By the time General Zachary Taylor took over command of the Army in Florida, the Army and Navy Chronicle on November of 1838 published his observations “that there reports that there are upwards of 200 Indian and Indian negroes consisting of Seminoles, Tallahassees, and a few Mickasukies left in the territory. ” The remaining Florida Indians moved deeper into the Everglades. The few remaining Seminole in the Everglades were led by Billy Bowlegs, who under heavy political pressuring from both the Oklahoma Seminole and the federal government agreed to move westward with most of his followers in 1858.
The successor to Bowlegs in Florida, Surnucka Micco, who became leader of the remaining Seminole in the Everglades, and he “declared the Seminoles who earlier emigrated to the Western Reservation [Indian Territory] were no longer Seminoles, having changed their customs and laws, and his band could not and would associate with them … to do this they [Florida Seminole] must and would have a new country. ” This is a very important moment to note the acceptance of Seminole to the remaining Florida Indians.
Despite the Seminole emerging as the common reference for Florida Indians from the mid-19th and well into mid-20th centuries, it also replaced many, if not all, other tribal names previously known from the early 19th century. In the 1840s, there were still a few references to Mikasuki and Tallahassee tribal identities in various sources, but by 1850 most non-Seminole references had chiefly dissipated in Florida. In 1896, it was estimated that the Seminole remaining in the Everglades were divided into 4 bands: Miami Indians, the Big Cypress [today’s Mikasuki], the Talla-hassees and the Okeechobees.
In 1946, anthropologist John Reed Swanton’s comprehensive work Indians of the southeastern United States from the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology was published. The book recognized that in Florida “two main bands, one Muskogee (Cow Creek Indians), the other Mikasuki (Big Cypress Indians). There were some smaller elements, but they have now lost their identity in the general body. ” In 1953, the Seminole of Florida were in danger of losing their federal status as a tribe because of a renewed federal effort to assimilate Indians.
But the Florida Seminole were able to incorporate their government under the model established by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 which sought to reverse the traditional policy of assimilating Indians into American Society, and instead to promote their historic traditions and culture. By 1957, the Seminole successfully achieved federal recognition, but this process heightened the political, and linguistic differences among the Seminole and Mikasuki.
But as Swanton previously reported that “tradition states that the Mikasuki, who played such a part in Seminole history, branched off from these people [Seminole], but final proof of this is as yet wanting. ” It was not until 1962 that the Mikasuki received federal tribal recognition separate from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Those Seminole who settled in the Indian Territory, which became the State of Oklahoma in 1907, continued to struggle as one nation.
After settling most legal problems with the Creek in the Treaty of August 7, 1856, they later faced challenges to their land after the Civil War for taking sides with the Confederacy. The Seminole Nation in Oklahoma, like in Florida also faced dissolution of their government from the earlier Curtis Act of 1898, a move to make the Indian Territory into Oklahoma statehood. The Oklahoma Seminole also used the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to reestablish their Constitution and government.
The Oklahoma Seminole Nation ratified a constitution on March 8, 1969, and today consists of 14 town bands, including the Mekusukey and the Tallahassee. This story of the Florida Indians’ struggles for identity and sovereignty is a microcosm of the terrible federal and state policies applied to the many Indian nations. The Florida Indians emerged as the Seminole as the various Florida tribes transitioned from Florida to Indian Territory. What legitimately created a Seminole nation in Florida and Oklahoma?
Certainly, the Seminole’s struggle for legal status and common identity was complex and enduring. The cooperation, or lack thereof, among the different tribes of Florida Indians, and later in Oklahoma revealed a more complex layer to the application of the term Seminole. The federal government as part of a national policy of land acquisition for agricultural and economic development, enacted laws including the Armed Occupation Act of 1842, and other treaties to remove the few remaining Seminole from the Territory of Florida.
Florida sought help in increasing white population growth and eventual admission into the Union as a state while contributing to the construction of one group of Florida Indians as Seminole. The federal government preferred to negotiate with one Indian nation than with many different tribes at one time. Unfortunately, removal to the Indian Territory did not mean recognized nationhood, as both Creek and Seminole fought to keep autonomy and their rightful property in Indian Territory.
In conclusion, a story about displaced native peoples, as in the Seminole, definitely deserves a closer analysis of the trends and gaps in the historiography, as researched by the use of the term Seminole by way of primary sources from its earliest inception. Primary sources citing the use of the term Seminole include information that ignored or misidentified the original name of tribes or bands and, often mistakenly or on purpose, grouped many Florida Indians as either Creek, or more specifically, a Lower Creek, equivalent to Seminole, or Seminole with no particular relationship to the Creek.
This story also hopes to reflect the interaction and different perceptions among the many players (British, Spanish, Americans, Creek, Blacks, Seminoles, etc. ) as a reality constantly being negotiated despite the “permanence” of a treaty or a self-identified autonomous nation. And how the enduring Seminole struggles for a common agreed-upon identity resulted in the recognition of their sovereignty.