SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida
INTERVIEWEE: Mr. Bill Osceola
INTERVIEWER: Dr. Harry Kersey
DATE: October 5, 1970
Bill Osceola, first president of the Seminole Tribe of
Florida, Incorporated talks about his early life, his lack
of formal education, his leadership in the tribe, his cattle
ranch, and his conversion and training for Christian ministry.
He discusses the tribal attitude toward formal education
as well as some of the factors involved in the tribes eco-
Billie, Josie, 1, 2
Cattle ranch on Big Cypress (Bill Osceola), 3, 5
Education (Indian attitude toward), 1, 2
Osceola, Billy, 3
Osceola, Joe Dan, 3
Religion (on reservation), 3-4
Southern Baptist Church, 3
tribal politics, 6-7
K: This is October 5, 1970. This is Dr. Harry Kersey, Florida
Atlantic University. Today I'm talking with Mr. Bill
Osceola of the Seminole Tribe of Florida on the Hollywood
Reservation. Would you give us a little background on your-
self, Mr. Osceola? Where were you born?
0: Well, in the Everglades, but...Broward County.
K: Then you're a Miccosukee-speaker, by background?
0: That's right.
K: How long have you lived on the Hollywood Reservation?
0: Well, I move in about 1943.
K: About 1943?
0: Yeah. I grown up uh, highway, Tamiami Trail they call it
over there. That Miccosukee over there now.
K: Right. Did you go to school here at all?
0: No, I never been to school.
K: How old were you when you moved in here?
0: Round 'bout twenty-eight years old.
K: Yes, and there were no schooling opportunities down on the
Trail at that time?
0: No, well, in my young days, the Indian law pretty strong,
and he won't let us go to school. And I got two old men,
grandfathers, stay with 'em, Immokalee, down there, you
K: I talked to Josie Billie, a long time.... You know his
father was the first Seminole to ever go to school? Did
you know that?
0: Yeah, that's what I heard.
K: And that was back in 1879. Josie was telling me how the
tribe really reacted violently against that, and therefore
no one went to school again until well into this century.
0: That's funny, well, I don't know what happened. My father,
he don't go to school, but he speak pretty good English,
read and write a little bit, and because he'd been playing
baseball in Ft. Lauderdale, in team up there....
K: Your father?
0: Um, huh. And some boys are good players, you know, and....
0: Finally my father get married, and he go movin' in the
Everglades, and he raise us up there. I don't approve of
them, that's not right. He should stayed here to send 'em
to school, but uh....
K: Would have given you an opportunity.
0: Yeah, that's right. But...'stead of that he just move in
deep in Everglades, and he raise us up there. That's why,
well, that time I got Indian law, well, Indian thinks we
should not go to some school, children you know.
K: Is it more or less tribal council saying this?
0: That's right. And that's why, I guess my father....
K: But I understand you're tremendous with figures.... Now
that's an interesting element, though you don't read and
write, you're good with figures.
0: Well, I was just a little bit, and I don't say I'm a reader,
but there's a little bit, that's why I've been president
this eight years, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Incorporated.
K: When were you elected?
0: Ever since organized. I don't know what...when about more
than ten years ago, I think.
K: You were the president the whole time?
K: When you were the president of the tribe...well, it was
organized in '57 I think, and then the charter.... Then
you were the president, and Joe Dan is now the...this was
the same job. Now you have a cattle ranch out on Big
Cypress or is it a cattle herd on Big Cypress?
0: Yeah, I got some cattle herd over there at Big Cypress In-
dian Reservation. And uh, I work over there too. I got a
little...I got...heavy equipment over there, planted land
over there, a farmer.
K: Are you living out there now?
0: No, I live here.
K: Still living here?
0: Yeah, I still living back home, back and forth over there.
K: I get around sometime, as I said, I'm out on Big Cypress
twice a week all during the year, and I hadn't seen you.
As I said, I'd heard so much about you; never caught you.
0: Well, I been in the woods now and planting land over there.
K: I see. Tell me about your preaching here, and your church.
Now you're the minister of one of the churches here, right?
0: Yes, moving on the reservation, and not too long. I been
saved and...but we organized a independent church. My
cousin Billy, he was with a Southern Baptist Church, and I
was with a independent, and we both work hard. He been ten
years...maybe eight years, he been chairman of tribal coun-
cil. Billy Osceola, and I been president, and he been
chairman, and we both worked together fine.
K: That must have been confusing.
K: Two Osceolas being about the same.
0: Both Osceola, and both of us preacher! But he's preachin'
and I'm preachin', and we both got a...each reservation got
a mission.... We got another mission up there Tamiami Trail.
K: Now I know that he went off for a little while over to Lake-
land. I don't know how long he was over there, what was it,
two or three years?
0: Yeah, 'bout two, three years I think.
K: Did you do anything like that?
0: No, I just trained with...preachers take me, and I trained
with, well, three boys goin' to Miami to study with Bible
and everything. One year and a half, I think.
K: Well, that's not doing it just on your own.
0: Yeah, I go my own, and depend on God to help me.
K: More preaching from the heart, not formal, theological train-
ing. That's interesting.
0: Well, before I take preaching job, I said, "I can't do it,
and I don't want to do it. I don't want to be a preacher,
and can't." Got a little skills, but well, God wanted me
to preach, and you can't win anyway, and I give up and
K: I'd like to come some morning and hear you.
0: Oh, yeah, come, invite you, glad to have you. Usually,
fellowship meeting that means we eat lunch in the church
that day, the fourth Sunday each month.
K: That would be interesting.
0: You wanna come?
K: I've gone out on Big Cypress, I'll have to come down here
0: Yeah, come....
K: Well, how about your cattle enterprise? That sounds rather
0: Well, cattle enterprise grow big and not so big. But I
think I got it big enough, and I like to grow my own; that's
why I leased this state Indian reservation. And I want to
get a little money to plant grass....
K: Improve your pasture.
0: Yeah, improve it, and I like to grow my own now. And well....
K: How many head are you running now?
0: I think 'bout three hundred head, now. And boys...government
land, we got a lot of grass, but cattle grow so fast, and I
move in anotherr place. I make room, I let a family to get
up on their feet and....
K: Get started, and get their herd growing.
0: Yeah, get started, and...that's what I feel about it.
K: You've got enough of a breeding herd.
0: Yeah, I know, but I lease 'bout two hundred acres a year,
you know...develop...that time and cattle enough to ever
develop--I make, maybe just grow with 'em, you know. That's
what I want.
K: Now who will be running this? Just you? Do you have help?
0: Oh, me and my boys, and...
K: How many boys do you have?
0: I got two boys.
K: How old are they?
0: One of 'em's almost twenty-one; one twenty-four.
K: Now how about them--did they go to school?
0: Yeah, he finished...one of 'em finished high school, and...
now he's in union; all three of us joined the union. Heavy
equipment operators, and my boy, he make very good money.
One, older man, he's married; got one boy. And then
the younger one, he's just young, he want to work. I don't
want to work, you know. Have to grow up first, you know.
K: How old is he?
0: Twenty-one, next month anyway. And I got a daughter, young
one, two of 'em who live with me, and I got another two
daughters grown up and married, making' anotherr home. I got
K: Sounds like you've got enough help, then.
0: Yeah, I've got enough help.
K: What do you think of the changes that are taking place
around here? All of the industrial development here, the
beautiful oaks being knocked down; I hate to see that. On
the one hand, I hated to see the oaks go, then I'd like to
see the tribe get the money.
0: Well, I was our president, this tribe.... Two things make
money; two ways to make money: one thing, you borrow money
to establish enterprises; anotherr thing, you lease the
money, just get lease money to...money coming' in. When I
was the president, I chose borrow money to establish enter-
prises. But these new officers coming' in, and he set down
and think, and he think it better to get lease, big lease.
But that's why I hate to see these tree down, and that's
why I borrow money to establish enterprises.
K: It doesn't bother you to borrow to start your cattle program,
so this is true.
0: Yeah. Officers change, you know, and every four years, well,
you're lucky you get back on it. But....
K: When they changed officers, was part of the issue the educa-
tional issue, do you think?
0: Well, yeah.
K: I know there are a lot of variables, and in an election, you
see so much of that in the paper, you know, that here the
first high school graduate is now the chairman, and the first
high school graduate is the president. I was just wondering
if that was as big an issue as the papers had made it? But
of course tribal politics, like any other politics, have a
lot of personalities involved.
0: Well, right now it seems to me this politics we've been
havin', me and Billy handled it, we're both preachers...
we don't say, "This man done wrong and ." But now
I see it as Seminole politics. Young people, educated people
coming' in, wants the job, and like any politics now, I know
some county or...United States, they call 'em, one another
dirty, you know. Someday it's gonna be happen, same thing;
because the young people, educated people...just like any
politics gonna be for the Seminole maybe in another ten
K: 'Course the younger, educated people who want to come back
and work for the tribe--I think they'd welcome 'em if they
do it and really want to help their people.
0: Well, lot of people wants to help 'em out, and I guess I...
I make it.
K: Good. Well, I hope you do. Thank you very much.