A history of the Seminole people from the southeastern woodlands into Indian Territory

Jake Tiger is a citizen of the Seminole Nation. He is of the Bear Clan and the Tom Palmer band. Jake is the band chief of the Tom Palmer band. He is an employee of the Seminole Nation Historic Preservation Office and sits on the Board of Directors at the Seminole Nation Museum. Jake creates historic Seminole clothing of the 19th and 18th century as well as clothing from the pre- contact eral. His work is shown in the National Cowboys and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and the Seminole Nation Museum in Wewoka.

Well, um, like I said, I want to thank M. Troy and everyone for being here. It is my first time coming to this conference. Um, like you had mentioned before, I’m a member of the Seminole Nation. I’m of the Bear Clan, uh, the Tom Palmer band, and also the band chief of the Tom Palmer band. And I’ll also kind of, uh, tell you guys what our bands are in a little bit. Uh, I work for the Seminole Nation Historic Preservation Office as a cultural specialist. I do things like this, talk to, uh, many individuals from different regions, not just Oklahoma, but back in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Kansas, places of our interest where our shared history is. Um, and then, of course, the usual NAGPRA work, THPO jobs, things of that nature.

But I’ll kind of lead you guys into Seminole history and I’ll tell you guys what the bands are and a little bit about our clan systems. Uh, one thing about the Seminole Nation, people usually generalize our history along with we kind of came around in the early 1800s, which is proven to be false. Uh, our story began way, way before written, uh, written history of the Europeans, uh, long before we were even called Seminole. We were called Muskogeans and that kind of went for everybody in the Southeast—the Alabama, Yuchi, the Mvskoke Creeks, the Seminole, the Choctaws, the Chickasaws. They were all their own people at one point. And then as time goes on, migrations had followed, people started to take different identities and migrate to different areas. And so where my people were from were from Georgia and Alabama and, uh, the whole state of Florida.

Uh, my band, the Tom Palmer band, well, we came from, uh, the Panhandle in Florida, west of Tallahassee. And so it kind of leads you guys into a little bit about Seminole history. What, and like I said, we’ll get to the Seminole Wars and removal, the stuff that was always heard about, but for the Seminole Nation, it’s a very complex story. And the reason why I say that is how our story goes was not only because of war, it wasn’t because of removal or, uh, how prosperous we were in those areas. For Seminole people, we were probably one of the most advanced peoples down Southeast, along with the other five tribes and Southeastern tribes. We had mastered agriculture. We had tremendous ceremonies, many languages, different dialects in the Seminole Nation. And as time goes on, living in our matrilineal societies, people like myself, the men, we spend most of our time outside the villages protecting our borders, bringing in meat, maintaining our lands around us, while our women would stay home and raise our children and form our governments and things of that nature.

So now we’ll get into the band structure of the Seminole Nation. My band, the Tom Palmer band, we weren’t always called the Tom Palmer band. Our written history began around 1800. At first, they called us the Hostile Creeks because we were a war town. And then our chief, the band chief at that time, Posa, the traditional Muskogean name, we generally took the name of our band chiefs in our band. So we went by Posa, John Chupco, I mean, um, John Brown, then Tom Palmer. And it’s always been like that ever since.

But in the Seminole Nation, you have 12 traditional bands and two Freedman bands in present day. Now I’m talking about the traditional bands. Those are people that come from a background of Muskogean, Mikasuki, Hitchiti, those kinds of tribes, even the smaller tribes that were people would consider the Coosa, the Yamasee. And so you’ve got people that are Okonee, Hitchiti, Yuchi, Mikasuki, and those are the bands that we have in the Seminole Nation. And that’s why I refer to the Seminoles as a nation because if you look at us as a collective, all the Seminoles, we are our own little tribes, essentially. So you have 12 different tribes that are trying to operate under one nation. Sounds like the United States, right? People with different backgrounds trying to operate under one.

And so that’s where that story kind of began in the early 1800s. Now, of course, we were being referred to as Seminole as early as 1500 by the Spanish because they recognized that we were rebellious. As for our people, we were, uh, I would say more free. That’s what they call the Seminole, Simanoli, which translates into the Spanish language as runaways or Rebels, things of that nature, right? And then we started becoming Seminole around 1753 in Alachua town, where Cowkeeper was one of the main chiefs in that area. Then we get into about around the American Revolution, and we started to see a lot of people start to migrate further away from the Creek territories in Georgia and Alabama. And so that’s where we get that big mixture, even though they did go down there in 1800s. Seminoles had always gone back and forth from Georgia to Alabama down to Florida because what you got down in Florida, you have hurricane seasons, right? Our people knew when the hurricane season was to come, so we would go up north, get higher ground, and try to get away from these storms. So we always, always, always been going back and forth no matter what type of professor historian will say about the Seminole. We had always been in that area. That was our lands.

And so as time goes on, treaties are being made with the Creeks and Seminole. War breaks out, the Red Stick War, and you see a big contingency of the Muscogee Creeks branch off from the Creek Nation, go down to Florida. And this is when we see the birth of what we see of the modern-day Seminoles, right? So you’ve got people that were Okonee, what we now call the Tusekia Harjo band, they’re going down there. The head chief, Cowkeeper, he had passed away, and his nephew or his son, Ehawchala, became the head chief of the Seminoles.

Around 1817 is when the Seminoles declared war with the United States, all because Spain had control of Florida. And the reason why is if we go into American history, Georgia and Alabama were already part of the United States. They were already part of the colonies before, so they were already established. They were under American jurisdictions. Well, we have runaway slaves coming into our territories seeking refuge. For the Seminoles, we didn’t see skin color. We saw human beings, and so we would give refuge to people of African descent. And then, so whenever these bounty hunters would cross over into Florida territories, they would come to us, and they say, “We’re here to collect these slaves.” And what we would say was, “Well, these are our slaves.” But this was a trick that we did on them. We knew how they treated people of different skin colors, so we told them, we basically would technically lie to these bounty hunters and say, “Yeah, these are our slaves,” even though we didn’t treat them like they did. So we used little code words so that way they could have sovereignty in our areas, not be subjected to slavery as the Seminoles would. And so that kind of grew tensions down the Southeast, in deep slave culture, and there were already talks about Manifest Destiny moving the Indians west out to a land called Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. So tensions were growing down in Florida. The target was on the Seminole.

So war breaks out in 1817. They attacked a supply depot that was basically our food. And one thing you don’t mess with is someone’s food, and so that angered us,

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