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UTCe 9fotda clntCiopfoqtgw
R. H. PRATT'S REPORT ON THE SEMINOLE IN 1879
Presented and Annotated by . . .. .William C. Sturtevant 1
INTRODUCTION ........................William C. Sturtevant 1
RICHARD HENRY PRATT . . ..... .. William C. Sturtevant 2
PRATT'S INSTRUCTIONS FOR HIS FLORIDA TRIP . .E. Brooks 3
PRATT'S ORIGINAL REPORT ... .................. .R. H. Pratt 5
ENCLOSURE, SEMINOLE STARCH MAKING ..........T. I. Sparkman 16
ENCLOSURE, FIRST SEMINOLE SCHOOLBOY ......... F. A. Hendry 17
NOTES .................. ............. William C. Sturtevant 18
PREPARATION OF RUBBER BY THE FLORIDA SEMINOLE .Wilfred T. Neill 25
CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ISSUE ................... ......... 29
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Fig. 1. House with shingle roof.
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Fig. Cia.p.oard hu.. .
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R, I. PRATT'S REPORT ON THE SEMINOLE IN 1879
Presented and Annotated by
William C. Sturtevant
The document under consideration here, "R. H. Pratt's Report on the
Seminole in 1879," is one of the best early official reports; but it has been
overlooked by everyone concerned with the Seminole in recent times, with
the exception of Roy Nash. Nash (1931, p. 60) refers to Pratt's visit but
gives no details as to his findings and does not indicate where the report
may be found.
After the conclusion of the Third Seminole War in 1859, there is a hiatus
in documentary material on the Florida Seminole. Pratt's account is one of
the first after 1859; the only other of any length before his is that of F. A.
Ober (1875), whose contacts with the Indians were in 1872 and 1874.
In 1872 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs attempted to determine the
"number, condition, and means of support" of the Florida Seminole, "espe-
cially with a view to intelligent action under representations made to this
Office [of Indian Affairs] that an outbreak might at some time occur."
Although an un-named "gentleman of high official position" was requested
to visit the tribe for this purpose (ARCIA, 1872, pp. 25-26), he apparently
never submitted a report; for I cannot find any further mention of this mis-
sion, and the next time the Florida Indians are mentioned in the ARCIA, it
is with the comment that "little has been known or heard of them since the
Seminole War" (ARCIA, 1875, p. 87).
In this annual report the suggestion was made, apparently for the first
time, that public lands in Florida should be set aside for the Seminole.
In spite of this recommendation of 1875, Pratt, when he was sent to visit
the Indians in 1879, was instructed to investigate the possibility of remov-
ing the remaining Indians to the Indian Territory. Evidently one result of
his report was the final abandonment of this aim.
Beginning in 1884, unsuccessful attempts to find suitable public lands
in Florida were made by various agents for several years (Coe, 1898, pp.
225-27, 231, 251-52; ARCIA, 1887, liii-liv). It was not until 1894 that
small parcels of land began to be purchased for the Florida Seminole (Nash,
1931, p. 62).
Pratt's investigation was the first successful one undertaken by a
representative of the Office of Indian Affairs after 1859. Yet his report was
not published immediately and is not referred to in the appropriate ARCIA.
It finally was printed in 1888 as one of the documents accompanying the
reports of Special Agent A. M. Wilson on his investigations among the
Seminole (Wilson, 1888, pp. 10-15).
Pratt's valuable illustrations were omitted, as well as several of the
other enclosures in the report. Of the latter, one is of particular interest
and is printed below; the others were letters of application for the position
of Seminole agent, from W. E. Collier and T. J. Sparkman (see notes 24 and
25). Because of important omissions and because of the inaccessibility of
the already-published version, it seems worth while to publish the entire
report here, with the illustrations and two of the other enclosures.
RICHARD HENRY PRATT
Richard Henry Pratt (1840-1924) is well known as the founder and, for
twenty-five years, superintendent of the first non-reservation federal Indian
boarding-school, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Pratt was a career officer in the
army; his interest in Indian education began while he was in charge of Chey-
enne, Arapaho, Caddo, Kiowa, and Comanche captives at Fort Marion in
Saint Augustine from 1875 to 1878.
When these captives were released, some were sent to the Hampton
Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia, due to Pratt's efforts. They
were joined there by some Sioux children. In the spring of 1879, Pratt went
to Washington, D. C., to persuade the authorities to open a separate school
for these and other Indian pupils, at the old Carlisle Barracks.
While in the capital, he was assigned to the Indian Office for a brief
trip to investigate the Florida Seminole. By August he had returned to
Washington from Florida, after spending some time at Hampton. In August
and September he submitted his report and some supplementary papers to
the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. His project for the Carlisle school was
approved, and in October, 1879, Pratt went to Dakota Territory and to
Indian Territory to collect students for his school, which opened November
1, 1879. The Florida trip was only a brief interlude in Pratt's career, and
it is not mentioned in the standard sources on his life.
Pratt devoted his whole career after 1878 to Indian education, but his
beliefs and policies ran contrary to many prevailing ideas on Indian policy.
He was an advocate of de-tribalization and individual assimilation; he op-
posed reservations, segregation, and attempts to promote the acculturation
of tribal groups as such. He frequently disagreed publicly with the Indian
Bureau and was opposed to the anthropological studies of the Bureau of
American Ethnology, feeling that scientific interest in Indian cultures led
to a desire to preserve them unchanged. Pratt's report which follows
shows that he was opposed to the use of force to promote assimilation;
the recommendation for the establishment of a boarding school at Fort
Brooke is typical of his approach-he preferred boarding schools where the
children were separated from the influence of their elders.1
PRATT'S INSTRUCTIONS FOR HIS FLORIDA TRIP (unedited)*
June 9, 1879
Lieut. R. H. Pratt
Having been detailed on the recommendation of this office, by special
order, No. 122, from the War Department, to investigate and report upon the
condition of the Seminole Indians, in Florida, you are informed, that there
is no reliable data before the office, by which to determine accurately the
number of Indians now remaining in Florida. From the best information to
be obtained, it is believed their number including all classes, cannot exceed
400. In 1858, the Government determined to make a final effort to remove all
the Seminoles remaining in Florida to their new home in the West, and Super-
intendent Rector, of the Southern Superintendency was directed to perform
this duty. He proceeded to that State early in the Spring of that year, and in
May following made a report, from which it appears, that he had with some
difficulty induced the principal Chief Bowlegs, and one hundred and sixty
four others to accompany him west. A copy of his report is herewith, from
which it will be seen that he did not fully succeed in accomplishing the
purposes of his mission, and in December, following, under the direction of
the Department he proceeded again to Florida, taking with him the Chief
Bowlegs, and three other leading Seminoles of the former emigrating party,
as a delegation to aid him in inducing all others of the tribe to embrace
*U.S. National Archives, Interior Section, Records of the Bureau of Indian
Affairs [Record Group 75], Letters Sent, Letterbook No. 150, pp. 332-33.
This letter is not reproduced with Pratt' s report in Wilson, 1888.
this last opportunity to emigrate. In this effort they were partially success-
ful, as will be seen by the report of the Superintendent, a copy of which is
herewith, for your information, only seventy were induced to leave.
These brief reports will afford you some information in regard to these
Indians, and no doubt be of service to you, in the discharge of the duties of
One great obstacle in the way of the success of the efforts made for
the removal of the Seminoles in 1858-59, was the opposition manifested on
the part of certain white settlers, among those who had influence with the
Indians, and were opposed to their emigration, but since the Southern portion
of the State has been opened to settlement, there is a change of sentiment
among this class of persons, and serious complaints have been made against
the Indians, on account of depredations committed, and the office has been
importuned to take measures to prevent the same and also to provide for the
relief of the Indians and educational facilities for their children. It is very
desirable that they be induced if possible to join their kindred and friends
in the Indian Territory, where they will share with them in the annuities and
other benefits resulting from treaty stipulations, and you will at once proceed
to Florida, and after ascertaining the localities of the different bands place
yourself in communication with them and ascertain their views with regard
to their removal to Indian Terr. You will then make a full investigation, as to
their present status, and report fully, as to all the facts in the case, which
will aid the office to a full understanding of their present condition, with a
view to the institution of such measures as the Department may be able to
inaugurate, looking to their civilization, making in connection therewith such
recommendations as you shall deem proper.
You will visit such portions of the state as may be necessary to enable
you to make an exhaustive report on the matter.
You are authorized to employ an Interpreter, and such other assistants
as may be necessary.
Your expenses will be allowed as per copy (herewith,) of office letter
of 19" of March last, addressed to the Hon. Secretary of the Interior, and
approved by him, on the 24" of said month.
On completion of your duties in Florida, you will return to this City,
and submit your report.
E. J. Brooks
PRATT'S ORIGINAL REPORT (unedited)*
[I reproduce the text of the original manuscript rather than that of the
published version (Wilson, 1888, pp. 10-15), which differs in minor respects,
some of which affect the sense. Material in square brackets and in notes is
mine rather than Pratt's.2]
August, 20" 1879
Hon. E.A. Hayt
Commissioner of Indian Affairs
In compliance with Special Orders No. 122 from Hdqrs. of the Army May
23d, and your letter of instructions dated June 9th directing me "to investi-
gate and report upon the condition of the Seminole Indians in Florida" x x
"making in connection therewith such recommendations as you (I) shall
deem proper" x x "with a view to the institution of such measures as the
Department may be able to inaugurate, looking to their civilization," I have
the honor to report that, taking with me, at the desire of Prof. Baird,3 for
the purpose of gathering specimens for the National [Museum's] Collection,
the Cheyenne Indian Tichkematse employed in the Smithsonian Institution,
as a taxidermist, (his expenses being born by his patron Miss A. E. Prall
of New York City) I left Washington June llth, and proceeded to St. Augus-
It was my intention to go down the eastern coast of the State to Miami
and thence around to Fts. Myers and Ogden, making trips inland to the Indian
villages, but, obtaining better information after arrival in Florida, I deter-
mined to begin at Fort Meade Polk County, which point I reached by way of
Cedar Keys and Tampa, on the 27th of June.
Lt. E. T. Brown4 U.S. Army, stationed at St. Augustine, being anxious
for the experience of such a trip, asked and obtained a leave of absence
for the purpose and accompanied me from that point, and I am indebted to
him for the drawings hereto appended.
Florida papers had published sometime before my arrival that the in-
tention of the Department in sending me on this visit to the Seminoles, was
*U.S. National Archives, Interior Section, R. B.I.A. [R.G. 75], Letters
Received, 1879, Union P 872.
directed towards their removal to the Indn Ty. This was, to some extent,
At Fort Meade I learned that the Indians were divided into four communi-
ties or villages: that Chipco, a very old man, had a small village among the
lakes about Fort Clinch, thirty miles N.E. of Fort Meade,5 his people being
Creeks and claiming a separate tribal origin from the others, speaking a
different but similar language; that a second village under a Chief named
Tuscanugga was at Fort Center, on the western border of Lake Okechobee:6
that the old Chief Tiger Tail governed a third community in the vicinity of
Ft. Shackleford somewhat scattered along the borders of the Big Cypress
Swamp:7 that in the vicinity of Miami on the Atlantic Coast was the fourth
village,8 ruled over by Young Tiger Tail, who is the son of Old Tiger Tail.9
I deemed it best to seek a conference with the leading men of the villages
west of Okechobee, in a body, and to this end fixed upon Ft Myers on the
Caloosahatchee as the place, and the 7th of July as the time. Capt. F. A.
Hendry, one of the largest cattle owners in the state, a worthy and warm.
friend of the Indians, and one of the few in whom they confide,10 undertook
to assemble those from Forts Center and Shackleford, and I undertook the Ft
Engaging the services of a guide and Interpreter we proceeded to
Chipco's village, which was reached about 9 p.m. June 29th. We were re-
ceived very hospitably by Chipco and his people. Chipco gave us his summer
house to sleep in, and otherwise extended all the hospitality he was able.
The village is on a slight elevation in the piney woods, in the vicinity
of clear beautiful lakes, in which abound black bass and other food fish.11
It is composed of ten substantial buildings, similar in character, which are
well represented by the drawings hereto appended, marked 1, 2 [front., Figs.
1 and 2], & 3 [Fig. 31.12 They are located convenient to each other but with-
out regard to order. Although rude in their construction, they are quite ample
for the climate, show as much mechanical skill and are quite equal in comfort
to those of many of their white neighbors. The timbers for beams, rafters,
posts and floors are neatly hewn; while the clapboards were rived out as
evenly as possible. Scattered about the village were a few young orange
trees, protected carefully with boxing or fences. Chipco showed us the vil-
lage, and their fields of corn, sugar-cane, rice &c with evident pride in all
that indicated energy and thrift. The fields comprise about fifteen acres in
the midst of a dense hammock. They were reached by a crooked pathway,which
crossed a small stream by a slight foot-bridge. The outside of the hammock
on all sides was left in its original state, as a compact mass of trees, vines,
and underbrush, so that observation of passers, and encroachments of stock,
were effectually cut off. The clearing away of this large tract was not
accomplished without great labor, in which I was informed both men and
women engaged. The land was rich and the crops equal in appearance to
any I saw in the State. Each family had its separate patch of corn, rice,
sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and melons, and old Chipco had a few stalks
of tobacco. The cultivation was perfect: not a weed was to be seen. Having
no plows, they use hoes, only, to stir the ground. The day we remained in
this village it rained in the afternoon. When the rain commenced falling,
Chipco excused himself, saying it was a good time to set out sweet-potatoes,
and he had a little patch he wanted to help his squaw finish. They went off
to the fields a mile away, in the rain. They returned at dark soaked and be-
grimed with earth, and the old man complained that work made his back and
Chipco is said to be a hundred years of age, he is certainly very old,
he claims to have been one of the leaders in the Dade Massacre, over forty
One of the men named Tom went to a lake fishing, early in the morning
after we arrived. His rig, was a long elm pole, with about three feet of line
attached, and to that, two stout hooks knit together and concealed in pieces
of deerstail and red flannel. He returned in about an hour and a half with
twenty five to thirty pounds of black bass, that would have made old Isaac
Walton jump with delight. Ten cents bought the best one, which four hungry
men found an ample breakfast, and all pronounced the quality surprisingly
fine. Tom went again in the evening taking his thirteen year old boy. The
result was the same. When a quarter of a mile from camp, on his return, he
gave the fish to his boy to carry and went off the path to a blown down tree,
where he shouldered and brought in for firewood, a limb so large and heavy,
that I doubt if any in our party could have carried it as far.
We saw a good many hogs and were told they had many more off in the
mast. These they allow to sleep about their houses and under their beds.
When moving their hogs from place to place for feeding, or to market, they
follow like dogs.
They had plenty of chickens and when we asked for them more eggs were
produced, than we wanted.
They have a few ponies and cattle. Tom bargained with our Interpreter
for a cow while we were in the village.
The men wear the usual breech clout, a calico shirt ornamented with
bright strips of ribbon, and a small shawl of bright colors folded the width
of the hand and wrapped around the head like a turban. The legs and feet
are usually bare, but on special occasions they wear both moccassins [sic]
and leggins of buckskin, and in addition, a light hunting coat of bright colors,
ornamented with strips of ribbon or cloth of bright flashy colors.
The women wear short jackets, and skirts made of calico. I saw none
with covering on the feet. Cheap beads, large and small, and all colors, are
piled up in enormous, fagging quantities, about their necks. The hair of the
old women is done up in a conical shaped knob on the back of the head, whilst
the young women wear theirs long and flowing,13 with bang in front.
Small children about camp don't wear anything.
They had in this village dozens of deerskins and buckskins, and a few
otter pelts, but Chipco complained that game was getting scarce.
I told Chipco, that the Government had heard he was poor, that game was
getting scarce, and his crops had failed, and that I had been sent to see what
help he needed, in the way of raising corn &c, and if he was ready to have his
children educated, so that they could get along better in company with the
whites, who were crowding down into his country. He replied that they did
not want to hear any "Washington talk," that while it was true game was get-
ting scarce, their wants were all supplied & they needed no education or other
help. I suggested that help in the way of plows, hoes &c, might be acceptable,
but he said, no, they wanted to be let alone. I told him of the conference at
Ft Myers and invited him to be there but he declined saying he was old and
his pony lame. I suggested he had better send a delegate, that I would pro-
vide food &c, but he said, no, none of them cared to go.
They parried direct attempts to find out their numbers, but by various de-
vices, and aided by the acquaintance of the guide and interpreter, we found
this village to number twenty six, in all, one third of whom were absent. Six
of these were warriors, and three others (one man and two women) were
negroes, held as property. As late as last year, Chipco offered to sell ne-
groes, at $800.00 each, in Fort Meade.
While in the village I overhead Tom ask my interpreter, "Good whiskey
Bartow?", the Interpreter informed him that the best whiskey was to be found
at Fort Meade. These were the only english words I heard any of the Indians
use, while in the camp, though I had been told that both Chipco and Tom
could speak some english.
The men women and children were well built, strong, healthy, and jolly.
Tom and his son were models of erect and graceful carriage, strength, and
In this village we saw only the old Kentucky rifle, with bows and arrows,
as weapons, but were told that in the other villages they had a few breech
loading arms, and revolvers. Men women and children came together to handle
and comment on my self acting Colts revolver.
I invited Tom to give us a specimen of his skill with the bow and arrow.
The bow was nearly six feet and the arrow nearly four in length, and without
feathers, but having a pointed cone shaped cap of iron at the butt [i.e., distal]
end. He asked what to shoot at, and a large pine tree was indicated, farther
than I supposed he could send the arrow. He shot and struck the tree. The
trajectory was equal to the height of the tree, and the arrow struck about as
high as a man's head. I stepped the distance and found it quite one hundred
and ninety (190) yards.14 I removed the arrow with difficulty.
We remained two nights and a day, and as we were leaving, Chipco asked
what we came for. I repeated in substance my former statements, and that I
should report just what I had seen, and what he had said. He replied he had
money to buy what he wanted and needed nothing from "Washington."
I distributed among them a small quantity of sugar, canned stuffs, crack-
ers, tobacco &c which I had brought along for that purpose, which they gladly
accepted, as a return for their hospitality.
We returned to Ft Meade, and proceeded at once overland to Ft Myers
where we arrived July 6th. The messengers to Fort Center and the Big
Cypress, had performed their duty, and reported that both villages would send
in their best men. A party of four arrived on the 7th and eleven more on the
9th. Only seven of the whole number were men and all were from the Big
Cypress. Six of the seven men shook hands with me distantly, and answered
a few questions I asked, when they first arrived. Old Jumper15 refused to
shake hands or to have anything to say. I waited until the llth of July, when
hearing nothing further from the Fort Center party I desired those who had
arrived to meet and confer with me about the object of my visit. They sent
word they had nothing to say and did not want to hear "Washington talk,"
as they called it. Their good friend Capt. F. A. Hendry reasoned with them
but it was of no avail.
Three of these men, Doctor,16 Motloe,17and Jumper, are ouite old and
esteemed among the most important in the tribe. All of them were noted in
the War of 1835 to 42. All refused to accept both food and tobacco, which I
had arranged to supply them with on their arrival. Said, they could buy what
They afterwards said if the Fort Center party came in and talked, they
would talk. Later I received a message from the Ft Center village that their
chief Tuscanugga had been bitten by a rattlesnake and they would not come
in, though they had received the message to come, with favor.
At this point being satisfied that any further attempts to deal with them
either by visiting their villages or otherwise would be additional sacrifice
of dignity, without material results, and that the information already obtained
would guide to about the only solution of the case, and as the Secretary
of the Interior had desired my early return, I concluded to end the effort, and
The testimony of all persons familiar in any way, with the Indians, was
sought and noted. From these sources much valuable information was derived.
W. R. Hollingsworth and Louis Lanier of Fort Meade, Capt F. A. Hendry
and J. J. Blunt of Ft Myers and T. J. Sparkman of Ft Ogden were particularly
interested and informed in regard to the Seminoles.
Four or five years back these Indians all lived in frail houses constructed
of palmetto leaves: the men busied themselves only with hunting disdaining
labor of any other kind, and the crops the women raised were not large. Now
the houses in all their villages are constructed as in Chipco's camp,18
and their fields, industry and general prosperity are quite up to his. Formerly
they could not be hired to help cattle men. Now some of them make fair
laborers in building pens and gathering cattle.
They generally have corn and sweet potatoes to sell, in their villages.
From careful inquiry I estimate their revenue to be annually,
From Buckskin, Skins and Pelts $3,000.00
From sale of Hogs & Cattle $2,000.00
From sale of produce, &c &c $1,000.00
It is evident that their game reliance must diminish yearly, and they be
driven to civilized resources.
The introduction of piazzas and windows into the construction of their
houses, and the building of a small rude mill to grind sugar cane (see Ap-
pendage (4)) [Fig. 4]19' are special signs of breaking away from savage life.
A few instances of desire for education have occurred among the boys,
but they are promptly suppressed by the old men. Recently a bright boy,
friendly to one of Capt Hendry's sons, was induced to remain at Fort Myers
several weeks and attend school, but was forced to give it up by the old
men.20' Responsible friends of the Indians, have proposed to take their
4gpw; 9 t,-?W,
Fig. 3. Corn crib.
Fig. 4. Sugarcane mill.
T_'~Clrf~\_~_ TZE~*LO~. ;
children and educate them, but they have always declined, even when the place
proposed was where they could see them often.
Whiskey is the great enemy of the Florida Indians, and will obstruct their
progressive civilization more than any other one thing, perhaps more than all
other obstacles combined. They trade in Tampa, Fort Meade, Bartow, Ft
Myers, Ft Ogden, Miami, and other places. With the exception of one from
each party, detailed to keep sober for the purpose of looking after the others,
the whole party always gets drunk. There is no exception, they always do.
Except to make a noise, they are not ugly when drunk nor do the citizens
apprehend any violent conduct. Liquor is sold to them without stint at all
trading points, and the value of their trade being some object a little legis-
lating on the superior quality of the whiskey at this or that place, occurs.
Their annual green corn dance, held when roasting ears come, usually turns
out a great drunken frolic.
On the occasion of the green corn dance they gather from all the villages,
at the point named, and a new chief is elected or the old one re-elected, laws
are made, and criminals who have been outlawed can re-establish themselves
by reaching the dance circle before being caught. Some years ago a jealous
woman killed the woman of whom she was jealous. She remained hid until the
green corn dance, when she reached the circle and was restored to her former
status. A warrior who had married a negro woman was outlawed, but reaching
the charmed council circle was rehabilitated in the tribe retaining the woman
still as his wife.21
I could hear of but one mixed blood, and he was a middle aged negro
The women are said to be virtuous. Of those who came in to Ft Myers
all seemed to understand the English indian patois, so common along the
Indian border everywhere, but they were reticent in speaking it themselves.
I was informed most of them could speak some english, a few quite plainly.
Cattle men complain that they steal and kill a good many cattle, and
very often are profligate enough to kill one for only a few pounds of the meat.
The cattle men claim a loss of one hundred and fifty to two hundred head
annually worth $1500.00 to $2000.00. There seems good reason to believe
they have killed and cured stolen beef and carried it through the everglades
to sell. They have been caught killing the cattle of their best friends. In a
very few cases they have paid for the cattle.
Like offenses are committed against the Indians. Within a few months
a man named Lightsey was charged by an Indian with having stolen sixteen
of his hogs. The Indian brought the men who helped cut them up, as proof.
At the time of my visit public opinion was so strong against Lightsey that he
was expected to pay for the hogs.
Another notable case was when an Indian named Streety Parker had
bought from a white man named Collier fifty cattle which proved to be stolen.
Parker had to give them up, and Collier was tried before the courts but
escaped punishment. No restitution was made and the friends of the Indians
wrote to the Governor of the State who replied that an Act of the legislature
was the only remedy, and there the case rests, with the Indians still indignant.
The squaws steal cooking utensils &c, at houses where they are permit-
ted to visit. While I was in Ft Myers one of the squaws was given her dinner
by a merchant's wife. The merchant's wife missed articles of stove furniture
and sent out to the Indian Camp where they were recovered from the squaw.
These evils will only pass away as the moral atmosphere improves.
I was unable to obtain an exact census of these people, and am satisfied
it is not an easy thing to accomplish. Their confidence must first be estab-
lished. The account of Chipco's village I believe to be correct. Mr. Blunt of
Ft Myers who has herded cattle south of the Caloosahatchee seven years,
gave me the names and number of each family between that river, and the Big
Cypress Swamp. Two other parties of like experience at different periods,
confirmed each other as to the names of family [sic], and the number in a
part of them, about Fort Center. I average those families whose numbers are
Two years ago an old Indian from Miami enumerated to Capt. Hendry
eighty persons old and young, as being the aggregate of that village. This
was confirmed to me by a recent resident of Miami. From these rather in-
definite sources we have--
At Fort Clinch Village, Chipco Chief 26
Center Tuscanugga 90
Shackleford Old Tiger Tail 76
Miami Young Tiger Tail 80
To these counts I add for possible oversight 20
Making a total of 292
I believe this to be rather more than the actual number.22
Coontie root, much like Arrow root in character, enters quite largely into
their food. A description of the method of preparation, by T. J. Sparkman of
Ft. Ogden, is appended, marked (5).
The Constitution of Florida provides for the representation of the Semi-
noles in both branches of its legislature, and paves the way for their citizen-
ship. (See Appendage marked (6).23 The Indians have often been urged to
accept of these privileges, but always decline.
They are brought to the attention of the State Legislature almost every
session, by propositions from the border members looking towards their ad-
vancement in civilization &c, but as yet no formal action has taken place.
All propositions I saw in examining several years' proceedings, looked to the
General Government for relief or re-imbursement.
In 1871 the Methodist Conference of Florida sent the Rev. W. E. Col-
lier,24 one of its members, as a missionary to the Seminoles. Though an
earnest man and one universally esteemed to be well qualified for the work,
he does not seem to have made much impression during the year he was con-
tinued on that duty. Want of funds compelled the discontinuance of the work
the succeeding year. Another member of the Conference was appointed to
the mission, at a later period, but died before assuming the work. Other
efforts made by Catholics, Baptists, and others have proven equally abortive.
It is probable that so long as the old Indians remain, who passed through
the war of 1835 to 42 and the later wars of 1852-, 56 & 57 (who are justly
suspicious of the United State Govt.) no great progress can be made in the
education and civilization of these people. Particularly whilst they contact
no greater restraints than now exist in regard to property and whiskey.
Their removal to the civilized portion of their tribe in the Indian Territory
would do more for their advancement than any other plan, but, except by some
unworthy trick, they could not be procured to go there. I very much doubt that
they could be gathered into one community in Florida. To reach them in their
present divided state and exercise any authority as Agent, would be an ex-
tremely difficult task, even should the Indians be willing to accept such
Their spirit of independence and self help should not be destroyed.
I would recommend that the Department begin the work of redeeming these
people from their savage state, by sending among them a responsible man as
teacher, having special reference to gathering their children into school.
That he be instructed for the present to visit and remain at least ten days in
each village, once every three months, gradually inculcating educational
ideas, instructing and encouraging them to enlarge their agricultural and
stock resources, and to advance whatever relates to their material or moral
prosperity. That he deprecate kindly and firmly their tendency to drink
whiskey and organize and grow a faction against it. He should counsel
them and protect justice in their intercourse with the whites. By these, and
other means, he will gain their good will and so their consent to let their
children attend school.
A detailed report after each visit would be advisable, and these after a
few visits would aid to direct a course.
A boarding school with manual labor features would be the only school
of real value, in which so far as possible the youth should reap tangible
rewards for their labor. Old Ft Brooke at Tampa is probably abandoned for
military uses, and would furnish an admirable place for such a school, ready
for immediate use. So long as they spend their gains for whiskey all other
material aid would be farcical, but the interests of humanity and good govern-
ment demand a strong and persistent effort to save them and their children
from the vagabondage toward which they are drifting.
An educated Seminole from the Indian Territory would be a valuable
assistant and possibly lead them to desire emigration.
The Teacher could in a few visits gain a correct census by name, ages
It would not conserve the good will of whites or Indians to institute
stringent legal measures against the whiskey traffic, at once.
Six or seven hundred dollars annually would be a sufficient salary for
the teacher and enable him to provide his own transit from village to village.
Three hundred dollars more would pay for an interpreter who would not be
needed after the first year.
The boarding and clothing of the children, pay of an assistant &c, would
come up for action when the work had reached that stage.
I have the honor to be
Your obedient servant
/s/ R. H. Pratt
1st Lt, 10" Cavy, Spl. Agt.
ENCLOSURE, SEMINOLE STARCH MAKING
Fort Ogden Fla.
July 8th, 1879
Capt. R. H. Pratt
According to promise I will ship you a box of coontie (I am not certain
about the orthography of this word) by the first boat going from here to Cedar
Keys. I cannot [tell] when that will be.
The coontie is an article of food among the Indians. The following is
their manner of preparing [it] from the best information that I can get:
Pare off all the hard outside
Grate the remainder very fine
Put it in a cloth, calico will do
Pour water over it, stir continually so that the water will carry all the
finer particles through the cloth. After all has passed through that will, let
the water settle, then pour it off carefully leaving the starch at the bottom.
Pour in more fresh water, stir, let it settle, and pour off again. Continue
thus washing it until the water is clear and the starch white.
Some say that the Indians after grating allow it to slightly ferment before
straining and washing it. The above is the best information I can give you at
If I can learn any thing more I will let you know. It is said to be very
poisonous unless properly prepared: the white people are afraid of it. The
plant is very abundant around Ft. Ogden. The Indians come in here every
winter and manufacture and carry off the starch. Sometimes as much as eight
or ten barrels, but it is hard to learn the process of manufacturing unless a
person would stay with them all the time. They are not disposed to be
communicative unless they want something.
If I can be of any further service to you, it will afford me pleasure.
/s/ T. J. Sparkman25
ENCLOSURE, FIRST SEMINOLE SCHOOLBOY
[The following fragment of a letter is included with Pratt's report in the
National Archives. The end, including the signature, is missing. Pratt's
endorsement on the back reads:]
Washn. Sept. 5th 1879
Respectfully referred to the Hon. Comr. of Indn. Affairs, as showing an
educational tendency among the So. Fla. Seminoles.
The writer, Capt. F. A. Hendry of Fort Myers, Florida, is a worthy true
friend of the Seminoles, and entitled to the confidence of the Department in
any matter connected with them.
/s/ R. H. Pratt
Lt. U. S. Army.
[The letter follows:]
Fort Myers Aug 10/79
Dear Capt Pratt
Your esteemed favor of 22 July to hand glad to hear of your safe arrival
I am pleased to acknowledge the receipt of Indian Comm report, I read
it with much interest. I am happy to state that little Billy Fewel (Tonapacho)
is now stopping [sic] with me & going to school, our school having commenced
since your departure.
Mrs H having surrendered [?] the point & is quite willing to have him as
her Guest. He has clothed himself in a decent suit of civilized clothing &
looks nicely. I hope to keep him, although I am sure he must take his wild
Indian Rambles he learns fast and attends promptly not missing an hour.
[The boy referred to was known also as Little Billie, Billie Conepatchie,
and Billy Koniphadjo. He was a Mikasuki of the Wind sib, born about 1860,
who died in 1926. His Indian name was konipha:ci:, and he was the father of
Josie Billie, Ingraham Billie, and Mrs. Charley Cypress, among living Semi-
nole. He was the first Seminole to attend school and served as MacCauley' s
main informant, guide, and interpreter (MacCauley, 1887: 476, 492-494, 527-
528, et passim).]
1. The following sources were used for the chronology of Pratt' s activities and
for his policies: Bakeless, 1943; Eastman, 1935; Pratt, 1879, 1880; the report re-
produced here, enclosures with it, and dated endorsements on the backs of these.
2. This additional material is derived from the literature where citations are
given; otherwise, from my own field work during 1950-53. My field work was sup-
ported by the Department of Anthropology and by the Peabody Museum of Yale Uni-
versity as part of their Caribbean Anthropological Program aided by funds from the
Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
3. Spencer F. Baird, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
4. Second Lt. Edward Thomas Brown, graduated from West Point in 1873 and
was stationed with the Fifth Artillery in St. Augustine, 1876-81 (Heitman, 1903,
Vol. 1, p. 250; Cullum, 1891, p. 213). He accompanied Clay MacCauley on his visit
to the Cat Fish Lake Seminole settlement in 1880 (MacCauley, 1887, pp. 489-91).
Some of the figures illustrating MacCauley's ethnographic account may be based on
sketches by Brown.
5. This was the Cat Fish Lake settlement mentioned by MacCauley (1887,
pp. 477-78 et passim).
6. MacCauley's (1887, pp. 477-78) Fish Eating Creek settlement also occupied
by Creek-speaking Seminole.
7. MacCauley's (1887, pp. 477-78) Big Cypress settlement, inhabited by
8. MacCauley's (1887, pp. 477-78) Miami River settlement, also Mikasuki.
Pratt does not mention a fifth settlement given by MacCauley, the small group of
Creek-speaking Seminole living on Cow Creek.
9. All four of the important men mentioned in this paragraph are also mentioned
in other sources, although unfortunately only one of them can be tentatively identified
with an individual in my genealogies and with other data collected from modern in-
formants. "Chipco" is briefly mentioned by MacCauley (1887, pp. 504, 508), as
"Tcup-ko," in connection with the Cat Fish Lake settlement. He is said to have
been an "uncle" of the well-known "Tallahassee" (Willson, 1896, p. 55). "Chipco"
died between Pratt's visit and 1881 (Le Baron [1884, p. 785; 18821 mentions him as
recently deceased in 1881).
(The phonemic orthography employed here for Mikasuki names is outlined
in a non-technical note in Sturtevant, 1953, p. 66, which is reprinted in
the Florida Anthropologist, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 48, 1955. The symbols used
have very approximately the following values: consonants as in English,
except c=ch, L=voiceless 1, kk=double length k; vowels as in Italian or
Spanish; colon (:) indicates double length of preceding vowel; acute
accent indicates high pitch; circumflex accent indicates falling pitch;
tilde (~) indicates vowel nasalization.)
"Tuscanugga" is evidently the "TGs-te-nGg-ge" mentioned as "head chief" by
MacCauley (1887, pp. 491, 509), who says he lived at Fish Eating Creek. Ober (1876,
p. 179) heard of him in the same region in 1872. Old Tigertail is frequently men-
tioned in the 1870's (Hawkes, 1939, p. 113-in 1870; Ober, 1876, p. 179-in 1872;
Townshend, 1875, p. 241-in 1874). He died as a very old man in 1881 (Inde, 1926).
The somewhat dubious claim has been advanced that he was the same as the
"Thlocklo-Tustenuggee, or Tiger-Tail," said to have been captured in 1842 and
usually reported as dying soon thereafter in New Orleans (Williams, 1925). Young
Tigertail is mentioned as the son of Old Tigertail by Hawkes (1939, p. 113) and
Townshend (1875, p. 241), as well as by Pratt. According to Henshall (1884, p.
159), the settlement near the present town of Davie, southwest of Fort Lauderdale,
was "governed" by "Little Tiger...the son of old 'Tiger-tail,'" and MacCauley
(1887, p. 507) refers to "Little Tiger, a rather important personage" at the Miami
River settlement. There is a photograph of "Little Tiger," taken in 1878, in the
W. W. Bussy Collection of the Palm Beach Historical Society, which was identified
by elderly living Seminole as being of a Mikasuki man of that name, whose Indian
name was fakkilastiha:ci:. But Little Tiger, according to modern informants, was
the son of Turkey Tiger, osanhitki:.
10. F. A. Hendry is remembered as a friend by a few old Seminole of today.
11. This settlement is briefly described by J. F. Le Baron (1884, p. 785), who
visited it in 1881.
12. The corn crib shown here (Fig. 3) was an unusual form. Modern informants
described corn cribs as boxes about 5 ft. square and 2.5 ft. deep, on raised plat-
forms, made either from boards of split cypress logs or in a crib form of knotched
split cabbage-palm logs. Henshall (1884, p. 162) saw in 1882 at the settlement
near the present town of Davie "store-houses [whichlare A-shaped and are closely
thatched all around, with a door in one end." For the two houses, see note 18
13. While changes in the style of women's hairdress have been continuous,
I doubt the statement that young women customarily wore their hair loose in 1879.
Informants say that before about 1930, only recently widowed women wore their
hair loose, and the only illustration I know showing such a hairdo before this time
is of a woman in widow's dress. There are only two statements in the literature
which perhaps conflict with this: Ober (1876, p. 189) says of girls' hair at a Creek
Seminole village in 1872, that it was "long, black, and abundant"; according to
Davidson (1889, p. 121), "the old women tie up the hair in a knot on the back of
the head, while the spinsters wear it loose, banged, and, on rare occasions, braided."
14. Saxton T. Pope, shooting aboriginal bows for distance alone, tested sixteen
American-Indian bows with the same two feathered arrows, 25 and 29 in. long, draw-
ing the bows from 20 to 28 in. Under these conditions (not strictly comparable with
Pratt's observations), only two bows, a Yaqui and a Yana one, shot better than 190
yds.; these two made casts of 210 and 205 yds. respectively (Pope, 1923, pp. 334-43).
15. Also known as Old John Jumper, a Mikasuki of the Otter sib, whose Indian
name was nihaLfkkoha:ct:. He is mentioned in Marchman (1947, p. 35) as seen on
the New River in 1892. There is a photograph of him and his family in the Bureau of
American Ethnology (negative, No. 1178-m-6).
16. This was undoubtedly Old Doctor, hotalkyaholi:, a Mikasuki medicine man
of the Wind sib, who died in 1913.
17. Old (Billy) Motlow, hopa:yi:mi:LT:, a Mikasuki medicine man of the Wind
sib, mentioned by MacCauley (1887, p. 493-"Mat-te-lo"), Marchman (1947, p. 35-
"Omathla"), and Church (1949, p. 40-"Matlo"). An excellent photograph of the
old man, taken about 1892, is reproduced by Munroe and Gilpin (1930) and by Wil-
loughby (1898, facing p. 32).
18. This is an error; compare MacCauley's descriptions and illustrations (1887,
pp, 499-503). Occasional shingled roofs on ordinary Seminole houses, such as shown
by Pratt (Fig. 1), are known-there is a photograph of such a one in the Harvard Pea-
body Museum, taken by Alanson Skinner in the Everglades in 1910. Frame houses of
various sorts, comparable to Chipco's house (Fig. 2), have been built occasionally
for a long time, but the open-sided Seminole house has repeatedly proven better
adapted to the South Florida climate and the available raw materials. In 1950-53,
there were only two Seminole-built board-walled houses; all the other occupied
houses, except for a few small cottages built by the Indian Service, were the ordi-
nary open-sided Seminole dwellings.
19. This illustration is similar to one in MacCauley (1887, p. 511) but agrees
better than that one with informants' descriptions of Seminole-made cane mills as
being supported by two upright posts (rather than the four shown by MacCauley) and
with wedges to adjust the space between the crushing cylinders (seen here above and
below the left-hand cylinder; not shown by MacCauley).
20. See the letter from Hendry reproduced below.
21. This custom is also mentioned on hearsay evidence by Le Baron for the
Seminole of 1881 (Le Baron, 1882; quoted in Gatschet, 1884, p. 73), by John Howard
Payne for the Tukabahchee Creek of 1835 (Payne, 1932, p. 178), and by Speck for the
Yuchi (Speck, 1909, p. 73). However, it was denied as a Seminole custom by my
best modern informant.. I would disregard Pratt's and Le Baron' s evidence as
secondary at best, were it not for Payne's and Speck' s data.
22. These figures may be compared with MacCauley's (1887, p. 478) estimate
1. Cat Fish Lake (Fort Clinch Village): 28
2. Fish Eating Creek (Fort Center Village) : 32
3. Big Cypress (Fort Shackleford Village): 73
4. Miami River (Miami Village) : 63
5. Cow Creek (unknown to Pratt): 12
MacCauley's total may be a bit too low, but Pratt's estimate of 90 for Fort Center
is very much too high, even if it be compared with the combined total of MacCauley's
Fish Eating Creek and Cow Creek, since it makes the Creek-speaking band contain
43 per cent of the total population. MacCauley's figures give the Creek Seminole
35 per cent, and in 1952 they amounted to about 36 per cent of the total Seminole
23. This appendage, omitted here (but printed in Wilson, 1888, p. 15), consists
of Article 16, Sections 7 and 8, of the constitution of 1868. Seminole members of
the Legislature were never elected, and the provision was dropped in the constitution
of 1885 (Nash, 1931, p. 42).
24. One of the enclosures in Pratt's report (not reproduced here or in Wilson,
1888) is a short letter from this man, dated Tampa, Aug. 27, 1879, applying for the
position of Seminole agent. Pratt's endorsement describes William E. Collier as
"quite an old man,...held in high esteem in South Florida."
25. This description of the preparation of starch from Zamia may be compared
with the more detailed one given by MacCauley (1887, pp. 513-15), who observed
the process at Horse Creek, near Ft. Ogden. The most interesting difference is
Sparkman's mention of the grating of the root-this is the method given by informants
and by all other accounts, whereas MacCauley claims that the roots were pulped
with mortar and pestle. Both accounts refer to Creek Seminole; the Big Cypress and
Miami bands made kunti starch in the Miami region. This letter from Sparkman is
printed in Wilson, 1888. Also included in Pratt's report (but not given in Wilson,
1888, nor here reproduced) are three letters from Sparkman to Pratt, dated July 8,
July 20, and undated, applying for the position of Seminole agent and outlining his
ideas on what government policy towards the Seminole should be.
1872. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the
Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1872. (Department of the
Interior edition.) Government Printing Office. Washington.
1875. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the
Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1875. (Department of the
Interior edition.) Government Printing Office. Washington.
1887. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the
Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1887. (Department of the
Interior edition.) Government Printing Office. Washington.
1943. "Pratt, Richard Henry." In Dictionary of American Biography,
Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, editors, Vol. 15, pp. 175-76.
Scribner's. New York.
1949. "A Dash through the Everglades." Tequesta, No. 9, pp. 15-41.
Coe, Charles H.
1898. Red Patriots: The Story of the Seminoles. Editor Publishing Co.
Cullum, George W.
1891. Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., from its Establishment,
in 1802, to 1890, with the Early History of the United States
Military Academy. 3rd ed., Vol. 3, Houghton Mifflin. Boston and
Davidson, James Wood
1889. The Florida of To-day; A Guide for Tourists and Settlers.
Appleton. New York.
Eastman, Elaine Goodale
1935. Pratt, the Red Man's Moses. University of Oklahoma Press.
Gatschet, Albert S.
1884. "A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians, with a Linguistic,
Historic and Ethnographic Introduction. Volume I." Brinton's
Library of Aboriginal American Literature, No. 4. Philadelphia.
Hawkes, J. M.
1939. "The East Coast in 1870." Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol.
18, No. 2, pp. 106-14. Tallahassee. (Reprinted from the same
author's The Florida Gazetteer, New Orleans, 1871.)
Heitman, Francis B.
1903. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army,
from its Organization, September 29, 1879, to March 2, 1903.
2 vols. (57th Cong., 2nd sess.;House Document No. 446 [Serial
Henshall, James A.
1884. Camping and Cruising in Florida. Clarke. Cincinnati.
1926. "Old Tiger-Tail Dead." Florida Historical Society Quarterly,
Vol. 4, No. 4, pp. 192-94. (Reprinted from the Tallahassee
Floridian of Oct. 25, 1881.)
Le Baron, J. Francis
1882. (Letter to S. F. Baird, with brief Seminole vocabulary and notes
on Seminole customs.) Bureau of American Ethnology MS, No.
1884. Prehistoric Remains in Florida." Annual Report of the...Smith-
sonian Institution...for the Year 1882, pp. 771-90. Washington.
1887. "The Seminole Indians of Florida." Fifth Annual Report of the
Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 469-531. Washington.
Marchman, Watt P., editor
1947. "The Ingraham Everglades Exploring Expedition, 1892."
Tequesta, No. 7, pp. 3-43. Coral Gables.
Munroe, Ralph Middleton, and Vincent Gilpin
1930. The Commodore's Story. Washburn.
1931. Survey of the Seminole India is of Florida. (71st Cong., 3rd sess.;
Senate Document No. 314 [Serial 9347].) Washington.
Ober, Frederick A.
1875. "Ten Days with the Seminoles." Appletons' Journal of Literature,
Science, and Art, Vol. 14, Nos. 332 and 333, pp. 142-44, 171-73.
[Ober, Frederick A.] "Fred Beverly"
1876. "Among the Seminoles." In Camp Life in Florida; A Handbook for
Sportsmen and Settlers, Charles Hallock, editor, pp. 179-93.
Forest and Stream. New York.
Payne, John Howard
1932. "The Green Corn Dance." Chronicles of Oklahoma, edited by
John R. Swanton, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 170-95. Oklahoma City.
Pope, Saxton T.
1923. "A Study of Bows and Arrows." University of California Publica-
tions in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 13, No. 9,
pp. 329-414. Berkeley.
Pratt, Richard Henry
1879. "Catalogue of Casts Taken by Clark Mills, Esq., of the Heads
of Sixty-Four Indian Prisoners of Various Western Tribes, and
Held at Fort Marion, Saint Augustine, Fla., in Charge of Capt.
R. H. Pratt, U. S. A." Proceedings of the U. S. National Museum,
1878, Vol. 1, pp. 201-4. Washington.
1880. (Annual report on "Training School for Youth, Carlisle Barracks.")
In Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the
Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1880 (Department of the
Interior edition), pp. 178-81. Government Printing Office.
Speck, Frank G.
1909. "Ethnology of the Yuchi." University of Pennsylvania, Anthro-
pological Publications of the University Museum, Vol. 1, No. 1.
Sturtevant, William C.
1953. "Chakaika and the 'Spanish Indians': Documentary Sources Com-
pared with Seminole Tradition." Tequesta, No. 13, pp. 35-73.
Townshend, F. Trench
1875. Wild Life in Florida, with a Visit to Cuba. Hurst and Blackett.
Williams, Isabella M.
1925. The Truth Regarding 'Tiger-Tail.' Florida Historical Society
Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 68-75.
Willoughby, Hugh L.
1898. Across the Everglades: A Canoe Journey of Exploration. Lippin-
Willson, Minnie Moore-
1896. The Seminoles of Florida. American Printing House. Philadelphia.
Wilson, A. M.
1888. Reports on his Florida Seminole investigations, with associated
documents. (50th Cong., 1st sess.; Senate Executive Document
No. 139 [Serial 25131.) Washington.
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT
PREPARATION OF RUBBER BY THE FLORIDA SEMINOLE
Wilfred T. NeIll
Many West Indian plants grow also in South Florida. Among them are the
strangler-figs, genus Ficus. Two species occur naturally in the state. Ficus
area ranges from the Indian River and Tampa Bay southward through the
Florida Keys; it is also found in the Bahamas. Ficus brevifolia ranges from
Biscayne Bay and the Everglades Keys southward to Key West, occurring
likewise in Cuba and the Bahamas (Sargent, 1933). Both of these trees yield
latex, a milky fluid which upon coagulation produces rubber. Various Old
World Ficus have also been introduced into Florida. Among them is the
Asiatic Ficus elastica, or India-rubber tree. At one time this plant was the
principal source of commercial rubber, until superseded by ParA rubber, Hevea
brasiliensis. Ficus elastica is now common in the southern portion of the
state (Barrett, 1951). The two native Ficus, and several imported ones, are
generally called strangler-figs because they envelop the trunks and branches
of other trees. They are also known as rubber trees.
The Seminole Indians of Florida prepare rubber from the milky juice of
strangler-figs. The bark of the tree is slashed several times with a knife, and
the latex, which flows immediately, is gathered in a tin cup or a large spoon.
The container is then held over a fire. The latex first boils and eventually
coagulates, turning dark in the process. It also becomes auite hard. Next it
is removed from the container and chewed vigorously. It soon softens, de-
veloping the "springy" consistency associated with rubber.
The mass of rubber is used by the Indians for chewing-gum. When first
chewed, the gum has a smoky flavor, as might be expected. Thereafter, it is
nearly tasteless (at least to my palate), or perhaps faintly sweet. Often a
Seminole, tired of chewing, will stick a mass of this gum onto a corner post
of his hut. Later he may recover the quid and resume chewing.
The ancestors of the Seminole came largely from Georgia, South Carolina,
and Alabama. Within that area no native tree yields an appreciable amount of
latex, to the best of my knowledge. (A small amount of this substance is con-
tained in mulberry twigs and in the stems of certain herbs, notably milkweeds.)
There seems to be no reference in the literature to the aboriginal use of latex
in that region.
Some botanists have employed the term latex for a wide variety of plant
juices. As used herein, the word refers only to a milky substance that co-
agulates into rubber; it does not refer to the clear gums, balsams, and resins.
When present at all, latex flows copiously and immediately. At first it is
bitter or astringent, and perhaps even somewhat toxic. It becomes palatable
only after roasting and then elastic only after chewing. It retains its elas-
ticity for a long while. If not chewed into pliability, it hardens into a black-
ish, putty-like mass.
In contrast, the other gums and balsams of the Southeast do not flow
copiously or immediately; they exude very slowly and in relatively small
quantity, like resin from a blazed pine. They are palatable from the first,
if palatable at all, and require no processing. They remain pliable only while
being chewed, and rapidly harden upon exposure to air. Heating merely
hastens dessication. When dried, they become crystalline or flaky in texture.
Thus it seems valid, ethnologically, to distinguish between rubber prepara-
tion and the mere utilization of raw gums. No doubt the latter was practiced
by the ancestors of the Seminole in the Georgia-Carolina region. Probably
the Seminole learned to prepare rubber, as defined here, after they reached
The Seminole are keen observers of the local flora and fauna. They must
have been equally keen in earlier times when woodcraft played a vital part in
their lives. Their plant and animal nomenclature is far superior to that of
rural whites in the same area. The Indians often recognize small differences
between closely related species and reflect these differences in their termi-
When the Seminole reached South Florida, they encountered many plants
and animals unfamiliar to them. From various sources they acquired names for
these organisms. Most of the names are descriptive phrases and do not appear
to be derived from some other language. The Muskogee-speaking Seminole
call the strangler-fig hil6kha:ga: (in the orthography of Sturtevant, 1953, p. 66:
see Sturtevant summary above, p. 18). This is derived from hil6wa, plus a
suffix that means "yielding" or "producing." Hildwa now signifies "chewing-
gum," either the white man's variety or that prepared from Ficus latex. How-
ever, hil6wa is nearly identical with the Creek word for resin of the sweetgum
tree. Evidently the name has been transferred from one plant to another. The
Mikasuki-speaking Seminole call the strangler-fig hdcolo:bt:. They also apply
this name to Ficus rubber and to the white man's chewing-gum, but not to any
other plant or plant product. Perhaps the word hdcolo:bI:, like hil6wa, origi-
nally designated some kind of gum now forgotten.
A strangler-fig is a floral oddity; it has a buttressed base, serpentine
aerial roots that enfold other trees, dangling clusters of rootlets, glossy
leaves, and reddish, fig-like fruit. The plant must have attracted the notice
of the Seminole as soon as they came in contact with it. It is interesting
that the Seminole names should refer, not to any conspicuous external feature
of the plant, but to its capacities for the production of chewing-gum. These
capacities are not evident; Ficus latex becomes palatable only after fairly
elaborate processing, as mentioned previously. This suggests that the tree
and its rather specialized use were brought to the Seminole's attention at the
One can but speculate as to how knowledge of rubber preparation reached
the Seminole. Some workers have felt that Antillean culture traits, such as
the production of Zamia starch, reached South Florida in prehistoric times and
were transferred from the Calusa to the Seminole. However, other workers
have strongly opposed this view. One scrap of evidence suggests that the
Calusa at least made use of Ficus latex..
Cushing (1896) recovered Indian artifacts from mangrove swamps on "Key
Marco"; i.e., Marco Island, Collier County, Florida. These included items of
wood, fiber, bark, reed, and other perishable materials. The artifacts are now
attributed to the protohistoric or late prehistoric Calusa. Among them were
composite fish-hooks, the barbs of which were attached with "sinew and
black rubber-gum cement"; various tools, the lashings of which were coated
with "rubber-gum, asphaltum, or a combination of rosin and beeswax and
rubber"; sharks' teeth "cemented with black gum" to wooden handles; a
club-like atlatl set with sharks' teeth, the lashings "reinforced with abun-
dant black rubber-gum"; a painted shell, the pigment being "a quite per-
manent, gummy substance (probably rubber)"; one or more boxes held together
with sinew and a "black gum"; a wooden deer head with turtle-shell eyes,
the latter secured by "combined bees-wax and rubber-gum cement"; and a
pottery vessel which contained "a thick mass of black rubber gum."
Cushing may have been in error regarding beeswax, for this substance
is produced by an introduced bee and not by native ones; the presence of
asphaltum is also dubious. However, he was probably correct in identifying
the blackish gum as rubber. Ficus aurea occurs naturally in the Marco area;
and in fact Cushing saw large rubber trees on Josselyn's Key, near Marco.
Of course, Cushing's identification cannot be accepted unconditionally.
Knowledge of rubber could have reached the Seminole without having
involved the earlier inhabitants of Florida. For example, during the rubber
"boom" of the nineteenth century, various latex-producing trees were spread
widely throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, along
with the techniques of rubber preparation. Therefore the discussion must end
on an inconclusive note.
Barrett, M. F.
1951. "Ficus in Florida III. Asiatic Species." American Midland
Naturalist, Vol. 45, pp. 118-83. Notre Dame, Indiana.
Cushing, F. H.
1896. "Exploration of Ancient Key Dwellers' Remains on the Gulf
Coast of Florida." Proceedings of the American Philosophical
Society, Vol. 35, pp. 329-432. Philadelphia.
Sargent, C. S.
1933. Manual of the Trees of North America. Third edition. Cambridge.
Sturtevant, W. C.
1953. "Chakaika and the 'Spanish Indians.'" Tequesta, No. 13, pp.
ROSS ALLEN REPTILE INSTITUTE
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CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ISSUE
William C. Sturtevant is Instructor in the Department of Anthropology
and Assistant Curator of Anthropology in the Peabody Museum, Yale Uni-
versity, New Haven, Conn. Readers of The Florida Anthropologist will
recall his article of May, 1954, on Seminole medicine bundles and busks.
He has made three field trips to the Mikasuki Seminole.
Wilfred T. Neill, immediate past president of our Society, is also well
known for his writings on the Seminole and has many friends among them.
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