green Corn Dance every year. What do you find so exciting in
the Green Corn Dance?"
She said that every year, just the sheer preparation of
going to Green Corn Dance is something she looks forward to.
A month before the Green Corn Dance, she begins to get ready,
because she knows at this time she'll get to meet relatives
that she hasn't seen in over a year, even though the re-
servations are quite close. They don't visit all the relatives
within that one year.
She likes to dance, and she likes to do the shrimp dance.
I asked her to explain the shrimp dance, and she said she knows
how to do it, but she couldn't explain it to me. She said that
at the Green Corn Dance, this is when she really feels as though
she is an Indian. Every day, during the winter and spring,
she's in school. She's running around with white kids her own
age, and the only thing she hears about is the latest rock and
roll records...what movie to see, and she doesn't make a habit
of going to the movie, so she doesn't feel a part of white kid's
world. She certainly feels a part of the Indian world because
when she goes to the Green Corn Dance at Big Cypress, there's
always an old man who will tell stories about war heroes, or
even folklore, and she likes to just sit around and listen to
him. She says that she's been very fortunate that she can speak
I happened to run into Robert Osceola. He was sitting
under a chickee. He had come down from Hollywood; this is the
man about fifty years old who lives at Hollywood Indian Reservation
who I interviewed last spring. He and I got to talking. He
speaks Creek only. It was quite breezy that day, but he was
just setting around under this chickee that was about ready to
fall apart. I stopped my car, and I spoke to Robert Osceola.
I said, "What you had to tell me the last time I saw you was
really interesting--what you had to say about Osceola, Andrew
Jackson, and how our lands were taken away from us." I asked
him, "Is there anything you would like to talk about?" He
gave me a brief description of Osceola, what the sort of impres-
sion he had of Osceola. I will read this in English as well
as in Creek, because I feel as though considerable amount of
time was spent in talking Creek to these people, and it seems
almost appropriate that the listener will get the contrasting
sounds of both languages:
There was a war hero named Osceola. He was young and
powerful, a great leader, and a good man, loved by all his
people. In turn, he loved and protected them. He was given
the role of a leader not by inheritance or by election. He
became a leader because he showed great concern for his people.
He was ready to die for his people, and the white man had to
meet his doom. Osceola's one sorrow and the sorrow of his people
was that they could not remain forever on their beloved lands.
He fasted and prayed and talked with the white leaders to
grant him and his people to roam freely on their ancient
lands, but the white man--being aggressive, ambitious--he
gave deaf ears to Osceola. In spite of Osceola's frequent
visits, asking for this freedom, there was no one to listen
to him. The white man had wanted the lands for many years,
and one lonely little man could not stand in their way of
getting the land. After a long time, after Osceola's cap-
tivity, he began to give up hope, but he went on praying and
believing in the medicine man who at once told him that one
day the Seminoles would live in peace on their ancient lands.
No amount of faith and faithfulness to the cause of retaining
ancient lands seemed to save their lands. In spite of all the
wars that Osceola fought, and the attacks he fought, no success
came his way, but the Seminoles never for a moment forgot the
prophecy the medicine man had made. They prayed and fasted with-
out ceasing to quiet the pain in their minds as they thought of
losing their land. They could not quieten the pain that throbbed
within their heads that told them that never again will they trod
on the bones and dust of their ancestors. They prayed before the
sacred fire; though tired and torn with grief, they kept fighting
fot their homelands, which was a losing battle. Osceola in-
spired the Seminoles. They fought. What they won in moral
victories for themselves,' they lost to the white man the
physical things that were just as dear to them. Osceola was
both splendid and sensitive, and it is he whom they chose. He
was powerful, patient, strong, wise, and he led the Seminoles
into believing what was theirs was well worth fighting for.
Since Robert Osceola bears the name Osceola, he feels a
much closeness to this Seminole hero. I asked him about agree-
ment with the U.S. government, as far as agreeing to give up
so much land, and he went on to say, "We, the Seminoles, do
not believe that the agreement with the U.S. government was
ever made by our tribal leaders in the nineteenth century,
much less sign the treaty that was to sell our lives and our
lands to the white man. Back then, our people did not even
understand the white man's language, much less understand what
a treaty of agreement meant. Even our present day leaders have
a hard time understanding what the Bureau of Indian Affairs
is saying. Sometimes they misunderstand a lot of things, and
the white man expects us to believe that in the early 1900s, our
people were more advanced in comprehending English. I believe
it is only their excuse to make like it was legally right to
have taken our lands. This is just to clear their conscience
as though my ancestors knew what they were doing.
Back then, our understanding of property rights or use
of land was moral. It was a gift from God. All man was entitled
to the land, and everyone had equal possession. Instead of
trying to say we gave up our lands, the writers of white man's
history should come our and say they took the land and robbed
us, killed us and starved us out. With our love of the land, it
is hardly feasible we would consent of giving it up. Just as
breathing is part of our existence, so being part of our an-
cestral lands was traditional that we live and die on our ancient
lands. We have to be taken to ancient burial grounds and
buried. We were a part of this area."
I asked Robert Osceola, "What do you know about Osceola?
Do you think he signed a treaty?"
He laughed and he said, "No." You often hear the story, even
the white man has the story...at the tribal office, we have a
big painting, painted by a white man who painted Osceola's
portrait showing that Osceola put a knife through a piece of
treaty paper that he didn't acknowledge. So even the white
man knows that Osceola never did sign anything. Osceola
repudiated the treaty. Even though General Wiley Thompson
was putting pressure on the Indians, and he was wanting them
to go out West, Osceola didn't want this. During this time,
this white general and other big important white men were
gathered, and they were asking the Indians, 'Do they want to
leave this area?' There were several chiefs there, and some
of the chiefs didn't say anything. They were quiet, because
they were looking toward Osceola for guidance. Osceola spoke
for them, and this was the time that Osceola took his hunting
knife and pierced it through the treaty, saying, 'This paper
doesn't mean a thing.' He doesn't understand it, and what's
written on here is completely meaningless. No man has a
right to take land from another, and a piece of paper does
not give the white man the right to take what is ours.
This is what happened, and, as usual, they threw Osceola
into prison. Today, many of our young people are thrown into
jail, but not for good cause like Osceola. They've learned how
to drink the white man's drinks, so that's the reason they
drink it. Instead of being brave and smart like Osceola,
they just get drunk and get thrown in jail. Well, that's
besides the point," he said.
He said he could picture Osceola being taken to prison.
An Indian doesn't like to be confined. He doesn't like to
be locked up. He can also picture Osceola's relatives, family,
friends, who must have wept and prayed for his release, espe-
cially the women. He often pictures them going into mourning
and letting their hair down to show that they're in grief.
During that time when Osceola was imprisoned, people prayed
for him, asking the Great Spirit or the Breathgiver to bring
Osceola back into their camp, and Osceola did leave the prison.
He came back to the camp, and this madd the people feel that
their hopes and wishes had been fulfilled. The relatives,
when they saw Osceola walking through the trail, they were so
happy to see him.
During that time he came back from this prison, they had a
council meeting, and this was where they planned to fight the white
soldiers. Since his first love was to his people, he made
sure there would be dugouts and places made accessible to the
old men, women, and children where they could hide and no
harm could fall on them; also where they could have a nice
hiding place where they could hide their dried meats and '
dried fruits and berries so they'll know where to find it if
they become hungry. At this council meeting, Osceola said
his strategy was to fight with small groups, and to sneak
away as far as possible and to kill when convenient, but not
to carelessly walk into a trap set by the white man.
As always striking like a mighty warrior, Osceola seemed
to outwit the white man in spite of the powerful military weapons
they used. The gnawing thing that had obsessed Osceola was to
gain revenge on the man who took him into captivity and also
who stole his wife and put her into prison, and Osceola did get
his revenge. He did kill one of the officers. Our protector,
Osceola, back in those days, he was terrific. He was tremendous.
He had integrity, and he believed even the white man may have
a little bit of integrity, but he was wrong.
One day Osceola sealed his own doom by accepting the white
flag of truce. To Osceola, accepting the white flag of truce
meant to hold conference and peace without disturbance from
both sides, but, to his surprise, he was taken captive, again
put in irons, imprisoned in a small place. While in this small
place, I think it was St. Augustine, he died. I think he was
poisoned, and I also think that they cut his head off and sent
it back east somewhere. I don't know, but they wanted him dead.
Even though the white man said they treated him good, I don't
And this is what I have heard about the bravery of a great
hero. There are many unknown warriors who died to protect their
land and their people--who served as messengers, foot runners
and risked their lives. Their faces are faceless, but their
acts are remembered by those of us who will listen."
I thought this was beautifully said. Robert Osceola
is a Seminole Creek. He lives at Hollywood Reservation, and
he likes to talk about historical events. He's very proud of
the fact his name is Osceola. This also was told to me in
Creek and I will now translate it into Creek.