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Interview with Milton D. Thompson, June 25, 1975

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Title:
Interview with Milton D. Thompson, June 25, 1975
Creator:
Thompson, Milton D. ( 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.

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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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Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.
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SEM 139 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )

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Full Text
SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida
INTERVIEWEE: Mr. Milton D. Thompson
INTERVIEWER: Dr. John Mahon
DATE: June 25, 1975


SUMMARY
Milton D. Thompson, one of the Tamiami Trailblazers,
talks in this interview about that Tamiami Trail adven-
ture. He also gives specific information regarding the
Miccosukee language, Indian food and gardening, descrip-
tions of Indian camps and transportation. Sprinkled
throughout the interview are memories of certain Indians
he knew and who were photographed by Stanley Hanson, Sr.
Mr. Thompson discusses animals often hunted and mentions
snakes which were very rarely killed by the Indians.


INDEX
Billie, Ingraham, 14
Black Tarpon Lake (Tarpon Lake), 18
Clay, Abraham Lincoln (guide), 13
Conapatchee, Billie (interpreter), 14
Dixie, Charlie (last Negro slave), 17
family structure, 7
Fewell, Billy, 14
food (Indian), 8-10
gardening, 10-12
Guava Camp, 15
Hanson, W. Stanley, Sr., 1-4, 12
hunting, 20-22
Indian camps (description of), 15, 17-18
language, Miccosukee, 5-6
Nash, Roy (Indian alcoholism theory), 22
Osceola, Corey, 17-18
sawgrass, 7-8
snakes, 18-19
Spencer, Lucien A., 1-2
sugar cane; distilled, 12
Thompson, Milton D.
opinion of Indians, 1
Tamiami Trail trip, 3


Tippens, Frank (sheriff), 1, 12
transportation (Seminole), 4-5, 15-16
tribal discipline, 13


M: [This is an interview with] Milton D. Thompson at his home, 1728
Coronado Road, Fort Myers, on 25 June 1975. Milton D. Thompson
has a very long experience with the Indians, and that's what we're
going to discuss during the afternoon.
How did you get interested in the Indians in the first place?
T: Well, in the first place I was a young man and worked as a mechanic
in a garage. If you drove a car, you had to be able to repair
tires and make minor repairs on the motor. I had an opportunity
to go with Captain Spencer [Lucien A. Spencer], the Indian agent
and Stanley Hanson, Sr. who was well known among the Indians...
also Sheriff Frank Tippins. I went with those three men on some
of their trips, and got acquainted with the Indians. And I took
an interest in them. I wish I'd had the education, or whatever
it is, to take pictures and notes, which I didn't. If I had
known half of what I do now, I would have.
The Indians are quite interesting people. The one question
that I have asked a lot of people, is, "Do you know of any country
or any state in the Union that you could do away with all the
people except one hundred fifty, and leave these all alone to
govern themselves morally, physically and religiously--the Indians
are a very religious people; Ashuckatommassee is their god--and
these few would build themselves up in every way equal to today's
Florida Indians?" And where could you go and take that many peo-
ple and put them in a country where there were enemies (the white
people were the enemies)? Still they made a living; they made a
go of it. They have come back today, to the best of my knowledge,
around a thousand people.
M: Yes, I think a little more than that.
T: And they are definitely recognized in the United States as a people.
M: Sure they are.
T: And where else in the world could you find anybody, any people in
this day and time that could do it?
M: Now Mr. Thompson, when you got interested, when was this more or
less? I mean what year? What years or decades?
T: Oh, I'd say from 1918 to 1932.


2
M: Are you sensitive about your age at all? How old a man are you?
T: I'm sixty-nine. The next one I'll be seventy years old.
M: I see. So you were pretty young when you first became acquainted
with them.
T: That's right.
M: And tell me something about Mr. Spencer, who was the Indian agent.
He was a minister, wasn't he?
T: Captain Lucien A. Spencer was an ordained Episcopal minister. He
was a chaplain in the First World War. He was a captain. He came
back, and he chose the Indian work instead of the priest work.
He was a wonderful man--very understanding.
M: Was he sent down here by the Department of Interior?
T: Yes, he was an Indian agent. They sent him to the east coast,
but he transferred to the west coast to be closer to the Indians
where he thought he could do the most good.
M: Where was he? Where was the agency at this time?
T: In Fort Myers. He was based right here in Fort Myers.
M: How old a man was he when you first knew him, would you guess?
T: I'd say in his fifties.
M: Have you got pictures of him?
T: No, that's what I said...I lost a lot of pictures. Roy Nash has
got a good description of him in his survey of the Seminole Indians
of Florida, and he died in 1931, if I remember correctly. But I
forget the age that he died.
M: Was Stanley Hanson, Sr. older than you by a good deal?
T: Oh, yes. Stanley was quite a bit older than I was.
M: Well, how'd you happen to get involved with him in the first place?
T: The first time I got acquainted with him happened this way: When
I left home very young, I was working in a garage and he had his


3
car in there for some servicing. He liked to go in the woods,
hunting and among the Indians. He liked someone to go with him.
I'd go along and drive the car and do this. In those days when
you drove a car you had a lot of tires to fix and minor repairs
to the car. You didn't travel on roads like you do today.
M: What kind of car would you have driven back here into the brush?
T: Model Ts.
M: And were you a mechanic able to handle these?
T: Yes; that's how I got to be a Trailblazer. I was a young fellow
going on the Tamiami Trail trip. I was to get paid for driving
George Dunham's car. He was an older man, and of course we were
only supposed to be gone three days. We were gone twenty-three
days, and when I got back I didn't have a job. Never did get my
nine dollars either.
M: What was going on--you were gone twenty-three days?
T: The Tamiami Trail trip was from Fort Myers to Miami. We were
supposed to be gone three days. It took twenty-three days to
blaze the trail.
M: And you were blazing the trail...
T: Yes, there were twenty-three men and seven cars that went through
the cypress country and Everglades.
M: ...that they were going to follow with construction? When was
that?
T: In 1923.
M: I see. When did the Tamiami Trail get finished?.
T: In 1928.
M: Did that run through Indian land?
T: Oh, yes.
M: Did anybody ever ask the Indians permission to do it?
T: No, they didn't ask. We passed several old Indian camps. In
fact when we got to the Forty Mile Bend, as we refer to it today,
that's the Dade County line...


4
M: That's where the Miccosukees now have their headquarters.
T: ...yes...Stanley Hanson and myself and one or two others walked
over to Osceola's camp on Lostman's River one day while we were
waiting for provisions, and to get help to get into Miami.
M: Did the Indians have cars at this time?
T: No, no.
M: How did they get around?
T: Walked...canoes or ox carts.
M: Oh, you've seen them with ox carts have you?
T: I've got pictures to show you that I've seen them with ox carts.
M: Yes, I want to see that. That's interesting.
T: And canoes.
M: Oh, yes.
T: Canoes were used on the main waterways. They walked...canoes,
and then the ox carts.
M: Any horseback riding?
T: No, no. Now that question has come up a lot. The reason that
you do not have horses among these Indians is that in the wet
country the horse will develop hoof disease.
M: It figures.
T: And the next thing is the Indian says he's lazy. He won't go
feed. Take an ox, he can go all day, and you turn him loose at
night and he'll go out and graze.
M: Yes.
T: The horse won't do it. He wants you to feed him. And between
the hoof disease and the need to feed them, the Seminoles in the
southern part never had horses until the last few years. The
Cow Creeks on the Brighton Reservation had a few horses in the
late 20s and 30s. The Indians on the Hendry Reservation and


5
south of there never had horses until after the 30s. That was
where they could keep them dry and take care of them. But in the
days when the Indians were on their own, there was no horse trans-
portation.
M: Did you mostly have to do with the Creek speakers or the Miccosukees?
T: Miccosukees. I know very little about the Creeks.
M: Did I understand you to say at one time you could speak a little
of it?
T: Quite a bit, but the few words I know today--now like Ashukatom-
massee, the god, I know that, and some of the names: Gutsennago-
tee--Josie Billie; Kornapatchee--Little Billie; Assumhachee--
Abe Lincoln. These different ones I knew. I can remember their
names.
M: Do you remember any more Miccosukee words?
T: Yes. Now you take Immokalee. In Indian it is immokalee ("my
home"); chemmokalee ("your home"); pommokalee ("our home"). Now
take creek or river: Calusa is for the Calusa Indians; hatchee
is river or creek in Seminole--Calusa Hatchee, or as it is spelled
today, Caloosahatchee. For a long time this river was called
Calusa River until they changed to the Miccosukee, Calusa Hatchee.
Okee means water, chobee means big; Okeechobee, big water. Muddy
water is hicpochee.
M: Do you remember anything about what we call in English the verbs,
the action words of the language? I mean like go or come or hit
or run, or anything like that?
T: No, I can't say that I do now.
M: Do you remember anything about the language that struck you as so
much different from English; that struck you as relatively odd
compared to English?
T: Yes. You have to remember that the Indians didn't have an alphabet
so there wasn't a written language or any spelling rules. The
words I give you are as I spoke with them, and spelled as they
sound to me. Another man hearing them might spell them differently.
Maybe this will answer your question. With their spelling, most
of their words end in "ee"--like immokalee; cheennee, ("you");
innee, ("me").
M: What's that mean?


6
T: Innee means "me".
M: Does anything else go with it, or that's just "me", that's just
you?
T: You--just you. Cheennee--you.
M: I see.
T: I just happened to remember that. Innee--me; cheennee--you.
Helochee means, "You're welcome." Then there's Helohhokmachee
immokalee; that means, "Welcome to our home." Soachcheeasennakee
means thousand-leg-worm. Wiluntannee means banana, and Isennekee,
car. Howdy (Hiosee). How are you? (Atommoschee?) Good (Helica).
Black Tarpon Lake is Souwaethlochee, Deep Lake is Souwaethlee.
Yatkittaschee means Indians.
M: Probably words would come back to you.
T: Yes, if you get around to listen to them it would, and so on.
M: How long has it been since you listened to or had anything to do
with any Indians?
T: Well, I have visited a few times. Not regular or anything like
that. It might be two years or three years I'd go see them.
I was down to see Josie Billie a couple of years ago. Before
that I was down to see Johnny Cypress before he died, and I didn't
get to see Ingraham Billie down there, and so on. But it might
be two years or three years. I try to get back down there to see
them, but the main ones that I have known--did know--are dying
off. They're like me; they're getting old.
M: Now Josie Billie's still living. Ingraham Billie's still living.
T: Ingraham's still living.
M: Who else is living that you would know?
T: Right now I can't think of anyone that would be. Wilson Cypress's
family, I think, is pretty well scattered. I don't know where
they would be. I'm pretty sure Wilson is dead.
M: How about Corey Osceola, or Frank?
T: Corey...I never did know Corey real well. He came from the east
coast.


7
M: Oh, did he?
T: Yes, he did.
Here's something about the Seminole family life I'd like
to tell you. The Indians prefer girl babies. When the young
girls marry, the man assumes the family name of the girl, and
they become part of her parents' camp. When they have established
their own family group, they can move off and start their own
camp.
M: Well, tell me what's the first recollection you've got of the
Indians? Does anything come into your mind, any incident or any-
thing?
T: I can't answer that right now.
M: Did you ever hunt with them?
T: Oh, yes. I've hunted with them.
M: Anything uncommon about the hunting, or their skills in hunting?
T: No, but I can tell you a true incident about the guides--they
weren't guiding me, but they were guiding when I was hunting down
there. There were some people from around Bartow, and some of
them were northern people. They came down there and hired this
Indian for a guide. He'd go around the ponds and up where it was
high, walking and meandering around.
One of these fellows--I think he must have had a drink or
two--asked this Indian,"What we going all over the country like
this for?" The Indian didn't know how to explain it to him or
anything. So he says, "Do you know which way to camp?"
"Uh huh."
He says, "All right, let's go."
The Indian started out. Now the Indian knew how to walk
through sawgrass. By the time they got to camp the sawgrass had
cut their skin and clothing all over, and they were mad and mean
as the devil. But that was their fault. The Indian was doing
them a favor to walk a little bit further. He knew how to get
there without going through the sawgrass, but now the Indian
didn't know how to explain that to them. The man wanted to go
right straight to camp, so the Indian took him straight to camp.
M: That's interesting. Did you ever have any experience, harmful
experience, with sawgrass yourself?
T: No.


8
M: Is there any technique that one can describe?
T: Well, the main thing is to take your stance with your hands clasped
behind your back, your chin up, and make yourself just as narrow
as you can and walk carefully.
M: What kind of guns were they using in the days when you first hunted
with them?
T: Oh, about a .30-.30 rifle or a 12 gauge shotgun were the most popular
ones.
M: And pretty well up-to-date stuff?
T: Oh, yes. The white men would like to hunt. They'd make a trade
with them, even for the guiding. They kept good ammunition. I
still say the 12 gauge shotgun is the most popular one that we've
ever had in Florida as far as I know, and I've hunted up to about
fifteen years ago.
M: Well now, I suppose you've eaten quite a bit with them.
T: Oh, yes.
M: Indian stuff?
T: Yes.
M: Is there any Indian food that you particularly like?
T: There is one Indian food that the Indians like and have ready in
camp every day. They use it today. If you go in somebody's home,
they will ask you to have a cup of coffee or tea or have a drink.
Well, they have sofkee, and it was made back even before they
could buy grits. It was made when they ground their own corn.
They made the grits with a mortar and pestle. The mortars which
I saw were just a piece of large log, upended. They would then
burn a hole in the top. This sofkee was kept warm in an iron ket-
tle. They had a big cypress spoon to drink from--it was the only
cup they had. Some of them later on had tin cups, but the cypress
spoon was the original sofkee spoon. If anyone was going through--
maybe they didn't want to see or talk to anyone or anything--they
would stop and have some sofkee, and maybe get up and walk on.
Never say howdy or anything. I've seen them do it.
M: Have you tasted it yourself?


9
T: Yes, I've tasted it.
M: Well, if you could just imagine this water and grits boiled to a
fine soup. There's no salt. There's nothing else in it. They
might make it different today, but I'm talking about in the days
when it was just pure corn and water, and that's all there was
to it.
One of the older Indians told me that when the Seminoles
first came to this section in the early 1800s salt was a neces-
sary item. They would make trips at different times to the salt
water for the sea food. The early Seminoles would cut the pal-
metto buds that grew close to the shore, that got the salt water
spray. They would burn these in a way that they could save the
ashes. They would sprinkle these ashes on other foods as a kind
of salt seasoning.
M: Do you know what coontie is?
T: Coontie [Zamia integrefolia] was used in making bread. It was
a root.
M: Did you ever eat it?
T: No.
M: The Indians were supposed to have eaten it.
T: Yes; they have used it in place of corn and bread for a long
time. It was poisonous if it wasn't fixed right.
M: Yes.
T: I never did eat any of it. I've eaten bear meat.
M: Yes. I've eaten bear meat. That tasted pretty good to me. What
else have you eaten?
T: Here is one of the best things I ever had down there: We were
running out of groceries and so on, and we got in an Indian camp.
They had some small sweet potatoes and they cooked them with
bear meat.
M: Boy, I bet that was good.
T: As hungry as I was, it was good. Bear meat is an oily meat, and
they would use the bear grease to cook other foods as they had


10
no other oil or fat. A lot of people think wild turkey or deer
is the best meat in the world, but you try to eat it just plain
and it's not good because it's not seasoned. It's a dry meat.
M: Yes.
T: There's only one or two months out of the year that a deer has
any fat on it, or a little bit of fat at all. The rest of the
time it's a dry meat.
M: How would the Indians prepare deer? Did they put it into a stew,
do you remember?
T: Mostly a stew, yes, because they wanted it moist. See what I
mean, you've got to...you take whole dry meat...
M: Pretty damn dry.
T: ...name it anything you want to. Same way with a Florida steer,
you know, in the woods or in the Indian's herd. You try to eat
it, just a plain piece of meat, and it doesn't go good.
M: Have you eaten 'possum and 'coon?
T: No. I've tasted 'coon. I never did taste 'possum.
M: Did the Indians eat these that you know of?
T: I have never seen them eat a 'possum or a 'coon, but I have eaten
garfish. I was in a camp when they had some garfish cooking.
This is the way they cooked them. They would cover them with
mud or marl. The garfish was not cleaned before they put it in
marl. They used a banana leaf to wrap it up, then they put it
in a hot bed of ashes. I don't know how long they left it there.
When they took it out they would cut down the stomach side and
peel the white meat out. It was good.
M: What about fowl?
T: They would prefer water birds or turtles. They would prefer a
hog or a bear for the fat, and then use some of the fat to cook
venison or some turkeys. They weren't crazy about turkey, but
they would eat it. The wild hog and the bear would furnish the
grease or oil for their food.
M: Were they in these days when you first knew them raising gardens?


11
T: Yes.
M: They don't do it much any longer I understand.
T: The way they raised their garden is different from what we garden.
M: Yes, I'm sure it is.
T: They would go out there and they'd put out a pumpkin seed just
anywhere. I've seen pumpkins growing all over everything. And
that's the same way with other things that they would plant.
For their fruit trees, they had the sour oranges, bananas and
guavas. You'd find bananas in most every camp.
M: Bought them in stores or...?
T: They'd grow them. I can show you some pictures that will show
you where they had gardens. They'd have gardens and oranges
and bananas.
M: Well, how about the sour orange? I've heard a lot about it.
Is it unpleasantly sour?
T: Some of them are more than others. It's like some of the sweets
are sweeter than others and so on. Some of the sour oranges you
couldn't eat, but there's a lot of them that weren't too sour
that would go pretty good. But my education doesn't go far e-
nough to go into which one is which and so on, to tell you the
name of them or who did it. I have eaten a lot of the wild oranges
that tasted pretty good. Now they tried to eat some of them that
you couldn't eat.
M: That reminds me--I've never eaten pumpkin except in pumpkin pie,
but I take it they use it as a vegetable.
T: Yes.
M: Have you eaten it except in pie?
T: Yes. You cook it like a squash, boil it in water.
M: Well, they don't seem to farm much any longer.
T: Up in the twenties they would get more seed and they would plant
squash. They would always have cane--sugar cane. Sugar cane is
one of the main crops of Florida ever since the Spaniards got here


12
and introduced it. Sugar cane produces for everybody--the Indians,
the white people, the Spaniards or whoever you are. It doesn't
make a damn bit of difference what's your color or where you
come from. The sugar cane produces a juice to drink. It pro-
duces a syrup where you have sweets. It produces sugar, and it
produces alcohol.
M: Did they ever distill it that you know of?
T: Yes, sir, and about the drunkest I've been in my life was with
Frank Tippens and Stanley Hanson. We went through Osceola's camp,
and a woman motioned to us that a man was down in the cane field.
We went by there and Stanley had a drink. I was a young fellow
and I never had much to drink. I was thirsty, and Frank Tippens
had a little drink. It was my turn to drink and I gulped it down.
By the time I got about half a mile down the trail my knees were
wobbling. I learned to be careful when you're drinking some-
body else's liquor.
M: Yes, that's straight stuff.
T: I didn't realize what I was drinking. But anyway, I found out.
I got to camp somehow or another and went to bed.
M: Was it pretty sweet, or had this been distilled out of it?
T: It was relatively distilled liquor. He had a still, and his
cooling pipe was a bamboo. Instead of coming out of a copper
tubing, it was split bamboo, and it came down and dripped into
this container.
M: Was that common among them?
T: Oh, no. Not common. What I mean is that they did know how to
make liquor with it and they did. They knew how to make syrup
and how to make sugar. Take your Florida crackers, that was their
main sweets. That was the only thing they had.
M: Now you speak about Osceola's camp--which one of them is this?
T: I think it was John Osceola. I don't know.
M: Is he gone now?
T: Oh, yes. He's gone now. He was an older man then.


13
M: Any of his kids around that you know of?
T: No, not that I could identify. No, I wouldn't attempt to ident-
ify, but there's two or three of the Osceola families.
M: When you came into a camp like that I don't guess the women hung
around much and talked much to the white men, is that true?
T: In those days, the women were definitely not supposed to speak
English. They did not know English, and you could talk to them
all day and they would not answer you. Unless you knew enough in
Indian language to talk to them, why they wouldn't even pay any
attention to you. They didn't look. It was against the tribal
laws, and they had laws and rules that they followed, brother.
M: Did you ever know of any case of tribal discipline? You know
what I mean--enforcement?
T: Yes.
M: Extreme cases?
T: Yes.
M: Such as what? Any you can mention?
T: No, because I'm going to write about the Green Corn Dance. I
saw extreme discipline in the Green Corn Dance. I am going to
write about it.
M: Oh, are you? Well, good for you. There was a man now dead,
named Louis Capron, who wrote a fairly extensive article on the
Green Corn Dance.
T: I'd like to get it.
M: The publication is the Bureau of American Ethnology. It was some
years ago now, but I'm sure the Fort Myers Library would have it
if you'd go in there.
T: We had two Indian guides for the Tamiami Trailblazers trip. Abe
Lincoln [Abraham Lincoln Clay], who was raised in the very southern
section of the state, could guide us through Turner's River [for-
merly the Wahika River. A stream in Collier County, the mouth
of which is in Chokoloskee Bay, east of Chokoloskee Key.] and
Lostman's River section but he could not understand or speak a
word of English. I mean there was no way to communicate with him.


14
Now the little Indian that is at the left there, is Billy Con-
apatchee. He went along as an interpreter but didn't know the
area.
M: Oh, yes. I know who he is.
T: That's the first Seminole, the first Indian that ever went to
school, and he, of course, went back to his tribe. After he went
back he did a wonderful lot of good for the communication between
the white man and the Indian.
M: Is he a fellow you had seen and known in person, Billy Conapatchee?
T: Oh, yes. I knew him real well.
That's Josie Billie's and Ingraham Billie's father [in the
photograph]. I did not realize the value that pictures and notes
would be in the future. I did not have the education or money
or the time or anything else, and didn't know how to take pictures
and make notes at that time.
[At this point in the interview, Thompson brings out some photo-
graphs which were taken by Stanley Hanson, Sr. Any mention of
pictures is in reference to these photographs. ed.]
I'll show you a picture of Billy Fewell. He and his nephew
built a chickee in Immokalee because Indians came in there often
to trade. They would build their own little houses and so on.
That's the last one he built. He was around a hundred years old
when this picture was taken.
That's Ingraham Billie and his family; this is Johnny Cypress.
That's his nephew and they built this chickee in Immokalee. They
would come into Immokalee and they might camp for a week or a month
or just overnight. They would build these chickees. Each family
would build their house. Sometimes there would be a lot of them;
sometimes there'd just be one man there.
M: Whose land was it on, for instance? I mean, it was all right to
build it and leave it there, I guess?
T: At that time it belonged to the Indian agents. As I understand
it, now it's a park--a city or county park in Immokalee.
This is George Osceola's camp. You see that sewing machine
that's on the platform? It's hand-cranked.
M: Foot-operated, or was it hand?
T: Oh, no. Hand--run by hand. See that little wheel on the right-
hand side? It's got a handle on it, and run by hand. Hand-cranked.


15
Now this is one of the oldest camps in the country. It's
down on the edge-of the 'Glades. They called it Guava Camp, and
it was a big camp. It was one of the largest and oldest camps
in southwest Florida. You can see in the back where that roof
is rotted off.
I have seen some of them in the early twenties where all the
thatching and timbers were tied with deer hide--with strings and
so on. Now, of course, they use nails, but in the early days
they would tie the timbers together and tie the fans on the tim-
bers. They were all tied, not nailed on.
This is another of Guava Camp. Now you see the bananas in
the back there? And see the roofs and how they curve around each
end? See the bedding under there? They all slept up on the plat-
form.
I'll tell you something else about the Indians: So many
times people say, "Well, haven't they got sense enough to get in
under a shade?" Well, damn it, the United States government
years ago found this out. You'll see the buildings around the
lighthouses along the coast. They'll build up high out where
the wind could blow underneath them. It blows the insects and
everything off. Well, that's what the Indians do. They build
out where the winds can get under and through them. They don't
build in the shade where all the insects are. They're out there
where the air can circulate well. That's why they do it. They
have ventilation underneath where they sleep and all. Now see
those pots out there? They had a platform for the pots.
I can show you a better picture. Look at the chair on the
lefthand side under there where they got the firewood. You could
sit down and watch the fire. Every big camp has a cook house.
You see the banana plants here, and the plants in the back--oranges
and guavas and so on.
Now here's your garden. See how they plant the cane? They
don't plant like we do.
M: Scattered around. That's a great picture.
T: Now you see the firewood placed like spokes in a wheel.
M: Yes, the star fires.
T: And you see the braces on that building in the back there? And
on the left over there they have bananas. Osceola and his family.
M: These are very fine looking people.
T: Yes. What I said, they are good-looking people. Now here's your
three modes of travel--walk, canoe and ox team. When you went


16
somewhere you went on your own and you were taught from a kid
what was yours, was yours. You moved it, if you wanted it moved;
if you didn't, you left it. You were taught that and so on.
Nobody was going to worry about it but yourself.
Now here's a canoe. I made this picture in 1926 or some-
where in there, in a section around Lostman's River. I have
seen canoes with chickens, dogs and hogs. Whatever they had
they moved. They'd put them in that canoe, and I'll bet you
a dollar you couldn't stand up in it.
M: That's what's astonishing--they stand up to pole the thing.
Why don't they tip it? They must have had a great skill bal-
ancing it.
T: Yes.
M: 'Cause you know if they ever tipped that load it'd be awful.
There goes their whole provisions.
T: That's right. Their whole family and stuff is right there.
M: And each standing up.
T: Yes. Out there I've seen hogs. They tied the feet of the hogs
to keep them from moving. They'll tie them, but the dogs are
not tied. The chickens were in a kind of a box or container.
There is a canoe on a canoe trail through the 'Glades.
Now, there's Wilson Cypress and his ox team. Of course the cars
came along around the thirties.
M: How'd the ox differ from any other cow? Would you call it a
different species?
T: No, an ox is nothing in the world but a year-old castrated bull.
M: It's a steer.
T: That's right. That's all there is. Of course they train them
and they'll put a little bell on them at night and they feed
right around the camp. If they're lucky enough to have a little
feed they'll feed them and they'll have water there for them.
The main thing is to have water for them. They'll train just
like you train any other animal.
M: Where'd they get the ox yokes? Did they make them or buy them?
T: Made them.


17
Now you can see how this house is braced against the strong
winds. And look at the thatching on this. This is one of the
best houses I've ever seen, but look at the garden in the back
there. You see the bananas and the guavas and the cane and so
on. This is an old camp that had fruit trees and a garden in
the back there. Those women are standing out back of the plat-
form where they kept the pots and pans. This is the cook house
here.
Now this is an old man. He's using a crutch. He's crossing
the canal beside the Tamiami Trail. There were just two logs
nailed together. He was crossing over that. This is on the
Trail.
This is an older camp. See how long it's been there. See
the banana trees and all.
M: Would you describe the camps as pretty clean or not?
T: Yes, sir. I've never been in an Indian camp that I would say
wasn't clean. You take with all this dirt, all around the camp
it's all clean and kept.
M: In those days what about the tin cans and so on--or did they
have any?
T: No tin cans. Nothing like that. There were no tin cans.
Now this was taken in Fort Myers on Monroe Street. They
came in for shopping and so on, and they stayed in this room
in back of the house. That's another view of it.
M: You know any of those three by name?
T: Yes, that's Josie Billie on the left, Charlie Billie on the
right, and I don't know who the one is in the middle. I forget
him.
Now there is the last Negro slave--Dixie, or Charlie Dixie
among the Miccosukee. The Miccosukees had very, very little
Negro blood. Now the Creek Indians had quite a bit of Negro
blood, but this is the last of the nigger slaves right there.
Of course this is later on, and here's Corey Osceola and so on.
M: Who are they from left to right? Do you recognize those three?
T: No, Corey Osceola is the only one.
M: Which one is he?
T: With one arm.


18
M: Corey Osceola had just one arm? How'd he lose it? Do you
know?
T: I don't know. I think it was an automobile wreck.
M: I never knew that.
T: I never knew Corey real well, and I don't know. But these are
east coast Indians.
There's Sowwethlochee. That means Black Tarpon Lake. The
tarpon has a darker color in fresh water than they do in salt
water. See that scaffold? The Indians built that and they would
go up there and dive right straight down. This is when I first
saw it in about 1918, '19, somewhere in there. You notice how
clear the water is? See the reflection in the water and so on?
The last time I saw it was around 1928, more or less. The water
hyacinths and the lettuce had gotten in there. It was just nothing.
The whites call it Tarpon Lake because there is an opening...
there's got to be an opening from that to the Gulf, because tarpon
would come up in it. Don't hold me to it, but it's around twenty
miles from the Gulf to that lake.
M: So they come under water somehow...?
T: Yes. But you'll see it on the maps as Tarpon Lake.
There's Josie Billie holding a little fawn. This is just
a temporary camp. I don't know where, but he's got a little doe
or deer in his hand.
M: Well, there was another thing I wanted to ask you: In the matter
of mosquito protection and so on, what do you remember the Indians
did that way? You spoke about them having their chickees out in
the open, but how about the rest of the time? Weren't they
plagued with insects?
T: Outside was smoke. Now you take black mangrove smoke will run
a lot of insects off. They used that smudge, or we call it smudge
or smoke, whichever one you want to use. They would get in this
smoke in the open air. At night they would sleep under mosquito
bars.
M: I've read in a passage they sometimes rub themselves with bear
grease. Did you ever see any of it?
T: No.
M: In the matter of snakes, did you ever know of an Indian being
struck by, for instance, a rattlesnake?


19
T: No.
M: Ever have any problem that way yourself?
T: No. I'll tell you a true snake story.
M: All right. I'd like to hear it.
T: I was down on the edge of the 'Glades at the boat landing one
time. There was a trading post and a big camp. They had a well
out there where they got the water. I forget who was with me,
but there was, I noticed, about three or four snakes around
there. An old hen with some little biddies got fooling around
there to get some water. One of these snakes caught one of
these biddies. The old hen started fussing and raising the
devil, and an Indian came out and killed the snake.
M: I didn't know they'd do it.
T: And I said, "Why don't you kill those other snakes? They'll
eat your chicken."
He said, "No. He no bother me, I no bother him."
M: Yes, that's what I've understood.
T: And another time I was down there with Jack Tanner from Chicago.
We had an Indian guide. One evening the guide went and spent
a night at an Indian camp. When he came back to our camp in
the morning he said he saw a big rattlesnake on the way back.
Jack Tanner said, "Did you kill him? Did you kill him?"
He said, "No, he no bother me, I no bother him."
M: Have you ever eaten rattlesnake?
T: No, never did.
M: I know the Indians won't. I have--it's pretty good.
T: Yes, they had a regular canning factory over at Arcadia, you know.
M: Is it still running or did they...?
T: I do not know. I haven't heard of it in the last few years, so
I can't answer. But they were canning it over at Arcadia.
M: Well now, the Indians had dogs and they had some oxen, and now
and then some chickens. Now I guess that's about the size of
their domestic...?


20
T: Hogs.
M: Hogs. When you spoke about wild hogs, were they really wild
hogs? I mean born wild, or just run wild?
T: Well, no. Florida has a wild hog.
M: Have you ever hunted them?
T: Yeah. They're good eating. They're not as fat like our hogs,
but they're leaner meat.
M: You'd call it a wild boar, with tusks sticking out?
T: You bet your life.
M: The Indians hunt those around here?
T: Yeah. I shot one, one time. It liked to scared me to death.
M: Why?
T: I thought he was a bear, to tell you the truth, and I shot him.
He started screaming and hollering and I was scared...I was young,
I didn't know what I'd shot. An older man, Charlie Hunt, who
was a short ways from me called, "What did you kill?"
I said, "I killed a bear but it doesn't sound like it."
I went over there. It was this big old black boar.
M: When you were making your way around the woods and the paths,
have you ever come across panthers?
T: One.
M: One only?
T: Well, one that I've seen. No, I've heard a lot of them at night.
I was hunting turkeys down back of Bonita Springs and one came
by. Boy, I tell you I stood...oh, twenty-five feet from it.
M: You got a good view of it?
T: Oh yeah. Could see him...just going on.
M: Pretty well gone from this country now, I think.
T: Yes, they are. Panther has never, as far as I know, attacked
anybody, but don't you bother that bobcat. You don't have to


21
bother him, he'll bother you. Bobcats are the most dangerous
animals we've ever had. If he's hungry, he'll bother you.
M: Do you have any special experience with 'gators?
T: When I was about twelve years old a friend and I were at an old
pond in east Fort Myers. He had a dog and we were just playing
around out there. This dog got down to the edge of the pond
and this 'gator knocked him over with his tail and ate him.
We used to have crocodiles in this country. Now they're
bringing them back, down in the Everglades National Park, which
I'm glad of. We had crocodiles here and they killed them out.
You have seen pictures, and you've read where the Indians
would wrestle alligators? Well, any normal grown man can hold
a full-grown alligator's jaws together. All you have to do is
hold it together. Now, if that 'gator gets that mouth open,
he's got you.
M: There goes your arm.
T: But if you have the nerve to hold his mouth shut...you'll notice
whenever they're wrestling, they go up by the side and get that
mouth. Now, don't you try that on a crocodile, mister. They'll
open up; they'll get you. It takes just a little bit of nerve
to hold that mouth shut.
M: A lot of those Indians, I suppose, made their living hunting
'gators and selling the hides in the days when you first knew
them, didn't they?
T: More white people did than Indians.
M: Is that so?
T: Yeah.
M: I don't remember when the hunting of egrets was outlawed, but
were they still hunting egrets within your memory? Or weren't
they?
T: No, they were getting out of it.
M: I see.
T: The Audubon Society gave out publicity that stopped it. They
said that it was only prostitutes that wore plumes.


22
M: I hadn't heard that before.
T: That's how they killed it, so that killed the plume business.
M: This is a segment that should be added to the transcript of the
interview of Milton D. Thompson. It is a statement he made after
we had completed the tape and I had put the equipment away, but
I think it deserves to be added, although it is in my voice, not
his:
A man named Roy Nash visited the Seminoles on behalf of the
United States government and made a comprehensive and highly ef-
fective report in 1931 on their condition. Thompson told me that
he guided Nash there several times, and was with him a good deal
and thought-very highly of him. He mentioned one thing he remem-
bered that he had learned from Nash. Some of the white men were
sitting around the campfire criticizing the Indians for their
drinking. Nash spoke up in their defense, and his defense is
one I never heard before, but it is worth recording. He said
that peoples troubled with craving for alcohol are almost invariably
those that are inadequately or insufficiently nourished.
This was the case with the Indians, who lived for long stretches
of time on meat only, and he said that the worst cravers of alcohol were the Plains Indians, because of their continuous diet
of meat and little else to go with it. Nash was a man of very
significant learning as far as the Indians are concerned, and
what he believes deserves to be noted and carefully weighed in.


Full Text

PAGE 1

SOUTHEASTERN INDIAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA In cooperation with The Seminole Tribe of Florida INTERVIEWEE: Mr. Milton D. Thompson INTERVIEWER: Dr. John Mahon DATE: June 25, 1975

PAGE 2

SUMMARY Milton D. Thompson, one of the Tamiami Trailblazers, talks in this interview about that Tamiami Trail adven ture. He also gives specific information regarding the Miccosukee language, Indian food and gardening, descrip tions of Indian camps and transportation. Sprinkled throughout the interview are memories of certain Indians he knew and who were photographed by Stanley Hanson, Sr. Mr. Thompson discusses animals often hunted and mentions snakes which were very rarely killed by the Indians.

PAGE 3

INDEX Billie, Ingraham, 14 Black Tarpon Lake (Tarpon Lake), 18 Clay, Abraham Lincoln (guide), 13 Conapatchee, Billie (interpreter), 14 Dixie, Charlie (last Negro slave), 17 family structure, 7 Fewell, Billy, 14 food (Indian), 8-10 gardening, 10-12 Guava Camp, 15 Hanson, W. Stanley, Sr., 1-4, 12 hunting, 20-22 Indian camps (description of), 15, 17-18 language, Miccosukee, 5-6 Nash, Roy (Indian alcoholism theory), 22 Osceola, Corey, 17-18 sawgrass, 7-8 snakes, 18-19 Spencer, Lucien A., 1-2 sugar cane; distilled, 12 Thompson, Milton D. opinion of Indians, 1 Tamiami Trail trip, 3

PAGE 4

Tippens, Frank (sheriff), 1, 12 transportation (Seminole), 4-5, 15-16 tribal discipline, 13

PAGE 5

M: [This is an interview with] Milton D. Thompson at his home, 1728 Coronado Road, Fort Myers, on 25 June 1975. Milton D. Thompson has a very long experience with the Indians, and that's what we're going to discuss during the afternoon. How did you get interested in the Indians in the first place? T: Well, in the first place I was a young man and worked as a mechanic in a garage. If you drove a car, you had to be able to repair tires and make minor repairs on the motor. I had an opportunity to go with Captain Spencer [Lucien A. Spencer], the Indian agent and Stanley Hanson, Sr. who was well known among the Indians also Sheriff Frank Tippins. I went with those three men on some of their trips, and got acquainted with the Indians. And I took an interest in them. I wish I'd had the education, or whatever it is, to take pictures and notes, which I didn't. If I had known half of what I do now, I would have. The Indians are quite interesting people. The one question that I have asked a lot of people, is, "Do you know of any country or any state in the Union that you could do away with all the people except one hundred fifty, and leave these all alone to govern themselves morally, physically and religiously--the Indians are a very religious people; Ashuckatommassee is their god--and these few would build themselves up in every way equal to today's Florida Indians?" And where could you go and take that many peo ple and put them in a country where there were enemies (the white people were the enemies)? Still they made a living; they made a go of it. They have come back today, to the best of my knowledge, around a thousand people. M: Yes, I think a little more than that. T: And they are definitely recognized in the United States as a people. M: Sure they are. T: And where else in the world could you find anybody, any people in this day and time that could do it? M: Now Mr. Thompson, when you got interested, when was this more or less? I mean what year? What years or decades? T: Oh, I'd say from 1918 to 1932.

PAGE 6

2 M: Are you sensitive about your age at all? How old a man are you? T: I'm sixty-nine. The next one I'll be seventy years old. M: I see. So you were pretty young when you first became acquainted with them. T: That's right. M: And tell me something about Mr. Spencer, who was the Indian agent. He was a minister, wasn't he? T: Captain Lucien A. Spencer was an ordained Episcopal minister. He was a chaplain in the First World War. He was a captain. He came back, and he chose the Indian work instead of the priest work. He was a wonderful man--very understanding. M: Was he sent down here by the Department of Interior? T: Yes, he was an Indian agent. They sent him to the east coast, but he transferred to the west coast to be closer to the Indians where he thought he could do the most good. M: Where was he? Where was the agency at this time? T: In Fort Myers. He was based right here in Fort Myers. M: How old a man was he when you first knew him, would you guess? T: I'd say in his fifties. M: Have you got pictures of him? T: No, that's what I said •.. I lost a lot of pictures. Roy Nash has got a good description of him in his survey of the Seminole Indians of Florida, and he died in 1931, if I remember correctly. But I forget the age that he died. M: Was Stanley Hanson, Sr. older than you by a good deal? T: Oh, yes. Stanley was quite a bit older than I was. M: Well, how'd you happen to get involved with him in the first place1 T: The first time I got acquainted with him happened this way: When I left home very young, I was working in a garage and he had his

PAGE 7

3 car in there for some servicing. He liked to go in the woods, hunting and among the Indians. He liked someone to go with him. I'd go along and drive the car and do this. In those days when you drove a car you had a lot of tires to fix and minor repairs to the car. You didn't travel on roads like you do today. M: What kind of car would you have driven back here into the brush? T: Model Ts. M: And were you a mechanic able to handle these? T: Yes; that's how I got to be a Trailblazer. I was a young fellow going on the Tamiami Trail trip. I was to get paid for driving George Dunham's car. He was an older man, and of course we were only supposed to be gone three days. We were gone twenty-three days, and when I got back I didn't have a job. Never did get my nine dollars either. M: What was going on--you were gone twenty-three days? T: The Tamiami Trail trip was from Fort Myers to Miami. We were supposed to be gone three days. It took twenty-three days to blaze the trail. M: And you were blazing the trail ..• T: Yes, there were twenty-three men and seven cars that went through the cypress country and Everglades. M: that they were going to follow with construction? When was that? T: In 1923. M: I see. When did the Tamiami Trail get finished? T: In 1928. M: Did that run through Indian land? T: Oh, yes. M: Did anybody ever ask the Indians permission to do it? T: No, they didn't ask. We passed several old Indian camps. In fact when we got to the Forty Mile Bend, as we refer to it today, that's the Dade County line

PAGE 8

4 M: That's where the Miccosukees now have their headquarters. T: yes ..• Stanley Hanson and myself and one or two others walked over to Osceola's camp on Lostman's River one day while we were waiting for provisions, and to get help to get into Miami. M: Did the Indians have cars at this time? T: No, no. M: How did they get around? T: Walked canoes or ox carts. M: Oh, you've seen them with ox carts have you? T: I've got pictures to show you that I've seen them with ox carts. M: Yes, I want to see that. That's interesting. T: And canoes. M: Oh, yes. T: Canoes were used on the main waterways. They walked canoes, and then the ox_carts. M: Any horseback riding? T: No, no. Now that question has come up a lot. you do not have horses among these Indians is country the horse will develop hoof disease. M: It figures. The reason that that in the wet T: And the next thing is the Indian says he's lazy. He won't go feed. Take an ox, he can go all day, and you turn him loose at night and he'll go out and graze. M: Yes. T: The horse won't do it. He wants you to feed him. And between the hoof disease and the need to feed them, the Seminoles in the southern part never had horses until the last few years. The Cow Creeks on the Brighton Reservation had a few horses in the late 20s and 30s. The Indians on the Hendry Reservation and

PAGE 9

south of there never had horses until after the 30s •. where they could keep them dry and take care of them. days when the Indians were on their own, there was no portation. 5 That was But in the horse transM: Did you mostly have to do with the Creek speakers or the Miccosukees? T: Miccosukees. I know very little about the Creeks. M: Did I understand you to say at one time you could speak a little of it? T: Quite a bit, but the few words I know today--now like Ashukatom massee, the god, I know that, and some of the names: Gutsennago tee--Josie Billie; Kornapatchee--Little Billie; Assumhachee-Abe Lincoln. These different ones I knew. I can remember their names. M: Do you remember any more Miccosukee words? T: Yes. Now you take Innnokalee. In Indian it is immokalee ("my home"); chemmokalee ("your home"); ponnnokalee ("our home"). Now take creek or river: Calusa is for the Calusa Indians; hatchee is river or creek in Seminole--Calusa Hatchee, or as it is spelled today, Caloosahatchee. For a long time this river was called Calusa River until they changed to the Miccosukee, Calusa Hatchee. Okee means water, chobee means big; Okeechobee, big water. Muddy water is hicpochee. M: Do you remember anything about what we call in English the verbs, the action words of the language? I mean like go or come or hit or run, or anything like that? T: No, I can't say that I do now. M: Do you remember anything about the language that struck you as so much different from English; that struck you as relatively odd compared to English? T: Yes. You have to remember that the Indians didn't have an alphabet so there wasn't a written language or any spelling rules. The words I give you are as I spoke with them, and spelled as they sound to me. Another man hearing them might spell them differently. Maybe this will answer your question. With their spelling, most of their words end in "ee"--like immokalee; cheennee, ("you"); innee, ( "me 11 ) M: What's that mean? ---------------------------------------------------------'

PAGE 10

6 T: Innee means "me". M: Does anything else go with it, or that's just "me", that's just you? T: You--just you. Cheennee--you. M: I see. T: I just happened to remember that. Innee--me; cheennee--you. Helochee means, "You 1 re welcome." Then there's Helohhokmachee immokalee; that means, "Welcome to our home." Soachcheeasenriakee means thousand-leg-worm. Wiluntannee means banana, and Isennekee, car. Howdy (Hiosee). How are you? (Atommoschee?) Good (Helica). Black Tarpon Lake is Souwaethlochee, Deep Lake is Souwaethlee. Yatkittaschee means Indians. M: Probably words would come back to you. T: Yes, if you get around to listen to them it would, and so on. M: How long has it been since you listened to or had anything to do with any Indians? T: Well, I have visited a few times. Not regular or anything like that. It might be two years or three years I'd go see them. I was down to see Josie Billie a couple of years ago. Before that I was down to see Johnny Cypress before he died, and I didn't get to see Ingraham Billie down there, and so on. But it might be two years or three years. I try to get back down there to see them, but the main ones that I have known--did know--are dying off. They're like me; they're getting old. M: Now Josie Billie's still living. Ingraham Billie's still living. T: Ingraham's still living. M: Who else is living that you would know? T: Right now I can't think of anyone that would be. Wilson Cypress's family, I think, is pretty well scattered. I don't know where they would be. I'm pretty sure Wilson is dead. M: How about Corey Osceola, or Frank? T: Corey ! never did know Corey real well. He came from the east coast.

PAGE 11

7 M: Oh, did he? T: Yes, he did. Here's something about the Seminole family life I'd like to tell you. The Indians prefer girl babies. When the young girls marry, the man assumes the family name of the girl, and they become part of her parents' camp. When they have established their own family group, they can move off and start their own camp. M: Well, tell me what's the first recollection you've got of the Indians? Does anything come into your mind, any incident or any thing? T: I can't answer that right now. M: Did you ever hunt with them? T: Oh, yes. I've hunted with them. M: Anything uncommon about the hunting, or their skills in hunting? T: No, but I can tell you a true incident about the guides--they weren't guiding me, but they were guiding when I was hunting down there. There were some people from around Bartow, and some of them were northern people. They came down there and hired this Indian for a guide. He'd go around the ponds and up where it was high, walking and meandering around. One of these fellows--I think he must have had a drink or two--asked this Indian,"What we going all over the country like this for?" The Indian didn't know how to explain it to him or anything. So he says, "Do you know which way to camp?" "Uh huh." He says, "All right, let's go." The Indian started out. Now the Indian knew how to walk through sawgrass. By the time they got to camp the sawgrass had cut their skin and clothing all over, and they were mad and mean as the devil. But that was their fault. The Indian was doing them a favor to walk a little bit further. He knew how to get there without going through the sawgrass, but now the Indian didn't know how to explain that to them. The man wanted to go right straight to camp, so the Indian took him straight to camp. M: That's interesting. Did you ever have any experience, harmful experience, with sawgrass yourself? T: No.

PAGE 12

8 M: Is there any technique that one can describe? T: Well, the main thing is to take your stance with your hands clasped behind your back, your chin up, and make yourself just as narrow as you can and walk carefully. M: What kind of guns were they using in the days when you first hunted with them? T: Oh, about a .30-.30 rifle or a 12 gauge shotgun were the most popular ones. M: And pretty well up-to-date stuff? T: Oh, yes. The white men would like to hunt. They'd make a trade with them, even for the guiding. They kept good ammunition. I still say the 12 gauge shotgun is the most popular one that we've ever had in Florida as far as I know, and I've hunted up to about fifteen years ago. M: Well now, I suppose you've eaten quite a bit with them. T: Oh, yes. M: Indian stuff? T: Yes. M: Is there any Indian food that you particularly like? T: There is one Indian food that the Indians like and have ready in camp every day. They use it today. If you go in somebody's home, they will ask you to have a cup of coffee or tea or have a drink. Well, they have sofkee, and it was made back even before they could buy grits. It was made when they ground their own corn. They made the grits with a mortar and pestle. The mortars which I saw were just a piece of large log, upended. They would then burn a hole in the top. This sofkee was kept warm in an iron ket tle. They had a big cypress spoon to drink from--it was the only cup they had. Some of them later on had tin cups, but the cypress spoon was the original sofkee spoon. If anyone was going throughmaybe they didn't want to see or talk to anyone or anything--they would stop and have some sofkee, and maybe get up and walk on. Never say howdy or anything. I've seen them do it. M: Have you tasted it yourself?

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9 T: Yes, I've tasted it. M: Well, if you could just imagine this water and grits boiled to a fine soup. There's no salt. There's nothing else in it. They might make it different today, but I'm talking about in the days when it was just pure corn and water, and that's all there was to it. One of the older Indians told me that when the Seminoles first came to this section in the early 1800s salt was a neces sary item. They would make trips at different times to the salt water for the sea food .. The early Seminoles would cut the pal metto buds that grew close to the shore, that got the salt water spray. They would burn these in a way that they could save the ashes. They would sprinkle these ashes on other foods as a kind of salt seasoning. M: Do you know what coontie is? T: Coontie [Zamia integrefolia] was used in making bread. It was a root. M: Did you ever eat it? T: No. M: The Indians were supposed to have eaten it. T: Yes; they have used it in place of corn and bread for a long time. It was poisonous if it wasn't fixed right. M: Yes. T: I never did eat any of it. I've eaten bear meat. M: Yes. I've eaten bear meat. That tasted pretty good to me. What else have you eaten? T: Here is one of the best things I ever had down there: We were running out of groceries and so on, and we got in an Indian camp. They had some small sweet potatoes and they cooked them with bear meat. M: Boy, I bet that was good. T: As hungry as I was, it was good. Bear meat is an oily meat, and they would use the bear grease to cook other foods as they had

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10 no other oil or fat. A lot of people think wild turkey or deer is the best meat in the world, but you try to eat it just plain and it's not good because it's not seasoned. It's a dry meat. M: Yes. T: There's only one or two months out of the year that a deer has any fat on it, or a little bit of fat at all. The rest of the time it's a dry meat. M: How would the Indians prepare deer? Did they put it into a stew, do you remember? T: Mostly a stew, yes, because they wanted it moist. See what I mean, you've got to ... you take whole dry meat •.. M: Pretty damn dry. T: name it anything you want to. Same way with a Florida steer, you know, in the woods or in the Indian's herd. You try to eat it, just a plain piece of meat, and it doesn't go good. M: Have you eaten 'possum and 'coon? T: No. I've tasted 'coon. I never did taste 'possum. M: Did the Indians eat these that you know of? T: I have never seen them eat a 'possum or a 'coon, but I have eaten garfish. I was in a camp when they had some garfish cooking. This is the way they cooked them. They would cover them with mud or marl. The garfish was not cleaned before they put it in marl. They used a banana leaf to wrap it up, then they put it in a hot bed of ashes. I don't know how long they left it there. When they took it out they would cut down the stomach side and peel the white meat out. It was good. M: What about fowl? T: They would prefer water birds or turtles. They would prefer a hog or a bear for the fat, and then use some of the fat to cook venison or some turkeys. They weren't crazy about turkey, but they would eat it. The wild hog and the bear would furnish the grease or oil for their food. M: Were they in these days when you first knew them raising gardens?

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11 T: Yes. M: They don't do it much any longer I understand. T: The way they raised their garden is different from what we garden. M: Yes, I'm sure it is. T: They would go out there and they'd put out a pumpkin seed just anywhere. I've seen pumpkins growing all over everything. And that's the same way with other things that they would plant. For their fruit trees, they had the sour oranges, bananas and guavas. You'd find bananas in most every camp. M: Bought them in stores or ..• ? T: They'd grow them. I can show you some pictures that will show you where they had gardens. They'd have gardens and oranges and bananas. M: Well, how about the sour orange? I've heard a lot about it. Is it unpleasantly sour? T: Some of them are more than others. It's like some of the sweets are sweeter than others and so on. Some of the sour oranges you couldn't eat, but there's a lot of them that weren't too sour that would go pretty good. But my education doesn't go fare nough to go into which one is which and so on, to tell you the name of them or who did it. I have eaten a lot of the wild oranges that tasted pretty good. Now they tried to eat some of them that you couldn't eat. M: That reminds me--I've never eaten pumpkin except in pumpkin pie, but I take it they use it as a vegetable. T: Yes. M: Have you eaten it except in pie? T: Yes. You cook it like a squash, boil it in water. M: Well, they don't seem to farm much any longer. T: Up in the twenties they would get more seed and they would plant squash. They would always have cane--sugar cane. Sugar cane is one of the main crops of Florida ever since the Spaniards got here

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12 and introduced it. Sugar cane produces for everybody--the Indians, the white people, the Spaniards or whoever you are. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference what's your color or where you come from. The sugar cane produces a juice to drink. It pro duces a syrup where you have sweets. It produces sugar, and it produces alcohol. M: Did they ever distill it that you know of? T: Yes, sir, and about the drunkest I've been in my life was with Frank Tippens and Stanley Hanson. We went through Osceola's camp, and a woman motioned to us that a man was down in the cane field. We went by there and Stanley had a drink. I was a young fellow and I never had much to drink. I was thirsty, and Frank Tippens had a little drink. It was my turn to drink and I gulped it down. By the time I got about half a mile down the trail my knees were wobbling. I learned to be careful when you're drinking some body else's liquor. M: Yes, that's straight stuff. T: I didn't realize what I was drinking. But anyway, I found out. I got to camp somehow or another and went to bed. M: Was it pretty sweet, or had this been distilled out of it? T: It was relatively distilled liquor. cooling pipe was a bamboo. Instead tubing, it was split bamboo, and it this container. M: Was that common among them? He had a still, and his of coming out of a copper came down and dripped into T: Oh, no. Not common. What I mean is that they did know how to make liquor with it and they did. They knew how to make syrup and how to make sugar. Take your Florida crackers, that was their main sweets. That was the only thing they had. M: Now you speak about Osceola's camp--which one of them is this? T: I think it was John Osceola. I don't know. M: Is he gone now? T: Oh, yes. He's gone now. He was an older man then.

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13 M: Any of his kids around that you know of? T: No, not that I could identify. No, I wouldn't attempt to ident ify, but there's two or three of the Osceola families. M: When you came into a camp like that I don't guess the women hung around much and talked much to the white men, is that true? T: In those days, the women were definitely not supposed to speak English. They did not know English, and you could talk to them all day and they would not answer you. Unless you knew enough in Indian language to talk to them, why they wouldn't even pay any attention to you. They didn't look. It was against the tribal laws, and they had laws and rules that they followed, brother. M: Did you ever know of any case of tribal discipline? You know what I mean--enforcement? T: Yes. M: Extreme cases? T: Yes. M: Such as what? Any you can mention? T: No, because I'm going to write about the Green Corn Dance. I saw extreme discipline in the Green Corn Dance. I am going to write about it. M: Oh, are you? Well, good for you. There was a man now dead, named Louis Capron, who wrote a fairly extensive article on the Green Corn Dance. T: I'd like to get it. M: The publication is the Bureau of American Ethnology. It was some years ago now, but I'm sure the Fort Myers Library would have it if you'd go in there. T: We had two Indian guides for the Tamiami Trailblazers trip. Abe Lincoln [Abraham Lincoln Clay], who was raised in the very southern section of the state, could guide us through Turner's River [for merly the Wahika River. A stream in Collier County, the mouth of which is in Chokoloskee Bay, east of Chokoloskee Key.] and Lostman's River section but he could not understand or speak a word of English. I mean there was no way to communicate with him.

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14 Now the little Indian that is at the left there, is Billy Con apatchee, He went along as an interpreter but didn't know the area. M: Oh, yes. I know who he is. T: That's the first Seminole, the first Indian that ever went to school, and he, of course, went back to his tribe. After he went back he did a wonderful lot of good for the communication between the white man and the Indian. M: Is he a fellow you had seen and known in person, Billy Conapatchee? T: Oh, yes. I knew him real well. That's Josie Billie's and Ingraham Billie's father [in the photograph]. I did not realize the value that pictures and notes would be in the future. I did not have the education or money or the time or anything else, and didn't know how to take pictures and make notes at that time. [At this point in the interview, Thompson brings out some photo graphs which were taken by Stanley Hanson, Sr. Any mention of pictures is in reference to these photographs. ed.] I'll show you a picture of Billy Fewell. He and his nephew built a chickee in Innnokalee because Indians came in there often to trade. They would build their own little houses and so on. That's the last one he built. He was around a hundred years old when this picture was taken. That's Ingraham Billie and his family; this is Johnny Cypress. That's his nephew and they built this chickee in Innnokalee. They would come into Immokalee and they might camp for a week or a month or just overnight. They would build these chickees. Each family would build their house, Sometimes there would be a lot of them; sometimes there'd just be one man there. M: Whose land was it on, for instance? I mean, it was all right to build it and leave it there, I guess? T: At that time it belonged to the Indian agents. As I understand it, now it's a park--a city or county park in Immokalee. This is George Osceola's camp. You see that sewing machine that's on the platform? It's hand-cranked. M: Foot-operated, or was it hand? T: Oh, no. Hand--run by hand. See that little wheel on the right hand side? It's got a handle on it, and run by hand. Hand-cranked.

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15 Now this is one of the oldest camps in the country. It's down on the edge of the 'Glades. They called it Guava Camp, and it was a big camp. It was one of the largest and oldest camps in southwest Florida. You can see in the back where that roof is rotted off. I have seen some of them in the early twenties where all the thatching and timbers were tied with deer hide--with strings and so on. Now, of course, they use nails, but in the early days they would tie the timbers together and tie the fans on the tim bers. They were all tied, not nailed on. This is another of Guava Camp. Now you see the bananas in the back there? And see the roofs and how they curve around each end? See the bedding under there? They all slept up on the plat form. I'll tell you something else about the Iridians: So many times people say, "Well, haven't they got sense enough to get in under a shade?" Well, damn it, the United States government years ago found this out. You'll see the buildings around the lighthouses along the coast. They'll build up high out where the wind could blow underneath them. It blows the insects and everything off. Well, that's what the Indians do. They build out where the winds can get under and through them. They don't build in the shade where all the insects are. They're out there where the air can circulate well. That's why they do it. They have ventilation underneath where they sleep and all. Now see those pots out there? They had a platform for the pots. I can show you a better picture. Look at the chair on the lefthand side under there where they got the firewood. You could sit down and watch the fire. Every big camp has a cook house. You see the banana plants here, and the plants in the back--oranges and guavas and so on. Now here's your garden. See how they plant the cane? They don't plant like we do. M: Scattered around. That's a great picture. T: Now you see the firewood placed like spokes in a wheel. M: Yes, the star fires. T: And you see the braces on that building in the back there? And on the left over there they have bananas. Osceola and his family. M: These are very fine looking people. T: Yes. What I said, they are good-looking people. three modes of travel--walk, canoe and ox team. Now here's your When you went

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16 somewhere you went on your own and you were taught from a kid what was yours, was yours. You moved it, if you wanted it moved; if you didn't, you left it. You were taught that and so on. Nobody was going to worry about it but yourself. Now here's a canoe. I made this picture in 1926 or some where in there, in a section around Lostman's River. I have seen canoes with chickens, dogs and hogs. Whatever they had they moved. They'd put them in that canoe, and I'll bet you a dollar you couldn't stand up in it. M: That's what's astonishing--they stand up to pole the thing. Why don't they tip it? They must have had a great skill bal ancing it. T: Yes. M: 'Cause you know if they ever tipped that load it'd be awful. There goes their whole provisions. T: That's right. Their whole family and stuff is right there. M: And each standing up. T: Yes. Out there I've seen hogs. They tied the feet of the hogs to keep them from moving. They'll tie them, but the dogs are not tied. The chickens were in a kind of a box or container. There is a canoe on a canoe trail through the 'Glades. Now, there's Wilson Cypress and his ox team. Of course the cars came along around the thirties. M: How'd the ox differ from any other cow? Would you call it a different species? T: No, an ox is nothing in the world but a year-old castrated bull. M: It's a steer. T: That's right. That's all there is. Of course they train them and they'll put a little bell on them at night and they feed right around the camp. If they're lucky enough to have a little feed they'll feed them and they'll have water there for them. The main thing is to have water for them. They'll train just like you train any other animal. M: Where'd they get the ox yokes? Did they make them or buy them? T: Made them.

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17 Now you can see how this house is braced against the strong winds. And look at the thatching on this. This is one of the best houses I've ever seen, but look at the garden in the back there. You see the bananas and the guavas and the cane and so on. This is an old camp that had fruit trees and a garden in the back there. Those women are standing out back of the plat form where they kept the pots and pans. This is the cook house here. Now this is the canal beside nailed together. Trail. an old man. He's using a crutch. He's crossing the Tamiami Trail. There were just two logs He was crossing over that. This is on the This is an older camp. See how long it's been there. See the banana trees and all. M: Would you describe the camps as pretty clean or not? T: Yes, sir. I've never been in an Indian camp that I would say wasn't clean. You take with all this dirt, all around the camp it's all clean and kept. M: In those days what about the tin cans and so on--or did they have any? T: No tin cans. Nothing like that. There were no tin cans. Now this was taken in Fort Myers on Monroe Street. They came in for shopping and so on, and they stayed in this room in back of the house. That's another view of it. M: You know any of those three by name? T: Yes, that's Josie Billie on the left, Charlie Billie on the right, and I don't know who the one is in the middle. I forget him. Now there is the last Negro slave--Dixie, or Charlie Dixie among the Miccosukee. The Miccosukees had very, very little Negro blood. Now the Creek Indians had quite a bit of Negro blood, but this is the last of the nigger slaves right there. Of course this is later on, and here's Corey Osceola and so on. M: Who are they from left to right? Do you recognize those three? T: No, Corey Osceola is the only one. M: Which one is he? T: With one arm.

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18 M: Corey Osceola had just one arm? How'd he lose it? Do you know? T: I don't know. I think it was an automobile wreck. M: I never knew that. T: I never knew Corey real well, and I don't know. But these are east coast Indians. There's Sowwethlochee. That means Black Tarpon Lake. The tarpon has a darker color in fresh water than they do in salt water. See that scaffold? The Indians built that and they would go up there and dive right straight down. This is when I first saw it in about 1918, '19, somewhere in there. You notice how clear the water is? See the reflection in the water and so on? The last time I saw it was around 1928, more or less. The water hyacinths and the lettuce had gotten in there. It was just nothing. The whites call it Tarpon Lake because there is an opening there's got to be an opening from that to the Gulf, because tarpon would come up in it. Don't hold me to it, but it's around twenty miles from the Gulf to that lake. M: So they come under water somehow ? T: Yes. But you'll see it on the maps as Tarpon Lake. There's Josie Billie holding a little fawn. This is just a temporary camp. I don't know where, but he's got a little doe or deer in his hand. M: Well, there was another thing I wanted to ask you: In the matter of mosquito protection and so on, what do you remember the Indians did that way? You spoke about them having their chickees out in the open, but how about the rest of the time? Weren't they plagued with insects? T: Outside was smoke. Now you take black mangrove smoke will run a lot of insects off. They used that smudge, or we call it smudge or smoke, whichever one you want to use. They would get in this smoke in the open air. At night they would sleep under mosquito bars. M: I've read in a passage they sometimes rub themselves with bear grease. Did you ever see any of it? T: No. M: In the matter of snakes, did you ever know of an Indian being struck by, for instance, a rattlesnake?

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T: No. M: Ever have any problem that way yourself? T: No. I'll tell you a true snake story. M: All right. I'd like to hear it. 19 T: I was down on the edge of the 'Glades at the boat landing one time. There was a trading post and a big camp. They had a well out there where they got the water. I forget who was with me, but there was, I noticed, about three or four snakes around there. An old hen with some little biddies got fooling around there to get some water. One of these snakes caught one of these biddies. The old hen started fussing and raising the devil, and an Indian came out and killed the snake. M: I didn't know they'd do it. T: And I said, "Why don't you kill those other snakes? They'll eat your chicken." He said, "No. He no bother me, I no bother him." M: Yes, that's what I've understood. T: And another time I was down there with Jack Tanner from Chicago. We had an Indian guide. One evening the guide went and spent a night at an Indian camp. When he came back to our camp in the morning he said he saw a big rattlesnake on the way back. Jack Tanner said, "Did you kill him? Did you kill him?" He said, "No, he no bother me, I no bother him." M: Have you ever eaten rattlesnake? T: No, never did. M: I know the Indians won't. I have--it's pretty good. T: Yes, they had a regular canning factory over at Arcadia, you know. M: Is it still running or did they ? T: I do not know. I haven't heard of it in the last few years, so I can't answer. But they were canning it over at Arcadia. M: Well now, the Indians had dogs and they had some oxen, and now and then some chickens. Now I guess that's about the size of their domestic ... ?

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20 T: Hogs. M: Hogs. hogs? When you spoke about wild hogs, were they really wild I mean born wild, or just run wild? T: Well, no. Florida has a wild hog. M: Have you ever hunted them? T: Yeah. They're good eating. They're not as fat like our hogs, but they're leaner meat. M: You'd call it a wild boar, with tusks sticking out? T: You bet your life. M: The Indians hunt those around here? T: Yeah. I shot one, one time. It liked to scared me to death. M: Why? T: I thought he was a bear, to tell you the truth, and I shot him. He started screaming and hollering and I was scared I was young, I didn't know what I'd shot. An older man, Charlie Hunt, who was a short ways from me called, "What did you kill?" I said, "I killed a bear but it doesn't sound like it." I went over there. It was this big old black boar. M: When you were making your way around the woods and the paths, have you ever come across panthers? T: One. M: One only? T: Well, one that I've seen. No, I've heard a lot of them at night. I was hunting turkeys down back of Bonita Springs and one came by. Boy, I tell you I stood •.. oh, twenty-five feet from it. M: You got a good view of it? T: Oh yeah. Could see him just going on. M: Pretty well gone from this country now, I think. T: Yes, they are. Panther has never, as far as I know, attacked anybody, but don't you bother that bobcat. You don't have to

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21 bother him, he'll bother you. Bobcats are the most dangerous animals we've ever had. If he's hungry, he'll bother you. M: Do you have any special experience with 'gators? T: When I was about twelve years old a friend and I were at an old pond in east Fort Myers. He had a dog and we were just playing around out there. This dog got down to the edge of the pond and this 'gator knocked him over with his tail and ate him. We used to have crocodiles in this country. Now they're bringing them back, down in the Everglades National Park, which I'm glad of. We had crocodiles here and they killed them out. You have seen pictures, and you've read where the Indians would wrestle alligators? Well, any normal grown man can hold a full-grown alligator's jaws together. All you have to do is hold it together. Now, if that 'gator gets that mouth open, he's got you. M: There goes your arm. T: But if you have the nerve to hold his mouth shut you'll notice whenever they're wrestling, they go up by the side and get that mouth. Now, don't you try that on a crocodile, mister. They'll open up; they'll get you. It takes just a little bit of nerve to hold that mouth shut. M: A lot of those Indians, I suppose, made their living hunting 'gators and selling the hides in the days when you first knew them, didn't they? T: More white people did than Indians. M: Is that so? T: Yeah. M: I don't remember when the hunting of egrets was outlawed, but were they still hunting egrets within your memory? Or weren't they? T: No, they were getting out of it. M: I see. T: The Audubon Society gave out publicity that stopped it. They said that it was only prostitutes that wore plumes.

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22 M: I hadn't heard that before. T: That's how they killed it, so that killed the plume business. M: This is a segment that should be added to the transcript of the interview of Milton D. Thompson. It is a statement he made after we had completed the tape and I had put the equipment away, but I think it deserves to be added, although it is in my voice, not his: A man named Roy Nash visited the Seminoles on behalf of the United States government and made a comprehensive and highly ef fective report in 1931 on their condition. Thompson told me that he guided Nash there several times, and was with him a good deal and thoughtveryhighly of him. He mentioned one thing he remem bered that he had learned from Nash. Some of the white men were sitting around the campfire criticizing the Indians for their drinking. Nash spoke up in their defense, and his defense is one I never heard before, but it is worth recording. He said that peoples troubled with craving for alcohol are almost invar iably those that are inadequately or insufficiently nourished. This was the case with the Indians, who lived for long stretches of time on meat only, and he said that the worst cravers of al cohol were the Plains Indians, because of their continuous diet of meat and little else to go with it. Nash was a man of very significant learning as far as the Indians are concerned, and what he believes deserves to be noted and carefully weighed in.