Interview with Mrs. Sara Crim, May 1, 1969

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Interview with Mrs. Sara Crim, May 1, 1969
Crim, Sara ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


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


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.

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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
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In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida

Carlisle (Indian school in Oklahoma), 4
chickees, 8
Crop-Eared Charlie, 9-10
dress (Indian), 1, 7
Education (Indian attitude toward), 5, 7
Stranahan, Mrs. Ivy, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10
Tommie, Tony, 1-7
trade with Indians, 6
Weidling, Philip (Ft. Lauderdale writer), 8

Beginning around 1911, Mrs. Sara Crim tells of her
early experiences in Ft. Lauderdale, particularly with the
Seminoles and Tony Tommie. She gives some details about
Tony Tommie's personality, dress, education and final
illness. She mentions Indian relations in the community,
their attitude toward education and the great influence
of Mrs. Stranahan.

I: This is Mrs. Sara Crim, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She's
going to tell us about her early experiences in Fort Lauderdale,
and with Tony Tommie. Mrs. Crim, would you like to
lead off, or would you like me to ask you a question right
C: Well, would you like me to start? I didn't know Tony Tommie
for some time. Would you like me to start about my first
contact with the Seminoles?
I: Yes.
C: Well, even at that time I was quite a small girl. We came
here in January or early February, 1911. I can't remember
the exact date. And I had my first experience with the
Indians at that time--I had never seen an Indian, and they
were, was a small group, sleeping off the effects
of firewater, you know. And I had to step all over 'em,
and I was scared to death with their funny...some of them
just had, I called them night shirt mini skirts. That's
what you call them now, you know. And some had the full
Seminole dress with skirts that came below their knees. Of
course that was my first experience with the Indians, and I
was very much frightened by them, you know.
Then a little later, I met Tony Tommie--I cannot remem-
ber when, but it must have been around 1912 or 1913. And
he was very popular with all the children in town, because
he tried to act as much like an American as he could. He
wore trousers, just like the men did. And he wore the bright-
colored shirts which made him very glamorous.
And, my first experience with knowing him really well know how people gather, in a small town on Saturday
night, and there were only about four blocks of town at that
time. And everyone was down on Wall Street, or what we
called Osceola Avenue, now West Avenue, you know. West First
Avenue. Tony would always have his bicycle there, and all
the children would take turns being carried around the block.
That was the greatest honor you could possibly have.
I: To ride with Tony Tommie?
C: Yes. He was so nice to everyone...and by that time, I had

gotten over my great fear of Indians, because they wouldn't
really hurt you. And, I remember one time--they would
sleep off their firewater just any old place--I had to go
up the river, where my piano teacher lived, and.-.I had to
take a narrow path; and I stepped on one of 'em. It was so
covered and he let out this most blood-curdling yell, and
he just started chasing me, and that scared me to death
But they never would hurt you, and I became so accus-
tomed to Indians sleeping all over all the porches in town
--they never thought, well, there were no hotels. But, it
didn't matter to the people, they were their friends. And
for four or five to sleep all night on your porch, that was
the expected thing. Now, Tony never did that. He was
either taken into someone's home, or he--at least, he never
And I think about the time that he started in school--
he didn't start in old school, which was south of our
river, but the new Stranahan school was open for the term
of 1915.- And that was when Tony started to school, about
that time. Of course, Mrs. Stranahan, who was the good
Samaritan, along with her husband at that time, of all Seminoles,
had persuaded him to go to school. Now, I don't
remember how long he went, but it was several years.
And then, people were so proud of his grades and what
he was trying to do that they made it possible for him to
go to college in Oklahoma. And of course, after a year or
two he couldn't stand that climate, the cold, you know, he
had always lived down here. He contracted tuberculosis.
And I wish I had the copy of that letter that I had--not the
original copy, but a copy out of a magazine--it was published
in a magazine that, the old Watson Magazine of Georgia. He
owned Las Olas Inn at that time, and we knew him very well.
But it was a very pathetic letter--he was so terribly home-
sick. And he said he was sick, and he could not stand it
there any longer. And he had tuberculosis, which was true.
So, everyone had him brought home. And he died within a
very short time. But he was home where he wanted to be.
Now, that's about all I can tell you about Tony Tommie.
I: Was he much older than all of you? Can you remember?
C: Well, I'd say he must have been about sixteen. Yes, he was
older than all of us, but you know, you don't pay much atten-
tion to ages. Many of the little boys wore long trousers
at that time, and he did, you know. And he was larger than
us. I would say, looking back, that he was around sixteen
years old.

I: Were you a classmate of his?
C: No. He had to start down with the children. But they all
loved him, and he didn't seem to mind [being] down with the
little things. 'Cause he hadn't had any conventional school-
ing. And he naturally had to start down where he could....
I: I think it was the sixth grade Mrs. Rickards mentioned, or
C: That's when he went off to school, wasn't it, this Oklahoma
I: Well, no, the sixth grade, she said, when the school opened,
he was with her, and in the sixth grade.
C: Well, then he might have gone into the sixth grade, because
people like Mrs. Stranahan would have taken a great deal of
interest in him, and she was a former school teacher. And
I think perhaps she had helped him with his education. Now
she'd be the greatest person to talk to, but Mrs. Stranahan
is in her eighties...I think she's around ninety. And she's
in the hospital right now getting a cornea transplant--the
second one. The first one was not right. And I doubt if
she'd be able to give you an interview. But she would have
been the one, because her mind is very active yet, you know.
I: Dr. Kersey did talk with her at length at one time.
C: Yes. She's very fine woman.
I: Oh, she seems to be wonderful. Did you see him very much
after he left school?
C: No. Because he came back here. He was so sick--I don't
know where he was--but he was so sick, and I think they
might have put him in a hospital in Miami, or something like
that. Now, that I can't tell you.
I: And how did you find out that he had been sick in Oklahoma?
C: He wrote that letter home.
I: Oh, I see. your family, or...?
C: No, to the Stranahans, I think. And I'm quite sure my father
published it in the paper. Later I had this copy out of

this magazine, that Senator Watson had sent to my dad all
the time, you know, I saw it in. Then I gave it to Mr. Vale,
along with his collection of pictures and things, and he
gave all those to a historical society. But I don't believe
that little article--he must have lost that. It was just a
little thing like that, you know.
I: Was there ever any ingormation on his attending Carlisle,
the Indian school in Pennsylvania?
C: No. NOt that I know of. I know it was to Oklahoma that he
was sent from here.
I: Yeah, that's what Mrs. Rickards said too, he went there about
a year or so. And how long did you say you thought he attended
the high school here? From 1915 to, maybe, '17?
C: Well, yes, or maybe....
I: Couple of years?
C: At least a couple of years. But he really was a fine student,
and of course the Indian college probably would take him in
and train him further, don't you see.
I: Did he seem happy in school when you knew him?
C: Yes. He was as happy, as sweet a person as you'd ever hope
to meet.
I: Did he speak English well?
C: Very well. Because he was with the town people so much of
the time, you know.
I: And you accepted him socially?
C: Well, yes they did. Tony Tommie was loved by everyone.
I: There was no reaction on the townspeoples part in...
C: The racial thing?
I: ...have him coming to school, was there?
C: Oh, no.

I: What about on the other Seminole Indians? Did they dislike
Tommie going to school?
C: Well, they were not in favor of education. And it took Mrs.
Stranahan a great many years to get two little Indians girls
in college--in the high school here. And they went for a
time, but they didn't finish and go on to college, or any-
thing like that.
I: When was that, approximately?
C: Well, that was some time from '15 to '18.
I: About the same time as Tony Tommie?
C: Yes. I think so. I do know that in the old school, on the
south side, there were no Indians attending school, because
the older Indians did not believe in education. And of
course they had a great influence. Now it's different. So
many of the Seminoles are finishing school, and going on to
college, and are really making something of themselves, you
I: What was the early school like, which was down in Lauderdale?
C: Well, my graduating class, in 1919, I think there were around
twelve. And one little building held the whole school. Of
course, they had no kindergarten at that time. Then there
was a little kindergarten building put next door, you know.
And when my daughter started school, she went to that little
kindergarten first. But she went completely through high
school in that school, and the old buildings are still there.
It's been used as a vocational center, and...there's been
talk that this will go up, and that will go up, and then
something happens that nothing ever takes place. They've
held the peoperty at a very high price, for downtown, at the
present time.
I: I imagine those were exciting days in Lauderdale.
C: Oh, they were perfect. No one ever locked a door, or took
the keys....
I: You just have to remember that this existed.
C: Yes. Or, let...would take their keys out of the car. I do
remember one day when I was reporting for my father, there

was a Jewish man, a Max Learman, a very nice one--he had a
little department store on Andrews Avenue. And we had cars
exactly alike--well, I drove off in his car. And he chased
me all the way down the street, you know; "You have my car.
You bring my car back to me." But those kind of things hap-
pened every day.
I: Now, were there many Indians that you saw in town? Would
they come in every Saturday?
C: Oh, yes. They came in from their reservations and their
chickees, and would bring their plumes and things that the
women had made. Oh, so many things, you know. And, of
course, Mr. Stranahan, who had the only store here at that, Berryhill had one...I can't remember his first
name...but they and some of the townspeople would buy all
their stuff. And the horrible thing about it, they would
immediately, from the wrong kind of people, buy moonshine,
which they proceeded to....
I: Consume?
C: And then they would sleep off their drunks on porches, or
any.... No one bothered 'em. They could stay there for
a week if they wanted to.
I: I see.
C: They never stole things; they were all completely honest.
And their women, there was never, or as far as I know to
this day, there's never been a scandal of any kind where
their women were concerned. There's never been anything
like affairs, like is so common in our part of the....
I: Society? Um huh. Now those two girls that Mrs. Stranahan
got in to...were they in grade school too, along with
Tommie, do you remember?
C: That I can't tell you positively. Tony was the first. And
I believe as soon as Mrs. Stranahan, who is the only person
in the world that could've made it come about, finally
talked some Indian family into letting the two girls come
to school, you know.
I: Boy, that took some talking.
C: Yes. But she could do anything with the Indians. And Frank

Stranahan the same way. Because from the first day he came
to Lauderdale, quite awhile before I was born--it was late
in the century; I believe he came in 1895-1897, it was one
of those years.
I: I was just wondering if those two girls had any involvement
with the people, as Tony Tommie had had.
C: Well, not in that way. The women were very shy. Of course,
they were taught to be that way by the braves, you know.
And their dress was extremely modest--these big flowing
capes, and these wide skirts that were dust catchers, you
know. And then beads around their neck, dozens and dozens
of strands of beads.
I: Well, I'll be darned. That's very colorful.
C: It was colorful.
I: Why had you been afraid of the Indians when you first came?
Had you had a bad experience?
C: No. Except them all lying on the railroad porch, drunk.
Dead to the world, and the fact that I'd never seen anything
dressed like that before in my life.
I: Now, these two little girls that you speak of....
C: They were large girls. I'd say they were fourteen or fifteen,
something like that.
I: You seem to indicate that it wasn't successful; it wasn't
successful with them. Did they just stop, or what happened
to them? Do you know?
C: Well, I can't tell you. Evidently they had too much pressure
from their parents. And the girls couldn't do...they were
held down very rigidly, you know.
[A gap in the interview occurs here.]
C: It's just--the writers who have done anything have not shown
any interest in any of the real life of Fort Lauderdale when
it was just a babe, you know.
I: Why do you think that? Why haven't they?

C: Well, take Junior's history--it was such a com-
plicated book to write, to try to take it from the beginning
of time up through this present period, that it would've
taken five or ten books for him to write the book. Now,
he's a very fine writer. And I'd say probably the best
writer in Fort Lauderdale.
I: What's his name again?
C: Junior Wiedling, Philip Wiedling. Of course, he prefers to
be known as Philip. But after all, I've just called him
Junior all these years.
[A gap in the interview occurs here.]
I: ...Indian reservations like in those days?
C: Well, it's hard to say. I'd say it was a very primitive
way of living. They had the thatched-top chickees. And
they were on four posts. There was no flooring at all.
Maybe the stove would be out in the outside, you know. And
very little furnishings. They'd have something to sleep
on, cots I suppose, or something like that. But they were
all open on the sides.
There was absolutely no privacy there at all for the
Indians. And they rather resented the white people coming
out there. But I have been out many times, and....
I: Did they resent your coming out, or were they friendly?
C: No. I went out later, mainly because they refused to move
out of those chickees for years, you know. Now, they're
becoming Americanized.
I did newspaper work for my father. I think I started
when I was learning my ABCs, practically. But then, I did
that seriously in 1921 until '25. I was with his paper com-
pletely. And since that time I was with the city hall a
great deal of the time, and I finally worked up to tax-
collector/treasurer. And in between, you know, different
commissioners would fire you, and the next one would rehire
you. Then I'd work in the local Herald offices, and Miami
News offices, and things like that.
I: But you'd go out to the reservation every once in a while?
C: Yes, I'd go out there, then.

I: Were they friendly, on the reservation?
C: Well, I think they would just as soon you'd stayed home,
but I must say, they were nice and polite. The older group
of Indians, they always resented the white people taking
their property--coming in where they belonged, you know.
I: Was religion successful among the Indians to your knowledge?
C: That, Mrs. Stranahan worked very strongly with. I'm not
sure. I don't know. I never saw one of them in one of our
churches. Now, they could've been in some of the churches,
because I went to a great many churches. I would like one
a while--I mean, I went.... Dad said just as I went to
church, it was all right with him. My mother preferred
Presbyterian, and I suppose I am basically Presbyterian.
But the most colorful Indian we ever had here, we
called him--did you ever hear of this, Old Crop-Eared Charlie?
I: No.
C: Well, now this is a story. He was quite a large boy, I sup-
pose, when they had the Seminole wars down here, and the
battle of Lauderdale. And of course, the old primitive fort,
of which I think they have a replica of some kind at the historical society.
He liked the white people. And he came by
canoe in the middle of the night, and he notified the people
at the fort what was going to happen--that the Indians were
going to attack the next night. So when he went back to the
Indians, they cropped his ears. And he was sort of an exile
the rest of his life.
I think he was banished to the Everglades for a while.
And they finally let him...I don't know whether he ever
lived on the reservation, but he had to, because he didn't
live here in town. But he was our most colorful character.
He was, of course, quite an old man when I first knew him.
But he never wore anything but the night shirts, you know.
He just kept to his own ways. Now, I'd say he was one of the
most popular Seminoles in town.
I: Did he just come in for visits?
C: Yes I think so. Because he wasn't in town all the time.
And he did not take the money that he made and spend it on
drink, you know.
I: Did the other Indians bother with him, do you think?

C: I don't think they particularly ever accepted him. Now that
is a story that I've heard many times from people like Mrs.
Stranahan. I wrote an old history, but that was when I was
with city hall. It was published in the News.
This having to have an episode ready every day, or a
chapter, and then work all day, and then spend my weekends
running up and down the coast, it just became too much.
So I took my history, which included some of these old
stories, up through 1895, when the railroad came in and
everything. And of course we didn't come until 1911, so I
had to depend on all these marvelous pioneers, who could
just tell you anything you wanted to know. But so many of
them have died since. And then, a few had moved in other
parts of the state, like maybe in Hollywood, or Homestead,
or up at Stuart, or something like that. And my husband
would have to spend his Sundays driving me up there to get
all that information, you know.
I: But he did exist, and this happened, Old Crop-Eared Charlie?
C: Oh, yes. It's supposed to be the genuine story. And I
don't know why he'd had...he'd have had his ears cropped
otherwise, you know.
I: They did that sometimes to people who went and got an education.
C: And I think that was one of the reasons probably that...well,
not in his case, because he had never seen a school, you
know. But I think that was one reason it was so difficult
for people like Mrs. Stranahan to get any enthusiasm when
she would go out there.