By Alexander Spoehr
When the Seminoles were still living in their old country in the southeastern part of the United States, an important form of local grouping among them was the town (talw'a). At the time of removal, the Indians transferred this feature of their social organization to their new habitat in the west and though the town became politically subordinate to the newly formed tribal government and though it changed in other respects, it continued to be a significant aspect of Seminole life. The following remarks concern the character and location of the Seminole towns as they existed in Oklahoma prior to the allotment of Indian lands.1
Swanton has pointed out that the Seminole towns in Florida moved about so frequently and altered their names so often that it is next to impossible to follow their history in any connected manner.2 Even after they had settled in Oklahoma it is difficult to unravel their later vicissitudes. In this there is a distinct difference between Seminole and Creek towns, for the latter each had a proud traditional history that the Seminole towns, which had a composite origin and relatively later formation, lacked. Even today this difference is noticeable, the surviving Upper Creek towns still being more provincial as far as town matters are concerned, and on the whole exhibiting greater cohesion, even though their members may be scattered.
In 1845 the Seminole were said to have twenty-five towns.3 These became greatly reduced in number, as in the memory of my informants there were only fourteen represented on the tribal council of the Seminole Nation. Two of these towns, or bands as they are now called, consisted entirely of Negro freedmen and the remaining twelve of Indians. The names of the Indian towns were as follows:
Though there was a high degree of cultural homogeneity among the Seminoles, two linguistic divisions were represented in the tribe. Hitchiti and Mikasuki towns spoke variant but mutually understandable dialects of the Hitchiti language; the remainder spoke
1I am greatly indebted to Wesley Tanyan, my interpreter, for his friendly interest and aid and to Allie Tanyan, Nina Tanyan, Rina Coker, Dave Cummings, and numerous other informants for their invaluable assistance.
2J. R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 73, pp. 406, 414.
Muskogee proper. The difference in language resulted in a certain social barrier between Hitchiti and Mikasuki on one hand and the other towns on the other, for Muskogee and Hitchiti are mutually unintelligible. Hitchiti town and Mikasuki are said to have visited each other more than the remaining towns, and though Hitchiti was on very friendly terms with Chiaha, its neighbor to the north, the Mikasukis are reported to have kept mostly within their own linguistic division.
Ideally speaking, a Seminole town consisted of a fairly compact group, which in addition to being a political subdivision of the Seminole Nation, maintained its own ceremonial square ground where the town dances, ceremonies, and festivities were held. The towns comprising the list given above did not all conform to these criteria. The three Eufaula towns were separate local divisions, but were apparently formed by the segmentation of one original group, and continued to participate in ceremonies at a single square ground. Fus Huci was originally an old Creek town which migrated to Florida; after moving to Oklahoma, it gave up its square ground and joined tiwahili, although continuing in existence as a separate local group.4 The latter town also incorporated Kan Hatki, a second Creek town.5 I was told by Rina Coker, a very old Seminole who was born in Florida and came west at the time of removal, that Newcomers town, to which she belonged, kept together for a short period after the Civil War, but then scattered among the other towns and ceased to maintain a square ground, although retaining its representation on the tribal council. In addition, there may have been small towns which were completely incorporated into larger and more flourishing ones and whose names have been forgotten. Thus one old informant said he believed that a small town had once been split between Ocisi and Okfuski, but could not remember its name. Another elderly Seminole said that a little town was virtually wiped out by an epidemic of smallpox over sixty years ago; in which town the few survivors settled I was unable to determine.
The size of the Seminole towns varied greatly. It is very difficult to obtain accurate estimates, but Hitchiti was reported to number at the close of the century barely a dozen families-a mere hamlet-whereas Mikasuki was said to count well over a hundred. This variation in size may have affected the degree of compactness of the local settlements, though the pattern of house distribution was apparently much the same. Each household possessed its own log cabin and cultivated its own fields. The placing of the former was directly related to the available water supply, so that a typical
4cf., ibid., p. 269. Swanton states that tiwahili was the name of the Fus Huci square ground. Dave Cummings, the present chief of the tiwahili square ground said, however, that tiwahili was also a Seminole town separate from Fus Huci. Cummings himself belongs to Fus Huci town.
settlement was built along the low ridges flanking one of the numerous small creeks in the region. The houses might be anywhere from fifty to several hundred yards apart; apparently the settlement tended to spread in later times, so that in spacial terms the community exhibited a loose grouping of cabins along a water course. The fields too were not all contiguous, but were likewise scattered, with single areas of cultivation rarely exceeding five acres and usually consisting of one one or two. The land in the Nation was of very unequal quality and the Seminole tended to utilize the small areas of bottom land; consequently, a family's fields might be a half a mile or more from the cabin which housed them. The distribution of houses and fields indicates that in spacial terms the town was actually a small, loosely gathered settlement.
Socially, however, the local group seems to have been a relatively compact unit. In the late spring and summer, particularly at the time of the Green Corn dances and the tribal council meetings, there was considerable mingling of people from up and down the Nation. Also the men had a wider range of social contacts than the women. But for the most, according to my old informants, the members of a town kept largely to themselves. Marriages were said to have been seldom contracted outside the local group. In case such a marriage took place, whether the man or the woman left his or her town to take residence in that of the spouse seems to have been dictated by circumstances. In either instance, change of residence theoretically did not result in change of town affiliation, the absentee retaining his or her membership in the town of birth. Children of such a couple were supposed to belong to the town of the mother.
The town was active in three spheres: the ceremonial, the political, and the economic. The ceremonial organization reflected its Creek origin and was closely similar to Creek practice. The town square ground was situated in a pleasant spot easily accessible from the nearby homes of the people. Here the town dances were held, the most important being the Green Corn dance in the late spring or early summer. The officers, arrangement of the grounds, the seating of the different clans in the various beds, and the ceremonial procedure all followed a similar pattern, which has been well described by Swanton.6
In the political sphere the town was a subdivision of the Nation, being represented on the national council by three members.
6J. R. Swanton, "Social Organization and Social Usages of the Indians of the Creek Confederacy," Forty-second Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 174-242. Missionary work among the Seminoles tended to disrupt the solidarity of the town in ceremonial matters. At the time of allotment, however, the christianized Indians were still in the minority, while many of them continued to attend the old traditonal ceremonies at the square ground as well as those at the Church. Nevertheless, the ceremonial functions of the town were certainly affected by the work of the missionaries.
The degree of political autonomy which the town possessed in relation to the larger national unit was slight, at least in later times. Apparently there was a fairly early consolidation of political power in the hands of the tribal government, with the result that the distinctions between the Seminole towns became less and less. This may well account for the tendency of the town members to scatter in later years.
The economic activities of the town were under the supervision of a third set of leaders. According to Dave Cummings, these consisted of the "little chief" (mi-kkocí) and from two to four assistants, who directed what little communal labor the townspeople undertook. There were no communal town fields and such labor usually consisted only of rail splitting, though one informant said that in the old days the townspeople also plowed their fields in common. Also once a year at a stated time, every male citizen was supposed to devote several day's work to repairing the few wagon roads that ran through the Nation.
Seminole towns were originally classed by the Indians according to a dual division. Some towns were known as "white" towns, others as "red." The towns belonging to a single division were said to be of the same "fire." This dual division of towns apparently lost its significance rather early among the Seminoles. It determined the sides for the intertown ball games, but these were relatively infrequent; perhaps because their tribal unity was greater, the Seminoles were much less given to such games than the Creeks. Also at the time of the Green Corn dance a town would send special invitations to other towns of the same division or fire. But aside from this I could discover no other functions of the white-red dual division. There was apparently no great feeling of solidarity among towns of the same fire, nor of opposition to those of the opposite fire. Propinquity became of greater importance than the old dual division. The northernmost town in the Nation, Chiaha, and the southernmost, tiwahali, never cared greatly for each other though they belong to the same fire, and in the old days there was a certain amount of political rivalry between the southern and northern districts of the Nation. The two northernmost towns, Chiaha and Hitchiti, seem always to have been on friendly terms, and when Hitchiti gave up its stomp ground the non-Christians danced at Chiaha, though one town was white and the other red. Inasmuch as one would expect the dual division to be particularly important in such ceremonial matters, one can infer that it had lost a great deal of its importance to the Seminole.
The accompanying figure shows the approximate location of the Seminole towns or settlements about the year 1900. Certain towns are difficult to locate, particularly Eufaula, which had largely scattered by this time. It should also be noted that under the laws of the Seminole Nation neither individuals nor the so-called towns owned land; this was held by the Nation.