SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
JEAN CHAUDHURI MONOLOGUE
Apalachicola River, 1
Big Cypress, 4
Billie, Josie, 4
Blacks, 7-8, 12
Bowlegs, Billy, 1
Brighton Reservation, 4,6
Chattahoochee River, 1
Ecology and wildlife, 1-2
Field Day, 4
Gaines, General Edmund T., 8-9
Green Corn Dance, 4
Hunting and fishing, 2, 4, 10-11
Indian Wars, 3, 9
Land ownership, 1, 4
Medicine and medicine men, 2, 4
Okeechobee, 1, 9
Osceola, 1, 9
Seminole origin, 1
Shore, Frank, 4
Tamiami Trail, 4
United States Army, 3
Withlacoochee Battle, 8-9
[This appears to be a monologue by Jean Chaudhuri that is
arranged in a question-and-answer format.]
Question No. 1: Historically, where do you suppose the Seminoles
lived, and where do you think they came from?
The Seminoles always lived in Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
We were in our boats, cruising along the Apalachicola River
and Chattahoochee River and enjoying life before the white man
ever knew we existed. But during Billy Bowlegs's, Osceola's and
Coacoochee's time, we were being forced to go further south,
because of the fever of wanting more lands struck the white
man. Therefore, our ancestors had to flee to safety. They
went further into the Everglades. This swamp land was beautiful.
The whole area was a vast storehouse of natural foods. Our
Everglades is beautiful, even today. It is filled with the
fragrance of wild flowers and forests of palmetto and pine
and singing of birds, and the air is filled with discordant
melodies of the frogs and crickets, and it is very rich in
fruits and nuts and swamp cabbage. Our people hid in the
swamps hoping to be free from the enemy, but this area was
also enticing to the white man. He wanted it all for himself.
As time passed, the white man acquired more and more
land. On his property, he would put up posted signs, "Keep
Out." Where stinginess was prohibited in our tribal customs,
our people began to realize this was the way of life for the
white man, to be stingy. Before the white man came into this
area, Okeechobee, we were free to roam about and hunt, but
now we are restricted only to the reservation to do our hunting.
Off reservation, we can fish and hunt too, but we have to have
fishing and hunting license. Again, the white man's imposed
laws. This law was nonsense in the days of our fathers.
Question No. 2: You were complaining about how dirty the
rivers and the swamps are. Did the Seminoles keep the
rivers and swamps clean?
No, nature did. Nature has a way in keeping her rivers
and swamps clean. She takes care of plant life, like berries,
acorns, walnuts, coontie zamiaa integrifolia], and so forth.
But recently, many fish have been dying in the waters, but it
has taken government men to go out and collect all the dead
fish. You see, the white man has to fight nature's ability
to take care of what she has made, so therefore, the fish are
dying in the polluted waters that were created by man. The
same thing is happening to the alligator and garfish. They,
too, are dying. You know yourself, you can not survive
where there is disease. Some of the rivers and swamps are
diseased, so it has caused the fish to become sick and die.
A long time ago, it was punishable by tribal law to kill
more games than one can eat or use for clothing. Now, natural
law is punishing us for not taking care of Mother Nature. Our
way of life was being close to nature and working along with
her. It was tribal law and natural law that we had to adhere
to; otherwise, we would be punished for abusing what nature
intended for us to use.
Question No. 3: Tell me some of the ways our people used
You want to know how the Seminoles used Mother Nature?
Well, our medicine men used the herbs, roots, barks to make
healing medicine. There were edible plants, such as herbs,
bark, and we ate them. They were provided, again, by nature.
There were plenty of mushrooms, swamp cabbage, oranges. Have
you ever tried roasted oranges? They're good. You should
try some. For bread, we again went to nature. We made
flour from coontie, corn and acorns. For meat, if one was
a good hunter and fisherman, it was easy to get the wild
boar and fish of all kinds, mullet, gar, catfish, and so
forth. But try to get some fish in our swamps and rivers
today. They are so polluted, it makes you sick to the stomach
just looking at it.
Did the Seminoles dry meat?
Yes, when I was a little girl, I used to see a lot of deer,
bear, and steer meat hanging from chickees and trees. These
days, no one bothers to dry anything unless it's their hair.
If you want dried meat, like deer or beef, first thing you
have to have is a deer or a steer. Then, you have to decide
how much meat you want to dry. Take as much of the meaty
part of the animal that you want to prepare. Take a sharp
knife and slice the meat into thin strips. Take a big
pan or a large bread pan, put your strips into it, layer by
layer. Be sure you salt each layer. After you finish,cover
and let it stand over night.
The next day, take out your salted meat where there will
be the most sunshine throughout the day. If you have a high
platform, that would be an ideal place because sometimes dogs
can get into it. The meat should be covered with a thin cloth
to keep away the flies and gnats. Wait three or four days.
This will be time enough for the sun to dry the meat. When
it has dried completely, you have your dried meat.
Now, what to do with the dried meat? You can eat it,
you can nibble away on it, but when you are cooking beans or
grits, just drop some of the dried meat into it. It is quite
tasty that way. There were quite a few ways of preserving
food, but these days I prefer going to the grocery store.
It is so much more convenient. Preparing Indian food the
traditional way is too time-consuming, and besides, no one
really appreciates the work that goes into preparation.
Indian wars.. You want to know if I remember anything
that the old people used to tell me when I was a child? The
only specific thing that I remember is that my parents used
to say to me, "If you see white people coming, you must run and
hide,because they will kill you." In my early days, I did
run and hide. Today we do not have to worry about any one of
us being killed by the white man. They are friendly these
Let me see, my uncle used to say that the white man's
army would come to a village and destroy their crops and live-
stock, and then they would kill the people in the village. I
guess this happened closer to Fort Pierce. I don't know. At
least, it might have been out in that direction a long time
ago. The United States Army was mean. If the soldiers
captured one of our men, they would hang them so that everyone
could see the dead body of a Seminole.
Our people long ago believed to be hung was not good for
the Indian, and the reason for that was that our people had
a belief that the spirit left from the mouth, and after the
spirit left the body, it went to the land of his relatives--
his relatives who had died before him. And then, he had the
freedom of visiting his relative, the freedom of hunting or
whatever he wanted to do. His spirit was free; but if he was
hung, then this closed off the area where the spirit would
have departed. And therefore, the spirit was kept in the
body, and he could not leave, and he was restless and haunted.
Even today, they say that say there's an area near here where
once in a while, they'll see a man hanging, and he's groaning,
crying, and we know that his spirit has never left his body,
and so therefore he has remained in one place, and he's
wanting to be free. So the spirit should be free to leave
the body. So when an Indian was hung, he did not have
Also, my uncles used to tell us that the white men told
our leaders many, many years ago that they would give them a
lot of money if they would go out west. Funny, isn't it? What
did money mean to the Indian in those days when nature provided
them with their basic needs? The minds of the white people were
so different, and is even different today--a lot different from
the Indians. The white man really thought that money was the
same as land, and if they gave us money, it was a fair exchange
for our ancient land.
It was a traditional belief with the Seminoles that the
land belonged to the people--the rivers, the land, the plants,
games, they all belonged to the people. But the white man
had different ideas. He wanted to take the land and cut it
up into tiny little pieces, and then put his little post on
it saying, "Keep out." But to the Seminole, the land was his
mother and his mother. Our leaders' thinking was a little
bit different from the white man. Where the white man wants
it all to himself, our leaders said, "No, the land belongs to
anyone." They knew the land was their mother, and they felt
very strongly in thinking, "Why should we dare cut the breast
of our mother who protects and feeds us?"
I asked this woman if she could tell me about the Green
Corn Dance and hunting ceremony. And she said, "When I was
a young woman, I used to go to them, but I really don't under-
stand what is going on at the ceremony. I don't go to it
any more. It has been over forty years or so that I have been
to one. Today I go to church down the road, the Southern
Baptist Church, so I don't have the time to go anywhere else.
Going to the Green Corn Dance, people dance all night and they
get drunk, so I just don't go."
I asked her when she is sick if she goes to the Indian
doctor or to the white doctor. She answered, "Used to, every-
one went to the Indian doctor. Even ten or fifteen years
back, they went to the Indian doctors, but today only a few
will go to see the Indian doctor. I don't go to them any more.
I have to depend on others for transportation, so if I do
get a ride to see a doctor, it has to be a white doctor be-
cause that's where everyone else go."
I also asked her, "Who do you think are the best Indian
She said, "A lot of people go to see Josie Billie at Big
Cypress, and here on this reservation, [Brighton] Frank Shore.
There is a medicine woman down on the Trail [Tamiami Trail].
She is Miccosukee. I don't remember what her name is. They
are all supposed to be good."
"Since you do not go to the annual Green Corn Dance
ceremony, what do you look forward to each year? Are there
any festivities that the tribe puts on that the whole tribe
puts on?" I asked her.
"No, not the whole tribe, but here at Brighton Reservation,
we have Field Day, and that is one of the big events of the
year. We invite the other reservations to come and join us
for that day. Also we have a lot of white people to come to
this festivity. They come from all over. Everyone enjoys
themselves. We have a big feast during that day. We pro-
vide barbecue dinner to the guests. We also have races,
ball games and rodeos. All the Seminoles come dressed up.
It is quite colorful. We start about ten o'clock in the morning
and it's over at six o'clock at night. This is about the only
big get-together we have on our reservation during the year."
I asked her if she liked living in a house, or if she
liked staying in the chickee, andshe said she likes living
in the house a lot better than in the chickee. She enjoys
having a television in her house, a refrigerator. "Everything
is nice,"she said. She really liked the changes that have
been brought on the reservation. As a little girl, she really
didn't have any of these nice things, and she feels that if
her mother were alive today, she would prefer the chickee than
And I asked her, "Well, do you like the old ways? Would
you like to see your old ways come back?"
And she says, "No, because the white man has taken over
everything, and our young people today can not run away from
this. They have to understand the white man's way of thinking.
They have to learn how to be stingy. They have to learn how
to live on their own private property. They have to learn how
to protect their private property, and if they think like the
old Indian way, then they lose everything. They have nothing.
At one time, I strongly felt and believed that it was absolutely
necessary to believe in our old ways. I thought it would be
nice to be able to go to Green Corn Dances and participate in
the dances and sing and shake shells all night long, but this
didn't go along with my church. And also I thought it would
be nice to teach the grandchildren how to speak Creek--how nice
it would be for them to be talking back to me and telling me
stories. But then I realized it was only a dream, because when
they go to school, they should not have the hardship of trying
to comprehend what the foreign lady is trying to say to them.
So therefore, I try and speak the white language to my grand-
children as much as possible.
"I used to think it would be nice to try and preserve our
internal values. I thought it would be nice to tell my grand-
children, 'Do not lie, do not cheat, do not rob,' but when I
think of the past...how this land, our land, Indian land was
completely taken over by the white people with these very things
that I was taught not to do that they practiced, and so I let
my grandchildren go and learn the white man's way, because that's
the only way they're going to survive. I thought cultural
integrity meant a great deal, being true to our ways, but
it is difficult to hang on to these values, because of the
white man's dominant value system. It would be so nice if
all white men practiced what the church teaches, but I found
out a long time ago that there are very few white people who
go to church.
"I used to think that I would love to see these young
people singing songs in Indian, learning stomp dance songs
and everything, but it's impossible. I find it impossible
because the television is blaring with rock and roll music,
the radio is blaring with rock and roll music. Where can
a young person go to learn something else? When you have
all the white man's equipment always telling you that this
is the way it is, this is the way it is. And so today, I'm
an old lady. I know what it was to be an Indian and I
know most of our young people will never know what it is
to be an Indian."
[After a passage in the Creek language, the narrative resumes
with the following:]
I: My interview with a seventy year old woman. She is a Seminole
Creek. She belongs to the Bird Clan, and her husband, who
is a Miccosukee Indian, is from the Tamiami Trail, and he
belongs to the Tiger Clan. They both live on the Brighton
Indian Reservation. One of the questions I asked this lady
Question No. 1: Can you remember any time in your lifetime
that you might have heard what the real reasons were that the
Seminoles did not want to go out west? And I added this
statement--according to the white man's thinking and written
history, they believed that the Seminoles were afraid if they
moved out west they would be forced to join and interact with
the Creeks, who were their enemies. Is this true?
She answered, "Many years ago the Seminoles were a part
of the Creeks. A separation came when the white man began to
demand more land from our ancestors. The Creeks decided to
stay in Georgia and Alabama, but later on they're forced to
go to the west. But the Seminoles refused to leave their
ancestral grounds, and therefore protested in going out west.
So they remained in the swamps hiding in convenient places,
because they were determined not to leave their land. Because
my ancestors protested and separated themselves from the
Creeks, they were known as the Seminoles, meaning 'to run
away and separate.'"
Then she said, "If you saw the white troops coming into
your village, destroying and burning homes, raping our women,
shooting men, women and children...and whatever livestock
that were in sight, he would have them too. Being harassed
by white men in this manner, it was the principal reason why
some of the Seminoles began to go to different parts of
Georgia and Florida.
"I imagine the reason the white man thinks the Creeks
were our enemies is the white man had persuaded some Creeks
to fight for them, and I thought they forced the Creeks out
west. And for these reasons, we did resent the Creeks for
falling under the white man's demand."
Question No. 2: I asked her, "Another reason it is said was
that the Seminoles were afraid that they would have to give up
their slaves to the Creeks if they went out west. Do you think
what I am saying is true?"
"No," she said, "the Seminoles did not have slaves, but
they did have some black men living in their camp, and some
black men preferred to live in a community with their own
kind. If the white man insists that we had slaves during that
time, it was in name only. Our people took in slaves who
had run away from their white owners. They were seeking refuge,
and we obliged in giving them a place. Just as soon as the
black people learned the ways of our people, he was free to
go and live with his own people.
"The Seminoles had different camps, and when the black
men became numerous, our people created for them a village
of their own where they could be happy. My grandfather said
the blacks were free to join in the sacred ceremonies. A
few intermarriages took place, of course, with the blessing of
the tribe. As one can see today, there were not too many
intermarriages back then, because today you hardly ever see a
Seminole with Negroid features.
"In those days, when the white man had slaves, it was
difficult for our people to understand why a person would want
to enslave another. How could one man dare enslave another
human being? How can man own another, when God has made
man to be as free as the wind and the rivers and the wild
animals which play? How can one own another man's energy
when it is his own to do with as he pleases? How can a man
keep a man chained and expect this man to love and serve him?
The white man had different ideas about treating people.
Strange ideas--a lot more strange than the Indians. The
white man thought everything was to be possessed by him. He
had to possess the land, the people, the rivers; he did not
understand all things belong to the people.
"We, the Seminoles, believe that God could make every-
thing for everyone--the stars, the ocean, the earth, the
trees and the skies; these things were to be enjoyed by all.
Therefore I do not believe that we kept other men imprisoned
so that they may be a beast of burden. Unlike the white man,
who has exchanged money from their slaves, the Seminoles
have had their slaves by giving them refuge. When they came
to the camp of the people, they were treated like a member
of the Seminole tribe."
After she told me this, I went on to Question No. 3:
I asked her, "Is there anything else she would like to tell
me about the black people?"
She said, "Well, my uncle used to tell us that there were
many occasions they would find a black man in the swamps
dying from hunger. And sometimes they would rescue them from
their owners, even though this action could mean death for
them. Many times a group of our men would be on a hunt and
suddenly they would hear the cries and screaming of a human
being. They would carefully follow the sound, being careful
not to be seen, and would creep through the grass near the
sandy stream. To their bewilderment a black man would be
hanging from a tree and being whipped by white men who took
turns. There were other times that a black man would be
stripped naked and tied over a log eagle spread or tied to
stakes on the ground being whipped, obviously by their owners.
My grandfather said each lash that fell across the body would
strip off a strip of hide and blood would spill all over the
black body. It's times like this that the Seminole would
rescue the black man. And then they would take him home
to the medicine man to heal him.
"Our black men were not treated as beasts of burden.
The white man would work the black man from sunrise to sunset,
and he would chain and confine him and beat him. But when a
black man was in our camp, he was slowly absorbed into the
Seminole life. He was a happy and a free man. Sometimes,
though, the black man did not want to stay in their own village
and with his own kind. He chose to stay with the
man who found him and first took him in. Therefore some
families had quite a few people living with them."
[Here there is a passage in the Indian tongue. The narrative
resumes in English with:]
I asked my informant if she ever heard of the Withlacoochee
Battle, where the Seminoles attacked General Edmund T. Gaines
and his troop, and that Osceola had hundreds of Indians with
him, and he took his men, attacked the white general and
his troops. The old lady thought a moment and then she
said, "The white man has a weird way of relating history. I
don't guess that they never thought that they had reduced our
population to small amounts, but it was very difficult to get
hundreds and hundreds of Indians all at one time. They
used to say, a long time ago, that our warriors were scattered
all over Florida defending their homes from the white settlers.
And usually there would only be about fifteen to twenty men
in each group. And uh, at other times there were less than
200 organized warriors fighting with the white soldiers.
Osceola was very influential. When he asked people to help
him fight, they fought along with him. He was very good as
far as getting warriors organized to fight, but I understand
he made sure there was several groups of Indians in different
areas so he would not be overcome by white men.
"As for Osceola attacking General Gaines at the Withlacoochee
River, it may be true, but with hundreds and hundreds of Indians?
I believe the white man miscounted. Not that our figures
are accurate too, but our people believe that we did not really
have too much manpower when fighting the white man. I'm
talking about my grandfather's days," she said.
"I heard of that battle, but I always thought it was perhaps
at Okeechobee," she said. "My grandfather said the white man
with their superior weapons killed many warriors as well as
women, children and old men. At this time the bodies of the
Seminoles were thrown into the river, and the river was flowing
as though it was made out of blood."
And she said, "I can vaguely remember different kinds of
stories but..." Later on she will try to remember more.
[There follows a passage in the Indian tongue. The narrative
resumes in English with:]
The Seminoles often like to talk about Indian hospitality
and the Seminole hospitality. But this goes back
twenty, thirty, forty years ago. They complained quite bit-
terly that in these days people hardly ever visit each other
unless they're real good friends. Relatives have gotten to
be inhospitable to each other, and they don't share as much
as they used to a long time ago. This was one of the virtues
that the Seminoles held very high. Sharing was an important
virtue with our people. We believed that to share was the
best way to live. Hospitality...we had to show that we were
good people. That is, a long time ago when a family was traveling
and they came upon a village, it was the duty and the obligation
of the villagers to extend hospitality towards them. It was
their duty to share their food and shelter with the strangers
or relatives. They sat around, gossiped, and they made the
visitors quite welcome. And then they would leave with a good
feeling to have gone to a home that was just like yours.
It was absolutely necessary to share for the tribe. They
considered this action to be a.very desirable virtue, as sharing
and being hospitable was looked up at with great respect.
Each member shared. If they shared with one, they had to
share with everyone. Hospitality was mutual; each member of
the tribe had to give.
In the past there was not any stingy Indians. But if they
display an act of selfishness, of being stingy, there was a
chance that the tribe as a whole would ostracize them. This
would mean complete banishment from the tribe, and they would
have to leave, taking their belongings and going out into the
woods to leave. The person who was stingy knew that he could
not survive alone out in the wilderness, so usually with his
upbringing and his moral obligation to his fellow man, he did
share. Sharing was reciprocal; it was not a one-way street.
In the future, if you want to visit the people who were visiting
you, it was their responsibility to make you feel at home.
In the tribal custom to share in responsibility a long
time ago, each man had to do his share of working and sharing,
such as the building of chickees. That's why it was an old
man or women could not build their own chickees--usually the
able-bodied men would get together and build a chickee for
The Seminoles at one time had common fields that each
member of the tribe was expected to work. Even though each
family might have had a private garden, they still had to give
some time to the common field. Without resentfulness they
would go out to the field, and it was sort of a happy com-
munion that they had. They would usually sing out in the woods,
out in the fields, and have a good time. Usually they tried
to get their hoeing and planting out of the way in the cool
of the morning or cool of the evening. In their gardens
they planted pumpkins, corn, beans. With their crude hoes
and axes they worked the land. Usually the men worked the land
while the women with their baskets were getting the grain from
kernels in order to cook.
When the men went on hunting trips, the women usually
took care of the garden. When a group of men went on a hunt
and they were trying to track down a deer or a bear, and per-
haps one of the men was not successful as far as shooting his
bow and arrow he did not have to feel bad if he did not catch
anything, because he knew whoever catches a bear or deer, it
would be divided among the people anyway. No one ridiculed
him for not bringing in his share. So, it was customary
that you shared your game with the old men and women who
could not hunt. In those days it was unthinkable to keep
the whole deer to oneself, and usually, with a deer, they
would dry it, if they had a lot left over.
Everything that they kill--that is, a big game, like
a deer or a bear, but occasionally they killed a turkey or
something--an immediate family of the village would eat it.
The reason they shared big game was that they believed that
the material of nature--such as the bear, deer, wild boars,
turkey, fish, edible plants--belonged to everyone. And no
one has the right to accept anything for himself. Therefore,
it was his natural duty to share with his group, with everyone.
With almost everything, we shared...even the labor in
the fields. When harvest time rolled around again the Seminoles
went back into their common fields, everyone excited with the
new crop of corn, because that together with the corn
it meant great festivities for the Seminoles. They would
celebrate with big feasts, dances; they'd visit relatives
that they hadn't seen for months. So they would go off to
their fields quite happy, the men carrying their crude hoes
and axes in order to dig up the potatoes and cut down the
corn. And then the women would follow them, carrying their
little bags made out of animal skin or their baskets made out
of palmetto leaves. These baskets were used to be filled
with grain or kernels, and they would follow behind the men,
gathering their crop. And after everything was gathered,
they would carry the crops to a common storage, which
was later to be shared by the people.
Even though many of the villagers had their own common
garden plot, they would get more than their share from the com-
mon garden, because some of them, their own gardens may not have
materialized. When the men went on hunting trips and
they hunted all day and night, and perhaps only one
of them killed a bear or a deer, this fair game did not go to
the person who killed it. It went to everybody. So, I really
thought the Seminoles shared everything which they had.
[There follows a passage in the Indian tongue. The narrative
resumes in English with:]
After talking for quite some time about hospitality, one
thing I had heard, talking to one old man about slaves...he
didn't talk very much, but he did make a point I didn't think
of until now which I would like to pass on. He said that they
usually captured a black man thinking in terms that if this
black man has been around white people for quite some time,
then he should be able to speak the language so well that he
would be--that this black man would be--a tremendous asset to
the tribe, because they were having language problems. If
they captured a black man and made him welcome into the
community or into their village, then in turn this black man
could teach them the English language. And when they could
comprehend some of the concepts that the white men were using
with the Seminoles, then the Seminoles would be able--once they
comprehend the type of concepts that were being used--they
would be able to talk with the white man and make themselves
understood. So, in making the black man a part of their com-
munity, they did have a motive in mind, and one motive was
always thinking in terms that they may be able to learn to
the white man's language through the black man, which was some-
thing quite interesting.
Whenever I have a few feet [of recording tape] left, I
usually like to fill in with Creek sentences or nouns.
[Ms. Chaudhuri finishes the tape by providing the Oklahoma
Creek words for frost, thunder, lightning, storm, big storm,
north, east, south, west, palmetto, ginseng, doorway, bed,
light, fire, and ashes. She provides the Florida Seminole
words for north, south, and bed.]