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Interview with Avilla McCrocklin, November 18, 1972

Material Information

Title:
Interview with Avilla McCrocklin, November 18, 1972
Creator:
McCrocklin, Avilla ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:
Language:
English

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Seminole Indians
Seminoles -- Florida
Seminole Oral History Collection ( local )

Notes

Funding:
This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Seminoles' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
Rights Management:
Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.
Resource Identifier:
SEM 75 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )

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Full Text
INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
INTERVIEWEE: Avilla McCrocklin
INTERVIEWER: Tom King
DATE: November 18, 1972
DORIS DUKE FOUNDATION


SUMMARY
In 1959, when James Gopher entered Mrs. Avilla McCrocklin's
first grade class in Okeechobee, she "fell in love" with
Seminole children. This transcript is her glowing account
of James and the endearing characteristics of the young
Seminoles. As a dedicated and experienced teacher she dis-
cusses motivation of the students, problems with remedial
reading and parental contact in the public school. As a
summer program teacher at Big Cypress in 1961, she was con-
cerned with language and culture differences, health and
diet problems as well as the magnitude of the white man's
task to ever make up for the mistreatment of Seminoles at
his hand.


INDEX
Boehmer, William D., 3, 5, 17-18, 21-22
character traits of Seminole children, 19-20, 26
Education
A.E. program (summer school at Big Cypress), 3-4, 24
behavior (Seminoles in public school), 6, 8-9
motivation of students, 17-19, 21-24
parental interest, 11-13
remedial reading, 15-17
Frank, Nancy (teacher aide), 3-5, 9-11, 14, 17-19, 23, 25
Gopher, James, 1-3, 6-10
Health (diet), 18
Transcultural contacts, 3-5, 9-11, 14-15


I: Mrs. McCrocklin, you say that you've been in Okeechobee, or in
the Okeechobee area, approximately thirteen years now. Can you
tell me when your first personal contact with the Seminoles
occurred?
S: Yes I can. It was at a laundromat, and I saw a little boy pushing
one of the carts. The laundromat had just opened in Okeechobee, I
think it was the first one back in 1959. I saw this little boy
pushing the cart, and he was so active, and so quick, and so sweet.
I thought just how wonderful it would be to be around him. Then the
first day of school came, and I had a little Seminole in my room,
James Gopher, and I thought, "Well, this is it." I went and visited
his parents, and they came to P.T.A. meetings. They brought the
baby, and I took them back to my room to baby-sit during the P.T.A.
meetings so they wouldn't disturb. I guess that was my first in-
troduction to the Seminole people, and it's really, you know, a
good experience, which was the fun thing. I loved it. The family
were very friendly when I went down to see them. At that time they
had one about seven months old, and she had little pierced ears,
you know, little rings in them, and dark hair and beautiful brown
eyes. They let me hold her. They were living down there on the main
road through the reservation there.
I: Is that the Henry Gopher family?
S: I believe he had about ten children, and one boy was in a boarding
school out in Oklahoma that year. I know the father came to me and
was telling me about going out there. He was going to take his wife
and, oh, three or four of the children. He wanted me to show him on
a map we had on the wall, you know, the approximate way he would go
to get to Oklahoma. So I told him to get a road map and bring it
back to me and I would help him find it on the road map a little
bit more definate or explicit for him.
I: At what school were you teaching then when you taught James Gopher?
S: That was primary. Primary was...when I taught...?
I: Was it James Gopher? Was that the name of the boy?
S: Yes, James. This was in a public school here in Okeechobee. That was
my first Seminole in a public school here in Okeechobee, James Gopher.
I: Right.


2
S: The school was new, and I will never forget how the little ones
would go in and flush the comode. We had a little glass in the
door so that you could look in there, and I know James would go
in there and just stay and stay and stay. I'd hear the comode
flushing. So I peered through the glass--which wasn't very nice
to do, but I just wondered what he was doing--and James would
just keep flushing the comode and watching the water just pour
out. I just thought, "I bet you James thinks this is just a
little spring he's discovered." Listen, I wrote a little poem
about James that year, and I'll get it and read it to you. I can
almost...
I: I'll turn this off.
S: Well, anyhow, when I had James I felt like I was just the luckiest
teacher in the world to have James. And I had Buster Baxter that
year, who turned out to be, you know, part Seminole, and he was
certainly a desirable little first grader too. Well, all my child-
ren were desirable, but anyhow James was so appealing; very shy,
very quick. I've never seen a quicker child, more active, easier
to manage, and he responded real well. I think he got a good start
in first grade. I'm sure he did. Anyhow, this is what I jotted
down when I first saw him. FIRST GRADER...
He stands in my door with his brown bear teeth
New tablet and pencil
And he looks so sweet
A dark little boy with coal black hair
And deep brown eyes
With a puzzled stare
Too timid to talk
But his eyes expressed both fear and wonder
At our schools bigness
He tries to conform
To sit still in his chair
But it's hard for one who's been free as the air
James gets up early to ride thirty miles


3
No wonder he's serious
And seldom smiles
He's eager to learn
And anxious to please
Yet too shy to return my affectionate pleas
Yes, James is bewildered
He's a Seminole
And I am awed at the challenge of the teacher's
role.
Then I got better acquainted with his family. As I say I went down
there and got to hold the little girl and made friends with others.
I thought, "Well, this is just a wonderful experience, you know,
teaching James." And then I had Patty Johns in the fifth grade. Let's
see, I moved that year, I guess from first up to fifth. I've forgot-
ten. I was always changing. I'd teach first, and then I'd teach
third, and I'd teach fifth, then go back to first. But I had Patty
Johns. But my real work were the Seminoles. Where I really knew them,
you know, several at one time, was at Big Cypress. Bill Boehmer, who
had started the first school for the Indians, asked me if I'd like
to teach at Big Cypress, the summer program, the A.E. program, a
meager program. So I went down there with Bill. I'd never been to
the Big Cypress Reservation before, and on the map it didn't look
too far. But when we left Clewiston and started down that little
road, there were no houses down that way at all. There's a sugar mill
down there, and then I guess for a stretch of twenty miles you just
didn't see any houses. About all you saw was cattle and sawgrass. I
know that day the sky was, you know, just an overcast gloomy-looking
day. The further we rode, the lower my spirits. When I saw where it
was--it was just so far away, and so isolated--I thought maybe I'd
made a mistake. Then we got there, and I met Nancy Frank and her
brother Bobby Frank, who were to be my helpers, and Dan Osceola, who
was the first boy from Big Cypress to graduate from Clewiston High
School. Nancy Frank was the first girl from Big Cypress reservation
to graduate from high school. I got acquainted with them. Nancy had


4
a sense of humor, and was real friendly. They were just as nice
as they could be. Then I knew I made the right decision. I knew
it was going to be a good summer, and it was. It was just a really
wonderful summer. But I really didn't have any close contact with
the families until Nancy and I started going for walks in the
afternoon. The water at the little house I stayed in was sulfur
water, and it made me sick, so we'd walk up to their well. Let's
see, where was it? Anyhow, about a mile to get a gallon of water
from theirs that had been treated, that wasn't sulfur, in their
water system or whatever it was. Anyhow, we would go for a walk
in the afternoon, and I told her about how it was when I grew up
and I was her age. I didn't have a chance to go to school because
I kept my family of ten on a farm in Kentucky. It was real hard
for me to go to school, but I wanted to teach so much that I fin-
ally went back to school and graduated with my son. She could hard-
ly believe that an old grey-haired woman would get up on the
stage and get her diploma along with her son. But I told her how
proud I was, and I told her it would be possible for her to go on
to school if she really wanted to, and how much help she could be
to her people. But it was a good summer down there.
I: Did they give you a house to live in then?
S: I lived where the nurse had her office. It was just a relatively
small place. It's something like the one at Brighton where the
nurse has her office, something like that. I had a room in front,
then I used the kitchen in the school to fix my meals, you know.
As I say, I lived there alone one the reservation. I had visitors,
but I was the only one there. Nancy spent the night with me once,
and then one of her sisters spent the night down at the house with
me once. Other than that I was there alone. I went to their mid-
week church service which was run by a white man that came in on
the reservation, and went to their once-a-month meetings in the
community house that they had for their...oh, like their soil
betterment program and concerned the men with their cattle, breeding
and things like that. I went up there. Whenever they had a party
one evening I went up to that and never laughed as much in my life
as I did at Nancy and the young people. They played a game like
you probably played too, Robert, where you tie a balloon on to
your ankle, you're in couples, and then you try to burst the balloon
on the other persons ankle. I know some of the motions they make,


5
some of the movements and all, you know, it was really just a
fun evening.
I: Were you ever invited into their homes?
S: Well, I've been with Nancy into her home, and then...well, I've
been in several of their homes. They were quiet, but as they
were friendly, you know, I always felt welcome. I went in many of
their homes to get their little hand work. One unusual experience,
Nancy's uncle, Jimmy Osceola, I'd heard that such a good tailor,
you know, he did the most beautiful sewing. I'd been trying for as
long as I'd known Bill Boehmer to get Bill Boehmer to have a white
Seminole dress made. He never could get Jimmy to make it. So I said,
"When I go down there this summer I'll be able to see Jimmy and get
him to make my white dress." Bill had his doubts, but within two
weeks after I met Jimmy he was sewing away on that white dress, which
I still have. It's a beautiful. Turned out he was Nancy's uncle, so
we walked down to their home one evening. They lived in chickees
that were kind of like a little tent, that they call it an Osceola
tent. We walked down there, and there were several chickees like in
a little cluster. He had his sewing machine and I explained to him
what I wanted. He let me get the material in Okeechobee, the colors
that I wanted, and a beautiful dress you've ever seen. So that was
another rewarding experience. And then a follow-up to that year's
program down there was that Christmas party you had for the whole
reservation. He sent notes to everyone, and the nurse that was there
then, Florence Wilkins, helped me with that summer, and she sent
some candy. But other than that, my husband and I furnished the
whole dinner for everybody on the whole reservation. I think we had
about 275. I know we took three hundred paper plates, and I think
we brought about twenty-five home with us. Everyone came over from
church that day and came over there, and we had games and treats for
the children, and it was the best Christmas we've ever had.
I: I'd like to ask you a few questions now about your first teaching
experiences with the Seminoles.
S: Yes.
I: You say Jimmy...or rather...
S: Dan Osceola?


6
I: No, James. Was it James Gopher?
S: Oh, James Gopher. This is in Okeechobee, yes.
I: Right, yes. That's who I was interested in. He was your first
student?
S: Right.
I: What year was that?
S: That was 1959.
I: Were there any other Seminole children in the class at that time?
S: No, just James, and we had some sprinkled around in the school. I
know I asked the principal, Lawrence Terry, I said, "Would it be
possible for you to give me all the Seminoles, because they are
just so appealing, so easy to manage." I just wanted to see what I
could do, but he said no, they wouldn't allow them to do that. They
had to have...now I guess it was discrimination. I don't know why.
I: Yes.
S: So, I only had James, and then Buster, who it turned out was part
Seminole, Buster Baxter.
I: What grade were you teaching James?
S: First.
I: First grade?
S: First. That's what I thought was the most important grade, I think.
I: Yes. Were you familiar with the progress that the other Seminole
students within the school were making in their studies?
S: Not actually. No, I didn't...you mean comparing the progress that
the children were making against the white children?
I: Oh, I guess whatever standards you wish to apply.
S: No, not really. No...My biggest concern...


7
I: I'll just confine myself to questions about James, then.
S: Yes, that...
I: What kind of a student was James?
S: Just beautiful, just perfect, a teacher's dream. As I say, he
was shy, and yet he would eye you to see what you wanted him
to do. He was very anxious to please, and he did. He was a good
strong average student, and so was Buster Baxter.
I: Did he have any particular problems?
S: No.
I: That might have set him apart from the average student?
S: No. No. He was just one of us. He was no problem at all. He was
very appealing. I know my husband used to visit my room a lot,
and he was always drawn to James because of Jame's quickness. I
know this is one of the things that I remember, that I'll never
forget, because it was just so unusual. They would all have a
little towel or a little mat of some kind to take a little rest
on after lunch, you know, and they were supposed to fold it and
put it on the shelf themselves, they'd fold it after a fashion.
Well James, I don't think ever folded his. He'd make his in a
little ball and aim it at the shelf, and would land there every
time. He was just so quick. And when we'd be in lunch line, or
on the playground, or anytime, you know, when we were supposed to
be going along the sidewalk, you know, time to go to lunch, James
was more like a...well, he was so quick, you know, and he would
sort of jump sideways and be back in line that quick before you
could say anything to him. I'll never forget his motions, you know,
he was so...well it was quick more like a ballet show we'd say.
There wasn't any awkwardness there or anything. It was just more
just like a good athlete, I guess, the smoothness of a good swimmer
or something like that. I was just drawn to James. Anyone would
have been. Any teacher would have loved to have James in her room.
And when I'd see some of the others with the other teachers, I'd
think, "Oh, gee, I wouldn't do that, you know, I wouldn't handle
it that way," you know, because they were so easy to manage. You
would never have to raise your eyebrows at them or, you know, raise
your voice or your hand--which I never did anyway, because that's


8
not my care to--but I mean they were just so easy to manage that
just maybe you wished you could gather them all in your room,
and, you know, just have fun, and learn. Because whenever they're
happy like that they learn fast.
I: How well did James speak English when he came to your class?
S: He was very quiet, very shy, he spoke very little, and that was
it. They are so shy that many times they know a lot more than
you give them credit for. These written tests that we give them
are certainly not fair at all because they aren't familiar with...
if you have to tear or you put a mark on a certain picture, maybe
they've never seen that picture before.
I: Yes.
S: Like a chest-of drawers or something like that. I saw then it was
so unfair, so I would just give the test because I was required
to give them. But my own common sense and my own judgement went
into it, too, the evaluating of it, and many times I would...well,
an individual test...Of course, what all of them should have, we
know that, but that...well not, you know, just not feasible. We
get thirty or thirty-five first graders. But they certainly couldn't
ever be expected to do well on some of these written tests that we
give them because they are not familiar with the pictures even, much
less the words, the vocabulary. But at the end of the year, James
was reading. Yes, he got a good start. But he was very shy, and he
was the kind you would have to give individual attention. You could
do that after you got them started, and then your more confident,
aggressive ones can go along on their own, and then you have time to
bring out James. He understood English perfectly, of course, although
at that time he didn't talk, you know. He didn't talk too much.
I: But could he speak English well if he were required to?
S: Yes. Yes. Yes, he could. Yes, he could answer you, of course.
I: Could he read and write when he was brought into your class?
S: No, this was first grade, of course.
I: Yes, I know. I'm aware of that, but there are a lot of children who
do start school and who are able to at least read before they...


9
S: A very few in this area. Very very few in this area that I've
seen.
I: But James couldn't then write?
S: No. No, James couldn't. Oh, no. No. No.
I: And how did you go about...?
S: He used his hands as well as any, though. I'll say that, you know.
Starting forming their letters, you know, how you let them go to
the board and start shaping the 'A' or whatever. I would say he
used his hands extremely well. I remember more about James, I guess,
than any child I had in my room that year. And I remember Buster
because of the little games he used to play. Buster would want to be
the leader. Actually we would have a little program and the parents
would come in, and we would act out, say, the gingerbread man. Buster
would be the gingerbread man; "I ran away from the little old woman.
I ran away from the little old man." whereas, I don't believe James
would ever volunteer to be the gingerbread man. He wouldn't volunteer
to be the leader, we'll say. He would eye you, and if you encouraged
him and maybe got up there with the leader, he might be the leader,
but he was never aggressive. I don't mean the word aggressive--
never had that much confidence that he felt he could be the leader,
I guess, you know.
I: I'm curious about how James learned to speak English and to under-
stand it. His parents, I would assume, do not speak it at home.
S: Well, no. No.
I: Do you know whether there was any concerted effort on their parts
to teach him English?
S: I doubt it. I really don't know. I would just say I would just
doubt it, knowing...I would doubt it because, for one thing, the
mother with ten children, she didn't have time.
I: Right.
S: And her background had no English in it. I know when I--this is
skipping James and going back to, I mean going forward two years
when I taught at Big Cypress--I asked Nancy when I went down
there, I said, "Now Nancy, do your people understand me when I'm


10
talking to them?" I said, "They don't talk to me. Do they under-
stand me?" And she said, "Oh, yes, they understand you perfectly,
so you go right ahead talking. They understand you." And of course
their vocabulary is more limited than here because of their isola-
tion. It's so far down there, and it was so hard to travel that
they only went to Clewiston and Immokalee just...
I: Yes.
S: Oh, you know, for necessities. They really didn't go there as often.
But now, that has been years ago, you know, so many years ago, and
it has really changed the last ten years. You wouldn't believe the
changes that have been made. The roads have been built. Now they
have television, now they have the phone, and everything is changing
fast. But I don't believe the older ones down there speak English,
not very much. They certainly didn't then, just words, you know.
I: Yes.
S: Yes and no.
I: Well, that's why I was curious, because...
S: And a smile; they'd smile. And James did have an appealing smile.
I'll never forget James.
I: Well even the young ones out at Brighton now, I mean, will strictly
among themselves, and not speaking with anybody who speaks nothing
but English, they usually speak usually Creek or Miccosukee.
S: Right! Well, you see...
I: And I'm curious as to how the child could have picked up English.
S: Well, you see...
I: Do you have any idea how they could have done it?
S: Well, no. No, I really don't. But you know when I went...just hearing
people in the stores, I guess. Like Billy Bowlegs taught himself the
alphabet, you know. He died at 103, their oldest one. He taught him-
self, just sitting around listening to the white people. But you
know, I think I started to say about when I went down to Big Cypress,
and I wonder sometimes at the rightness of what we were doing then,
you know, to teach them English. Said it was to help them when they
went to Clewiston to school, but anyhow I would tell them in English


11
what I wanted to do, and then Nancy would tell them in their
language to make sure that they understood exactly.
I: Yes.
S: Because maybe my wording and my choice of words might be more
foreign to them. I mean they wouldn't get exactly my meaning.
Do you understand what I mean? So Nancy would tell them in her
language, you know, and I thought, "Well...I'm going to learn
this language from Nancy." And do you know, I really tried. I
can not speak it. I just simply can not. Maybe a few words, but
I just simply couldn't learn it. But Nancy explained it, and she
would go around, you know, to see if they were doing it, and I
would, too, of course. We worked right with the children all the
time. She can speak both languages very well, although, as she
tells me too, sometimes there's just no word that you can use...
I: Yes.
S: You know, in place of that word. No other word that compares to it.
I: You indicated earlier that at least some of the parents were
attending P.T.A. meetings.
S: Yes, the Gophers, they came, and two or three others with them,
but I just don't remember who they were. Now I know at the time
that they came. Then I took the little ones to my room to keep,
you know, so they wouldn't get tired during the P.T.A. meeting.
I know there was two or three Seminole families came with them,
but I really don't remember who they were. I just know the Gophers
came.
I: Did they do this regularly or was it just on one or two occasions?
S: I'd say about three meetings that year, but I don't know if they
still do or not, because I don't. High school does have a P.T.A.,
I just don't...I don't think they kept it up then after that. I
don't remember seeing them. Maybe sometime if their child would be
on a program someone might come in, but I really don't...and of
course now we don't have any Seminoles in Okeechobee, not any that
I've heard of...Moore Haven.
I: Did it...


12
S: One year we had a football player, I think, so he could continue
on the football team, but other than that they...Uncle Sam, or
whoever the "Powers that be," changed them to go to the Glades County instead
of Okeechobee, which I thought was a cruel thing to
do because they were used to Okeechobee facilities, you know, the
laundromat, the bank, the A&P, you know, the stores that you see.
I: Yes.
S: And then the children were just...for some reason started sending
them to Moore Haven school.
I: Did the Gopher family take an active part in the P.T.A. meetings
that they attended?
S; No, as far as take an active part...well, very few people do.
There's just...
I; Oh.
S: There's just a few that run the P.T.A. That "Harper Valley P.T.A."
I agree with because I was P.T.A. president once myself. And I
know the year I was P.T.A. president--that wasn't here, that was
up in Ohio--well, they came to me and asked me to be the president.
I was teaching first grade that year, and I said, "Well, I just
couldn't be." I said, you know, because at that time I was active
in the church, and I just had so much to do. And I said, "I think
my principal would think I was out of my mind." and they said, "No."
They'd already picked a chairman for every one, I didn't have to
pick a chairman, everything was all ready. There you are, here's
your P.T.A., you're the president.
I: Yes.
S: But everything else is already taken care of, so you can see...I
think it's that way a lot of times, it's already, well, cut and
dried is a trite statement, but I think most P.T.A.s are exactly
that. If you come up with something new, or if someone from the
floor would suggest something different, it would be so unheard
of that they'd table the motion. You know how they...so no, as for
taking an active part, they didn't.
I: Did you ever get any feedback at all from the reservation, from
the parents, concerning the education of their children?


13
S: Well, I would say I did as much as any teacher because of the
fact that he came to my room to tell me about going to Oklahoma
when he had older children in school.
I: Yes.
S: And obviously he'd known those teachers before, because this was
the first year I'd been in Okeechobee. So I would say as much as
anyone else. Little gifts from them, yes, I've had little...got
a little bracelet in there with a little heart on it which denotes
love that one of them made for me, you know, and sent to me, and I
still have. Is that what you mean?
I: What. I meant was...No, I meant did they ever indicate to you just
how they felt about the education their children were receiving?
S: Education? No. No, not actually. I thought you meant their feelings
toward me as a person, their appreciation or friendliness or some-
thing like that.
I: Well apparently they were pretty well satisfied with how you were
teaching their children then.
S: Yes, I think I felt that, but as far as whether the schools were
actually doing what they should be or anything, I know I've never...
I: I've talked with some people in Moore Haven who've told me about
the elections in Glades County.
S: Yes.
I: And how some white people in Moore Haven took it upon themselves to
try to help the Seminoles understand the issues involved in the
voting.
S: Yes.
I: Particularly for the county school commissioners.
S: Oh, really?
I: I'm wondering if anything like that ever occurred in...
S: I've never...


14
I: ...Okeechobee County?
S: I've never heard of it if it did.
I: Do you know if they ever had any influence at all on the school
board in this county, through votes or any other way?
S: Can't...cut your tape.
I: O.k. [pause] Well, just what was the relationship between the
Seminole children and the white children in the school?
S: Well, you mean acceptance or friendly? Of course, they're not
outgoing, but then there certainly was complete acceptance, as
I have observed it. Because they are shy, as I would be if I
went in to some situation that's exactly, you know, foreign, or
opposite of what I had been in. But turn that back about five
minutes and let's see what I said about the school board...
I: Was there any difference in attitudes, white attitudes, towards
the children as they grew older?
S: Well, there might have been, inviting them into their homes and
that, but that of course would be a reflection on their parents,
you know what I mean, they might not be accepted.
I: Yes.
S: But in school, I don't believe there was. I'll tell you one thing
I think was because of, like everything else, where so much re-
volves around the atheletes...would be, you know. Like Joe Dan
Osceola was an outstanding athlete, and different ones were, and
I think the admiration they feel toward them, not Nancy, but the
Johns, Connie Johns, was the homecoming queen. I believe that was
the second year we were here, she was the homecoming queen. Which
was unusual, so that proves she was accepted and admired and liked
by her fellow students, because that is an open contest. It's a
secret, you know, vote.
I: Yes.
S: She had to be well-liked to be homecoming queen. I know she made
a beautiful queen too, you know, a lovely one. She was very poised,
very much at ease on that convertible as she rode around the field.
I never will forget it.


15
I: Did Seminole children ever date white children?
S: I doubt it. It would be rare if they did, I believe, too rare.
I've never...
I: Can you tell me why?
S: Their different backgrounds, their parents, both parents on both
sides I imagine would...Well, I believe they would oppose it. I
wouldn't, but I believe most parents would, on both the whites
and the Seminoles. I believe, just because of the complications
maybe that would arise if they dated and, you know, became serious.
I: Would it be difficult then for a white man to marry a Seminole
woman and live in this area, or for a white girl to marry a Seminole
man?
S: Well now a white man can't...a white man can not marry a Seminole
woman and live on the reservation.
I: Now I don't mean the reservation, I'm talking about in the Okeechobee
area.
S: I would say it would be extremely difficult. Yes, extremely. It
still would be.
I: Yes.
S: Because of people's narrow response or lack of...well, just lack
of understanding, you know, brotherly love. We say we believe we're
all brothers, we're all created in God's image, but we certainly
don't live it. We certainly don't live it. We certainly don't show
it. We may say it, but we don't do it.
I: Well, you told me before that you were part of a program to teach
remedial reading.
S: Yes.
I: To Seminole children there on Big Cypress. Has it been your experience
that most Seminole children...or just tell me what percentage of
Seminole children you think wind up in high school needing training
in remedial reading.
S: Oh, well, I would say 75 per cent.


16
H 1Jennife !!! Aftf 6 tries, I decided *just go Ikead
and ge this o so I ago onNThese are pa 22 to
1 ish in e tran ipt.
I: Why?
S: Well, not just the language. The language, of course. Let's
see, how can I say it? They're not...understand anyone at
all, but a child has a lot of books at home. They're read to
a lot at home. He's a natural, he's ready to read when he comes
to school, usually, because he wants to read. A child that goes
to the library and picks out a lot of easy books, like we used
to take our children to the library, and I'm sure you do. At
least they have reading material, and they see you read, and they
wonder why you're reading, where you read things out loud to
your wife, she reads things to you. So they see. Children learn
by imitation, you know. They see what you enjoy doing, and they're
going to want to enjoy doing that, too. That's one of the reasons,
I think. As a first grade teacher--I taught first grade fifteen
years, more than any other grade--and, to me, the main thing is a
child comes from a family that reads.
I: Yes.
S: If their desire is there. Of course, there are exceptions to all
rules, but I think a child that sees their parents reading, and
have plenty of reading material, even if it's just picture books
at first, and the people comment on what they read from the news-
paper...I know I grew up in a very poor family, ten of us in Ken-
tucky, but my father was a teacher. I know we always took two news-
papers. Well, that was unheard of. No one else in that community
took a newspaper, a daily paper, the Lo;Wville Courier Journal.
From the itne I can remember, all of us read, even the poor old
aunts. We read, and to me that is the main thing, that the parents
read. You can't say to a child this is good for you, this is of
value, if you don't do it your self. If they see you reading as just
a natural thing to read, well, they're going to cle to school want-
e ing to read andpreyfer to read, and they're the oAes that learn the
fastest. They're the ones that respond to the first teaching.
I" You've been here long enough now to see two generations of Seminole
children in school, one of them leaving and one of them coming in.
I'm wondering is the second genreation of S/mincle children, those
who are brn to S inoles with at least 'thighcchooll education, have
sho n any implement in capacity to learn, or any difference that
ever?


17
S: I have no way of saying for sure, but just knowing the people
who are the parents of the new generation, I would say defin-
itely yes. Looking at Nancy Frank, she has a little baby now,
just past a year old. Knowing Nancy, that baby is going to have
picture books, it's going to have little records to listen to,
those little golden records. Joe Dan Osceola is one, and Arnie
Osceola who works in the Head Start program down there is one.
She's interested in her children as usual. The older ones, of
my age, that never had it when they were children or whenever
they were young, they weren't exposed to it, they didn't have
the opportunity to learn to read or to write, maybe couldn't
see the value, but as I told my students...
I: What was your experience in motivating Seminole children to
learn? Did you find that they were easy to motivate and control?
S: Well, at Big Cypress, the first year was just rewarding for this
reason. Bill Boehmer was well known and well liked out there, and
I would say, "Mr. Boehmer is going to be so pleased when he comes
back, he won't believe this is your work. Mr. Boehmer just won't
believe it." And they responded to that, they really did respond
beautifully. I know I made the...one thing I did, I made this
silhouette, we didn't have any camera that year to make the pic-
tures, and I made this silhouette to put on the wall. Mr. Boehmer
recognized each one of their sil...you know, he knew who each
child was just from their profile, and Nancy cut them for me. I
would draw around them, and then she would cut them for me. Her
hand was better than mine. I guess at the end she traced around
them, too. But they enjoyed that, and then they would try to make
silhouettes, and they would do art work that I thought was good.
We did some carving, and we had two or three that did some paint-
ing. Amos Frank, I believe, was one that I thought had promise as
an artist down there. I'm ashamed I haven't kept in closer touch
with them. Virginia Tiger was a shy little student in art that we
had on the reservation that was talented, which was Big Cypress.
But just praising them and trying not to compare their work with
anyone else. You wouldn't mention, "Look how well Amos is doing
compared to you David" or anything like that. Just praise him like
I would do with any other class. Although, as Nancy told me, they
don't like to excell, as if they're showing off or better, you
know, doing better work than anyone else. You couldn't say, now,
you know, you're going to get a star or 'A' or something like that,
like you would...like I had been used to teaching...I mean the
traditional way of teaching. So I just did it by trial and error,


18
I guess, to get them to, you know, to do good and to learn.
And Nancy fell right in with whatever I would try to do. One
of the things--this has nothing to do with reading or writing,
but had to do with their eating habits, because to me you are
what you eat. If you have a well-balanced diet, you're going
to feel well, and you're going to learn better, and everything
else, you know, if you have the right food. And I know one of
the things they had down there was just boxes and boxes of
powdered milk. But Bill Boehmer had told me that they didn't
eat or drink a lot of milk, and they had a lot of dental prob-
lems.
I: Yes.
S: You know, cavities. And I know we bought gallons of chocolate
syrup, and we fixed chocolate milk for them. We started out
with little three ounce glasses, and everybody that wanted
seconds would have seconds. We got from the lunchroom five ounce
glasses, and then, by the end of the summer, they would drink
two or three glasses of the chocolate milk. They just loved that.
To me that was really something because then the next fall, when-
ever they had their school lunch program, they used the chocolate
syrup and their powdered milk to get them...to make it more appe-
tizing, you know. Maybe they just liked the chocolate flavor. They
like peanut butter. I know when we'd have little tea parties for
the little ones, this was out in...in the afternoon, you know, when
we had a little tea party in the chickee, why we would have peanut
butter. I know this one little girl who was so shy. She lived with
her grandmother, and was extremely shy. She was at school about
five or five-thirty every morning. She came by herself. She hadn't
said a word the whole time. She just didn't say anything, yes or no
or anything else. She just would, you know, stand with her head
down, looking down at her toes it seemed like. I know we were having
this little tea party and passing peanut butter, and the first word
I heard her say was, "More peanuts butter" and then she said, "Please."
It was just...well, it was just a revelation for me whenever she said,
"More peanut butter, please." We had one little girl, Violet Gin, who
has a mixed parentage, I understand. Big Cypress, we took them to
the Seaquarium at Miami that year, and I let her ride next to Nancy
who was very outgoing, in front of me so I could keep my eye on her,
but nothing happened because she was extremely shy. She was thirteen


19
years old. She did not say one word the entire trip, all
day long, from Big Cypress to the Seaquarium, to a rest-
aurant to eat, stopped for snacks, back to the Seaquarium.
She was on that bus, I guess the whole trip was about fif-
teen hours, and she did not say one word the entire day.
Of course, she could talk. She talked at home, but she was
just that shy, and it was just the first time she'd ever
been to Miami to see the things that we saw.
I: Yes.
S: And so she was just so overcome she did not say one single
word. Each day took care of itself I guess. I know that
they felt...I know they had to feel that I was there to...
because I wanted to be there.
I: Yes.
S: Because I wanted to help them. Because I loved them, which
I really did. I really admired them. They have a gentleness,
a calmness, and they accept things so...well, a complacency
about them, a sweetness about them. I'll enlarge on that,
Robert, about their calmness and serenity. They're extremely
unselfish. I never once saw a child say, "That's mine." I
never had to set...I never settled an argument. There was
never any arguments between them, and they played beautifully.
Mr. Boehmer used to bring carloads of new toys and new things
down. I've never seen a child that grabbed the prettiest or
the biggest and held on to it. If someone else wanted it they
just gave it up willingly. How they have ever been trained to
get along as well as they do, unless it is that they really
live what they think; that this Earth is put here for all of
us. The air belongs to all of us, the water, the earth, the
animals. They shared what they had. Their culture was to share,
not to hoard it up for myself, and not to grab. I've never
seen a grabber. I've never seen anything but unselfishness.
And how their mothers have ever trained them that way, I really
don't know because I have never seen a child...I've never seen
an adult or anything else touch a child in punishment, like
sometimes we spank...well, I don't, but a lot of people do. But
they just raise their children beautifully, and how they do it
I do not know. But whatever it is we should certainly copy. It
would be something for us to emulate, because there's just a
different feeling there. There really is.


20
I: This brings up something interesting...
S: Their uh...
I: It's interesting to me...
S: Do you know what? They had no doors to put locks on. They
had no locks. They didn't know what locks were, because
locks are to keep anything for themselves. They either all
had something, they shared it, or they all just did with-
out, because there's been a lot of doing without.
I: You said that there was probably no competitiveness with
these children.
S: No, that's just...that was not a thing they...
I: And there's a tendency to share and so on...
S: Right.
I: I would like to know how you feel about ambition. You know,
does ambition play a role in Seminole culture?
S: Well, I guess it does now more than it used to. I don't be-
lieve it...I don't believe it used to. Ambition was in theirs
like it is in ours, the drive to get ahead, or to be somebody,
or to acquire things, or just to have things for the sake of
having them. I don't think that was in their culture at all, in
their feelings. This was foreign to them, just to have something.
Didn't really need just to show. I think everything they had had
some use, you know.
I: The question then would be...you have stated before that you had
gone out there to Big Cypress to help them...
S: Well, I was thinking about myself then like a missionary, but I
don't feel that way now. Really I feel like I went there...I
hope I went there because I was another person trying to help
them help themselves, maybe, so they would have more security
and more...well, more security. Not more tools to get ahead and
anything like that, but just more security to...not to compete,
but just to survive in this world really, just to get along.


21
I: This is what I was getting at.
S: To help themselves...
I: You went out there to help them. Then you said that they
apparently understood that you were there to help them.
S: Yes.
I: Well, what I would like to know is...was it possible to
motivate them in the abstract sense? Was it possible to
convince them that it was in their own best interest that
they learn to read and write English. Could you say later
on in life it will be easier for you if you learn to read
and write English? Would that be acceptable motivation or
would it appeal to them on a personal level?
S: I don't believe it would be...I don't believe it would be...
well, actually I don't believe it's ever later on better for
them to do anything. I think it's better for you to do it to-
day if you're going to do it. It's better for you to do it
right now because of the enjoyment. You're getting the satis-
faction, you know, you don't hold out anything. I never do to
anybody, even to my high school kids, it's going to be easier
for you after a while. It's going to be better for you right
now, if you can do it right today. Even with your little ones,
you know, it's their immediate that you have to show them the
immediate satisfaction or pleasure that they get, to me.
I: I want to enlarge upon this. I'm sorry to interrupt you.
S: Yes, that's all right. That's all right.
I: You had said that you had gotten the Seminoles to read and write
a little better by telling them that Mr. Boehmer would approve
of it.
S: Right. That's right. "Mr. Boehmer is going to be so surprised.
He's going to be so pleased." Because, see, they had confidence
in Mr. Boehmer because over the years he had really helped them,
you know, and his wife would come down with him. She too was a
real good friend to them, and had done many things for them. In
fact, they're the ones that started the arts and crafts shop and


22
started helping them sell their handwork, which is so beauti-
ful and so painstaking. So they had confidence in the Boehmers,
and that was my wedge, or my, you know, motivating thing at
first. "Mr. Boehmer is going to be so pleased with what you're
doing, the progress that you're making. You can read this so
much better than you could, you know, your writing last week."
I: Could you convince them that it would be better for them, in
the present, you know, when you were teaching them, to be able
to read and write? How would you explain to them that it was
better for them to be able to read and write?
S: That's what I don't know. I just told you.
I: Yes, just exactly...
S: I never know. I'm sort of a hodge-podge person, Robert, and yet
I get results. Now that's the truth.
I: Yes.
S: I was the teacher of the year last year. I've been...I got a lot
of, you know, recognition from parents.
I: Well, I don't mean to...
S: I mean I know what you...but I really can't put in words how I
do it. Now that is the truth. But you can come to observe me
working with my children, just through a lot of praise. I don't
know really how I got them to wanting to do better today than
they did yesterday because they would be better satisfied with
themselves. I really don't know.
I: That's it exactly. That's the key to it. That's what I'm getting
at. Let me sum it up.
S: O.k.
I: What you told me you...
S: You asked me...
I: Apparently it's all been on a personal basis.
S: Yes, right.


23
I: You've said that you've told them that someone else would be
pleased if they do well today.
S: Right.
I: That you would be pleased if they do well today.
S: Right.
I: What about themselves? Will they be pleased if they do well
today, and, if so, why?
S: I don't know how...I don't know the why at all, but I know
they were pleased with themselves because of this. Now this
is a positive proof that I got results down there, for them
to come up on a stage and put on a program, or be a master
of ceremonies, or have the leading role in the play shall we
say. I don't believe they ever really thought much about do-
ing that, but we learned many little poems and acted out
stories, puppet shows, I don't know what all. We had a program
the last of the school and I couldn't believe that that many
parents came. I couldn't believe that that many of my little
shy ones got up there and had a solo part in the program. I
thought, "Well, when the time comes they probably won't go
through with it. They're doing it now because Nancy and I are
here telling them as soon as we do this we'll go out and have
a picnic, or as soon as we get through we'll have some more
chocolate milk, or as soon as we finish we'll do some other
little..." I guess it was a carrot before their nose. But the
night of the program, I couldn't believe that that many of
them got up there and performed singly. We clapped for each
one as we do at any little P.T.A. program. This was a climax
to the school program, you know, everything...not everything
we'd learned, but all their paper work, the tangibles, were
on display there for the parents to see, their art work. Some
of it was beautiful, and I kept much of it, but in a small
house I just couldn't, you know, didn't have the storage space.
But that evening then, every child, we sang, they did dances,
we had records, you know, that were the rhythm and they would
do whatever the record told them to do. The small ones would
act it out, you know. I didn't say one word that evening except
to welcome the parents, and I turned it over to the children,
and they had the program. So they were pleased with themselves,
but how I ever really got them to working, to be pleased with


24
themselves...I guess it just came as they did something they
were pleased with they could see their progress, and the en-
joyment they got in doing it, and there you are. We learned
by doing. I guess they learned the pleasure and the satisfac-
tion by doing it one day, and they could see their progress
themselves. They did make progress, but they had a long...
they were...they really needed help. That's what I say. I would
say that 75 per cent of them that get to high school--and the
majority of course never go to high school, I'm sure of that.
But I would say the majority still need help in reading. And of
course reading is the clue or the key to everything else, the
ability to read. And of course just saying the word is not
reading, and especially with them because they don't have the
background, you know, the experiences to know what the word
means. Being able to sound out the word, even if you'd teach
them phonics, how to sound out the word, it doesn't mean any-
thing if they don't know what the meaning of it.
I: What year did you start the program out there in Big Cypress?
S: In '61.
I: And it ended when?
S: Well, no, you see I was just down there in the summer, just for
eight weeks. I wasn't a regular teacher. I always wished I could
have been. This Billy Osceola asked me that year at the Christ-
mas party if I would teach, you know, be a regular teacher full
time. My husband just thought I was out of my mind, you know,
at my age, to go down there and work the hours that I did. It
was supposed to be a regular school day, but for me it was al-
ways a lot more than that because the children would come early,
and I was there. We would just start doing things early and it was
just too long a day, he thought, for me. No, it was just for
eight weeks, eight weeks the summer of '61, I believe. I'd have
to look at the dates, Robert, but it was along in there...'61. I
know the Head Start Program was in '65, and that was, I guess,
one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Because
...well, I've always taught the little ones in Sunday School. I
taught the six-year-old class in Sunday School for years, and so
I knew all the little finger plays, and all the little rhythms
that the little ones would like. And they just fell into place, too.
That was a wonderful year. Then the other year--I'm not sure, I
think it was '67--I taught down at Big Cypress. Then I substituted
down at Brighton...I really don't remember, I believe '68.


25
I: Is this remedial program still being carried out?
S: I really don't know. I would...of course teachers are like...
teachers are people and you have to have a really conscien-
tous person that really wants to help to work at it because
you do have to, well, pull a lot of...You have to care, to
put it...I mean...I don't know what I...You know what I'm
trying to say...You really just can't be...It isn't just a
summer job...If you can't see the needs of the children and
try and help them each day. I tried to help them in many dif-
ferent ways, not just in a classroom, after school. We potted
little plants to take home to each family, and then we'd de-
liver those. I'd go with them and take the little flowers to
their mothers, show them how to water them. Many things that
we tried to do like that were the extras, but I think it's
what makes your teaching--give help, or remedial work, or
high school, or whatever it is--it's your extras that a teach-
er does that's a personal thing that shows a child she really
cares about him, not just what's going on in his brain.
I: Yes.
S: How he's feeling.
I: Is there anything else you'd like to add to that?
S: I can't think, except how much I admire the Seminoles, and Nancy
knows that. I know when I was in the hospital, that long time I
said I was in the hospital one time, and Nancy heard about it. She
wrote me a note, and I still have it. She said she thought that
she'd rather have that than a get well card, a note that someone
had written. To me it just said a lot because I must have sold
myself to Nancy as a person because she knew that that get-well
card that she had written, telling me that she loved me and that
she wished there were more people like me, and that she knew I
was...you know...She probably always would think of me as one of
her best friends. Well, I treasure that because Nancy is a very...
more going-out than most people. She's a very...has a sense of
humor, but she's very honest. She wouldn't tell you that she
thought this was good if it wasn't good. She'd frankly tell you
no, and then laugh when she did it, but she would tell you no.
To illustrate Nancy's sense of humor, she got a job in a Miami
bank right after she worked with me on the reservation, right
after we worked together. So my husband and I were down there one


26
time after that to see her. My husband said to her, he said,
"Well, now I know where to go when I need to get a loan,"
and she said, "I'll tell them I never saw you before."
I: Ha...haha...ha.
S: We were down there once. I went down on Easter to take a
plant, you know, for their Easter service. I took potted
gardenias, I believe, and that was a real pretty plant. When
I got there I found out they were having an egg hunt at
Nancy's house that day and that she wanted me to come. She's
invited me down there since then to birthday parties she's
had for her father. But anyhow, I went to their egg hunt, and
this was new on the reservation, them having an Easter egg
hunt, you know, hiding eggs for the kids.
I: Yeah.
S: And I know I stayed down there for the Easter egg hunt at their
house. Saw a lot of the people I had in school. Some of them,
you know, merely shook hands with me and they didn't answer my
questions hardly when I made conversation with them, but they
were pleasant. They were friendly, but they're not exuberant,
you know, in their sentiments. But they're friendly. I know
they're having an assembly down there Thanksgiving, and I'm
sure if I went I would be...you know, would be ones there that
would recognize me, but they wouldn't probably 'glad hand' as
we say, like the politicians do, anything like that. But, they're
sincere. If they do shake hands with you, then they would really
be friendly underneath.
I: Well, thank you very much for the interview...
S: Well, I've enjoyed it, Robert.
I: You're quite welcome.
S: And I hope I haven't...I wouldn't ever want to hurt anybody's
feelings, and I have nothing but the highest admiration for
the Seminole people. I just wish I knew how to help all of the
Indian people who have certainly been so mistreated by us civil-
ized, cultured, Christian white man. We certainly have mistreat-
ed them in every instance that I've ever seen. They have been so
cheated and so betrayed that it just breaks my heart. As I get


27
older, I think I'm more conscious of the need to do something
to try to atone for our mistakes because they've been delib-
erate mistakes many times. Trail of Tears and films like that
are bringing it home to us all, and yet some people still have
the feeling that we're a priviledged people, just because the
lack of pigment. That's all it is. It's heart breaking. I just
hope your generation will do something to...you can't right
the wrongs of the past, but I hope you don't continue to, you
know, do the things that our generation has done. Those in the
past we know we can't do anything about them, but we certainly
have to think up some ways to help them now, the future genera-
tion.
I: Well, thank you again.
S: I thank you.
I: Really appreciate it.