Richard Bowers, Natural Resources Director at Big Cypress Reservation
This is a good general interview in which Bowers clearly expresses his opinions about a number
of issues. Working with natural resources, Bowers has well developed views about pollution and
changes to the Everglades environment. Problems involve the numbers of people coming to
Florida and their actions (e.g., setting fires). Bowers also suggests that since tribal members and
the Tribe itself are engaged in agriculture, there is continuity in land/environment use with
earlier times. He presents the cattle program historically, explaining that its origins were in
government desires to settle the Indian population. Bowers compares cattle ranching thirty years
ago with today, touches on cattle breeds, video sales, and rodeos (which he relates to ranch
work). He gives the opinion that there is gender equity in cattle work. He also makes an
interesting note about the ways people organize mutual assistance in ranch labor, but this is not
At several points Bowers explains that there is a general desire for subsequent generations to do
better economically than their predecessors. He speaks of this as if it is traditional, relates it to
his own experiences (of how changing economic conditions have improved his own life), and
talks about his hopes for the generation to come. He considers that the school on Big Cypress--
made possible by recent economic gains--is an excellent move, in that it offers education in
Indian ideas and languages. Bowers views the powwow as important for presenting Indian life
and culture to younger generations. He also discusses the decline in alligator wrestling, which he
laments. When asked what he knows of Seminole history and where the knowledge came from,
Bowers says "American history books." When he discusses economic changes, he explains that
in his childhood he and his peers were excited to get clothing from the church, but they did not
realize it was charity. He is glad that today people in the tribe do not have to live on charity.
Interviewer is Rosalyn Howard
Interviewee is Richard Bowers
H: I am speaking today, April 19, 1999, at the Cattle and Range Office, with Richard
Bowers. Richard, to what clan do you belong?
B: Panther Clan.
H: When and where were you born?
B: Fort Lauderdale, 1955.
H: Are you Miccosukee or Muskogee? Do you have a Miccosukee or Muskogee
B: I have a German name, Bowers. Do you mean an Indian name?
H: Yes. Do you have an Indian name?
B: No. You see, that culture changed. I don't have an Indian name.
H: Oh. So even back in the mid-1950s, then, people started to ?
B: Everybody was going to church by then, and Green Corn Dance was evil.
H: So you were raised a Christian?
B: Yes, going to church.
H: Do you still go to church now?
B: Once in a while.
H: Okay. Like you said, you started going when you were a young child?
H: Obviously, from what you were just telling me, the traditions have changed since
B: It has probably changed it since 500 years ago.
H: Even the traditional ways, yes. Do you know any medicine women or men who
B: Yes, I do. You have to think about it because there are not that many.
H: Is it possible for people to practice as or be treated by medicine men and women
and still be considered Christians?
B: Yes. Most medicine men go to church.
B: Yes. But, they were much older than I am, so they probably learned it when they
were youngsters. Then, back in the 1950s, that is when all of the churches came
onto the reservations, and they built the church.
H: Have you always lived on the reservation?
H: What do you think about people who work off of the reservation and live on the
B: What do I think? About their getting jobs, or what?
H: Well, do you think that there is a reason that they work off of the reservation that
they live on?
B: I am sure there is a reason. I have no problem if they can get a job outside.
H: Okay. What do you know about Seminole history?
B: American history books.
H: Have you ever had any tales passed down, any folklore?
B: Yes, we have had stories.
H: What kind of stories do you remember?
B: Well, the buzzard and the bear and the rabbit and how the ironhead is like that.
H: What is the ironhead?
B: It is a wading bird on the water, and they eat crustaceans, fish, and whatever.
Their head is all black, and it is real big, so they call them ironheads.
H: And what is the story about that?
B: When the animals used to talk to each other, the sun was too close to the Earth.
So, this ironhead, which is an ibis, the other birds got together and told him he is
the biggest, he is the strongest, and he can fly the furthest, so why don't you fly
out there and move the sun. So, when he did, it burned his head and burned the
tips of his wings.
H: And that is why they are black?
H: That is an interesting story. Was there ever any information passed down to you
about the Seminole wars or the famous Seminoles, such as Osceola?
B: No, I was never told exactly about Osceola, but my great, great, great-
grandmother saw Andrew Jackson when she was a little girl.
H: What was her name?
B: Let's see. Tiger. I can't remember her first name. Anyway, she was Naha
Tiger's wife. I think it was Lucy. Lucy Tiger, yes. They have probably been
dead for about thirty years now, and they were pretty old then.
H: What is your primary occupation?
B: Primary occupation. I only have one. It is natural resource director here in Big
H: What do you do as the natural resource director?
B: Well, all the natural resources that our reservations have, like water, cattle,
grass, plants-whatever that is natural and that is resourceful, money-making or
whatever-we deal with that, to protect it or to sell it, anyway we can manipulate
the resources. There are some parts, say the wetlands, you can't bother with
because of the laws, but everything else we either take care of or we try to get
some economy out of it.
H: What were your father's and mother's occupations?
B: My father, probably, was almost about the same as what I am now, except that
he took care of the pumps. During the dry season, they would pump water into
the cattle pastures to make sure the grass would not die. The same thing today.
We are still doing that. If it rained too much, then he pumped the water off.
Irrigation specialist, I guess.
H: And what about your mother?
B: Housewife. She took care of us at home and did her rickrack work, beadwork,
and made dolls in her spare time. Baskets.
H: What were their education levels?
B: They never went to school. That is why, when I first went to first grade, my first
day, I couldn't understand those people, because I couldn't talk English. That
was in Okeechobee. They would tell us, we want all of you to be better than us
and this and that and get education. They made sure we went to school.
H: What schools did you attend?
B: First through third in Okeechobee and third through twelfth in Moore Haven.
Daisy [Jumper, present] went to Okeechobee. [All laugh.]
H: Okeechobee was a public school then?
B: Yes. What I have heard is-I don't know if it is true or not-the reservation that I
lived in during that time was in Glades County, but during that time Glades
County didn't want Indians. So Okeechobee said, well, they need education, so
we will take them. So that is where we went to begin with.
H: What reservation was that, that you lived on?
B: Brighton, just west of Lake Okeechobee.
H: And you live here, on Big Cypress, now?
H: When did you move here?
B: About fifteen years ago.
H: For your job purposes?
B: Yes. My mom is from here, so I have relatives here and relatives over there.
H: Just out of curiosity, what do you see as some of the differences between these
two reservations, and what would bring you from one to another?
B: There is really no difference. Everybody is trying to do the same as on another
reservation. They want to get their lifestyle, or way of life, a little better than the
next generation behind them. I think they are accomplishing it, as far as doing
better than their parents.
H: What do you think about the reservation school?
B: In a remote area like Big Cypress, I think it is the best thing that could happen.
But it takes a great deal of money to make education work. If you have the
money, like here in Big Cypress, that is an advantage to your students because
they have just about everything they can get. From what I understand, they have
computers and things like that, that will maybe get some of the kids ready for
2000. In Okeechobee, it was like a one-hour ride to school. They still do that,
but they have learning services in Brighton, plus the road is not so bad, either, up
H: One hour, one way?
B: One way.
H: So a lot of traveling. As far as you know, what sorts of agriculture do people
practice in their own gardens around here. Do you know much about that, about
B: Some of the older people have small gardens, but the majority, my age on down,
I don't think they even have gardens. The tribe, as a whole, has a big garden,
Seminole Farms. [Both laugh.] Green peppers.
H: In your job with natural resources, did you say you deal with the cattle?
H: What are the differences in the cattle breeds that people have today versus those
of thirty years ago?
B: Thirty years ago-from the older cattle owners that I have talked to and from what
they have seen and heard from, as a matter of fact, people who are older than
them-to keep the Indians on a reservation, this was an experiment, to keep the
Indians from going here and going there. The cattle would make them stay in
one place, to raise the cattle. The United States gave them so many head to
take care of to keep them on the reservation. But from then on, the breeds of the
cattle were probably mostly Brahma during that era because down here in the
South thirty years ago was really not a particularly good place for any type of
breed other than the Brahma breed. From that Brahma breed all the way to
today, we have changed the breeds several times because we listen to other
people, or see the market, or we can experiment here in our area. Today we are
raising Brangus, which still has a little Brahma in it.
H: Where do most livestock holders go for extension help?
B: A cattle owner who needs help? His friends. Whichever cowboys who do day-
work, which means they will come out and help you all day, and you give them a
certain [amount of] money at the end of the day. That is usually how they get it.
H: Is this cattle and range place a source for help for them also?
B: Yes. We have people who work for the board, and the board manages the
operation of the cattle. They have a cattle program. They have a land use
program. Also, the natural resource program, which kind of oversees everything,
makes sure that the land resources or any type of resources are not depleted.
Say you are using a grass for the cattle, you want to make sure that you fertilize
it and you have water. It is just like keeping things right so that nothing gets
depleted or overused, where you don't abuse the natural resources.
H: Are there differences in the kinds of work that are performed by men and women
in the cattle industry?
B: No. I have seen a girl do just about anything that the cowboys do out there. Not
all, but I don't see any difference. If they want to do it, they will do it, and if they
don't want to, they will sit back. A lot of the older people cook the meals during
the lunchtime for the cowboys.
H: Other than calves, what, if any, are the principle products of the cattle industry?
B: Other than cattle? Do you mean byproducts?
B: No, not really. We are known as a calf and cow operation, which means that we
breed cattle for consumption. Within the thirty years we have changed several
different breeds, so when the market changes or if the public wants a certain
other meat type or if the cattle industry is looking forward to a big round steak,
there are different breeds that you can mix together and try to get what the public
wants. That is what steers us to other breeds or what makes us change breeds.
For now, we have come into a lot of information about what the people want.
There are people who, especially on the extension agents and states, give you
surveys of what people like, what people buy, how they cook it, what part of the
cattle they eat the most. We have a lot of information, so that is what makes our
H: Overall, how has the commercial livestock industry changed over the last thirty
B: Thirty years ago, it probably would take two or three months to round up all of
your cattle, vaccinate them, and get them ready for market. Once you got them
ready, then you would have to have people who were interested in buying your
products, such as the steer calves or your calves. They would have to make a
trip down to where you had the cattle. That was a time-consuming thing. Today,
thirty years later, nobody has to move anywhere, really. We have cow pens for
just about every cattle owner, which means that we can take the cows in faster,
work them faster. A lot of advancement in medicine, techniques, machinery, and
everything has advanced so much, to a point where we even sell our cattle on
video sales. People all over the country don't have to move anywhere, they can
see it on video. We have remarks on the videos--this is what kind of breed, we
have so many, this is how much they will be weighing at a certain time, and your
delivery day is such and such. So really, I would never go back to thirty years
ago. Everything is just so much easier and more convenient now.
H: Are rodeos a larger and more important event than they were thirty years ago?
B: I would say yes because, back then, you wouldn't even see a rodeo or hear of a
rodeo except in neighboring towns. In Big Cypress, there really would not even
be any rodeos. I mean, there were no rodeos held on the reservation during that
time, even in Brighton. I was there when Brighton started their first rodeo club
and they built their first arena. That was to get people interested in it. If you
know how to ride a horse, such as working with cattle and this and that, you had
a little step ahead before people just coming in and trying to ride horses or
whatever. It helps out getting to know how horses work, how cattle work, and, of
course, the bull riding-we have bulls out there, too-so what kind and how big
they are or how mean they can be, or just how tough they are. It goes hand in
hand. As a matter of fact, the rodeo became an event because of ranch work.
H: You had mentioned to me that there is going to be a cattle sale this Friday. Can
you tell me what that is all about.
B: Saturday. They switched it on us. The video has become very popular, video
selling. They have almost 100,000 cattle to sell. It is a two-day sale, on video,
and ours is on the second day, so we had to switch over to Saturday.
H: There will be live video cameras broadcasting this?
B: No. Two weeks ago we came out here with a video camera and took some of
our best cattle and filmed them as they were out in the pasture. They will use
that to put on the film that will be televised all over the United States. When your
lot number, or your cattle, comes up, they will say, this is lot so and so from the
Seminole tribe, the breed, so many of this many pounds, so many of that many
pounds, and you have to have them there.
H: So people will be bringing their cattle?
B: So people will know. Yes.
H: Overall, how would you say that the physical environment has changed over the
last thirty years, on the reservation?
B: Their water was cleaner back then. Just like anything else, technology has really
made advances in the tribe, because of machinery that can do faster work, do
more work, than what it used to be thirty years ago. A backhoe or one of these
large machines, if the tribe could have afforded it back then, maybe a small [one],
it would have to be loaned here, loaned there, and all of this stuff. Actually, it
would get used so much that it would tear up regularly. Now we have big
machines that, like I said, do much work in a shorter period of time. When we
buy it, it is ours, so we don't have to loan it. It is just a better situation now.
H: Since you are in charge of natural resources, what do you think about the way
that the environment has been changed with the canals? How do you think that
has impacted the fire hazard and what's going on right now in the Everglades?
B: We always had fire in the Everglades. We always had droughts in the
Everglades. But, with the canal systems, with the water, with the amount of
people coming into Florida, it is just getting to where the waters are polluted. We
get fires that were made by natural causes, such as lightning. But today, people
go out there and burn. Maybe they don't think that it is going to be such a big
deal, but once it starts to burn, it burns, especially in the drought season that we
are in now. A lot of things are the same, except it is just these people coming in
and polluting all of the environment. Everything that is negative is caused by the
H: So, do you find that there is a big difference in the awareness of and concern for
the environment than there was thirty years ago?
B: Well, you have to because they make laws to make sure you don't spill fuel on
the ground, to make sure that if something happens to your field tank, you have
a container that will hold it instead of spreading it on the ground. The
environment is a very important part of what we do because, if you break these
laws, you can be fined or you could go to jail. They can impose any kind of
penalty on you. Seeing that we are right here beside the Everglades National
Park, it is just that much more important to other people what we do around the
H: Even though there are those rules and things, you said earlier that people are
involved in doing a lot of pollution. So the laws really have not been that
B: They make the laws, but it is the enforcement. When the environmentalists first
started-I don't know when the environmental laws started, probably in the 1960s
or early 1970s-they could not really say, you are doing this to the land, you are
doing this and that is bad. Back then, everybody was doing anything to the land
anyway. This is why the environmental laws came to be. But these
environmentalists have data. They started a database where this has changed
and that has changed due to this, so they can back whatever they say is going to
happen--this is bad the environment, that is good for the environment. They
have the database since then to back up on, so they are pretty tough.
H: In your opinion, do people rely much on the environment for a living, as did
people a generation ago?
B: I believe so. Not everything has changed, as far as living off of it. Everybody
has to live off food, so we are still farming. We are still producing beef. Of
course, we sell you cigarettes to cut you off short of your life, but still, you might
get hit by a truck, too [chuckles]. It has not really changed, except the laws,
again, have changed, that affect the farmers, food-producing organizations, or
whatever. They have made so many restrictions on farming, the water, the
pollution of the land, and this and that, that the major farmers have exited the
country. They go to Mexico where there aren't any rules, and they do what they
want. Or they go to Nicaragua, or South America, Brazil, or whatever. It has
changed. We can, I guess, save ourselves from polluting ourselves in the United
States, but they are going out and polluting everything else. There are still some
good farmers here. I think they are farming pretty well over here, but then, you
have to go by a pack of rules.
H: What would you consider to be the most important economic activities or
practices of the tribe, and how are these different from thirty years ago?
B: The whole tribe?
B: I am going to say, right off hand, gambling has changed and advanced the tribe
leaps and bounds because of the money or the economy that the reservation
has. We had no economy back thirty years ago. [End of Side A.] The gambling,
really, and the cigarettes changed. I remember when we were going to school-I
would say third grade, fourth grade-that the Christian organizations would come
and give us second-hand clothes for us to go to school in. That would be a big
thing for us because we wanted the best clothes. We would run over there. We
were too young to know that it was charity. We don't have to rely on charity
anymore, and these people here today can go out to the best stores and buy
their clothes, whatever they want. I think that is really the change here with the
economy. Everything is just so much better, so convenient, and easier than it
was. To get back to the gambling, I think it does help a lot of people, and it
makes sure that we do what we want to do and not limit us to how much it would
cost. If we want to change a farm here or have machinery here, we can do that
without really stopping because we don't have the money. So, it is kind of
unlimited of what we want to do.
H: How have any of these major changes that have occurred in agriculture,
education, and these different economic activities directly affected your life?
B: I think they have made my life better. Of course, there are other people who
made it go through; as I mentioned before, my parents would always tell me that
they wanted their children's lives to be better than theirs. That is always a
constant. As long as we do it that way, there is really not going to be that much
of a change. That was instilled in my brain way back then. My children, or my
cousins or nieces, this is what I would tell them, too. The next generation should
always be better than the last one.
H: Do you think that these changes challenge any traditional Seminole values?
B: No. As I mentioned before, with the economics as it is on the reservation, we
have people who teach our children how to speak our own language. There
were some between my age and the age group that is coming up now who really
didn't study or didn't want to learn Indian or want to speak it because they were
afraid or ashamed or embarrassed of it. But now they can learn it, they can
teach it, they can talk it, and really not be embarrassed because this is what you
want to do. You have the ability and the economics to do what you want to do.
In Corn Dance, a lot of the resources that we have are poured into there because
it is our culture. We have cultures, classes, people who don't know, maybe,
some of the stories that we heard. They will tell them stories, like the chief
recorded the numbers song. He sings the songs in Indian language and this and
that. Once we have the economics, I think we can get back our culture.
H: Okay. So you see a very positive relationship with the changes. Do you
participate in the Corn Dance.
B: No, I never did.
H: Well, I think that is all that I have to ask you about, unless there is something else
that I have not asked you which you would like to add.
B: One I was thinking about when you told me, and I had all weekend, I guess, to
think about it a little bit is, when my age group, back when they were going to
high school or getting out of high school or whatever, and people older than that,
too, were always alligator wrestling. That was my favorite thing because
alligators have taken me to more places, more trips, and I have met more people
because of alligator wrestling. I don't see that happening anymore, where we
have functions. We used to have five, six, maybe even ten, guys competing in
alligator wrestling. Something like that, I don't see that. That was a real event
because a lot of these alligator wrestlers had their own style and their own
dangerous little maneuvers that they had thought up. That is a real crowd
pleaser, and people always want to see it.
H: So, the way it has really changed is that is has decreased.
B: It has decreased, yes. I don't think it is a culture to wrestle alligators, but
Seminoles, back fifteen years ago, were really known to wrestle alligators: the
Seminole tribe wrestles gators. But now, the Seminole tribe has casinos. That
used to be fun, to do that, because once you win, you get a lot of money.
H: Well, just one last question in that same vein, the annual fair, the powwow that is
held, do you think that helps to preserve, or do you think that it promotes a
change in, Seminole culture?
B: That should be our biggest showcase, of all of the tribal fairs. Like I said, I am
glad we have cultural people who will teach the younger how it was. I would not
say, how you lived your life; it was the stories that they told you a long time ago,
the stories of the war or how your great, great-grandparents did this and did that,
and this is how you go to Corn Dance and this is what you do, your whole
culture, how you evolved into what you are now. With the money that we have to
pour into something like that, it makes it so much better. People can learn, and
people can understand who and what we are.
H: One of the main places, here on the reservation anyway, that promotes that is
the museum. Have you visited the museum?
H: What do you think of it?
B: Any time you put your culture on display, it must be people who are proud of their
culture and have the economic means to preserve it, such as with the museum. I
think that is very positive. Museums are almost timeless.
H: Good. Thank you very much.
B: You are welcome.