History -Where we came from

Brief Summary of Seminole History

By Willard Steele

The Seminole people are the descendents of the Creek people. The diversity of the Tribe is reflected in the fact that its members spoke seven languages- Muscogee, Hitchiti, Koasati, Alabama, Natchez, Yuchi and Shawnee.

The early history of the Creek people in Florida is not well understood. The Apalache were a Hitchiti speaking people that may have been related to the Creek Tamathli or Apalachicola. The Apalache, situated along the Apalachicola River, were in Florida at the time of Spanish contact.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Spanish attempted to set up a system of missions across north Florida and southern Georgia. While these efforts to set up missions in the Creek country failed, there were Creeks that were drawn from Georgia down to the Spanish missions in Florida.

The first Creek speaking people, settled at Chocuchattee (Red House) near present day Brooksville, Florida. This was some time around 1760. They were also cattlemen. Soon the vast herds of the growing Seminole Nation drew the attention of their white neighbors to the north. Conflicts that were occurring in Georgia spilled into Florida due to an increased white desire for land and cattle.

The Seminole population in Florida remained fairly small, around 1200, compared to the main body of Creeks in Georgia and Alabama, who numbered possibly 25,000 people. Then came the War of 1812. This period of time has been divided by historians into the War of 1812 (1812-1815); the Creek War (1813-1814); the Creek Civil War (1813); the First Seminole War (1818-1819); the Second Seminole War (1835-1842); the Scare of 1849-50 (1849-1840); and the Third Seminole War (1855-1858). The fallacy in these dates lie in the fact that one history says that the destruction of the British post on the Apalachicola River was the last battle of the War of 1812 and another calls it the first battle of the First Seminole war. It is unlikely that anyone there at the time saw the difference. In reality, all of these conflicts were one long war against the Creeks.

By 1823 the native population had increased three or four fold by the newcomers. This population of about five thousand was thrown together and subjected to the fiercest of all the wars ever waged by the U.S. Government against native peoples, known as the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842. By the end of the war there were reportedly only three-hundred Seminoles left in the territory. Then they fought the Third Seminole War and removed another 240 or so Seminoles.

For the next sixty years the small population of Seminoles would live on the fringes of society. They made livings as hunters, guides and sometimes, curiosities for the tourists.

In 1907, the Department of the Interior set aside 540 acres of land near Dania for Seminole use. In 1911, President Taft set aside lands in Martin, Broward and Hendry Counties as reservations. The Florida State Governor William Jennings vetoed the bill. Jennings believed that the Seminoles had signed a treaty to move to Oklahoma, had no rights as citizens of Florida, and that the rights of 800,000 non-tribal members outweighed those of the 400 Seminoles that lived in the State.

By 1913 there were 18 Indian reservations in Florida, ranging in size from 40 acres to 16,000 acres. It was the Seminoles themselves who resisted life on reservations. The very idea of land ownership has long been a point of contention between the red and white races. The attitude of Tribal people about land ownership was reflected in their hatred of surveyors. The Third Seminole War was precipitated by a survey party that was attacked while surveying what is today’s Big Cypress Seminole Reservation and as late as 1908 a surveyor was shot by a Seminole while surveying for a drainage canal that was crossing Seminole lands.

The reservation question divided the Florida native peoples into two camps. One group would become known as the Miccosukee Tribe of Seminole Indians of Florida. The area provided a safe haven for people who held traditional views.

The second group took the offer of the reservation lands and began a new way to sustain the Seminole culture. They used the reservations as preservation areas in which to maintain the customs, language and self government of the Tribe. Between 1970 and 1990, the population of Florida rose from 6.8 million to 12.9 million people. By 2025 it is expected to reach 20.7 million.

The 1950’s were a turning point in the history of the Florida Seminole people. Tribal leaders found themselves having to address many significant issues during this period. In 1953, the United States Congress passed legislation to terminate federal tribal programs. While the State of Florida supported termination of services to the Seminoles, Tribal members and their supporters were able to successfully argue against termination. Instead of being terminated, Tribal leaders moved forward and by 1957 had drafted a Tribal constitution. They attained self government through the formation of a governing body, the Tribal Council. At the same time, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. was created to oversee the business matters of the Tribe.

Today the Seminole casinos support a growing infrastructure for the Seminole community’s health and welfare, public safety, education and other services. The economic stability provided by gaming, combined with the cattle, citrus, and other business enterprises, has made the Seminole Tribe of Florida one of the most successful native business peoples in the United States today. They employ more than 7,000 employees in their casinos, hotels and other enterprises and purchase more than $130.3 million in good and services yearly.

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