Seminoles: A People Who Never
The Seminole are
classified among the Muskogean peoples, a group of remnant tribes having joined
in forming this division in Florida during the border wars between the Spanish
and the English colonists on the Florida-Carolina frontier in the 18th century.
The name Seminole, first applied to the tribe about 1778, is from the Creek word
'semino le', meaning 'runaway,' meaning emigrants who left the main body and
In 1817, with the
accusation that the Seminole were harboring runaway slaves, Andrew Jackson
commanded nearly 3,000 troops to attack and burn the town of Mikasuki, starting
the first Seminole War. Shortly thereafter, Spain ceded Florida to the U.S.,
bringing the Seminole under U.S. jurisdiction. A treaty later provided the tribe
with a reserved tract east of Tampa Bay.
In 1832, the
Payne's Landing Treaty
took away all Florida land claims from the tribe,
and provided for removal to Indian Territory. Ratification of that treaty in
1834 allowed the Seminole three years before the removal was to take place. But
under the U.S. government's interpretation, 1835 (not 1837) ended the three year
period prior to removal. The Seminole disagreed, and their bitter opposition
resulted in the second, or Great Seminole War. Among the worst chapters in the
history of Indian Removal, the war lasted almost seven years and cost thousands
of lives. It finally ended in 1842 with the agreement that several hundred
members of the tribe could remain in Florida. They stayed in the Florida swamps
but never surrendered. Their descendants are the Seminole in Florida today.
No people have fought with more
determination to retain their native soil, nor sacrificed so much to uphold
the justice of their claims. Removal of the tribe from Florida to the
Canadian Valley was the bitterest and most costly of all Indian removals.
As tribal leaders
surrendered during the war, their followers immigrated to the Indian Territory
under military escort. The first were led by Chief Holahti Emathla in the summer
of 1836. His party, who had lost many of their number by death during the two
month journey, located north of the Canadian River, in present Hughes County.
Their settlement was known by the name of their influential leader,
In June, soon after the
at Fort Gibson, council was held with the Creek of the
Lower Towns. When the matter of location of the Seminole was discussed, Chief
Mikanopy and the Seminole leaders refused to settle in any part of the Creek
Nation other than the tract assigned them under the treaty of 1833. A treaty
signed by the U.S., and delegations of the
and Creek Nations in 1845
paved the way for adjustment of the trouble that had arisen between the two
tribes. The Seminole could settle anywhere in the Creek country, they could have
their own town government, but under the general laws of the Creek Nation.
By 1849 the Seminole
settlements were located in the valley of the Deep Fork south to the Canadian in
what is now the western part of Okfuskee and Hughes counties, and neighboring
parts of Seminole County. The revered Chief Mikanopy, who represented the
ancient Oconee, died in 1849. He was succeeded by his nephew, Jim Jumper, who
was soon succeeded by John Jumper, who came to Indian Territory as a prisoner of
war. He became one of the great men in Seminole history and ruled as chief until
1877, when he then resigned to devote all his time to his church. Wild Cat, the
principal advisor to Chief Mikanopy during his last years, never accepted being
under the rule of the Creek Nation. Although his views won out in the end under
Treaty of 1856,
he made no profit from it, because six years earlier he
left the Indian Territory to start a Seminole colony in Mexico.
By 1868, the refugee tribal bands were
finally able to settle in the area that is known as the Seminole Nation. For the
first time in 75 years they had a chance of establishing tribal solidarity.
Their council house was built at Wewoka, designated capital of the Seminole
When the Seminole people
made their last settlement in Indian Territory, eight tribal square grounds were
established in different parts of the nation where the old ceremonials, dances
and ball games were held. Two of these square grounds were known as Tallahasutci or
(Tallahasse) and Thliwathli or (Therwarthle). There is still a loose
organization of the twelve Seminole "towns" or "bands" that were organized for
political and geographical reasons in re-establishing the tribal government that
had formerly existed in Florida.
The Century Turns
The Oklahoma Constitutional Convention
divided all of Indian Territory into 40 counties, no county being exactly as the
pre-statehood Indian Nation, county or district with the exception of the Seminole Nation. It remains as Seminole County today.
Seminole Nation is indeed alive and vibrant with its tribal culture, language,
churches, and its
Grave Houses of the
Traditions and Assembly