UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Robert "Bob" Mitchell
Interviewer: Harry Kersey
K:I am Dr. Harry Kersey. Today I am interviewing Mr. Robert Mitchell of Orlando,
Florida, concerning the Indian lifestyle in Florida during the 1930s and his
close association with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes.
Bob, I wish what we could talk today about any of the things that you recall that
were going on among the Indians in the 1930s. I know you and Stanley
Hansen and the others were seriously interested in reorganizing the
Seminole Indian Association, and I know Stanley was writing--putting out
newsletters and so forth. Apparently, the situation was pretty desperate for
the Indians during the Depression years. The government agency reports [of
the Seminole agency at Dania] say, "We could not do anything for them
because we could not get them into the Hollywood reservation." Or, "We
could not reach them because they were so scattered." I would just like to
get your recollections on that.
M:Well, I do not think any of them were hungry. I think that in their country they
had plenty of game, and they lived off the land. I do not remember that any
of them were living in houses as we have [now] at that time. [They were]
scattered throughout the Everglades. [There were] Miccosukee down in the
sawgrass. They used to be called the Big Cypress Indians because so many
of them lived in the Big Cypress. I thought they got along very well--those
that lived off the land.
K:I know a lot of the government agency writings said that they were getting a lot
of complaints by white friends of the Indians on the western side of the state.
While they did not come right out and say so, apparently there was a lot of
dissatisfaction that the government was not doing enough for them.
M:Well, I think that is true. I do not think they did do enough for them. I
remember going in the Big Cypress, and they [the government] had already
bought that land. And they had hundreds of bales of wire stacked up,
completely rusted out.
K:Where the Big Cypress Reservation is now?
M:Where the Big Cypress is now, yes--southeast Hendry County. No, I do not
think the government did anything for them. It was a job for the people that
had it. I remember Captain Spencer.
K:This was Lucian A. Spencer?
M:Yes. One of the Indians had some trouble with another Indian, and he went all
the way over to Miami to ask Captain Spencer what to do about it. He
waited and waited. The old man was writing some letters, and he really did
not want to be bothered with it, I guess. He said: "I do not know. Cut his
guts out. Do not bother me. I am busy." That is the story that I got.
M:So the Indian promptly went back, waylaid the guy, and did just that. A white
man picked him up and stuck his guts back in and put a sack around him,
but he died before they could get him [to a doctor]. But they were Indians.
It was a job for the people that worked with them more than anything else. Except
Stanley Hansen. Stanley Hansen had a real affection for them. So did the
Stranahans. The Stranahans did all they could for them.
K:Now, Stanley, I know, had known them all his life. He worked with them and
spoke the language. Did he not spend some time at Big Cypress as an agent
running the agency there?
M:Yes, he did. I think he got a very raw deal. They could not get it started, so they
got Stanley to go down there and start it. None of the Indians would come in
except those that lived there. Cuffney Tiger, and Wilson Cypress, Whitney
Cypress? One or two of the others lived on the Big Cypress there.
K:Did Josie live there at that time?
M:No, Josie lived south of the [Tamiami] Trail. They were starting in to do the work
on the Big Cypress, and I have some photos of a group of Indians putting in
the first road in there. They got Stanley to go in there, I think because they
thought he could get the Indians in, which he did. As soon as he got things
rolling good, they kicked him out and put another man in.
K:Do you recall who was the agent at that time? Was it still Spencer or was it
[Glenn]? It must have been Glenn by then.
M:I do not know that it was Glenn. I have forgotten who it was. But he was a
friend of somebody that had enough drag in Washington to get him put in.
And, of course, as soon as Stanley left, the Indians all started leaving. Oh,
yes. But those were strange days.
K:Do you recall ever seeing any of the Indians working on road crews? You say
you have pictures of them working and literally putting in the road. So in
that period they were doing that kind of work as opposed to just hunting
and trapping and so forth.
M:They did that simply because Stanley told them. He said: "They are going to do
this work, and if you do not do it, they are going to get white men to do it. It
is going to be your reservation whether you like it or not. You might just as
well earn that money. You might better." At one time, there were thirty-two
camps scattered around in that immediate area.
K:So he really, more or less, talked them into starting to work rather than their
coming [to him] and seeking work.
M:No. They were of a disposition to think very little of the white race. I remember
a time when someone gave one of the Indians--in real cold weather--a coat,
and in disdain he threw it in the swamp. He would not wear it. A white
man's coat--he did not want any part of it.
K:[The Indians were] still very independent.
M:Highly so. You know, under [Florida] Governor [Fred] Cone [1937-1941], [they
called a meeting]. Why they did it, I do not know. My guess is [it was] a
political gag. Down in Everglades City, close to Everglades City, they got
Stanley to get all the Indians to come in there. They were going to have a big
powwow. And they had furnished all the beef. Well, that is one way to get
Indians together, is to have a big feast. So they built houses, and they had
quite a time.
Well, first one commissioner after another told what they wanted to do for the
Indians. Commissioner Rhodes said they would be glad to build roads
eventually in there for them and help them. The commissioner of agriculture
would tell them how to farm the islands, and nobody said anything.
Finally came Ingraham's time to speak. Ingraham could not speak. I think Buffalo
was his interpreter. I am not sure. Buffalo usually did, as I recall. At any
rate, he got up and thanked them very much. He said they had a good time.
There was plenty of food, and they liked that. There was one thing they
could do that they would all appreciate it: Go home and leave them alone.
That was quite a hush on the audience after that was said. [laughter]
K:Were you down at that meeting in about 1936, I think it was, when [Florida]
Governor [David] Scholtz [1933-1937] came down? There is a big marker on
the side of the road. That must have been after the one you were talking
about. But Scholtz was down there also.
M:I cannot remember.
K:I think that is where William McKinley Osceola met with the governor. But I
think the only thing that came out of that one was the free automobile tags.
[laughter] But they evidently had one or two of those meetings along the
Trail in the 1930s, trying to do something. But nothing seems to have come
out of it of any substance.
M:They had a few superintendents that were not worth a darn. I remember Dwight
Gardin. The Indians did not like him for one thing. And Sam Tommie wrote
me a letter and sent word to me. He wanted me to meet with the Indians in
Immokalee. Well, I knew if I did, Gardin would find out about it and would
want to know what was going on. So I suggested a meeting in east Fort
Myers. The Seminoles and the Miccosukees all went. Everybody was there.
I could not find out before I went what the meeting was for, so when I got there, I
asked flat out. I asked, "Now, why did you get me down here?" They
wanted to know if I would take the job of superintendent for them if they
would get rid of the one they had. Now, how they were going to get rid of
him, I do not know. But I asked them. I said: "Why don't you ask Stanley
Hansen? He has worked for you much longer than I have. He could do a
much better job for you than I could. Why don't you ask him?" Sam got up
and said, "Well ..." This Indian--I am trying to think of his name--had
bought a car, and he got drunk and drove it into a ditch. He was arrested
and put in jail down in Everglades City. Well, he sent word to Stanley to go
down there, that he wanted to see him. So Stanley went down. The Indian
wanted Stanley to get him out of jail. Stanley would not do it. He said, "No.
If you drive a white man's car on a white man's road and you get in trouble,
you stay in jail." And that settled it. That was the reason that they asked for
me instead of Stanley. I said: "No, I could not do it. In the first place, I could
not get the appointment. It has to be a government appointment." But it will
give you a little insight into the way they think sometimes.
K:Well, that is interesting because Hansen had been so close to them for so long.
M:He had done everything under the sun for them you can imagine.
K:I have read many, many things that he has written as head of the Seminole Indian
Association. Apparently, he felt, [along with] you and others in the 1930s,
that that association had to be reorganized, rejuvenated. I have read a lot of
the fliers from 1933.
M:It did. It did. It had sort of gone--I do not want to say-to pot, but many of the
people that had formerly belonged to it had died. It had sort of run down,
but it was rejuvenated and amounted to something later.
K:I noticed in one of the postcards that I have that Stanley had sent out that
Hamilton Holt, the president of Rollins [College], was going to be the
honorary president or something like that. Did Dr. Holt, to your recollection,
take any real active role in the organization, or was he more a figurehead?
M:No, not that I ever heard of, no.
K:Did you know him? Did you know Holt?
M:Oh, yes. I went to Rollins.
K:I knew you went; I just did not know the time frame when he was there. But
apparently he had a lot of interest in it, as did Dr. [Alfred J. "Freddy"]
Hannah up there.
M:Freddy [Hannah] had some, although not the interest that Stanley had.
K:Oh, no. I was of the impression that they probably were using Holt's name to add
prestige to the [organization].
M:I think that is probably most likely true.
K:Now, who was the other professor that you had mentioned earlier from Rollins?
K:Dr. Grover, yes. How did he fit into the scene?
M:I cannot exactly remember how he fitted in. I do not think he was ever president
of the association, was he?
K:I do not know. I would have to look. But I was just thinking, do you recall him
doing anything actively, like with you or Stanley?
M:Well, he wanted to go into the Everglades, and this young woman-I think she
graduated from Rollins; her mother lives over in the park--wanted to go
down. She wanted to write a book or something. Her mother was a--I
cannot think of the name for it--a speech specialist.
K:A linguist? Was she in linguistics?
M:Not so much that as it was speech therapy. She taught one of the president's
wives. I am trying to think who it was who worked with her all the time in
Washington. Maxie was a very nice person. She went down, and I guess she
got material enough for a book.
K:What was her last name?
M:[It was] von Hess.
K:I will have to look for that. That does not ring a bell with me at this point.
M:Some funny things happened, though. There were not many roads. We passed
an Indian in the woods--we were in Stanley's old car--and he stopped. He
talked to her, asking if she wanted a ride. Well, she did. She had a pig on a
string, and she wanted a ride.
K:A pig on a string?
M:Yes. A pet, you know. They all have pets, you know. Pigs from mostly around
the camp. They were tame and all. She got in the back seat of the car, and
the pig got in with her. Dr. Grover was in the back seat. We got started, and
Dr. Grover petted the pig and said, "Nice piggy," and the pig [nearly] ate him
up. It scared the devil out of him. Near chewed him up. [laughter] We
stopped the car and let the girl out and the pig got out, too. That pig just did
not understand white people at all. [laughter]
K:Was that Grover's only trip that you knew of?
M:That is the only one I knew of.
K:Just down to take a look more than to actually do anything active?
M:Well, yes, that is all. He did not do anything.
K:Stanley apparently put in thousands of miles carting people around.
M:I remember him taking this old lady all the way to Tampa to see Dr. Mills, who
was a special friend of his. Dr. Mills was a biologist at one of the hospitals
down there. He took her down there. She was in such shape she could not
take care of herself at all. He did everything for her. He carried her down
there and saw Dr. Mills. I do not know what they did. I do not remember.
But I remember him carrying her back and forth.
K:What do you think is the most important thing that you and Stanley and the
people in the association did for the Indians? Could you pick out one or two
things? I mean, it was a limited association in size.
M:Well, let us start way back. Stanley knew the head of the draft board in
Jacksonville. They were going to draft Indians. Stanley knew, and I knew, if
you started drafting Indians, they would disappear in the swamp. You
would never find them. Not that they were not patriotic, but they did not
trust white people at all. They did not know what was going to happen to
them. So he went up and talked to him. He said there are very few that
were not actually needed as support of the family, and it would work a real
hardship on the families if they tried to do that. So they said, "Well, we will
just drop the whole matter," and they did.
That is one thing that I remember. Another thing I remember: they had land--I
have forgotten now how many thousand acres--in Brighton [Florida] that
was under the Department of Agriculture.
M:I have forgotten just when that was done.
K:[In the] late 1930s--after 1935, 1936, 1937.
M:[They] got that [land] taken back [for the Indians].
K:In other words, you would say that probably you were lobbying for them, or
speaking for them to other white men and pleading their case.
M:I ran around the state at one time giving lectures for them. A corps of engineers
came in. They ran their line right down the east line of the federal
reservation. Now, the state reservation is about seven miles wide and
approximately twenty miles long with a little jog farther down. They
grabbed the whole darn thing and put it all under water. Ken Marmon was
agent at that time, and he told me about it. He said: "I cannot do very much.
If I make too big a fuss, they will transfer me to another reservation." But he
said, "You can." So I went to work on it. I called a meeting here in Orlando.
It took me a while to set it up. The Indians came. At that time, that was
during the time of Silver's ...
M:Actually, Morton Silver. Of course, he was a Communist--no question about
that. We sent a man up to find out, and he found that Silver had been the
secretary of the Communist Party up in Maryland. He came to a meeting
that I had in the Everglades, at Smallpox Tommy's camp. That is another
story! He called and said, "I hear you are having a meeting in Orlando." Of
course, I had it in for him because I knew he was lying to the Indians. He
had told them he was going to get them everything south of Okeechobee. I
knew that was impossible, and I told him so, but they wanted him to try.
Well, we had people from Muscogee, and we had the head of all the different
commissions in the state there. If somebody had to ask them what could be
done, they could say yes or no. The divisional engineer was there, and he
put his plan forward. I told him, "I do not think that is fair." I said: "I think
that you are taking land that does not belong to you. [It is a] state
reservation." Well, it wound up that they agreed to put in a pumping
systems--the whole thing. Their point was that if it is too wet, they would
pump the water off. If it is too dry, they would let a little out. This was a lot
of malarkey. You know it does not work that way. So before we got
through, I got them to shove it over three miles. So engineers have only four
miles through the center of that state reservation. Well, let us see what else
this reservation association did for them.
K:While you are thinking about that, let me ask a question. Did the association ever
engage in activities that you would call in the general charity line, like raising
money to buy food or clothing or anything? That does not seem to be the
kind of association that it was.
M:I do not think so. I do not think that they would have accepted it at that time,
K:Yes. That is what I am saying. A lot of people are, you know, always calling the
house [and asking], "Can I send canned goods to the Indians, or clothes?"
They think that is what people want to do who work with the Indian people.
I kept saying, "No, that is not the way it operates." I know you and Stanley
and the others are not believers in that sort of thing.
M:Of course, Deaconess "Beathell" at the cross. Let us see, what does she call that?
K:She called it...
M:Glades Cross. Well, she was a member of our church, you know.
M:Yes. Stanley called her Deaconess "Beathell," and that was about right. She
would tell you that she had converted all the Indians. It is what she told me.
I told her, I said: "You are mistaken, Deacon. I just came from a corn dance,
and all the ones that you mentioned were all there." Well, she got a little red
in the face and said she wanted to know about the corn dance. I said: "Well,
you go to one and then you will find out. I cannot tell you anything about it.
I am not going to." But she caused a lot of trouble. Yet she was a good
woman in a lot of ways.
K:She seemed to have worked more with them in their crafts, in developing their
M:I think that is right. She went among them one time and gave each of them a lot
of soap. Every camp--every place we went--gave us some of the soap. They
did not want it. Stanley took it, saying, "I can use it." [laughter]
K:She wanted them to have that soap. That was part of salvation, I guess.
M:I cannot think of his name, but there was an old man living south of the Trail,
and his family was away. He was a real old man, and he climbed a tree and
fell and hurt himself very badly. He could not move at all. He just laid there
in his own [excrement]. They took him up to Glades Cross, and the old
woman cleaned him up, washed him, and changed his clothes. She did a lot
for him. Her big trouble was that she wanted to be the bull-goose. I could
not take a picture of Indians with her around; she wanted to be included. I
would tell her: "Look, Deaconess, I do not want your picture. I do not want
your picture. I want a picture of this Indian."
I remember we were going down to Sowathloche, which is Black Tarpon Lake.
That is about thirty or thirty-five miles south of the headquarters reservation
of Big Cypress. There were eight or nine of us going. William McKinley
Osceola was very kind to her. He always carried her wherever she wanted
to go. I think she thought she had him converted. Of course, she did not.
She came in while we were getting ready, and she said, "Where are you
going?" I said, "We are going down to the lake down there, Sowathloche,"
and she said, "I will go with you." I said, "No, we do not want anybody with
us." Well, she said, "I can take care of things." She said, "I will go anyway." I
said, "No, we do not want you." Well, I had to almost beat her to get her to
back off. She was very domineering.
K:She wanted to play her role in everything.
M:Oh, yes. She did. She was very domineering.
K:Well, as I said, I think, from what I can determine, her biggest contribution was to
help organize their early crafts industry and to get a fair market price for
M:I think she did a lot of things for them. I think she would lie like the devil if it
K:Apparently there was a meeting about 1933, this reorganization meeting--I keep
coming back to this because I think it was an important date, coming as it did
right in the middle of the Depression years--and Rex Beech and various other
people attended this. Do you recall that big meeting that was over in the
Tampa area? Were you at that one?
M:Yes. I cannot remember who was there, but I remember Stanley was a politician
in one sense. He believed to make anything go you had to have a head man.
We had at the head of the association people who were outstanding. I
cannot remember who they were. But you mentioned Rex Beech. Rex Beech
was one of them.
K:Stanley always stayed as the secretary of the organization.
M:Yes. Stanley was the Seminole Indian Association.
K:He was the association?
M:He was it.
K:Yes, the heart and soul of it.
M:Yes. And he is a pusher. He was secretary of it. He wrote the letters, and he was
K:How long were you the president? I know you were the president.
M:About twenty-five years, I guess, something like that.
K:Well, after he was not, then you were, I guess. You were the association.
M:Well, there were several [presidents] in between Stanley and me, but they did not
stay long. One was Bill Boyd, down at Bok Tower, but I think he lasted only
a few months. He got into something else. There was no use having a
president that was not a working president.
K:When did the association pretty much die out? Could you put any date on that,
or did it just sort of peter out?
M:No, it just got to a point where there was not much we could do for them.
M:They were beginning to become associated with whites, and there was not much
we could do.
K:Would you say in the 1950s or the 1960s would be about the end of the line?
M:Sometime in the 1960s, I would say.
K:After that big to-do with you and [Florida] Governor [LeRoy] Collins [1955-1961]
and all of that. Was that still in the name of the association, or was that just
in the name of Bob Mitchell?
M:Well, that was in the name of Bob Mitchell. [laughter] I had a little trouble with
M:They hated my guts up there because I made so much fuss.
M:But I had always thought a lot of Collins. He was a good governor. After we
had our little fuss he went back in his chambers after the meeting was over,
and he said, "We want to do something for the Indians." He said, "We will
build them a nice school." I said: "If you put a school down there, you will
scare every one of them to death. They would run back in the woods so you
probably would never find them. Do not do that. Wait until they realize
that they need a school and do them the favor of building one." That is, in
generalities, about what happened.
K:It seems like every time the whites came in and did what they thought was right
to the Indians without asking the Indians ...
M:They did not like it.
K:It came a cropper.
M:It did, because practically all of the Indians, for many, many years, did not trust
whites. They had had a bellyful of whites. They had been shoved down into
the swamp by them.
I remember very well that Buffalo Tiger and old George Osceola (I cannot
remember the others) sent a delegate to Washington. Six or seven of them
went, and I went too. They sent me a list of all young kids that spoke
English. So I made a trip down there. I called a meeting and told them: "You
do not want to send these kids. You are going to buck up against some of
the slickest brains in the United States up there. What you want is your old
men that know the whole story, and then you want one good young fellow
to interpret." So that is what they did.
But I remember I wanted Frank Billie to go because Frank understood the white
situation and he understood the red. Frank was always a smart Indian. He
would not go. I finally asked him, "Frank, why will you not go?" I finally
got out of him the fact that his grandfather, who was Conapachie, and
especially his father, knew a lot about the whites because old Captain Henry
had taken him under his wing and sent him to school.
K:This was Frank?
M:Yes. Frank Billie. That was Ingraham's son.
M:He said they had told him they had already been to Washington and signed
papers, or made their marks. When they got back, they had signed
something that they did not have any idea about. They did not understand
it. The whites had lied to them, and they had a bad time. So he did not want
to go. He did not want the responsibility of going. I have forgotten who
K:Did Buffalo go as the interpreter?
M:I think that Buffalo [went]. I know old George Osceola went. I have a picture of
him coming out of the White House.
K:[A picture] of George?
M:Yes. I do not know where it is. He is all in Indian clothes.
K:How old is Buffalo now?
M:I will bet you he is in his sixties.
K:Yes, I would guess. He was interpreting for them as a very young man.
M:Yes, he was.
K:He would have to be in his sixties now.
M:I think so. The editor of the Game and Freshwater Fish Commission [periodical],
Florida Wildlife, wanted to do a series of articles on the Indians down there,
and he came to me. I told him he would not get to first base. They would
not have anything to do with him. I said: "Well, I can call a meeting down
there on one condition: that you print the Indians' side of this thing. They
have been having a lot of trouble with the wardens." A warden would walk
into a camp and see a few hides around, arrest the Indians, take them down
to the Everglades. Of course, the judge would let them out the next morning,
but it made a lot of trouble.
So he agreed to it. We spent eight days at Smallpox Tommy's camp. When he got
out, he wrote a series of articles, and I had them for a long time. I gave them
Now I have forgotten what I started to tell you.
K:You were just talking about Buffalo being the interpreter.
M:Yes, Buff was the interpreter, the spokesman for Ingraham at that camp.
K:I still have to look into that period later on, after the 1930s and 1940s, after I finish
this study about this thing with Morton Silver and the threatened trip to
M:Morton Silver was one of the worst things that ever happened to them. At this
meeting, he wanted to come up. He said, "I hear you are having a meeting."
I said, "Yes, we are," and he said, "Well, I was not invited." I said, "Nobody
wanted you." He said, "Well, I am coming." I said, "If you come, it is open to
the public, you better have those Indians come because this is important to
them." Well, he had enough drag at that time that he kept them from
coming. Later, after they found out what he was and what he had done,
why, of course, that was the end of him--for them.
K:And all of his threats of foreign recognition and that sort of thing. [The
Miccosukees threatened to ask the U.N. for recognition as a nation.]
M:Yes. Well, he took them to Cuba.
K:How many actually went on that trip?
M:I do not remember.
K:That would have been about 1959 or 1960?
M:I do not remember. I just remember that I was sore as the devil about it. When I
asked them why they would do such a thing, they said they did not see
anything wrong about it. He told them they would be guests of the
government; they would show them around; they would have a nice time.
K:That was right after Castro came to power.
M:Yes, that is right.
K:So that would have been about 1960 or 1961. Most interesting. Well, that is great.
These things I wanted to lock into my own mind about you and Stanley and
the others because apparently Stanley worked with them right up until the
day he died.
M:He did. They had a little Indian house back of his, and he would come home and
find a little piece of board or something up there. "Me here." There would
be the Indian's name under it, roughly printed, you know. The Indian had
been there and stayed there, but he did not see him.
K:The house was always open [for Seminoles to visit in Fort Myers].
The papers of the association--the correspondence and so forth--do you still have
M:I do not have it.
K:Do you have any idea if Stanley's family has it?
M:I do not. He might. Marian [Hansen's daughter] might know where it is. Or
maybe Stanley, Jr. You know Stanley, Jr.?
M:[He lives in] Fort Myers.
K:I did not know if there was any regular correspondence file or not at this point.
M:I had one. I do not know what I ever did with it.
K:Once I thought you had mentioned that there was [a file].
M:Yes. I had a membership file. A long one. I listed many members in it, some
very important people. Funny things happened down there, though. I
remember there were no buildings at Immokalee--and Immokalee [long o] is
right. It is not Immokalee [short o]; it is Immokalee [long o]. That means
home. God damn it, they called it Immokalee [short o] so much, even the
Indian kids call it that now.
Mr. Dyas Roberts had a little store there and a few houses around, but there was not
anything to it at all, except pine forest. The Indians had built a little house on
the outskirts of town in the pines, and we had been into town to get some
groceries from Dyas Roberts. We were starting back, and there was
somebody hollering and hollering. We looked over, and there was Cuffney
Tiger. Well, the old man, of course, had Indian clothes on, and he had a
snootful [was intoxicated] on with it. So he got in the back of the truck with
me and sat on an orange box. The woods were all flooded at that time. He
sat up there, stiff as a ramrod, arms crossed. Stanley was driving the truck.
Well, of course, Stanley was not too careful about the holes and things, and
he hit a big one. The whole thing went up in the air, and he went right out
on his head and landed right in the water on his head and shoulders. That
sobered him up. [laughter] All of us the whole way down there sat with a
straight face, never smiled, never said a thing. The rest of them just laughed
their heads off. Old Cuffney. He was really a fine man. But he--like some of
the rest of them--liked to get a little high once in a while.
K:Do you remember when Josie and Ingraham [Billie's] father, Conapachie, died?
Did you know him?
M:No. I met him one time in Fort Myers. I was not living in Florida then. I was just
home, and he was there. That was the dedication of the [Thomas A.] Edison
K:Wow. Well, I can look up that date.
M:It was a long time ago.
K:Oh, yes, and you met him at the dedication.
M:Yes. I was just a young guy.
K:But you did see him.
M:Yes, I saw him.
K:So there was Ingraham and Josie, and Frank was Ingraham's son. So Conapachie
would have been his grandfather.
K:Right. I have been trying to get them in line on that.
M:Well, Josie told me that Captain Henry took a liking to his father. He was a smart
young man, and different from the rest of the Indians because they would
have practically nothing to do with whites. So he took him into his own
home there and sent him to school.
M:The Indians sent for him to come back, and they told him that he could not stay
there and could not learn English. If he did, he would be killed.
M:[He could learn] so many words. That is all. So Stanley said his father had had
quite a lot of association with the Indians, apparently because he was
Thomas A. Edison's personal physician. He was an Englishman, from
England, a doctor from England, and he had treated some of the Indians.
One thing or another that they did not have medicine for, he had it. So he
told them that that was a foolish thing. If they had somebody that
understood English, he could read the paper; he could tell them what was
going on. They would not be so ignorant of it all the time. So they agreed to
do that. But they also told him that if he taught anybody else, he would be
K:So that is why Josie and Ingraham theoretically did not get any education.
M:Well, of course...
K:But I thought Josie could read fine.
M:Well, Josie could, some.
K:That was my impression, that Josie could.
M:Josie went down to the Bible Institute in Lakeland. Sam Tommie, Josie, and two
others--I cannot remember who they were--went down there. The
Miccosukee Indians, for a long, long time, [had little to do with the whites].
The Seminoles had more to do with the whites, and they were more
amenable to the white man's way than the Miccosukees.
The old missionary, Willie King, who was a fine old man, did not have a tooth in his
head. He would clean a chicken bone as clean as a whistle. Yes, he could,
really. He had converted the Brighton Indians, some of them. They came
down and converted some of the Seminoles, some of the Miccosukees, there
on the reservation. [At that time the Miccosukees were considered to be
Seminoles. Ed.] Josie was one who converted and went down and took this
course. They were so put out with him that they were going to kill him.
They took his medicine sticks away from him and kicked him off the tribal
council, and that was that. That was when he came up to live for keeps on
I was down there, and I wanted to go through the woods and go down the Trail. I
wanted some of the Indians to go with me; I did not want to go by myself.
Then there were no roads, so you just went through the woods. I asked John
Cypress, and he said: "No go. There are bad people down there." He said,
"They will kill us." I said, "I thought they were all good people, John." "No,"
he said. "They are mad at us." I found out why later.
K:Because of Josie?
M:Yes. They had gone to church there-Baptist religion.
K:That was a big move, a big change.
M:That was a big change.
K:For Josie, I know.
M:Of course, Josie always told me there was no difference. No difference. We all
try to go to the same place.
K:One great god.
M:One great god. That is right. I do not see any difference myself except the way
you worship. Of course, I guess some of the Baptists and some of the others
[I asked the Indians] anything I wanted to know about their religion. I have it all
written down. When I die, it is going to be destroyed. I asked them what
poison they used. They changed the subject, so I never mentioned it again. I
do not know whether you remember this nurse or not that came down there,
K:Her name keeps coming up.
M:A long, long time ago.
K:In the 1930s. This would have been in the 1930s.
M:A long time ago.
K:Her name comes up.
M:She was a government nurse for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They would have
nothing to do with her. So she came to Stanley. Stanley thought that she
might be of help to them, so he went to them and arranged for them to go
[see her] and for her to go [to the Big Cypress Reservation]. She came back
with a story that this woman was being slowly poisoned, and she knew it.
She had done something she should not have done, and she was being
executed. Well, Stanley told her to keep her nose out of Indian affairs. It was
nothing to her whatsoever. If she was, she had it coming to her. Stanley was
very abrupt at times and very--what is the word you want to use for it?
K:Sort of a cavalier attitude.
M:Yes. He called a spade a spade.
K:So what did she do? Did she report it?
M:Well, nothing ever came of it.
K:She saw signs of poisoning?
M:I think so.
K:Is this something that the court would have passed?
M:It had nothing to do with it.
K:I mean the tribal court.
M:Oh, yes. Yes. I think that is probably one of the things that bothered Josie for
years. Josie has always been afraid. He was always telling me that he was
going to be killed, that the Indians were after him and were going to kill him.
He sent for me to come down at one time. He was scared to death. He had
the house all boarded up, the windows boarded up, the door boarded up.
He stayed inside and would not come out. I told him: "I will go see them.
Nobody will hurt you." So I went to talk to some of the Indians.
One time, in particular, they were having a big powwow, and they had mentioned
his name. They were going to have some beef. Now, "ileechic" is the Indian
name for "kill." Of course, Josie's wife, Lucy, got things mixed up a little at
times, and Josie could not hear very well, and that was a fine combination. I
found out that they had thought of having him distribute the meat, to take a
part in it. He thought they were going to kill the meat and, when Josie got
there, that they were going to kill him. He boarded up the house, stayed
inside, and sent for me. Well, we straightened it out, and the old man was so
relieved when he found out that it was not so. He unboarded the windows
and sat outside and smoked his pipe a little bit, and everybody was happy.
K:As I recall, the first time I met you was at his camp.
M:Yes, that is right. You had a young woman with you. Two young women.
K:Right. I had two of my students that were working over at Ahfchkee with me,
and we wandered over. That was when we met. I was just thinking, how
long have you been associated with the Indians?
M:With just the Miccosukees or Seminoles?
K:Yes. [All Indians] in Florida. [Mitchell worked with them long before they split.]
M:The Indians here? A long while. A long, long time.
K:When did you first start going out with Stanley [to] Big Cypress?
M:I went to live in Fort Myers. I ran the Everglades nursery down there for a
couple of years. I had associated with Indians further north. I wanted to
meet some of the Seminoles, and I could not do it. If you talked to them,
they would not speak to you. They would just grunt at you, turn around,
and walk off.
So I found out that Stanley was a big shot among the Indians. He was always
known as a white medicine man to the Seminoles. Stanley's father was a
surgeon, and Stanley used to assist him. Stanley knew more about white
medicine than you could shake a stick at. He really knew his stuff. He had a
regular medicine bag and the whole works. Yes, sir. But his father would
not allow him to be a doctor. Stanley wanted in the worst way to become a
doctor. His father would not permit it.
K:So he started taking you out to the [Big Cyprus Reservation]?
M:Yes. So I went to see him, and he said no, he would not take anybody down
there. People [would be] curious. He said, "I would like to do it, but I am
not taking anybody down there." I told him: "Listen. My mother's people
were Indian. It is not idle curiosity on my part. I would like to get to know
these people." And that is when he said, "Well, I will take you down there,
then." So he did.
Three prerequisites to be accepted in their camp in those days were you did not lie,
you did not steal, you did not bother their women. If you did the latter, you
put yourself in real trouble. The women were very shy, very lady-like.
Everything has changed now. They go to our schools, and it is all different.
K:When would this have been, Bob? Do you recall what year you were down there
when you started doing that camping? Was it in the 1910s? It was after you
came back from St. Louis, right?
M:Yes, I think so.
K:Well, that would have been in the 1910s or early 1920s.
M:Early 1920s, I guess because I lived in Fort Myers then.
K:I think one time you told me it was in the ...
M:I think it was in the 1920s.
K:Early 1920s. That gave you sixty years of [association with the Indians].
M:I do not think it has been that.
K:At least sixty years in the association. Well, I think that if I can finish getting these
tapes with the other Indians talking about this period of the 1930s, [I will
have a full picture of the period]. Most of the people who are still alive live
around Big Cypress.
K:Or down at Miccosukee.
M:The old ones.
K:Most of these people had nothing to do with the government during the 1930s.
They did not come to Hollywood [Florida] and work on the program?
M:Oh, no. They did not want anything to do with them. They distrusted the
government to the nth degree. And I do not blame them.
K:And things were never bad enough for them, like you said. They were not
starving or anything.
M:No, they could get plenty of game. But [outsiders] were always bothering them.
After the reservation came into being, they were always bothered by
poachers. I never hunted on the reservations. I never killed a deer in my life.
I never wanted to. I saw too many of them. I always had plenty of meat if I
needed it. I never wanted to kill a deer. I used to hunt ducks and snipe and
quail a lot, but not on their reservation.
K:But they were just very independent people.
M:Oh, they were as independent as a pig on ice. They did not give a damn for
anybody. They just wanted to be let alone. They had everything they
needed. A few things they needed--the beads and the cloth and stuff--they
could buy out of Dyas Roberts's store.
K:So it is very hard to find some now who are still alive who actually went over to
Hollywood to live, to learn how to, say, drive the tractors. Josie Jumper ...
M:He died, did he not?
K:Josie died a couple of years ago. Now, you knew Josie?
M:I knew him well, yes. Josie was a nice person.
K:He seemed to be one of the few who took to tractor driving and machinery
operation. Did you know any others?
K:Did you know any others?
M:Yes. His brother Jack [Jumper] killed himself, you know. Let us see. How many
Jumpers were there? I forget now. Jack, and Josie, and ...
K:Was there one named Harry?
M:I cannot remember.
K:Harry or Richard. There were a couple of them killed. Josie seems to be the only
one that moved over to Hollywood to really do a lot of work in the 1930s, to
take a job there. I have pictures of him on tractors.
K:And he seemed to be the first Indian to learn how to use [heavy machinery].
M:Well, of course he was the type of guy to work among the whites. He did not
seem to have that intense hatred or feeling of them that some of the others
had for whites. They had been hoodwinked and cheated and everything
else. They had trouble with the people down there. [Whites in southern
Florida, in general, often abused the Indians early in this century.]
K:I am trying to get an interview with his son, Moses.
M:He will probably remember some of it.
K:Of course, he would have been a youngster when they went over to live there in
Hollywood. They had that program for land clearing there, to take out all
the palmettos and clear all that land to make the headquarters reservation
there in Hollywood. They were all working for about two dollars a day on a
CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] program.
M:Yes, that is right.
K:They called it the CCC-ID, [Civilian Conservation Corps]--Indian Division. They
always set it off as a separate CCC and WPA [Works Project Administration]
program. Apparently a lot of the men would go over there for a short period
of time, but their families would not go in with them. Now a lot of the old
ladies are left whose husbands have died, and the older ladies just said they
never went to Hollywood. Their husbands did, or their brothers did, but
apparently they did not go in there.
M:So many little things about them are queer. Not long ago I asked Dolores Billie,
Sonny Billie's daughter, or maybe it was Laura--one or the other--what
Sonny's Indian name was. I have a list of Indian names a mile long--different
ones, you know. She said she did not know. I said, "What do you mean, you
do not know? Why don't you know?" She said, "I never asked him." I said:
"Why don't you ask him? White people have names, and everybody knows
them." She said, "Well, it shows disrespect to ask your father his Indian
name." [This is] something I did not know before.
K:Well, they all have them.
M:Sure they do. Every one of them. You know what Josie's was?
K:You have told me.
K:What does that mean?
K:Brown tiger. Brown tiger or panther. How about Ingraham [Billie]?
M:I have that written down, but I cannot remember.
K:They were both Panther clan.
M:Yes. All the mother's children were.
K:Yes, right. Well, I will tell you what I hope to do. I [need to] finish all this taping.
I have to get back down to the Trail. I have two or three more tapes. They
are pretty short. I have all of these typed out. I have to take a transcript back
down to Buffalo; he wanted that. He probably wonders what happened to
me, like I disappeared and left the country or something.
M:You know where Buffalo is now? Spain.
K:Did he go over again?
M:Yes. I just called down there a couple of days ago. I wanted to talk to him. I did
not talk to Alice Drake. It was somebody else. They told me he was in
Spain. I knew he was going, but I did not know just when.
K:Well, I will give him a call and try to get down there and get some things. Well,
thank you for giving me another good tape, Bob. I appreciate it.
M:I have not given you anything.
K:Well, I will come back when I think of more things. We will talk some more.