Story of Freedman Caesar Bruner
When Hillie Mills of Seminole expressed her desire to paint something historical, Willa Mae Townes suggested she use the Caesar Bruner freedman home for her subject matter. Mrs. Mills painted the picture from a photograph as the house in completely non-existent now. The following is the story of Caesar Bruner taken from a paper written in 1958? by Bill Hubbard.
When Negro slaves were torn from their native land, friends and homes and sold into the slave markets of Carolina and Georgia they fled to Florida and under Spanish laws became free. Many Indians also fled and both became known as "freedmen."
Bruner, a freedman was born in approximately 1813. No record of his birth was ever recorded in Washington due to the fact that he was a slave and his birth was at an early enough time that such records were not kept very strictly. He and his parents, Paden and Affie Bruner lived with the Seminole Indians who were part of the Creek Tribe.
The Seminole went to Florida where they separated from the Creeks. The word Seminole means "runaway". Bruner and his parents came to Indian Territory in 1829 over the historic "Trail of Tears."
The girl whom Bruner was later to marry, Nancy Lincoln, was in the same removal party with Bruner and his parents. She was the daughter of Abram Lincoln, an interpreter for the Seminole Indians.
Osceola, one of the most famous warriors of the Seminole Tribe was Abram's nephew.
Bruner and Miss Lincoln were married shortly after they reached Oklahoma in a small town known as Pond Creek in southern Oklahoma.
Bruner proved to be an exceptionally good leader and under his leadership, a small "freedman" town later to be called Bruner Town was formed. Several members of the extended Bruner family settled around him. The settlement was located mid-way between the present towns of Seminole and Konawa on Salt Creek. Bruner also ran a store at Heliswa near Letha, called Caesar and Son Store and Post Office.
The Bruner Town settlement and the neighboring Little River settlement found it difficult to get along and sometime in the 1870's Bruner found a new location for a settlement on Turkey Creek. It was said that "Old Caesar", he went up north to find plenty of room so he could start a big cattle ranch. The Turkey Creek community was scattered along both sides of Turkey Creek for seven or eight miles as practically the entire population deserted Bruner Town and migrated north with Bruner. Even today, almost all of the Turkey Creek inhabitants are members of the Bruner Band.
The only farming done by the Bruner Band was in the form of small gardens in which they raised food for their own use. They were primarily cattle ranchers.
The Turkey Creek area covered with meadows of grass, was a natural haven for cattle and there was always plenty of fresh spring water. The Turkey Creek Bottom was a remarkable place to hunt with squirrels in plentiful supply and the woods full of wild turkey and deer.
Eight children were born to the Bruner's, seven boys and one girl.
Bruner was a firm believer in education. Not only did he send his own sons back east to school, he convinced most of his own band members to do the same.
He had a natural facility for making money and was responsible for starting a cattle business which gave his band a much higher income than that of the other freedmen bands.
The political set-up of the tribe at that time was very effective. The method of voting, though unusual was very effective. Any qualified voter who wished to nominate a candidate would simply call out the name of the desired candidate. When the candidates had been chosen, they would walk in different directions with the voters following the candidate of their choice. Then it was only a problem of counting heads to see who was victorious.
Requirements for band chief were that the candidate be a male member of the tribe of sufficient age and have character and honor, be familiar with the people he is to service and be physically able to carry out the duties of the office to which he is elected. It was preferred that he could speak Seminole and he had to be someone well-liked by other tribal members.
Bruner, one of the first band chiefs, was first elected to that position shortly after the Civil War and remained band chief until his death.
Form of government for the bands of the area was a Council, consisting of chiefs from each of the 14 bands. The duty of the council was to handle all the affairs of the tribe. If a band member was caught stealing, the band chief and council would decide the punishment. If the same person was caught committing the same crime for the third time he was executed, generally by a firing squad.
When there was trouble between two bands, a meeting was called between the two bands to discuss a settlement. If it was obvious that neither band would accept the other's suggestions for settlement, the two bands in question would "shoot it out." Reportedly this happened quite frequently and on one occasion, Tecumseh, a light-horseman and one of Bruner's sons shot and killed one of his own brothers because he refused to go when Tecumseh attempted to arrest him.
After serving his people throughout his life, Bruner died June 26, 1923 at his home at the approximate age of 110 years and was buried in Mount Zion Church Graveyard which he had established for his people.
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