The name Seminole (pronounced SEH-muh-nole) may be from the Spanish word cimmarrón (“wild one”) or from the Creek word meaning “runaway” or “lover of the wild.”
The Seminole people originally lived in Alabama and Georgia, but migrated to Florida in the seventeenth century to escape American colonists and traders. In modern times there are six Seminole reservations in Florida. The Oklahoma Seminole live in fourteen different towns in that state. Other Seminole reside in California, and some are scattered in small groups around the United States.
In 1821 there were an estimated five thousand Seminole. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 15,564 people identified themselves as Seminole. By 2000 that number had dropped to 12,790.
Origins and group affiliations
Seminole was a name given to a group of Creek, Yamasee, Oconee, Apalachicolas, Alabamas, and other Native Americans who fled to Florida in the 1700s from several areas in the southeastern United States. In the 1830s most of the Seminole were forced to leave their homelands and relocate in present-day Oklahoma, where they formed new relationships with other southeastern tribes also relocated there, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek.
The Seminole did not exist as a tribe until the late 1700s when a group of Creek Indians (see entry) moved to northern Florida and settled there to avoid trouble, find better soil, and seek skins for trading. Members of other tribes, as well as runaway slaves, joined this core group to form the Seminole population. The history of the Seminole was marked by conflicts, forced removal to the western United States, and great adversity. Through it all the people have shown self-sufficiency and a fierce independence.
Move to Florida
The early people whose descendants now make up the Seminole and Creek) tribes resided at the fifteenth-century site of Etowah in Georgia. They lived in clans (large groups of related families) and enjoyed an abundant food supply. They also engaged in warfare with the neighboring tribes of Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw (see entries). In the 1700s some Creek moved to Florida to avoid being caught in these conflicts. They founded communities along river or stream banks and became the new Seminole tribe.
1700s: The Creek settle in Florida, forming the core group of a new Seminole tribe.
1817: The First Seminole War occurs when soldiers from neighboring states invade Seminole lands in Florida looking for runaway slaves.
1832: The U.S. government attempts relocation of the Seminole to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, leading to Second Seminole War.
1932: The Florida Seminole move to reservations.
1957: The Florida Seminole Tribe of Florida is established and gains federal recognition.
1962: The Miccosukee Tribe of Florida receives federal recognition.
Peace shattered by War of 1812
The eighteenth century was mostly peaceful for the Seminole in Florida. They had good relations with Spanish military troops stationed there. For nearly one hundred years the people hunted and gathered in the wilds, often trading their goods at the Spanish forts. Runaway slaves from American plantations farther north often hid among the Seminole, who warmly accepted them.
This period of calm ended during the War of 1812 (1812–15; a war in which the United States defeated Great Britain). Although American colonists won independence from Great Britain in 1783, the western boundary of the new United States extended only to the Mississippi River. In 1812 American settlers pushed beyond the Mississippi onto land claimed by the British, thus igniting a war over territory.
During the war some of the southeastern Native Americans sided with Great Britain and some sided with the United States. In 1813 a group of Creek Indians captured an American army post near Mobile, Alabama, and massacred the soldiers. The U.S. army retaliated. In the conflict that followed, called the Creek Wars of 1813–1814, some Creek joined the United States to fight other Creek. Many Native Americans died, and many of their towns were destroyed. The Native Americans signed a peace treaty giving all their lands in Georgia and some in Alabama to the U.S. government. Rather than be ruled by the U.S. government, many Creek fled to Florida and joined the Seminole, thereby tripling the Seminole population.
The First Seminole War
Ever-larger numbers of white settlers also moved south, some onto land claimed by the Spanish. A clash between these settlers and the Native inhabitants of the area was unavoidable. Fighting between American settlers and the Seminole caused the United States to declare war on the tribe in 1817 in a conflict called the First Seminole War. U.S. troops invaded Florida (then controlled by Spain) searching for runaway slaves who had sought refuge with the Seminole. Spain was too weak at that time to retaliate against the United States for this invasion. As a result, U.S. military raids increased, and American troops seized Florida from Spain, burning Native villages and killing their inhabitants. In 1821 Spain gave Florida to the United States. American settlers took over the prime farming land and hunting grounds of the Seminole.
Southern plantation owners continued to travel into what was now American territory in search of the escaped slaves they considered their property. Many of the escaped slaves, who were living under the protection of the Seminole, formed themselves into a black Seminole clan and were adopted into the tribe. Armed soldiers from the southern states accompanied the plantation owners and took many prisoners, not caring if their prisoners were former slaves or full-blood Seminole.
The Seminole move to reservations
In 1823 the U.S. government persuaded the Seminole to move onto reservations in central and southern Florida to make way for white settlers. The tribe was promised equipment, livestock, and an annual payment of $5,000 for twenty years. The Seminole gave up 30 million acres of rich farmland for about 5 million acres of sandy, marshy land not well suited for farming. The Seminole also agreed to stop protecting escaped slaves.
The move to the reservation took more than a year. Unable to hunt and farm while they waited, the people suffered widespread hunger and had to put up with illegal attacks by whites in search of runaway slaves. The Seminole were too exhausted to fight and felt betrayed by the whites with whom they had made the treaty.
Tribe agrees to move to Indian Territory
Over the next ten years whites came in great numbers and settled on former Seminole lands. Soon that land was filled, and the whites clamored for more. U.S. officials put pressure on some Seminole leaders, and they signed the Treaty of Paynes Landing in 1832. In it, they agreed to relocate within three years to Indian Territory. (Indian Territory was the land that now forms most of the state of Oklahoma. During the 1800s, the U.S. government moved many tribes to Indian Territory.) In return for moving, the Seminole would receive annual payments of cash and goods for their former territory However, this move would reunite them with the Creek, who by this time had become their bitter enemies.
The Second Seminole War
The move to Indian Territory was to take place in 1835. Before it could begin, Seminole Chief Osceola (1804–1838) started a rebellion that resulted in the Second Seminole War. Although the majority of the tribe moved to Indian Territory, nearly five hundred hid in the Everglades with Osceola. For seven years the vastly outnumbered Seminole warriors put up a brave resistance, using hit-and-run tactics to resist five thousand U.S. soldiers, striking at them and then disappearing back into the swamps. This conflict developed into the longest and costliest Indian War in the history of the United States. Federal officials became frustrated by the war costs and their inability to beat the Seminole. Federal troops captured Chief Osceola under a false flag of truce in 1837. He died in a prisoner-of-war camp not long after.
Osceola’s successor, Chief Coacoochee (died 1857), carried on the fight but finally surrendered in 1841. By that time most warriors had been killed or had submitted to moving west with the rest of their tribe. And so the Seminole became part of the movement of the “Five Civilized Tribes” to Indian Territory. The Five Civilized Tribes were the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek, and Cherokee. The settlers and the U.S. government gave them this name because they had adopted white customs in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
The Third Seminole War
Several hundred Seminole remained hidden deep in the swampy areas of the Florida Everglades. For about ten years they were largely left alone. Then in 1855, land surveyors for the federal government trampled the cornfields and destroyed fruit trees at the Everglades home of Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs (c. 1810–c. 1864). An angry Seminole war party attacked the surveyors’ camp and killed several members of the party, setting off the Third Seminole War (1855–58). In 1858 the U.S. government offered the Seminole money to leave Florida and relocate to Indian Territory. Although Chief Bowlegs and 123 men accepted the offer, a few hundred people did not. Their descendants now make up the Seminole people of Florida.
The Seminole in Oklahoma
In Indian Territory the Seminole faced many hardships. Forced to live in harsh and unsanitary conditions with their former enemies, many Seminole died. In 1856 the surviving Seminole were given their own reservation.
White settlers soon set their sights on Indian Territory and moved in, although it was illegal. They protested that too much land had been set aside for Native Americans. They also complained that living on isolated reservations, Native Americans were not assimilating (becoming like white Americans) quickly enough.
The U.S. government gave in to settlers’ demands. To speed up the process of assimilation, they passed the General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act) in 1887. Allotment divided reservations into small, individual parcels of land. Instead of large plots being tended by an entire tribe, as was their custom, each Native American received an allotment to tend on his or her own. Leftover land was opened up to white settlement.
In 1906 the government divided 350,000 acres of Seminole land into small parcels. Private ownership of land went against Seminole beliefs. Because they could not live off the land as their relatives had done in the Everglades, many Oklahoma Seminoles had to sell part or all of their land for money to buy food and clothing. By 1920, four-fifths of their allotted lands had either been sold, or they had been cheated out of it by whites. The now-landless people scattered, and their culture suffered. Tribal self-government was abolished with Oklahoma’s statehood in 1906.
The people regrouped in the 1960s, adopted a constitution, and became the federally recognized Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. In 1990, they received $40 million for lands taken from them in Florida. Fourteen different groups of Seminole make up the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma. Two of them are Freedman bands, descendants of slaves who found refuge with the tribe before their removal to Oklahoma.
Florida Seminole leave the Everglades
Because their numbers were small and the settlers did not desire the land they inhabited, the Florida Seminole were left alone for nearly 75 years after the Seminole wars ended. More than once the federal government tried to bribe them to move west, but they ignored the offers. Finally, in 1932, the Seminole were convinced to move to land reserved for them in central and southern Florida. Some took up cattle herding, while others took jobs for pay.
In the early twenty-first century the Seminole in Florida live on six reservations throughout the state. They are Brighton Reservation in central Florida; Big Cypress Reservation, north of the Everglades; Hollywood Reservation, southwest of Fort Lauderdale; Immokalee Reservation, southeast of Fort Myers; Tampa Reservation, on the eastern outskirts of Tampa; and the Ft. Pierce Reservation in St. Lucie County.
The religious beliefs of the Seminole were based upon those of the Creek, from whom they descended. They saw no separation between body, mind, and soul; and religion and medicine went hand in hand. They believed in the existence of spiritual beings who were fair and consistent in their dealings with humans. Some of their gods included the Preserver of Life, who gave life and took it away; the Corn Mother, who was the goddess of farming; and Thunder, the god of rain and war. In addition to good spirits, they also believed water panthers and horned rattlesnakes lived in the water and wrapped around swimmers and drowned them, and that “little people” lived in the forest, sometimes helping the tribe members and sometimes tricking them.
Everyone in the tribe practiced daily rituals to make sure the balance of nature was maintained. For example, people would ask forgiveness of an animal before killing it for food; before eating it, they tossed a piece of meat into the fire as a sacrifice to the slain animal. Medicine bundles were sacred. They were composed of bits of stone, herbs, dried animal parts, feathers, and other objects and were used in ceremonies to insure the tribe’s well being.
Many Seminole have adopted Christian religions, but others favor the old religion and believe that the fate of the tribe depends upon the balance of nature’s forces.
The Seminole of Oklahoma call the Stomp Dance their traditional religion. The Stomp Dance is derived from the Green Corn Dance, a ceremony brought by the Seminole when they were removed from their Florida homelands.
The Seminole spoke two languages of similar origin, Muskogee and Miccosukee. The most common language was Muskogee, the Creek language. Both languages are not traditionally written. When spoken, they have sentence structures and sounds that are very different from English, which makes them difficult for English speakers to master. While Seminole elders still speak Muskogee, it is not as common among young people.
The Seminole shared the governing system of most of the peoples of the southeast until their escape to the Everglades in the mid-nineteenth century when the system broke down. Previously each village and tribe had a government headed by a chief. The chief made decisions regarding such matters as food storage, celebrations, building projects, and agricultural planning. The chief’s position could be inherited, but tribe members sometimes chose the chief for his wisdom and experience. Advisers and council elders assisted the chief. Military strategy was the responsibility of the war chief. For major decisions, the opinions of all the citizens were sought.
In modern times the six Seminole reservations in Florida are governed by elected tribal councils, whose members advise the federal government on matters that concern the tribe. In addition, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has a board of directors that is solely in charge of economic development.
The Florida Seminole adopted a constitution in 1957 and voted to officially become the Seminole Tribe of Florida. But one small group (who lived in camps along the Tamiami Trail highway) did not want to become part of the new organization. Instead, in 1962 they created the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and gained federal recognition. Federally recognized tribes are those with which the U.S. government maintains official relations, and they are entitled to financial or other help. The Miccosukee Reservation is located just south of the Everglades Agricultural Area.
The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma elects a chief and an assistant chief. All decisions about economic matters, social programs, and employment opportunities are the responsibility of a General Council, composed of two representatives from each of the tribe’s fourteen groups, who are elected every four years.
Seminole Population: 2000 Census
The Seminole mostly live in two major areas of the United States, Florida and Oklahoma. The Seminole of Florida occupy six reservations around that state, and the Oklahoma Seminole reside mostly in Seminole County. In the 2000 U.S. Census members of the various Seminole tribes identified themselves in this way:
“2000 Census of Population and Housing. Matrix 7: American Indian and Alaskan Native summary file.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Data User Services Division, American FactFinder, 2004.
Men hunted and fished, constructed buildings, and cleared land for farming. Women raised children, cooked, and made pottery, baskets, and clothing. In Florida, before their retreat to the Everglades, the people took advantage of the abundant wild fowl and game.
Once in the Everglades, the Seminole people had to change their ways. The land was mostly unsuitable for farming, so women gathered wild plants, while men spent their time fishing and hunting game. They were successful in raising pigs and chickens in the hot climate, but cattle did not fare well.
The Seminole used canoes carved from tree trunks to travel the shallow waters of the Everglades. During the 1800s they hunted deer, otter, raccoon, rabbit, turtle, alligator, fish, and birds for food and pelts. At trading posts, they exchanged pelts, alligator hides, dried fish, beeswax, and honey for European supplies such as coffee, tobacco, cloth, metal pots, knives, and liquor.
Between 1870 and 1914, when much of the Everglades was drained by the state of Florida to stop the spread of diseases and aid land development, some Seminole in Florida began working for whites as hunters or fishermen.
In the early twenty-first century Seminole people pilot airboats and serve as guides for hunters. Although many still farm and raise cattle, they also need other jobs to support their families. The Seminole people in Florida sell arts and crafts, plant grass, engage in logging, and wrestle alligators for tourists. They also work in tribal bingo facilities and casinos that are their most profitable enterprises.
In addition to their casinos, the Seminole Tribe of Florida operates a hotel, citrus groves, smoke shops, hunting operations, a tribal museum, an aircraft company, and the Billie Swamp Safari. In 2006 they purchased the Hard Rock Cafe restaurant-and-casino chain for $965 million.
The Miccosukee Tribe owns a casino, a resort, a golf club, several museum attractions, and Indian Village, where Seminoles demonstrate traditional arts and crafts and tribal lifestyle.
The Oklahoma Seminole operate a bingo operation, a gaming center (a primary source of income), and two trading posts. Oil production, construction, agriculture, clothing shops, and small manufacturing provide jobs for tribe members.
Several related families usually lived together in one camp. Groups of related families, called clans, were named after an animal such as the bird, otter, wolf, or snake. Children were born into the mother’s clan. Families of the Seminole who escaped into the Everglades usually consisted of a husband and wife, their daughters and their husbands, children, and grandchildren.
In Seminole families men tilled the soil and women planted and tended the garden. Although everyone worked together at harvest time, each family was responsible for harvesting its own share of food.
Before the Seminole fled to the Everglades, they often lived in villages composed of about thirty families. Each family used two buildings. The first was for sleeping and cooking. The second structure, which was two stories high, served as storage and contained a special room where the head of the family received guests. To construct the buildings, they sank timber posts into the ground and covered the framework with cypress or pine boards to form walls. They used bark shingles, and interior dividers separated the dwelling into rooms.
Life in the damp and hot climate of the Everglades made new types of homes necessary. Called chickees, these were basically open-sided huts with a raised floor and a roof covering made of palmetto leaves. The Seminole developed these during the early 1800s when they needed fast, disposable shelters while on the run from U.S. troops. To keep out mud and bugs, the plank floor was raised nearly three feet off the ground. The Seminole used these structures only for sleeping and storing personal items.
To keep the chickees as cool as possible, they were made without walls, and all cooking took place in a special cookhouse. The roof kept out rain, and a fire that produced dense smoke reduced the number of mosquitoes. They had no furniture, and hung their possessions from the rafters. People sat on the floor for eating, sewing, and other activities and slept on mats on the floor. Children slept on animal skins, hoping they would acquire the special qualities of that animal.
Clothing and adornment
Before their flight to Florida the Seminole people wore clothing typical of other southeastern tribes. In warm weather men wore loincloths (naps of material that cover the front and back and are suspended from the waist) and women wore knee-length skirts. Both were made from animal pelts or woven from plant fibers. In cooler weather they draped robes of fur or buckskin over their shoulders. They also made a light, warm cape by attaching bird feathers to a net woven from plant fibers. Children often went naked until puberty.
Although women wore nothing on their heads, men wore elaborate headpieces during ceremonial gatherings; sometimes they shaped these to resemble an open bird’s wing. They painted their bodies and wore beads, wristbands, and armbands.
The Seminole added their own creative touches to the woven cloth shirts they adapted from the whites. When they acquired sewing machines near the beginning of the twentieth century, they developed the distinctive patchwork designs for which they are famous (see “Stitchery”). In the early twenty-first century the tribe is also known for the elaborate turban-like headdresses worn by men and the special way women sculpt their hair into a rounded, slightly flat peak or roll above the forehead. Women also wear many layers of brightly colored beaded necklaces on their necks, wrists, and ankles. This clothing is usually only worn for traditional ceremonies or tourist shows.
When they lived in the northern part of Florida in the early eighteenth century, the Seminole planted tobacco, corn, pumpkins, melons, squash, beans and other vegetables. They rotated crops each year to give the soil time to replenish. Men hunted and fished; the tribe migrated about the Florida peninsula, finding areas abundant in wild fowl and game as the seasons changed.
Once the Seminole moved to the Everglades, they relied more on fishing and hunting game for their food. The women gathered wild plants, and palmetto, cattail roots, and roots called coontie that were pounded and made into flour. The people also ate pineapples, oranges, and bananas. They used palmetto berries to make molasses. In their very limited garden space they grew sweet potatoes, corn, pumpkins, sugar cane, and beans.
A favorite dish was hominy, made by mixing corn kernels with wood ashes and soaking the mixture overnight. Then the hulls were removed and the kernels were cooked for several hours and made into a thin soup. They were able to raise pigs and chickens in the hot climate, but not cattle. Even though snakes were abundant in the Everglades, the Seminole refused to eat their meat. They believed that doing so would anger the snake spirits.
In traditional times mothers taught their daughters how to raise children, sew, and run a home. Boys learned, by example and participation, how to fish and hunt and to make and use canoes. Children all shared in the work of the village from an early age and learned to play quietly so as not to attract the attention of white men.
In the Everglades children learned to watch out for poisonous snakes, insects, and other dangerous creatures. They were shown how to play games. They were told never to try to outdo another person, and this trait of being noncompetitive is retained in the culture even today. Children who misbehaved were sometimes subjected to dry scratching. A wooden implement embedded with fish teeth or bone splinters was used to lightly scratch the wrongdoer, causing more shame than physical injury.
Formal education for Seminole children did not begin until the 1920s, when some elementary schools opened. During the 1930s and 1940s some children were sent to Native American boarding schools far away, where they often felt lonely and were forced to adopt white ways.
In modern times elementary age children attend school on or off the reservation, depending upon where they live. Although children are required to attend school until age sixteen, dropout rates are high. Since 1972 the tribe has worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop programs to teach pre-school children, to preserve the Seminole language and customs, and to provide vocational and financial assistance programs for students wanting to go to college. Increasing numbers of young people are attending college and taking professional jobs as doctors, lawyers, or engineers.
The Seminole used a variety of herbs to heal illnesses. The most important one was red root, the inner bark of a type of willow tree. This root could be soaked in cold water and used as a remedy for nausea, fever, and swellings. It was also used for bathing. They made a potion by pounding up button snakeroot or bear’s grass and mixing it with water to treat serious coughs, snakebites, and kidney troubles. Herbs and roots such as wormseed, horsemint, red cedar, and spicebush were also used to purify the body.
When herbs did not result in a cure, people summoned shamans (pronounced SHAH-munz or SHAY-munz) who specialized in performing healing rituals. Shaman rubbed the patient’s body, sang or recited prayers, or used a comb-like instrument with tiny, sharp teeth to make scratches just deep enough to cause the patient to bleed slightly. The Seminole thought that a person’s blood could become too abundant or too heavy, and this condition caused one to become ill, socially troublesome, or violent. The cause of illness was often thought to be the angry or revengeful spirit of an animal, so the shaman calmed the animal spirit. Some shamans underwent lengthy instruction in the healing arts, while others were born with their talents. They could see and speak with supernatural powers and foresee the future.
In modern times traditional medicine people continue to practice. In addition, health care is available at various clinics on or near the reservations. The two types of medicine do not compete with, but supplement, each other.
Seminole women are known for their artful stitchery, in which they piece together scraps of material in patchwork designs to produce colorful bands that are attached skirts, shirts, and other items made of a fabric called calico. Some of the designs are traditional while others are unique creations of the seamstress. The patterns are named for the items they resemble, such as arrows or spools. Complex designs, combining two or more simpler patterns, often are named for the woman who created them. Each Seminole reservation is known for its unique designs. Copying a design is considered an honor by the originator of the design. Seminole women also create dolls from cloth-wrapped palmetto leaves stuffed with cotton that they dress in historically accurate clothing and hairstyles.
Seminole elders often told stories to children late at night, when they were safely tucked under mosquito netting to protect them from insect bites. Seminole tales explain the origin of the world, why certain rituals are performed, and the origins of certain people. At the Green Corn Dance people told long stories explaining how they came to have corn and why it was important to them.
One of the Seminole origin stories tells how a turtle rose from the depths of the sea to rest. When his back started to crack, people emerged from the cracks. Then the cracks came together in squares, and the people made their homes along the cracks that were streams in the earth.
Men Visit the Sky to See God
This Seminole tale tells of five warriors who desire to see the Great Spirit. They travel a great distance, fall off the edge of the earth, then rise into the sky.
At long last, they landed near the lodge of a very old woman. She spoke to them in a feeble voice, asking, “Tell me, for whom are you looking?” “We are in search of the Great Spirit,” they replied. “You may not see him now,” the Old Woman said. “You may remain here for the time being.”
That evening the five Seminole warriors took a walk away from the Old Woman’s lodge. While out walking, they came upon a group of winged, white robed angels. These celestial men were playing a ball game similar to one the Seminoles played on earth. At this sight, two of the five Seminoles decided they would like to become angels and not return to earth. Their desire was granted when the Great Spirit appeared, saying to them, “So be it!”
To prepare the two Seminoles for their new home, the Great Spirit placed them in a large cooking pot with a fire burning beneath it. The two men were cooked until only their bones remained. Then the Great Spirit took the bones out of the pot and put them back into their proper shape. He then placed white robes on both of them and brought them back to life with the touch of his magic stick. They had received their wish to remain and become Men-Angels. At this, the Great Spirit turned to the other three Seminoles and asked them what they wanted to do. “With your permission, we wish to return to our earthly Seminole encampment,” they said. “Collect your belongings and go to sleep immediately,” ordered the Great Spirit. This they did, and when they awoke, they were once again in their home village. “We have returned,” the three warriors told their people. “We will never journey to the sky again for we are happy to be here on earth.” These words they spoke to the chief of the Seminoles.
McNeese, Tim. Illustrated Myths of Native America: The Southwest, Western Range, Pacific Northwest, and California. London: Blandford, 1999.
Most Seminole ceremonies had to do with fire or water, both considered sacred. Of the many Seminole customs and rituals, the Green Corn Dance or ceremony was one of the most important and is still performed by some Natives.
In the earl twenty-first century most Seminole reservations have their own celebrations throughout the year. Some hold powwows and rodeos that are open to the public. A powwow is a celebration at which the main activities are traditional singing and dancing. Many tribes also hold festivals that include Native American drumming, dancing, singing, sampling Native foods, alligator wrestling, airboat rides, and arts and crafts. In February the Big Cypress Reservation reenacts the Seminole Wars at the Kissimmee Slough Shootout.
The Green Corn Dance or Ceremony
For the Seminole, corn planted in the early spring was ripe and ready to eat by early summer. The Green Corn Dance celebrated the corn harvest. The ceremony also served as a time to visit friends and family, give thanks, and make amends for past wrongs. Food, including dried corn, was prepared from the past year’s harvest and shared by all. Men and boys fasted and drank asi (“the black drink”) to make themselves pure and powerful. They consumed vast quantities of it until they vomited. They believed this gave them the energy to dance all night long.
While the men and boys met, women closed out the year by clearing away all old and unusable items and putting out all the cooking and hearth fires. Spiritual leaders relit the fires as a symbol of the new year.
There were forty different Corn Dances, and both men and women participated in them. The men sang while the women kept the beat with tortoise shell rattles. Villages also played each other in a fierce form of stickball. On the last day, they put out the fires and laid out wood for a new fire. They placed four perfect ears of corn on the fire, then offered prayers, and lit a sacred fire to burn the corn. This fire was used to rekindle all the others in the village. Then the men ate the fresh, green corn that the women had prepared. After the fire had completely consumed the four perfect ears of corn, and the men had consumed four rounds of asi, a caffeine drink, the ceremony ended. The New Year had begun.
Birth and naming customs
Women gave birth at the baby house, a small structure used only for that purpose. The mother and newborn remained there, with the mother preparing all their food, until the baby was four months old. During that time the mother was thought to be “polluted” and men avoided her for fear of becoming ill. When the time had passed, the mother and new baby rejoined their household.
The Seminole immersed babies in a cold stream right after birth, the first of many purification ceremonies children would experience during their lives. Traditionally a tribal elder gave Seminole infants names on the fourth day after their birth. When they were twelve, young men received new names at the Green Corn Ceremony to mark their maturity. They were then entitled to all the rights and privileges of any man in the village.
The Seminoles were fierce warriors, but fair to their enemies, whose lives they spared whenever possible. When men prepared for war, they applied red paint to their faces, necks, and chests. Captured enemies were enslaved, but they were permitted to marry women of the village. The children of these marriages became members of the tribe.
Courtship and marriage
Individuals had to choose a marriage partner from outside their clan (a group of related families). When a young woman wished to marry, usually at about age fourteen, she wore many beads and silver ornaments on her clothing. Sometimes a girl’s family chose her marriage partner. Couples often courted one another by playing a gentle form of stickball. Usually when two people wanted to marry, they merely consulted the leader of the woman’s clan and went ahead, providing there were no objections. Afterward they went to live with the bride’s family for a few years, until they were able to start a new camp.
The woman was considered the head of the household. It was the husband’s duty to provide cooking utensils, beads, blankets, and money, which were given to the bride’s family. The Seminole rarely divorced.
Seminole burial places were in remote spots in the swamp or woods. Often they placed the body in a wooden casket that was set above ground inside a small, thatched structure. They buried all a person’s belongings with him or her, because they believed the tools would be needed in the afterlife. It was customary to break the items because only then could they accompany the dead on the journey to the afterlife.
Current tribal issues
While many Native American tribes have protested the use of their tribal names for school mascots, the Seminoles agreed that Florida State University can continue to call their team the Seminoles. The tribal council issued a resolution in 2005, which said:
[The] Seminole Tribe of Florida has an established relationship with Florida State University, which includes its permission to use the name, Seminole, as well as various Seminole symbols and images, such as Chief Osceola, for educational purposes and the Seminole Tribe of Florida wishes to go on record that it has not opposed, and, in fact, supports the continued use of the name Seminole.
In 2006 the college erected a statue depicting a Seminole family, which honors the tribe as “the unconquered people.”
Fierce independence, courage, and pride enabled the Florida Seminole to escape the attempted removal to Indian Territory. These same traits still run strong as they encourage their children to stay in school through graduation, work to improve health conditions on the reservations, and develop their businesses to provide jobs (see “Economy”). They are also involved in environmental efforts to preserve the Everglades.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida has had problems with Florida officials over their attempts to install full Las Vegas-style gambling at their casinos. In addition, the tribe has had difficulties with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS has been examining the tax-free bonds the Seminoles use to build casinos, trying to determine if these bonds were, in fact, entitled to the exemption. Under federal law, tribes can use tax-exempt bonds only for “essential governmental functions such as a hospital or a police station.“
For the Seminole in Oklahoma, retaining their traditions, reviving their stomping grounds (where Native ceremonies take place), and raising educational and income levels are current issues of concern.
Independent Group Tries to Retain Traditional Ways
A group of Seminole who call themselves the Independent Traditional Seminole reside about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Naples, Florida. They are not recognized as a tribe by the federal government and face opposition from many other Seminole people. The group, which numbers about three hundred, insists on living the traditional way. Their spokesperson, Danny Billie, has that said they “represent the original Seminole nation that fought the U.S. government during the 1800s.”
In the mid-1990s the Collier County, Florida, government backed down from its attempts to make the people move out of their chickees or bring them up to county building codes. In 1997 the Honor the Earth music tour, which raises money and awareness for ecological and Native issues, focused attention on the Independent Traditional Seminole group. They supported the people’s efforts to have Florida pass a law that would protect the group from further legal actions for maintaining its way of life.
Early in the twenty-first century commercial farming encroached on the tribe’s traditional lands. The tribe would not accept payment for the land. Seminole Guy Osceola explained, “The Great Spirit put the land here for everybody to live on, We don’t believe in accepting money for the land because the land is not ours to sell. It belongs to everybody.” The Indian Law Resource Center, however, purchased 2,500 acres to be held in trust for the tribe by the Red Bay Stronghold Foundation. The Seminoles will protect this large area of wilderness and will be able to preserve their traditional lifestyle.
Chief Osceola (1804–1838) was a great hunter and fierce warrior. His people respected and valued him for his strong opposition to relocation to Indian Territory. He led Seminole warriors in a two-year campaign in the Florida Everglades that cost the U.S. government the death of 1,500 troops and $20 million. He continued to fight until his capture in 1837 and died mysteriously in prison.
Seminole Donald Fixico (1951–) is a professor of history and Native American studies. He has published many essays on Native American history, as well as a book on the effects on Native Americans of living in cities called Urban Indian.
Betty Mae Tiger Jumper (1927–) was the first Seminole to receive a high school diploma and in the 1960s became the first woman elected as tribal chairperson. Active in political affairs, she has done much to improve the health, education, and social conditions among her people.
Downs, Dorothy. Art of the Florida Seminole and Miccosukee Indians. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995.
———. Patchwork: Seminole and Miccosukee Art And Activities. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2005.
Kavasch, E. Barrie. Seminole Children and Elders Talk Together. New York: PowerKids Press, 1999.
King, David C. Seminole. New York: Benchmark Books, 2007.
Libal, Joyce. Seminole. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest Publishers, 2004.
MacCauley, Clay. The Seminole Indians of Florida. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006.
Meltzer, Milton. Hunted Like a Wolf: The Story of the Seminole War. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.
Missall, John, and Mary Lou Missall. The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.
Ryan, Marla Felkins, and Linda Schmittroth, eds. Seminole. San Diego: Blackbirch Press, 2002.
Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Seminoles. New York: Holiday House, 1994.
Weisman, Brent Richards. Unconquered People: Florida’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indians. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.
West, Patsy. The Enduring Seminoles: From Alligator Wrestling to Ecotourism. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007.
Wilcox, Charlotte. The Seminoles. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2007.
“Native American Tribes of Florida.” Native Languages of the Americas: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous American Indian Languages. (accessed on September 8, 2007).
Miccosukee Seminole Nation. (accessed on September 8, 2007).
Murray, Dru J. “The Unconquered Seminoles.” Florida History: Native Peoples. (accessed on September 8, 2007).
Seminole Tribe of Florida. (accessed on September 8, 2007).
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. (accessed on September 8, 2007).
George Cornell, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, History and American Studies, Michigan State University; Director, Native American Institute
John H. Moore, Ph.D., Anthropology Department University of Florida, Gainesville
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 entity—for example, Yamassee and Yuchi from north of the Florida peninsula and aboriginal Florida tribes like the Timucua—elements 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 Polygyny—usually sororal—occurred 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.
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 1957—the 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 reservations—Hollywood, 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 alsoSeminole 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.
MERWYN S. GARBARINO
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.
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.