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ETHNONYMS: Is-te Semihn-ole, Ya-tkitisci, Istica-ti, Simano-li


Identification. The Seminole are an American Indian group in southern Florida. The English name "Seminole" is probably derived from the Creek word corrupted from the Spanish cimarron, which indicates an animal that was once domesticated but was reverted to a feral state. The Creek Indians applied the term to Indians from a number of broken tribal units in the Southeast that coalesced in what is now the state of Florida after they had abandoned their traditional territories. They refer to themselves as "Red People," or "Yatkitisci" in Mikasuki and "Istica-ti" in Muskogee.

Location. Throughout the Southeast, European settlers in the eighteenth century caused massive dislocation among Indian tribes as the newcomers expanded their settlements and agricultural lands. During most of this period, the peninsula of Florida belonged to Spain, and some Indians fled there rather than submit to British and later American efforts to move them off their lands. Forging a political unity, the new arrivals in Florida became known as the Seminole.

Demography. The census data of 1980 indicate about two thousand Seminole in the state of Florida. Seminole also live in Oklahoma. It is believed that at the end of the Third Seminole War in 1856 there were fewer than two hundred Seminole in Florida.

Linguistic Affiliation. Those populations ancestral to the Seminole spoke several mutually nonintelligible languages, but as time passed, two divisions of Muskogean came to predominate: Mikasuki and Muskogee. These two dialects continue to be spoken today, though English is becoming the major language.

History and Cultural Relations

The Seminole as a tribal unit emerged in the mid-eighteenth century from among refugees of a number of southeastern tribes dislocated as a result of European advancement into traditional Indian territory in Georgia and Alabama. Although many tribes contributed to the new entityfor example, Yamassee and Yuchi from north of the Florida peninsula and aboriginal Florida tribes like the Timucuaelements from the Creek Indians became dominant and were strengthened after the Creek war of 1813-1814, so that by the second half of the nineteenth century all members of the group spoke one or the other of the two Creek dialects. The new groups built homes, farms, communities, and functioning societies in Florida, which was ruled by Spain at that time. That Country left the Indians in peace, though death from contagious disease decimated the populations. In 1763, England took over the peninsula, and when the Spanish moved to Cuba, some Indians left with them. After England returned Florida to Spain in 1783, new groups of Indians moved into Florida as the United States, now independent, expanded into more southeastern lands. Escaped slaves from plantations joined the Indians in Florida, and U.S. troops raided the Spanish territory pursuing the runaways who had settled in Seminole villages. Andrew Jackson, then a general, fought the first Seminole war in 1818 in northern Florida, where he occupied Spanish installations, seized slaves, and killed Indians. Florida was transferred to the United States by a treaty in 1821.

When the United States took possession, the Seminole were agriculturalists who had added Old World crops like oranges to their traditional crops of maize and beans and pastured their cattle and horses on very desirable land. Settlers from Georgia and other areas coveted the land, and subsequent contention over the area lasted for many decades. The federal government under Jackson, who became president in 1829, devised a plan of removal of all Southeastern Indians to western land acquired under the Louisiana Purchase. The Seminole did not wish to leave Florida, but under pressure to view the western lands and facing hostility from increasing numbers of settlers, they agreed to send a delegation to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Although they had no authority to act on behalf of others, some of the delegation signed an agreement to move. Those remaining in Florida were subjected to entreaties and threats, but under the Leadership of Osceola, they refused to leave. The deadlock led to the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842, during which the Seminole were pushed ever farther south, finally entering the Everglade-Cypress swamp region at the southern tip of the state. There they stayed, defying U.S. soldiers who could not master the art of fighting in the unmapped, swampy wilderness. The Second Seminole War was the most expensive and exhausting of all Indian wars. It ended inconclusively and without a treaty, leaving the Seminole in Florida where their descendants are still living today.

Living in far less desirable territory than had been theirs to the north, the Seminole remained undisturbed, although there was a brief hostile encounter in 1855-1856, the Third Seminole War. At the end, probably fewer than 200 Seminole remained. They were safe in the wilderness and proved able to adapt, preserving many of their old ways. A few hunters and traders were in contact with them during the last half of the nineteenth century, but little is known about them until 1880, when a researcher from the Bureau of American Ethnology located five small settlements with a total of 208 people.

The federal government set aside trust land for the Seminole in 1891 and added more over the years. The state of Florida also made a large contribution of land abutting the Everglades and extending into Big Cypress Swamp. Today there are four federal reservations and two separate political units: the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe. Both groups share in the state land.


Traditional societies from which the Seminole arose lived in settled towns amid agricultural lands. Those towns had a Central plaza or meeting place faced on four sides with housing, religious, and political buildings. After the Seminoles were driven into the peninsula and their population decreased, the towns became little more than clusters of camps. The camps usually contained living quarters with cooking and storage areas for extended families. Aboriginal buildings were of wattle and daub construction with thatched roofs, and summer structures were without walls to let air circulate. The Seminole continued the settlement patterns and building types when they could, but as they moved into tropical regions, they left off the sides and added a platform about thirty inches above the swampy ground. This structure of poles and thatched roof is called a "chickee" (the accent falls on the last syllable).


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Field cultivation as in the past was the Seminole mainstay in Florida, with hunting and fishing adding animal proteins, and European crops and animals adding variety to traditional foods. Toward the second half of the nineteenth century, Seminole men occasionally acted as guides for hunters and fishers from the outside, and eventually some found employment as agricultural laborers on farms and plantations around their encampments. Sales of hides, particularly alligator, and plumes from egrets brought money from the fashion industry before World War I, and some men supplied frogs' legs to coastal restaurants. In the twentieth century Seminole found jobs at tourist attractions, and as road building advanced in Florida, some learned to operate heavy machinery. Today they engage in a variety of employments, but agriculture, cattle, and tourist industries remain the significant means of obtaining income.

Industrial Arts and Trade. Aboriginally, the ancestral groups had no metal, but made equipment from wood, stone, bone, hides, clay, and other natural substances. After contact with European traders, metal equipment replaced most of the traditional forms, though some women made baskets well into the twentieth century. Before the turn of the century, Seminole turned to outside traders for tobacco and foodstuffs like coffee and sugar, sometimes paying with currency, sometimes bartering. Today, almost all transactions take place in stores within the money economy. With the advent of woven cloth and the hand-cranked sewing machine in the late nineteenth century, Seminole women developed a distinctive clothing style that is the hallmark of the Florida Seminole even today. The sale of Seminole clothing represents a large part of their tourist trade. Women also make dolls of palmetto fiber, clothe them in their colorful fashions, and sell them to tourists.

Division of Labor. The division of labor traditionally was clear: men hunted, fished, engaged in warfare, and made their equipment. Women raised children, cared for the camp, did the cultivating, and made pottery and baskets. Today the division is blurred. Some women have become cattle owners and a few drive heavy machinery; many men engage in agricultural work or raise cattle. Both sexes freely participate in child rearing and household chores. With higher education, either sex may enter the labor market in a variety of occupations.

Land Tenure. Aboriginally, land was held in clan units or in common as land cultivated under the chief for tribal use. These practices continued where possible when the ancestral Indians were driven into Florida. On the reservations, However, where standard Florida housing was built, the residents of the houses pay for them and are considered owners although the land is in trust. Seminole living off the reservations rent or own properties as any other citizen does. Private personal property is passed on as the owner sees fit.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Seminole arose from tribes of the Southeastern matrilineal complex and maintained matriclans during their flight into Florida. The clans were rigidly exogamous until after World War II, and even now, all know their clan membership.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditional marriage was matrilocal, and Polygynyusually sororaloccurred until well within the twentieth century when state laws banning polygyny took precedence. Most today avoid marriage within their clan, with only a few breaking the exogamy ban. Marriage with members of outside communities occurs now, although most Seminole still marry within the Indian group. During the late nineteenth century, outside marriage was looked upon with great disfavor, but much mixed marriage occurred earlier as well as marriage with members of other Indian tribes as the various Southeastern groups joined to create the Seminole in the eighteenth century. Today intermarriage is common. Divorce was simple and at the wish of either partner. Unions under modern law require formal legal divorce for dissolution, but there are many informal liaisons of some duration.

Domestic Unit. The local group today usually comprises nuclear families with older relatives welcome from either side, although relatives of the woman are most common, resulting in a matrilocal extended family. Also common are visiting relatives who may stay for extended periods. Adoption and fostering occur both to give a couple a chance at parenthood and to relieve economic pressures in large families. In camps of chickees, an extra person or so can be housed by constructing another chickee, but in modern housing additional residents make for crowded conditions, and the domestic group tends to be smaller.

Inheritance. Aboriginally, land was controlled through the clan system. Personal property could be passed on according to individual wishes. Today the clans control no property, and inheritance is according to legal wills or by state law under intestacy. Except for houses and automobiles, there is little for anyone to inherit.

Socialization. The mother's brother was the authority figure during the early period. He punished children Occasionally by whipping but more often by scratching them with garfish teeth. Less severe punishment came in the form of gossip and ridicule by family and neighbors or ostracism of the miscreant. One's mother's brother is still respected, but today parents are responsible for raising children. Child rearing is generally permissive. Increasingly the school and church have become important agencies in socializing children to fit into outside society.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social and Political Organization. The formal political structures found among the tribes ancestral to the Seminole broke apart under the duress of warfare, disease, and population loss during the migration into Florida. Population movements meant new combinations in new communities, and the leaders eventually became men who had no inherited claim to their positions. The role of chief had been passed on in clans, but that practice ceased as the result of the extinction of some clans and the lack of suitable individuals in others. Leaders became men who were willing, competent, and acceptable. Osceola is an example of such a leader.

Under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Seminole created a political unit in 1957the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In 1962 a smaller group of Seminole organized the Miccosukee Tribe. Although not all Seminole belong to one or the other, most have joined. The Seminole Tribe of Florida has three reservationsHollywood, Brighton, and Big Cypress; the Miccosukee Tribe has a small reservation on the edge of the Everglades.

Social Control. Social control in the clans traditionally lay in the hands of maternal uncles. Gossip, ridicule, and isolation are used to correct antisocial behavior. Supernatural sanctions were important prior to World War I, but are no longer so.

Conflict. Following the formation of the Seminole as a unit, the major conflict was with outsiders and resulted in the three Seminole wars. During this period, the Seminole remaining in Florida greatly disapproved of those moving to Oklahoma. In recent times, intragroup conflict has been insignificant except insofar as the more traditionally oriented people did not join the Seminole Tribe of Florida but created their own group, the Miccosukee Tribe.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Ancestral religion was animistic with natural forces considered far more potent than human ones. Seminole today have scant memory of traditional beliefs, although there is some syncretism that mixes old beliefs with Christianity. Many Seminole belong to Christian churches, primarily Baptist, and a few have become ministers. Although not necessarily church members, Seminole often attend Services and events in churches on their reservations. Attendance is a social as much as a religious experience.

Religious Practitioners. The old-time shamans have died without leaving followers or apprentices with the intensive training necessary for the position. Consequently any who claim medicoreligious roles of a traditional sort are self-proclaimed rather than steeped in the lore of the past.

Ceremonies. The Green Corn Dance, or busk, the major ceremony of almost all Southeastern Indians, remains in reduced trivialized form, no longer truly a rite of purification, forgiveness, and renewal, but largely a social event. Only the Miccosukee Tribe has held a busk in recent years, and many Seminole disapprove of the introduction of alcohol into the celebration.

Medicine. With the demise of the shaman who was the healer in Southeastern cultures, much medical lore associated with native plants has been lost. In the 1950s, however, information on medical practices was collected, and some elderly people still perform herbal cures. For the most part, Indians go to Public Health Service physicians, visiting nurses, and local hospitals. Children, for example, are born in hospitals. Public Health nurses and dentists visit the reservations regularly.

Death and Afterlife. Mourning the dead and burial are the responsibility of churches and undertakers in the outer society. Old-time death ceremonials and mourning practices have been all but forgotten. Traditional mortuary practices and religious ceremonials changed or were lost during the long, difficult trek from the original homelands down the peninsula. Since the Seminole during those trying times did not record the changes, we can only surmise what was lost. Probably at one time the ancestral Seminole ascribed illness and death to human failure to observe proper rites concerning nature and the supernatural. Today modern medical theories of disease are acknowledged, and even those not belonging to a church have some notions of an afterlife in a pleasant place.

See also Seminole of Oklahoma


Garbarino, Merwyn S. (1972). Big Cypress: A Changing Seminole Community. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Garbarino, Merwyn S. (1988). The Seminole. New York: Chelsea House.

Hudson, Charles (1976). The Southeastern Indians. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

McReynolds, Edwin C. (1957). The Seminoles. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Sturtevant, William C. (1971). "Creek into Seminole." In North American Indians in Historical Perspective, edited by Eleanor B. Leacock and Nancy O. Lurie, 92-128. New York: Random House.

Sturtevant, William C. (1987). A Seminole Source Book. New York: Garland Publishing.


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SEMINOLE. The Seminole tribe lives primarily in Oklahoma and Florida. They separated from the Creeks, migrating into northern Florida beginning in the early

1700s and establishing full autonomy by 1800. The Seminoles spoke Muskogee and Hichiti, languages belonging to the Muskogean family. Their name derives from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning "wild" or "runaway." The name "Seminole" originally designated only one group near Gainesville, but Europeans applied it to all Florida Indians by the late 1700s.

The earliest Seminole settlers came from the Lower Creek towns on the middle Chattahoochee River and included previously incorporated groups. From the 1770s, the Seminoles adopted escaped slaves, who lived in separate towns. Upper Creek refugees also joined the Seminoles following the Red Stick War (also called the Creek War) of 1813–1814.

The Seminoles organized their towns into chiefdoms—one around Tallahassee and Lake Miccosukee and one south of Gainesville—ruled by paramount chiefs. Around 1800, Creek towns in the forks of the Apalachicola River also formed a separate chiefdom, later assimilated into the Seminoles. These chiefdoms were known as the Talahassi or Mikkosuki, the Alachua or Seminole, and the Apalachicola.

Seminole, Florida Red Stick, and Lower Creek settlements on the Flint River engaged in mutual raiding with American border settlements from 1790 to 1818. General Andrew Jackson took advantage of this situation to invade Florida, destroying a few Indian and black towns and conquering the Spanish posts at St. Marks and Pensacola.

Spain ceded Florida to the United States through the Adams-Ónis Treaty (1819), bringing the Seminoles under American rule. The Treaty of Moultrie Creek (1823) relocated most Seminoles to a reservation in central Florida. A separate agreement allowed five chiefs to remain on the Apalachicola and lower Chattahoochee Rivers. Most western Seminoles moved in 1825 and a unified Seminole government formed at that time.

Under the Treaty of Payne's Landing (1832), the Seminoles agreed to consider emigration to Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma. The Seminoles overwhelmingly rejected emigration, and mounting tensions culminated in the Second Seminole War (1835–1842). A few Seminoles voluntarily emigrated to Indian Territory in 1838, but most were sent west as prisoners of war. By the end of the war, 3,612 Seminoles lived in Indian Territory, while about 350 to 500 Seminoles remained in Florida.

The removed Seminoles reestablished their communities and their government, living as they had before. They relocated their settlements several times and experienced considerable hardships, as well as conflicts with the Creeks. Some Seminoles rejoined the Creeks, while others under Kowakochi (Wildcat) and John Horse (Gopher John) emigrated to northern Mexico in 1849.

The removed Seminoles signed a treaty with the Confederacy in August 1861, after the Union abandoned Indian Territory. Dissident leaders fled to Kansas and allied with the Union that autumn. Both Seminole factions fought in the Civil War (1861–1865) and the Seminole Nation was laid to waste. By the punitive Seminole Treaty of 1866, they relinquished their existing lands for a tract one-tenth the size purchased from the Creeks.

The Seminoles reestablished their lives on the new reservation and a written constitution was adopted in 1871. By 1880, the number of towns declined from 24 to 14 (including two black towns). Christian missionaries had opened schools and missions in 1848, but met little success during the nineteenth century.

In 1898, the Seminoles signed an agreement with the United States, dividing their lands among the 3,000 tribal members and formally dissolving the tribal government,

although the latter operated administratively until 1915. The Seminoles became citizens of the United States in 1901 and six years later, became citizens of Oklahoma. Federal protections for allottees proved inadequate and the Seminoles lost 80 percent of their lands by 1920, retaining less than 10 percent at the end of the twentieth century. The tribal government was reestablished in 1935 and reorganized in 1970.

After allotment, earlier settlements broke up and many Seminoles left the area in the early twentieth century. Most Oklahoma Seminoles also converted to Christianity, primarily Baptist sects, and many ceased speaking their native language. About one quarter of Oklahoma Seminoles still follow the native religion and at least 20 percent speak Muskogee. As of 2002, Oklahoma Seminoles numbered almost 15,000, including over two thousand Freedmen or black Seminoles. Educational and income levels remain low and economic development projects have met little success, though the tribe's Class II gaming operations have generated considerable revenues since the late 1990s. The tribe also has a multimillion-dollar trust fund, from the land claims settlement for the loss of Florida.

After removal, the Florida Seminoles scattered to small settlements south of their former territory, generally avoiding Americans. Foraging became more important in their economy, owing to a lack of suitable farmlands. Since most chiefs were removed during the Second Seminole War, leadership shifted to the priests (hilishaya) and war leaders (tastanaki) and ritual unity and informal lead-ership by religious leaders replaced political unity and formal government.

Because American officials had little success removing the remaining Florida Seminoles, Executive Order 1379 (1911) created reservations at Brighton, Big Cypress, and Dania. Other Seminoles lived off-reservation along the Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41) and south in the Everglades. The Seminole Tribe of Florida organized in 1957 and the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida incorporated separately in 1965. About 2,600 Seminoles and Miccosukees lived in Florida at the end of the twentieth century. Economic development on the Florida reservations generally has met little success, except for high-stakes bingo at the Hollywood (Dania) reservation, which has made the Florida Seminoles a successful gaming tribe.


Fairbanks, Charles H. Ethnohistorical Report on the Florida Indians. New York: Garland Publishing, 1974.

Kersey, Harry A., Jr. Pelts, Plumes, and Hides: White Traders among the Seminole Indians, 1870–1930. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1975.

Mahon, John K. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835–1842. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1967.

McReynolds, Edwin C. The Seminoles. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1957.

Richard A.Sattler

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Seminole, Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Muskogean branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). They separated (their name means "separatist" ) from the Creek in the early 18th cent. and settled in the former territory of the Apalachee in Florida. They gradually grew in strength, absorbing many runaway black slaves and some members of the Apalachee tribe. While still under Spanish rule, the Seminole became involved in several major confrontations with the United States, particularly in the War of 1812 and again in 1817–18. In the retaliatory expedition of 1817–18, Gen. Andrew Jackson invaded Florida with more than 3,000 men to punish the Seminole. By the Treaty of Paynes Landing (1832), the Seminole were bound to move W of the Mississippi River within three years. Most Seminole, led by Osceola, refused to go and prepared themselves for resistance.

In 1835 began the Seminole War, which proved to be the most costly of the Indian wars in which the United States engaged. Lasting for nearly eight years, it cost the lives of thousands of Seminole and 1,500 U.S. soldiers, as well as at least $30 million. Finally defeated in 1842, the Seminole consented to move to Oklahoma, where they became one of the Five Civilized Tribes. A few Seminole remained isolated in the Everglades. In 1990 there were about 15,500 Seminole in the United States, mostly in Florida and Oklahoma.

See J. K. Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War (1967); J. H. Howard, Oklahoma Seminoles (1984); M. S. Garbarino, The Seminole (1988).

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Seminole Native North American band that separated from the main Creek group in the late 18th century, and fled s into Florida under pressure of wars with white settlers. Seminole involvement in wars against the USA led to the First Seminole War (1817–18). In 1832, some Seminole leaders signed a treaty agreeing to move to Oklahoma. Others opposed the move, and the Second Seminole War (1835–42) began. The war claimed 1500 US troops before the Seminoles were forced to surrender. Today, c.12,000 Seminole live in Florida and Oklahoma.

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Sem·i·nole / ˈseməˌnōl/ • n. (pl. same or -noles ) 1. a member of an American Indian people of the Creek confederacy and their descendants, noted for resistance in the 19th century to encroachment on their land in Georgia and Florida. Many were resettled in Oklahoma. 2. either of the Muskogean languages, usually Creek, spoken by the Seminole. • adj. of or relating to the Seminole or their language.

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Seminolebarcarole, bole, bowl, cajole, coal, Cole, condole, console, control, dhole, dole, droll, enrol (US enroll), extol, foal, goal, hole, Joel, knoll, kohl, mol, mole, Nicole, parol, parole, patrol, pole, poll, prole, rôle, roll, scroll, Seoul, shoal, skoal, sole, soul, stole, stroll, thole, Tirol, toad-in-the-hole, toll, troll, vole, whole •Creole •carriole, dariole •cabriole • capriole •aureole, gloriole, oriole •wassail-bowl • fishbowl • dustbowl •punchbowl • rocambole • farandole •girandole • manhole • rathole •armhole • arsehole • hellhole •keyhole, kneehole •peephole •sinkhole • pinhole • cubbyhole •hidey-hole • pigeonhole •eyehole, spyhole •foxhole •knothole, pothole •borehole, Warhol •porthole • soundhole • blowhole •stokehole • bolthole • loophole •lughole, plughole •chuckhole • buttonhole • bunghole •earhole • waterhole • wormhole •charcoal • caracole • Seminole •pinole

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