SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
DR. A.B. CALDWELL
WILLIAM D. BOEHMER
DATE: October 14, 1971
Dr. A. B. Caldwell was closely associated with the
Florida Seminole education program from 1947 to 1954, as
area director of education for the Muskogee Area office
of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Seminole education
program was administered under this office until 1954
when direct jurisdiction of the Seminole B.I.A. agency
was transferred to Washington, D. C.
Primarily, the information given by Dr. Caldwell
concerns the efforts to provide education for the
Seminoles on Brighton, Big Cypress, and Dania Reser-
vations as well as for the Tamiami Trail Miccosukees.
He discusses the attempts to gain Seminole admission
to public schools in the counties surrounding all
three reservations. The reservation schools at Brighton
and Big Cypress are briefly described.
Dr. Caldwell mentions some of the bureaucratic
mores within the B.I.A. which affected the Seminoles.
Some attention is also given to House Resolution 108,
1954, which provided for the termination of Federal
responsibility for the Seminoles, but was tabled due
to the resultant outcry.
Throughout the interview, Dr. Caldwell briefly
compares the Seminole life he observed with the descrip-
tions of social, cultural, and economic conditions con-
tained within the Roy Nash Study of 1931.
arts and crafts program, 2, 4
Boehmer, William D., 2-3
Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.)
adult education, pilot program, 6
decentralization of, 1
Seminole agency, 2-5
Caldwell, Dr. A.B.
biographical, 1, 5
Seminole progress, 7
boarding schools, 4
public schools, 2-6
reservation schools, 2, 4, 6-7
Friends of the Seminoles, 2-3
Haskell Institute (Lawrence, Kansas), 4
House Resolution 108 (termination of Federal responsibility for
Seminoles, 1954), 2-3
Jumper, Betty Mae, 4
Nash, Roy (1931 study of Seminoles), 1, 5, 7
Silver, Morton, 5
Stranahan, Mrs. Ivy, 3
transcultural contacts (acculturation), 5
B: I am William'D. Boehmer, retired community services officer of the
Seminole Indian agency at Hollywood, Florida. I am in Muskogee,
Oklahoma at the home of:Dr. A.B. Caldwell, who from 1947 through
1954 was closely associated with the education program of the
Seminoles of Florida. Dr. Caldwell was area director of education
for the Muskogee Area office [of the Bureau of Indian Affairs],
the office under which the Seminole agency performed its duties.
Dr. Caldwell has agreed to tell us some of his experiences
with the Seminoles.
C: My involvement with the Florida Seminoles began in 1947 when the
Bureau of Indian Affairs attempted a decentralization program
by establishing administrative district offices. Before this
time, every agency superintendent reported directly to the
Washington office without going through any intermediate unit.
The district offices were unpopular with the superintendent,
and were discontinued within a short period, only to be revived
as area offices with greater authority and smaller assigned ser-
vice areas. One of the earlier district offices was established
at Minneapolis, and strange as it may seem, the three southern
agencies--Missippi Choctaw, the North Carolina Cherokees, and
Florida Seminoles--were assigned to the Minneapolis administrative
As district supervisor of Indian education, I accompanied
Mr. William Heritage on a trip by automobile to the three southern
agencies. On the way down we alternately read aloud a study of
the Florida Seminoles made for the Washington office in 1931 by
Roy Nash. In it, he described in detail the social, cultural,
and economic conditions of the Seminoles. The conditions had not
greatly changed, except that some of the more aggressive Seminoles
had become established as organizers and leaders in work crews
employed in the local truck raising industry--the tomatoes and
beans and so forth. The Seminoles could no longer live off the
land as their ancestors did, and as they had in 1930. Nash dis-
cussed religion and said that missionaries had been working with
the Seminoles for a hundred years with little, if any success.
While we were there on this trip, a Creek missionary from Oklahoma
baptized fifty Seminoles. This was, to us, an indication that
times were changing, but the housing, dress and customs had not
changed greatly from 1930, or even much earlier.
In 1947 the agency was located in Fort Myers, and was pro-
viding limited service on three reservations: Brighton, Big
Cypress and Dania. Gradually families were moving from deeper
in the Everglades to these three centers. The Bureau [of Indian
Affairs] was operating a one-teacher school at Brighton Reser-
vation. No children were attending public school, though an
organization of influential women, the Friends of the Seminoles,
had begun a campaign to get the Dania children admitted to the
Broward County schools.
At that time it was the custom in small Bureau schools to
employ a married couple, the man to teach academics and practical
arts--academics to the boys and girls and practical arts to the
boys--while his wife prepared the lunch with aid of the older
girls and taught homemaking. At that time, Mr. and Mrs. Boehmer
[William D. Boehmer], as a service to the local families, were
helping market craft articles produced locally, primarily to groups
of visitors who came through the Brighton Reservation on Audubon
tours. This arts and crafts work was purely on a voluntary basis.
There was no extra compensation for the Boehmers. Gradually
this activity evolved into the current arts and crafts program
which has contributed to the economy of the tribe.
Mr. Heritage, who accompanied me, was district forester.
He was asked to visit Florida to investigate and report on a
proposal by a local promoter who wished to purchase palm trees
and cut them into novelty lumber. This was not found to be
practical, nor did the applicant propose any adequate compensation
to the Indians.
I well remember a trip deep into the Everglades, south of
Big Cypress station. We rode in a jeep equipped with huge airplane
tires that could travel in mud and water, except when we had
to stop and cut logs that stopped our jeep by spinning its wheels.
The more northerly location of this area was eventually to be
developed for intensive cultivation of tomatoes.
In 1954 the Congress passed House Resolution 108, directing
the Bureau to institute a program with a combination of services
to Indians in general and to certain tribes in particular. One
of the tribes listed for immediate termination was the Florida
Seminoles. By this time the area offices mentioned above had been
established, and this time the Florida Seminole agency at Dania
was placed under the Muskogee Area office. Mr. Clint Talley was
assistant area director. Miss Marie Hayes, tribal officer, to-
gether with one or two other officials were detailed to go to
Florida to inform the Seminoles concerning this legislation and
its effect on them. A bill had been prepared which would terminate
the federal responsibility for the Seminoles, and this proposed
bill was read to the Seminoles. Needless to say, they were
greatly surprised and perturbed over the proposal. None of us
felt that the Seminoles were ready for such a drastic change, but
neverthelesswe had to go through with a long and tedious explan-
ation of the proposed law and its local application. There was
a large gathering at Dania, and two interpreters were needed,
due to local dialects.
As has always been true, the Indian people traditionally
criticized the activities of the Bureau, but when the services
are about to be terminated, they rise in defense of its program
and opposition to change. The Seminoles registered surprise and
consternation when told of House Resolution 108 and its probable
effect. Immediate support for the Seminoles developed, and im-
mediate contacts were made with Washington in order to stop the
termination program as far as this tribe was concerned. There
were approximately 350 people present at this meeting, together
with representatives of perhaps a dozen local organizations of
non-Indians. Other tribes, such as the Wisconsin Menominees and
the Klamaths of Washington state, were later removed from federal
supervision. Following the meeting, the Seminole Indians of
Florida requested additional time to consider the proposal,
subsequently prepared a resolution requesting a twenty-five year
delay of termination, and the ultimate result was an indefinite
postponement of any termination activities.
While the Seminole agency was under the supervision of the
Muskogee Area office, I made several trips to Florida in connection
with the educational program. At Dania, the Friends of the Seminoles,
under the leadership of Mrs. Frank Stranahan, carried on a contin-
uous program of urging the Broward County School Board, and es-
pecially the Dania schools, to admit local Seminole children.
Finally, the local principal at Dania agreed to admit one pupil
on a trial basis. Naturally he was rather carefully selected,
and made an excellent record. The Friends of the Seminoles saw
to it that he had clothing that would not differ from that of
other children, and later, as more and more Dania reservation
children were admitted, the women's group continued to provide
clothes which the children wore when meeting the bus in the morning
and promptly changed for traditional Seminole clothing when they
returned home after school. A local church started a kindergarten
program on the Dania reservation so the children would enter
school with some facility with the English language.
One of the highlights of the Dania school experience was
the night when I attended a PTA meeting at the reservation, when
Mr. Boehmer showed and discussed slides of Seminole life along with
artifacts, and Betty Mae Jumper talked of past and changing
Seminole culture. There was a very large attendance, and it
indicated to me that the acceptance of Seminole children in the
Broward County schools was no longer a problem. The comments on
the program at the close were extremely complimentary, both to the
participants and to the Indians themselves.
On one of my earlier visits to the agency now located at
Dania, Mr. William Boehmer, teacher at Brighton school, said that
some of the Indian children were attending the Okeechobee school,
and the parents were asking the Bureau to provide lunches, since
those attending the day school were provided free lunches. After
some discussion, we agreed that our objective should be public
education for all Seminole children, and that we should seek
funds for lunches at Okeechobee. Our request was eventually ap-
proved, and more and more people started attending Okeechobee
school. Eventually, it was possible to discontinue the Brighton
Day School. Mr. Boehmer continued as education field agent, and
Mrs. Boehmer was continued as arts and crafts specialist in
charge of the local craft program, which had shown continuous
growth over a period of years.
One question was repeatedly raised about the children at-
tending the Okeechobee school. They lived in Glades County, were
transported through a corner of Highlands County, into Okeechobee
County. Furthermore, Okeechobee school was further from the re-
servation than the school at Moore Haven in their own county.
We interviewed the school superintendent at Moore Haven to see
if arrangements could be made for the Brighton Reservation child-
ren to attend there instead of Okeechobee. Our request was refused
rather firmly. In the course of the interview, the superintendent
stated that he was from Mississippi, which may or may not
have affected his attitude.
I recall one incident that was very gratifying to me after
this experience. Some years later I attended a football game
between Okeechobee and Moore Haven which was won by Okeechobee
by a one-sided score. It seemed to me that the announcer on
the loudspeaker must have mentioned one star player more than
all other players combined. His name was Osceola.
Our official connections with the Seminole agency were
severed before Moore Haven finally agreed to accept the Brighton
Reservation children. I recall a conference of some of the
Seminole girls who had reached the high school level at Okeechobee.
They were asking for admittance to Haskell Institute at Lawrence,
Kansas, a Bureau high school at the time. They felt that they
would be happier there because they did not feel at home socially
in the Florida school. They said they did not feel they could
invite their white friends into their homes. Maybe this sort
of feeling created the demand for the subsequent housing pro-
gram there and at Dania.
In the 1931 Nash Report, mention is made of the commerical
camps in St. Petersburg and Miami, with the recommendation that
every effort should be made to abolish them. On more than one
occasion, I visited the camps in Miami, where snakes, monkeys,
alligators, birds and Indians were on display.
The Dade County schools were reluctant to enforce compul-
sory school attendance, although they could not give any valid
reason for not including the Indians other than that they were
not citizens. 1 visited the Florida State Department of Education,
and was assured that they wished to treat Indian children in
the same manner as other school children. After several contacts
with the Dade County authorities, it was agreed that they should
proceed with the enforcement of compulsory school laws. Indians,
naturally, were citizens and had been since 1924. Prior to this
time, a Mr. Silver [Morton Silver] had designated himself as
representative of the activities of "Trail Indians" [Tamiami
Trail Miccosukees], and what he considered their rights. As
soon as the decision was announced that the children in commercial
camps would have to attend school,Mr. Silver got in touch with
the Washington office and word came down to the Seminole agencies
to slow down on the school attendance program. This ended my
contact with the commercial camps and efforts to force
compulsory school attendance in the city of Miami.
Mr. Silver and his friends continued to bring pressure on
the Bureau for a special provision for the Seminoles living
south of the Big Cypress Reservation. At one point, the commissioner
visited Florida and met with this group. Mr. Paul Fickinger was
at that time area director for the Muskogee Area office which had
supervision over the Seminoles. Mr. Fickinger had no advance no-
tice of the commissioner's visit, nor a report after the meeting
on commitments made by the commissioner while there. Mr. Fickinger
called the commissioner and stated that it was impossible to
operate administratively like this, and if the central office
wished to administer the program, he should be relieved of re-
sponsibility. Not long thereafter, it was decided that the Florida
Seminole program would be administered directly by the central office
in Washington. When this happened, my official connection with
the Florida Seminole education program ceased.
In 1955 the Bureau of Indian Affairs established a pilot
adult education program designed primarily for non-English
speaking Indians and for adults who had dropped out of school
without enough education to be considered literate.. Florida
was one of the five locations selected. Mrs. Ann Clark, an
author who had written many popular books, and who had assisted
in writing texts on Indian themes for schools on other reser-
vations, headed the team which conducted the initial workshop.
John Husket, and a representative of the Muskogee Area office
participated in the program. In this workshop plans were developed
for a number of special texts to be prepared and published
for particular use in Florida. The titles may be of interest,
such as Muck Itch, Pediculosis, Diarrhea, Safe Driving, How to
Buy a Car, Liability Insurance, Your Arts and Crafts Program,
Land Useage, Animal Husbandry and many other every-day problems
of the local Seminoles.
We have talked considerably about the school program at
Dania--now Hollywood--and at Brighton, but have not mentioned the
school problems as they existed at Big Cypress at the time I
first went to Florida and subsequently during my services there.
Repeated conferences were held with the superintendent of the
Hendry County schools seeking admission of the Seminoles to
Clewiston, which was the nearest public school. There was no
federal school in operation at that time at Big Cypress, partly
due to the fact that it was much more isolated then than now, and
it was difficult to secure any couple who would be willing to live
there and work as teachers. As a matter of fact, it was difficult
to secure teachers for many public schools during this wartime
period. The Indian people in the period from 1947 on continually
requested admission to public school. Whether this was due to
their observations of public school attendance at other locations
is not known,but at any rate they were strong in requesting
public school attendance. The superintendent of Hendry County
Schools at LaBelle gave various reasons why this was not possible.
There was always, of course, the problem of long distance. She
also raised the question of the responsibility of the federal
government, since the Indians were living on tax-exempt land.
She insisted that the Bureau build a school plant at Big Cypress
since state regulations would not permit a public school building
to be built in an isolated area like this, serving only a limited
number of children. Finally after I had terminated my official
relations with Florida, it was agreed that the children beyond the
fourth grade could attend in Clewiston in a bus that was provided
for this purpose. This still required a long trip, despite the
fact that the road condition had been greatly improved in the meantime.
When it was finally possible to secure a teacher for Big
Cypress after the close of the war [W.W.II], I visited the school
in operation. The building was built on the ground without any
flooring other than sand or gravel. The walls and roofs were
supported by poles which were placed in the ground as posts.
There were no windows other than boards which could be used
to cover them when it was raining. No screens, no glass of
any kind. The roof originally had been thatched, but by this
time, had been covered with shingles. It was a very crude sit-
uation, and the provision of lunches was even more unsatisfactory
since the wife of the teacher did the cooking in her own home,
and the food was carried over and served in the school. I well
remember the school building was divided into two classrooms,
one of which had a considerable amount of quite modern teaching
devices--tape recorders, moving pictures and so forth, which
seemed out of place in that particular situation.
By way of summarizing the progress as I observed it in
Florida, the Nash report, published in 1931, predicted that it
would be a hundred years before the Seminoles would accept ed-
ucation. The outstanding educational dates were as follows: in
1937, there were three children admitted to boarding school in
North Carolina at the North Carolina Chreokee reservation. In
1938, a year later, the Brighton school was established. In
1940, the Big Cypress school was established, to be discontinued
during the war and then re-established. By 1952, twenty-two
years after the publication of the Nash report, statistics in-
dicate that one hundred children were in public schools, sixty
were in government schools, and seventy to eighty, all totaled,
were not in any school. This certainly was tremendous progress,
if measured by the prediction made by Roy Nash only a few years