SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with the Seminole Tribe of Florida
JEAN CHAUDHURI MONOLOGUE
Bowlegs, Billy, 4
Brighton Indian Reservation, 12
Crime and punishment, 9
Generosity and hospitality, 9-10
Green Corn Dance, 9, 13
Hollywood Indian Reservation, 12
Hunting and fishing, 6-7, 11
Jackson, Andrew, 1-2
Jesup, Mar. Gen. Thomas S., 1-2
Land acquisition, 3, 6-7
Medicine and medicine men, 2, 4, 9
Osceola, 4-5, 8-9
Religion, 2, 4
Respect for the dead, 5
Stories and legends
Corn Woman, 10-12
owl as bad omen, 14
raccoon and the 'possum, 14-16
soldiers and atrocities, 1, 3
Tamiami Trail Reservation, 12
Thompson, Wiley, 1-2, 8-9
Tribal council, 9
Wildcat [Coacoochee], 4
Wildlife and domesticated animals, 3
I had seen him often in the past, passing away his time by
carving out wood images. I asked him if he would do some
recording for me, and he said, "No, I would not like to,"
but he would tell me a lot of things if I would set down and
listen to him. So I asked him to tell me about things
that have happened to Seminoles in the past--stories that he
might have heard as a young boy. Thoughtfully, he said,
"I used to know a lot of stories told to me by the old people."
I asked him if he often thought about the past. He replied,
"Many times, when I was a young man. Today, I do not any-
more, because when one grows a little older, one tends to
forget. Today I know that the time is no longer here when I
can tell the past to the present generation--especially the
young people, because they will not listen. The atrocities
that were committed to my people are too shameful to talk
about," he added. "Even for me to think and wonder about the
past is emotionally disturbing. So I can sympathize with the
young people why they would not like to listen to the episodes
of the death days of their ancestor."
I asked him if he was familiar with the names of Andrew
Jackson, Jesup [Mar. Gen. Thomas S. Jesup], and Thompson
[Wiley Thompson]. He thought a minute, and he didn't say
a word. And then he nodded. In a low whisper, he said, "Yes.
I have heard of those names. I have heard what evil men they
were many, many times; especially when I was just a small boy."
I asked him if he could relate one of his stories, and he
said, "Yes." He had to think about it. We talked about thirty
minutes, and then he said, "I believe I can tell you one story.
This is one story I heard from my grandfather. A long time
ago, on a bright, beautiful day, the village seemed to be in a
happy mood, and the women were preparing a meal. Suddenly
a burst of warning filled the air. Someone was running and
hollering, "Run! Run! Hide! The soldiers are coming! The
white men are coming! Everyone run and hide!'
"The women, the children, the sick, and the old aged started
scattering, but they were too late. Here came the soldiers on
their horses, throwing burning torches at the thatched huts.
They caught on fire like lightning. They were the brave, coura-
geous soldiers. Courageous, all right! Fighting helpless women
and children, and the old people. They started shooting down
the villagers like cattle sent to the slaughter. One could see
chips of bones flying in the air, and the fresh smell of blood,
enticing the vultures of the air. These vicious men would
not stop with two or three shots. They would stand over the
spread-out bodies and pour bullets into each corpse. They
either would slit the throats or plunge the bayonets into the
heart of the dying men. This was the way they destroyed one
village. I'm sure many more villages were destroyed in the
smae way, but this particular village was the village of my grandfather,
He was just a small boy when he saw all this.
"My grandfather used to ask me, 'Do you think the soldiers
were satisfied with all this brutality? No. The soldiers
would turn over the cooking things where the women had been
cooking; they would go into their corn bins and destroy all
their corn. After the soldiers would depart from this disaster
area, only the burnt villages, the smoke, dead bodies, and the
smell of fresh blood flowing like brook water would be left be-
hind. This was a sad enough scene, but sooner or later, as
always, the scavengers would come to pick up the leftovers.
"Who were the scavengers? They were no other than the
white settlers. They would come in, look over the place,
gather the few scattered pigs, horses, hogs--gather anything
they could find and claim them for their own. These heartless,
cruel people would look over the village and stare at the dead
bodies. But this meant nothing to them. They would walk over
to the bodies and kick them around. After looting the dead,
they would go back to their little, respected homes. This
horrible sight at the village was then left for the Seminole
"Upon their return to the village, they stood motionless.
All the hatred and revenge seethed through their bodies. They
mourned over their loved ones, and buried them at their burial
graves. When a person died, only the medicine man and certain
people were allowed to go near the bodies, but when a village
was burned up, one could not help but break the taboo. To see
the ugliness of man's crime to another. If you were caught
in the situation, one could not close their eyes to the death of
their dear ones. They tell me that the Seminoles knew who was
responsible for this tragic day. It was Jesup, they say, be-
cause it was an obsession with Jesup to kill and force the
Seminoles out of Florida.
"This is the only story I know of Jesup," he said. "My
people said it was he who massacred these men, women, children,
and old people. Every time the Seminoles had to be moved out,
he was in charge. And they always said it was him--Jesup."
The old man, my informant, said to me, "Jesup, Jackson,
Thompson--whoever you may speak about to us, they are the same.
They are all the reincarnation of the devil. They were the
reincarnation of the treachery that befell our people.
"Then another mad passion that these white men had was to
capture the blacks among us and make them into slaves. They
would even take Indians--men, women, children--into captivity
in order to use them as slaves. They would take them away so
that they would never see their homelands again. These are the
kind of events that went on in the early days of the Indians'
relationship with the aggressors. Many times, thinking of this,
I often think of the grieved and the desolate, and the children
that were left fatherless and motherless. How lonely they must
have been, and what a struggle they had to come through,so that
my generation today could still yet remain in their ancestral
land. The grief and the sorrow that my ancestors inherited was
not in vain. Because of their steadfastness, we, the Seminoles,
are living on our mother earth. I used to have dreams of helping
my people--that is, if I were born at that time. But really, I
probably would not have been much help. I would have been the
first one to be killed at the hands of the aggressors anyway,"
laughingly he joked.
Then he said, "All the atrocities and land acquisition that
the aggressor acquired was not through courage. They were not
courageous at all. It did not take great courage to kill help-
less persons when you have guns and cannons. These lands were
taken in the name of cowardice. What chance does a group have
in the face of cannons and long guns and trained soldiers? It
is too bad that we did not graciously and generously hand
over our lands to the aggressors. Our lands were the rich,
fertile farm lands. We tried to defend to the best we knew
how. That is why we met with disaster.
"Hearing stories of the days of my elders, and how they
would be confused when the white man told them to move to
the West, because they were to receive better land and money
to go there, my people would think, 'How could these people ex-
pect a people to emigrate to a new dwelling when they had no
interest of going anywhere but to stay in their ancestral
"The old people have often told me that we had so many things
in those days. We had fresh-water fish. Today, the streams are
now polluted. In the swamps, there was plenty of garfish. Now,
we are lucky if we can cut through the water, it is so full of
trash. I believe the garfish suffocate from this," he said.
"And in the old days, there were plenty of horses that belonged
to the whole tribe--we were quite a horseman, then. We raised
a lot of cows, pigs. We were especially fond of dried beef. We
used to dry our beef, and we would leave them hanging on trees
or on chickees. After working so hard at drying beef and making
corn meal, and beautiful rows and rows of different crops, the
white savages would come rushing into our villages. After scaring
off the women and children, they would help themselves to our
dried beef and whatever else we had. What they didn't want, they
would destroy--like the big fields of corn.
"There were so many episodes..and the way our brave warriors
were captured. Usually they were captured under the white flag
of truce, which symbolized peace--that we were supposed to talk
in good spirits. Under this symbol, we were to lay aside animosity
and arms, and talk together in order to decide what to do. But
Osceola, Wildcat--respectively known as Coacoochee among the
Seminoles--were all deceived under this flag. Now, tell me--
how could any Seminole ever learn to trust any white man, then,
"In spite of all the treachery and deception, the warrior--
the heroes of those days--were shrewd men. The aggressor had
to use these tactics in order to capture such men. The victory
of the aggressor is not a victory. They think they destroyed the
Seminoles then. But let me say this," he said. "The Seminole-
is not destroyed--his spirit is alive today, reflecting the heroes
of yesterday, reflecting the hope and wishes of our ancestors.
Today, we feel as though nothing can ever replace the bones and
blood of our people. The only thing that could embrace them is
our belief in ourselves.
"It saddened me very much when I hear this is a great
nation," he said. "It is not great when one is aware of the
treachery that was used in order for them to have these lands.
This great nation was built on the bones and the blood of my
ancestors. It was built by deception, by chasing a group of
people with thousands of foot soldiers, guns and cannons. Our
Indian history is ours to remember and to cherish; and the white
man's history is his to remember and cherish. Whatever we think
is great is in.the way we have been taught.
"In the days of Billy Bowlegs, Osceola, Wildcat, it was
not safe to walk around the swamp alone at night, because there
were the slave hunters. One could never know if there were a
group of white settlers around. Many times a band of whites
would catch a couple of Indians--or an Indian alone--and hit
them until death was kind enough to claim his body. In spite
of all the adversities, the Seminoles felt that the Great
Spirit had protected them. Even though only a few Seminoles
were left, this was meant to be.
"My people fought the long, hard struggle to retain ancestral
land. This nation's foundation is built upon.the crushed bodies
of great people--the back of my people, the Seminoles. All the
injustices--the theft, the atrocities, the conscious effort
of exterminating our people physically and culturally--are for-
ever imprinted in the memories of the Seminole. Those who suf-
fered under the hands of the invaders are told in story forms,
and part of oral history. These incredible episodes are passed
on generation to generation."
My informant said that his grandfather claims he remembered
one village that had been set on fire. He said only the un-
bearable stench of human flesh could be smelled. The scavengers
of the neighboring whites, whatever they could find that belonged
to the Seminoles, they took--like cattle, hogs, corn, squash and
melons. And they would go to the medicine man and take his
"The medicine bundle was very sacred to our people. It was
through the use of the medicine that we could hide ourselves.
It was through our medicine that we took that quenched our
thirst and hunger and kept us well. The most desecrating thing
a person could do was to abuse the medicine bundle. The fever
that the white man had in taking everything that the Seminole
had was incredible.
"My grandfather said he was a small boy, but it made him
sick to see such animalistic behavior--like taking things off
the dead. You see, the Indian has respect for their dead. If
a man died, reverence must be given to this man. When an
Indian dies, his dearest and closest belongings are left with
him. His best hunting shirt, his best leggings, moccasins he
wore on his hunts, everything that belonged to him are neatly
bundled up and left with him. Even his favorite food is left
with him. So, we honor our dead. But the white man, he gets
much pleasure from robbing the dead. Today there are many
white people who come to our reservation and look for our an-
cestral burial grounds, and they will take the bones of our an-
cestral bones. They have no respect. They have no reverence.
They rob the dead, when the dead can no longer defend what is
"After the white settlers would deplete the Indians' gardens
and their livestocks, our people would become very hungry.
It would be awhile before their gardens would again bear fruit.
Trying to retrieve what is rightfully theirs, a group of men
would go to the white settlers' home, and loot whatever they
could. Unfortunately, their bows and arrows were not a match
for the many long guns that these people used. After their
livestocks and gardens were destroyed, my people would have
to move onto areas where there were a lot of natural food.
We lived on blackberries, herbs, and brewed tea and swamp
cabbage...and fish. Mother Nature certainly provided for all
of our basic needs, although it was our belief that we must
help Mother Nature along by planting our crops."
My informant was quite talkative, but he just would not
speak into the tape recorder. Perhaps later he will consent,
hopefully. I spent about four and a half hours with this old
man. He enjoys talking. I had to stop him many times in order
to understand some of his idiomatic expressions. Some of them
were quite strange to me, and interesting.
I asked him about Osceola. I asked, "Who was this man
called Osceola?" He began, "Well, during the war, the war
which was forced on us by the white aggressor, a young man came
on the scene. He was not a chief by choice, nor was he a member
of the tribal council. He was a young man named Osceola. He was
to be a natural born leader, equipped with tremendous intuition.
This intuition...we, as Indians, believed that medicine man had
given him a medicine bundle that would enrich his intuition, and
also give him special powers which would work wonders for
Osceola. And it did. Much of his victories--Osceola--was
due to his strong intuition. Without fully understanding and
knowing the language of the foreign people, Osceola depended
a lot on his intuition to give him foresight. He was quite
clever in organizing his warriors. With his warriors, he had
work divided. There were scouts who went before the warriors
to prepare foods, such as fishing for fish, picking herbs and
berries; always making sure that there was enough food for the
warriors. Other scouts had to know every inch of the territory,
so that they may not lose their way. The women helped out too.
In their remote hiding places the women would dry fish and beef,
and always have them ready when one of the warriors returned
"It was forbidden by the war heads that fish grounds would
not be lying about. Anything that would give the slightest
sense of whereabouts of the Seminoles hiding place was dis-
couraged. Most of the time, they would eat raw fish, so that
the odor of cooking would not give them away. They lived on
the wild food of the land, like berries.
"I remember one time that my grandfather.... The white
man showed no mercy to the Indian. If an Indian was caught
by a band of white men, this would seal his doom. They would
beat a person to death with chains. You see, the greatest
happiness to a white man was to inflict harm on a living being.
During the white wars, the Seminoles knew nothing of private
property or any law that said a tiny piece of land belonged
to one man. He did not know, or have any concept, of what law
meant, so He did not accept a piece of paper that told him
that this land was not his, because the only law he knew was
natural law. And natural law said that all land belonged to
"My grandfather said the white man came on us like a storm,
and tried to force us out of our homes. He told us to go west,
but we refused, because no man had the right to take from another
that is rightfully his. If one does try to take something away,
then it is the right of the owner to defend. This land was
rightfully ours, and we had to defend this land, because this
is where we were born. We were to be:.buried here on our ancient
burial grounds. We were greatly disturbed when the intruder
came at us with guns and cannons forcing us from our homes,
telling us we had to move. We did not understand. When they
would talk of money, they would say, 'We will give you this
much money,' but exactly what they meant we did not know for
certain. But one thing we did know; this land...it was the Great
Spirit's natural law which gave this land to us. It was the
Great Spirit',s natural law, which is more supreme than the
foreign people who said that they gave this land to the Seminole.
All the Seminoles ever wanted was to live in peace and to die on
their ancestral land. And to die, if needs be, by the hands of
their enemies, who they knew quite well. This is the way the
people lived and died, but this was not allowed by the trans-
"The transgressors said, 'You must move west. You can no
longer be living here.' And they would promise the war leaders,
saying that things would be better further west. But you see,
they have lied so many times. They had captured Wildcat, Osceola,
and others in the name of the white flag of truce. They had
burned villages, plundered, raped and killed our people.
How can we trust and believe in them? As they said our chiefs
had said it was all right to move to the West. They moved
our people by the wagonload to Tampa area to wait for passage
to the West.
"Ad you can understand, back in Grandfather's days it was
the total intention of the United States Army to exterminate our
people. That's why there aren't very many Seminoles today. The
thought of yesterday is unbearable. The injustices, man's in-
humanity to another--all for what? White supremacy. Today, they
have this. Today, we Seminoles have lost our manhood. We only
live in the shadows of others. We are strangled by the white
man's ways. For us to have shelter over our heads, we have to
give money; and Mother Nature provided a chickee, which we did
not have to pay for. To eat, we have to spend most of our
earnings. Before, we could hunt. But outside a reservation, we
have to have fishing license, and they aren't hardly any fish any-
more. The river streams are too polluted."
And then he continued to say, "Before there were too many
white people, I used to be able to walk and hunt and go as far
as I wanted to. Even though I do not know how to read, when I
see a big white sign with black lettering on white man's property,
I know what it means. It usually says, 'No Trespassing.' Oh,
before these changes took place, our people obeyed Mother Earth.
They took care of her quite well. Even in my time, I remember
quite well, our yards had to be swept clean so that the evil
spirits will be kept away from our huts. But these days, the
yards are unkept--perhaps this is the reason why there is so
"My relatives who claim to know the white ways do not under-
stand the white ways at all. Because those that are in power are
not the friends of the Indians. I'm not talking about the
neighboring white man--I'm talking about white men who can make
big decisions for the Indians, and how they can improve the lot
of the Seminoles. I am old," he said, and no young person will
listen to me. No one listens.
"My memories, some of them are forgotten. It is good to
forget. There are some things I remember as though it happened
yesterday. Many of the stories I am remembering today...today
many old memories are brought alive. I cry alone sometimes,
because we are not the white man's equal when it comes to
making political decisions. The white man is trickier than the
rabbit. At least the rabbit does not hurt anyone physically,
but beware of the white man.
"You ask me," he said, "if the Seminoles have picked up the
white man's ways. Yes, some of them have. They have a taste of
liquor and white man's morals. Those are the worst kind of the
white man's ways. There are other ways of the white man...which
I feel it is necessary for our children to lie, cheat ,equally
as well as the aggressors, and they will be respected by the
aggressors. There is no other way."
My informant was certainly anxious to say more, and I'm
hoping later on I'll be able to get his voice on tape, because
he says a lot more things I would like to put on, but he dis-
couraged me from repeating some of the things. One thing I asked
him about--how did...people in the old days know how to get to
certain festivities when they didn't have calendars? When did
they know it was the right time to go to the big dance? He
told me that each leader of the different camp would be given
a bundle of sticks. And as each day went by, they would throw
away the stick, and when the last stick was thrown away, this
was the time for the big get-together.
There was one story he really enjoyed telling me, and it
went something like this: I had asked earlier if he had ever
heard of Thompson. "No, I don't believe I have ever heard of
Thompson," he said, "but I have heard of Tomsie. One day, during
the time when Osceola was a young man, he went to a place where
there were many white soldiers. Osceola wanted to find his wife....
[Here there occurs a break in the narrative, occasioned
when the tape ran out on one side and was turned over.]
...Indian women, men, children, or anyone they could get a
hold of who looked healthy and strong. Because they could sell
them like cattle and they needed them to sell for slaves.
"Osceola was certain that his wives had been captured by
these slave hunters. He was angry--very angry. He took off
for this place where Tomsie lived. This man Tomsie didn't like
Seminoles. He hated them with a passion, and he would kill every
one of them if he had a chance to. Osceola had an oral fight
with this man. Tomsie became angry, and he called for his soldiers
to arrest Osceola and to tie him up. Here came the soldiers
at their captain's command--about four of them. They all started
fighting, wrestling with Osceola. Osceola fought like a tiger.
He maneuvered among, around these men. Finally, with one man,
they overpowered him and chained him and took him to prison.
They didn't give him anything to eat or drink. And besides,
Osceola would not have accepted it. Osceola had medicine with
him, strong medicine, medicine that would quench his thirst and
hunger. They chained his ankles and wrists so bad they tore
into his flesh. They were bleeding. And they say that he car-
ried these scars for the rest of his life. I know this story
because I heard it many, many times. The white man had no
respect for the Indians.
"Osceola and others were tricked so many times by the white
men. In those days, we lived in the worst possible conditions.
But they believed that the Great Spirit didn't want all of them
dead--otherwise, the Seminoles wouldn't be living today."
The land in the Everglades were not fit for planting. One
may wonder what kept these people alive. It was the medicine,
the sacred herbs that the medicine man prepared. The medicine
gave them protection. This is the story he seemed to enjoy
telling, and he recalled then the story that was told to him by
his grandfather. When Osceola got out of prison, another time
later on in his life, he killed Tomsie. He shot him for something.
Another question I asked: "When you were a young man, was
the Green Corn Dance more meaningful than it is now?"
"Yes," he said. "But these days, I don't go to the Green Corn
Dance." He said, "During the Green Corn Dance, it was the
appointed time to discuss matters that would concern the tribe."
This was the place and time to express one's opinions and
grievances. Also judicial matters were presented. If someone
was accused in carrying false stories, lying, committing
adultery,they were on trial before the tribal council. The
tribal council would judge what kind of punishment the crime
fit. Also marriages and divorces were carried out during this
time. Punishment for lying, adultery...one form .would be to
cut part of the ear or part of the nose. When a Seminole does
wrong and breaks the tribal law, he is punished by the tribal
council. If he is convicted of some petty crime, he is steamed.
This is supposed to squeeze out the evils from his body. But
if he continued to lie, cheat, he would be completely ban-
ished by the tribe, and must live by his own wits and never to
return to his own people."
I was always impressed by what they had to say about gen-
erosity--their concept of generosity. I would often ask the
young people as well as the old people how generosity played its
role within the tribe. They would talk about it in the past
tense; it seemed as though it has sort of vanished. Here is
my informant's concept of generosity:
He said, "Generosity was not an ideal to be aimed at. It
was a way of life that was taught from the time a child is
born, and practiced until life is ended. This was prestige--
generosity. The Indian's reward was not how much wealth he had,
but how generous he was. It was the obligation of the strong
and the skillful to share his provisions with those who were
sick and unable to hunt for their needs. One of the many sins
was to be stingy. If a person was stingy, it was a disgrace.
It was a disgrace to keep everything to one's self, that which
another may find useful. It was a disgrace from withholding from
another what one can give. This is not to say that the Indians
were all free-hearted. There have always been men of greed and
selfishness in our midst, too, but these kind of characters
were usually ostracized by the tribe. There was no place
for selfish men.
"Hospitality, naturally, was another form of generosity.
One must share what one had. If an enemy who came in peace,
or a friend came to the house, it was the duty of the household
to treat him as a member of the household. And one must never
be rude or raise their voice to an enemy who came in peace to
the house. They shared everything. When their food ran out,
or the woods fire, it was everyone's obligation to go out and
hunt for more food and firewood. That is, if one accepted
being part of 'the family.'"
Here is another story, or another legend of the Corn Woman.
There are many, many stories of the Corn Woman. They say that
an old woman and her grandson were going from Indian camp to
Indian camp. No one seemed to know who they were, or what
clan they belonged to, or what they were doing. Was in the
wintertime; it was quite cold. The grandmother and the grandson
were looking for shelter--a place to keep warm and to eat. So
she decided that she would go from house to house, and hope-
fully find someone who would share their food and fire.
Unfortunately, no one wanted to be bothered by her. They
would drive her away from their house. They would say, "Go
away, old woman. Go away. We have no place for you." But
that was the time when the Seminoles had been in contact with
the white people, and had learned some of their ways, so that
every stranger was thought of as being an intruder. Disap-
pointed and disheartened, the little grandmother said to her
grandson, "I cannot believe these people would be so selfish.
Every other camp we have been to, they have been friendly and
accepted us as members of their camp. But I just don't
understand why this camp would be so selfish and suspicious."
Then, gently, she said to her boy, "Don't worry. We will find
some food and fire soon."
They left the camp, and they were in search of another vil-
lage. They fought their way through the swamps. The gnats and
the mosquitoes seemed to be nibbling away and having a great
feast on them. The alligators they had to be careful of. If
they disturbed their sleep, that would be the end of them.
For many days they walked, untili.they reached the camp of the
Wildcat Clan. They were very receptive, good-hearted people.
They invited the grandmother and grandchild to sit down and
eat, and to warm their cold bodies.
The uncle of the household said, "If you like, you may
stay with us as long as you wish to. But let me warn you. It
is not always that we have enough food to eat. But you are
welcome to stay, and share in things we do have here."
"We shall be happy to stay here," answered the grandmother.
My grandson is learning to hunt, so he can help you hunt for
game. And as for me, I'm a storyteller, and I find much plea-
sure in playing with the little children. If you allow me, I
will take care of the little ones, and will tell them my stories."
"If it pleases you, the uncle replied, "I would appreciate
your doing that."
The following day, before the sun peeked over the fields,
the young men were already hunting, and the women were out to
pick berries, and to fish, which was customary within the tribe.
It was the duty for the older children to take care of the younger
children when the parents were out. Usually, they would play
all day, and sometimes forget to eat. But things were dif-
ferent now, as the grandmother was around. The children ate on
time, and they sat around and talked to each other. Especially,
the children would love to gather around the grandmother and
listen to her stories. The old lady told them stories of how
the Indians got the sassafras root; that was a good root that
would cause people much enjoyment in drinking this root drink.
And she told them of different healing herbs that the medicine
men used; that if a person was very, very sick, the medicine
men would give them different kinds of herbs. How she enjoyed
telling these things to the children. When the children said
they were hungry, she vanished for a little while, and she
brought back a big bowl of soup made out of corn. It was the
best smell that the children ever smelled. The soup was the
finest soup they had ever tasted, and they kept asking for more.
She explained, "Now, my children, as long as you behave yourselves,
and do as you are told, you will get some of this delicious
soup every day."
The children did everything that the grandmother asked them
to do. They swept the yard to keep the evil spirits away; they
went out picking berries, so when the parents would come back
from their hunt and from fishing, the parents could enjoy the
berries. So the children were very happy and did exactly
what the grandmother asked. They were so contented; and, for
this, she continued to make this delicious soup for them. But
being so old, her strength began to seep away.
One morning, she could no longer get up from her bed. She
called to her grandson, "Grandson! Grandson, come here. I
have something to tell you, something very important." And
then she told him that she was very sick, and that she must
go away. "Grandson, you must follow my instructions. I have
planted out in the field some grain. It will take root, and it
will sprout in the spring. I have taken care of this field.
I have watered it, and I have pulled out the bad weeds from this
field. You must continue to do the same. And if you do this,
you will have a nice garden that will feed all the people." And
then she fell asleep.
Many days went by, and the grandson mourned for his dearly
beloved grandmother. And daily, as his grandmother instructed
him, he took water to the fields, and gave it water, and he would
tear the bad weeds out. One day, when the first ear of corn
ripened, the people of the village thought that they saw an
image of the grandmother in this corn--and perhaps that she
was the Corn Woman. They started telling each other that the
corn was the grandmother. As they looked over the fields, it
was ripe with beautiful corn. As the breeze would gently breathe
across the fields, it would make the corn stalks dance. Then,
they say that the grandmother was so happy with the hospitality
that the village had given her, she had repaid them with a
rich harvest of corn. They also say that you will notice the
white hair that sprouts from the green ears of corn--that this
is the white hair of the old grandmother, and that she was the
Often, talking with the Seminoles, they would talk more or
less in fragments. They would start out telling a story, and
they would lead on to something else, and it would be about half
an hour before they would get back to the stories. Everything
was done quite informally, and as a result, I felt as though I
benefitted by it.
I had a chance to visit Brighton Indian Reservation, Hollywood,
and Tamiami Trail. And each place, I would notice that there
weren't any gardens--perhaps they had their gardens in remote
areas. But as far as I was able to observe, I did not see any
gardens. I asked why, and my informant said that he thinks
perhaps people have grown old, fat, and lazy. That was his
answer, and he thought it was rather funny. But he said in
his days, when he was a young man, about fifty years or so
ago, he said he remembers different families having their own
garden plot. They were always near chickees, and people were
always out planting corn, potatoes, different vegetables. Today,
you just don't see this. He said.,other than this family garden
plot, that there was a large common field that the whole tribe
worked on together. This garden, or this field, belonged to all
the tribe. This is where they planted beans, squash, melons,
corn, pumpkins--and they really like pumpkins. They said they
delighted in pumpkin bread.
If a harvest was a good harvest, then everyone had plenty
enough to eat the whole year. Then, what everyone looked for-
ward to was the Green Corn Dance, and celebration of the
harvest. But for this field, the people who took care of it
were different members of each clan. An overseer was appointed
by the chief to look after these fields. When it was time to
plant, and to take care of the fields, he would call in the
men. And how did he get the attention of these men? Well,
jokingly he said they didn't have a telephone or radio, but they
had a man called the town hollerer, who would go through the
village calling everyone, "It's time to plant. It's time to
start the fields." If a person who was a little bit lazy didn't
want to help in the fields, he was fined. And how was he fined?
He had to do twice the work of the men. So when the town
hollerer would go through the town asking these men to start on
the field, they would come out with their axes and their hoes,
and they would start hoeing the garden. That's how they worked
together, he said.
The crops would grow, and the young people would take turns
watching them, and then the men would take turns watching them
at night. This is the way they drove away the wild animals,
especially the birds. The birds were quite a nuisance to them.
They would throw rocks, bows and arrows at the birds. This
is how they kept their garden going. And after everything was
planted, and harvest time came, they ate the first [corn], and
this was done at the Green Corn Dance.
It was really fun to work out in the fields, he said, be-
cause out in the fields someone would start singing. Everytime
the hoe would go into the ground, they would sing, and as they
would pull up, they would sort of grunt. It was just more or
less a sort of social outlet for them, he claimed. Even though
the sun would be hot, they would try to get up early in the
morning before the sun even started getting up, because breakfast
time...they would have their morning meal out of the way, and
then they would be out during the cool period of the day. This
was really something that was sort of a joy, but today no one
seems to really want to bother with a garden. These were the
good old days, he claims.
I asked him how he courted the girls. "How did the Indians
sort of go around with each other?" And he said in those days,
when he was a young man, in his teens, probably, he said, they
were making a lot of flutes in those days, a lot of flutes. He
never sees them these days. But these flutes had special meaning
to them, because a young man would learn to play his own love-
charm mudic on them. He would practice many days. Whenever he
would court a girl to his liking, and the tribe would know that
he liked this particular girl, the uncles would make arrangements
that they could talk together and see each other. If the boy
was from a different village, or maybe from a different chickee
that was far off, the way this boy would send messages to his
girlfriend that he was coming to see her, he would play the flute.
When he played the flute, this girl knew that this music was only
for her--for no one else. Only for her, and she would come
running out and join him, and then they would get together. So
this was sort of nice, he said. But these days, it's not longer
practiced, and he doubted if anyone remembers this thing. He
said, as for himself, he'd sort of sentimental, and he remembers
this thing, courting a girl this way.
There are some things that are very sacred, and there are
some things you just don't talk about, he was saying. For
example, some of their superstitions that they believe in. And
the types of animals that brings bad omens, and the animal
that brings good omens. I asked him if he could tell me a few,
and he was a little bit hesitant to. But I told him what I
have heard among our people in Oklahoma, and he said there
are a few. For example, the carrier of bad message is the owl.
"If an owl is setting up on your rooftop making sounds, this
means that there will be death in the family," he said.
And I said, "Well, what else does the owl do, besides
bringing bad messages?"
He says, "Well, the owl will steal the heart of a man,
especially a person who is dying, and this will increase his
age. In actuality, the owl may not be a real owl. He may
be a man who has turned into an owl."
These sort of things, he didn't care to talk about. But
one story he was telling me, which I thought was sort of cute,
was about the raccoon and the 'possum. At one time, the 'possum
had a little hair on his tail, but not as much as the raccoon.
Every day he would look at the raccoon's tail. Poor little
'possum--he was really envious of this big, thick, bushytail
of the raccoon. So the little 'possum walked up to the raccoon,
and he said, "Hey, raccoon, how did you get your beautiful,
bushy tail? You know, I have a little hair on my tail, but
not as much as yours," he said. "I sure would love to have a
big, bushy tail like yours."
And the raccoon sort of danced, and he sung a few songs, and
he said, [chant in Seminole language.] The song went something
like that. And poor little 'possum said, "You know, you're so
jolly, and you're so happy. Is it because you have such a
beautiful, bushy tail?" The raccoon says, "Yes, I'm just
beautiful all over."
And the 'possum asked, he said, "Tell me the secret of how
you got your tail."
The raccoon said, "Well, one day I was walking through the
woods, and I suddenly saw a Spanish moss hanging, drooping down
from the trees. And I took this Spanish moss, and I wrapped
it around my tail. I wrapped it, and kept wrapping it, and
wrapping it. And then my tail looked, you know, sort of bushy.
But one thing was wrong. It kept falling off. Then, I decided...
well, how could I keep it together? Then I remember that some
things you can heat, and then they will stick together. So I
wrapped a little bit more Spanish moss on my tail, and then I
built a fire. In this fire, I let my tail be heated a little bit,
and then when I pulled out my tail, sure enough, the heat made
the Spanish moss stay on my tail. This way, I've never lost it."
The 'possum listened. He said, "Are you sure this is the
way it really happened?"
And the raccoon said, "What? Do you think I would lie to
And the 'possum said, "No. No, I don't think that at all."
So that day, the 'possum went looking for trees that may
have Spanish moss on them. He looked and looked. He was fin-
ally becoming a little discouraged, because he couldn't find
any Spanish moss. As he was setting down, he thought, "Well,
I'd better go a few more feetfurther away from where I'm sitting.
I may by chance run into the Spanish moss." And sure enough,
he did find some Spanish moss. He was so happy, he was just
jumping up and down and singing. Then he took a handful
of Spanish moss, and wrapped around his tail. He said, "I
must make my tail even much bigger and bushier than the
He finally got enough Spanish moss attached to his tail...
which made his tail look even bigger than he was, and then he
built a fire. Then he stuck his rear end towards the fire, and
he smelled the Spanish moss burning. He says, "Oh, well, maybe
it'll take a little while before the heat can keep the Spanish
moss attached to my tail." But he finally discovered that the
Spanish moss was actually burning, and it was burning his tail
also. He started hollering and yelling, "Help! Help! Somebody
help me! I'm burning my tail up!"
He couldn't get the Spanish moss off, because he had wrapped
it around too tight, so he grabbed, and he grabbed the Spanish
moss, and then with his tail he started flapping the burning
Spanish moss around.
And then finally the fire died down. But it was hot. The
poor 'possum kept jerking and pulling on the Spanish moss.
Finally, he pulled the Spanish moss off of his tail. To his
disappointment, there wasn't a single hair left on his tail.
So to this day, if you ever notice a 'possum...his tail, he
does not have any hair on. This is the way the poor 'possum
got his tail.