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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 1
March, 1936

By Edward Davis and H. R. Antle

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The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Indians are called the Five Civilized Tribes. Yet among them are backward groups little removed from their original primitive condition. We believe that the reason for the backward groups can be better appreciated in the light of the conflicts through which some of the tribes have passed and the study of the one primitive group recorded here.

Of the five tribes mentioned above the Cherokees were of Iroquoyan origin. The Seminoles, Creeks, Choctaws were of Muskogean lineage.1 Of the Muskogean tribes the Choctaws and Chickasaws were closely related while the Seminoles were an offshoot of the Creeks.2 None of the Muskogean tribes were a unit in either blood or language. It was a custom for these tribes to receive into their numbers large bodies of Indians from the surrounding tribes. As the Colonies advanced along the Atlantic seaboard and along the Gulf of Mexico, many of the smaller tribes were crushed or broken. It is doubtful if any of them chose tribal suicide as in the fabled case of the Pascagoula who singing their death chant were reputed to have marched into the Pascagoula River rather than submit to capture by their enemies. These broken tribes found refuge among the larger Muskogean tribes. This offered a refuge for many groups of Indians that would have been unable to have stood the competition of the times as economic and military units. On the other hand, when these broken groups founded their villages among the larger tribes and became loosely affiliated units of them, it gave added strength to the larger tribe. The Creeks who lived in Georgia and Alabama received more of these broken or strayed groups than, perhaps, any other of the tribes. Many of these were of Muskogean stock and readily exchanged their dialects for that of the Creeks. Others as the Tuskegee, Euchee, and Tukabatchi

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were entirely of alien incorporation. So numerous were these Creek incorporations that they must have composed almost half of the Creek Nation.3

The powerful Apalachee who were allies of the Spanish in Florida invited attack by the English Colonists. The English and Creeks allied against them about 1700, when the Apalachee were defeated by their allies. Some of them were sold into slavery, others were settled as neighbors of the Creeks and merged with them, others of the tribe fled into Louisiana and remained there. The crushing of the Apalachee left Northern Florida unoccupied by Indians.4

The evacuation of Northern Florida by the Apalachees permitted a new disposition of the Creeks. A large number of Lower Creeks moved down into Florida. Also many of the Upper Creeks fled into Florida. The Creeks were joined by many Euchees, Hichitas and perhaps fragments of the other broken tribes. Finally many Negroes with a status varying from abject slavery to freedom found their way into this region of Northern Florida. Because of the fact that these Indians had fled or migrated from the Creek Nation, the Creeks called them Seminoles which in the Creek language meant "runaway."5

It was inevitable that this conglomerate of Indians and slaves should stir up trouble. They were in Spanish territory but had many British traders among them. The negro slaves who fled to them caused the citizens of Georgia to protest to the United States government and demand the return of their property. The British traders in their endeavors to control the trade of the Indian tribes within the United States provoked trouble. In this way, the Seminoles were a menace to the peace of the Southeastern United States.6

In July, 1816, Col. D. L. Clinch with a force of American soldiers and 200 Creek allies attacked a fort on the Apalachicola

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River which was occupied by Negroes and Seminole Indians. The powder magazine in the fort exploded and killed most of the occupants. The Seminoles in turn attacked the settlements along the Georgia border. The United States sent General Andrew Jackson to the scene. Jackson followed a characteristic Jacksonian method. He pursued the Indians into Florida and took the Spanish Forts of Pensacola and St. Marks in April 1818. He captured two British traders Ambrister and Arbuthnot, court-martialed and executed them. Thus the Indian border question threatened to provoke trouble for the United States with both England and Spain. President Monroe upheld Jackson, and Spain agreed to the treaty of 1819 which ceded Florida to the United States. Thus the Seminole ("runaway") Indians with their complex problem of refugee slaves were brought under the jurisdiction of the United States.7

The United States government on September 18, 1823 made a treaty with these Florida or Seminole Indians. The United States was to take them under their protection and care. The Indians in turn were to cease making war. The United States was to supply them with livestock to the amount of $6000.00 and pay them $5,000.00 a year for twenty years with additional grants of $1,000.00 annually for twenty years for schools and a like grant of $1,000.00 yearly for a blacksmith. The Indians were to refuse admission to runaway slaves and pledged themselves to return such slaves as came. The Seminoles were to be moved farther south into a region which they very reluctantly agreed to accept.8

This Florida treaty was unfortunate in many respects. The lands to which the Indians were to be removed were of inferior quality to those they gave up. As a result the Indians refused to go upon them. It was impossible to keep other slaves and freedmen from fleeing into the Seminole country; and the Indians resented the demands of the whites for the return of the refugees. The Indian removal policy of the United States began to operate in case of the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws and Chickasaws before the twenty year period of the Florida treaty was up. As a

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result of these complications constant friction existed between the Seminoles and their white neighbors. Peace seemed impossible and the Indians became more and more destitute and bewildered. At last the United States determined to include the Seminoles in its policy of Indian removal.9

James Gadsden as agent for the United States signed a treaty with the Seminole Chiefs May 9, 1832. By this treaty, the Seminoles agreed to move to the West and join themselves with the Creeks within three years. The Seminoles were to receive $15,400.00 for their improvements which they were abandoning. They were to receive remuneration for the appraised value of their cattle and $7,000.00 was provided to settle with them for the runaway slaves in their borders. The $1,000.00 annuity for a blacksmith was extended for ten years and they were to receive a $3,000.00 annuity grant for 15 years.10

The next year a delegation of seven Seminoles, at Fort Gibson, signed a treaty designed to carry out the terms of the 1832 treaty. The Seminoles were to accept a reservation between the Canadian River and the North Fork. The Seminoles were to be removed to this location in the Creek Nation.11

One band of Florida Indians, the Apalachicolas, immediately migrated from Florida to the Trinity River in Texas. At New Orleans a trader, Beattie, had the Indians arrested on a fraudulent charge. They paid him $2,000.00 and two negroes to secure their release. This band had 276 Indians but after desertions and deaths only 152 arrived at their destination.12

Several causes contributed to the growing friction between the Seminoles and the United States over removal. The Fort Gibson treaty had stipulated that John Phagan, the Seminole Agent, should remove the Seminoles. Phagan was discharged from the Indian service for embezzling funds of his Indian wards. The United States had paid for the Creeks in 1821 $250,000.00 to citizens of Georgia for slaves fleeing into Creek and Seminole territory. The Creeks wished to be reimbursed with Seminole slaves. The Negroes had no wish to exchange the free easy life

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in the Seminole Nation for slavery in the Creek Nation. They especially had no wish to be returned to the whites to labor on cotton or sugar plantations. They exercised an influence on the Seminole Indians that would not permit their surrender to the Creeks or whites. This effectually prevented the peaceable removal of the Seminoles from Florida.13

Bitter war insued in 1836. United States soldiers assisted by volunteers from the States, and Creeks, Shawnee and Delaware Indians attacked the Seminole. The Cherokees were moved to intervene and in 1837 a Cherokee delegation visited Florida and endeavored to reconcile the differences. General Jesup was removed from command of the United States forces in Florida and on July 6, 1838 reported that 1955 Seminole Indians had been secured. The war was continued until 1842 when after the expenditure of the lives of 1500 white soldiers and $20,000,000.00 the uncaptured Indians were allowed to retire peaceably to the swamps of Southern Florida. Those who had been captured were removed to Oklahoma and by March 1842, a total of 2,833 Seminoles had been removed. A few other bands were persuaded to come from time to time until 1856.14

The Seminole Indians were by no means satisfied with the treaty of Fort Gibson in 1833. They found the land upon which they wished to settle partly occupied by the Creeks. They feared that the Creeks might still seize their Negroes. Many of them remained out of the Creek Nation and committed depredations on their neighbors. A new treaty was made with the Creeks and Seminoles in 1845. All Seminoles should remove to the Creek Nation. The Seminoles who would were to settle in a body on Little River. They might settle elsewhere and maintain their own town organization. The Seminoles were to be represented in the Creek Council but their monetary affairs were to be separate. The Seminoles who removed to the Little River country were to be subsisted on the way and for six months after the migration was completed. The ones who remained away from the Creek Nation forfeited all annuities.15

13Kappler, II, 198 and 395; and Foreman, Indian Removals, 322 and 331.

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The treaty of 1845 did not reconcile the differences between the Seminoles and the Creeks. By a treaty concluded at Washington, August 7, 1856, the Seminoles were entirely separated from the Creeks. They were given a strip of territory west of approximately the middle of present Pottawatomie County, north of the Canadian River and South of the North Canadian and the South boundary of the Cherokee Outlet. This narrow strip of territory extended west to the 100th meridian west longitude. In addition to their extensive land grant the United States provided more liberally for the Seminoles than formerly. They were given $90,000.00 to compensate for improvements to be abandoned in the removal. The sum of $250,000.00 was to be invested for them and the interest at 5% paid them annually. A like sum was invested for the Seminoles in Florida. The sum, of $3,000.00 annually for ten years was provided for schools, and like annual payments of $2,000.00 annually for agricultural assistance and $2,200.00 for a blacksmith. The United States provided $250,000.00 as a permanent fund for the Indians in Florida but if they removed to Indian Territory the permanent funds would be consolidated. The United States promised liberal grants of funds for Creek and Seminole delegations to Florida to secure the migration of the Florida Seminoles. The government would finance such parties of Seminoles as would agree to move.16

The greater liberality of the United States government, in 1856, in providing for schools, agricultural assistance and a blacksmith had little time for continuous operation in improving the lot of the Seminoles in their new home. The war between the States came in 1861 and again for the third time in 60 years the Seminoles became embroiled in a bitter war. The tribe was divided in half. John Jumper, the Seminole Chief, adhered to the Confederacy, while about half of the tribe joined the loyal Indians under the Creek leader Opothleyohola. The loyal Indians were refugees from home for four years and suffered privations that are almost unbelievable. The return of the Union troops to Oklahoma in 1863 and the incursion of wild Indians forced the Seminoles who adhered to the Confederacy to flee to the vicinity of Fort Washita where they remained for over two years. The fact that the Seminole population was established at 2500 in 1860 and

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at 2000 at the close of the war shows the appalling loss of life in the period of the war. Words cannot fully picture the suffering from cold in winter, the terrific amount of sickness arising from lack of shelter or clothing, or the meagerness of their food supply of those terrible years. It seemed as if fate dogged the steps of the hapless Seminoles.17

After the war ceased in 1865 the United States informed the Seminoles that the treaty they had made with the Confederate government had unsettled their treaty relations. In the new adjustment of tribes by the treaties of 1866 that government followed its usual policy and moved the Seminole Indians. They sold to the United States their entire reservation as defined in 1856 for 15 cents an acre and paid the United States $100,000.00 for 200,000 acres and later one dollar an acre for an additional hundred thousand acres in present Seminole County, Oklahoma. This being the reservation on which they have since continued to live.18

The Curtis Act of June 28, 1898 and the Seminole agreements of July 1, 1898, and June 2, 1900 provided for the allotment of lands in the Seminole nation. The Seminoles to the number of 3,127 of which 850 were freedmen received allotments to the amount of 120 average acres of land. They automatically became citizens of the United States by virtue of taking allotments. An act of Congress of April 26, 1906 provided for the closing of tribal affairs.19

The close of allotment and statehood has not ended the Indian problem. It was supposed that land ownership and citizenship would automatically cause the Indian to become self-sufficient and capable of administering his lands and property. Now it is being more and more realized that we have administered Indian properties without attention to the capabilities of the full-blood Indian himself. Throughout the entire period of Seminole conflicts and removals no adequate social study of the Seminoles has been made. No study made now can be regarded as truly typical because of the admixture of groups and the infusion of outside

18Kappler, II, 910-915; and Gittings, Formation of Oklahoma, 80.

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customs. It does show the tenacity of these group ideals in the face of adversity and mistreatment. Such studies will show how much of the Indian culture is worthy of preservation and give a better approach for those interested in Indian education.

Southwest of the town of Seminole, Seminole County, Oklahoma, is a group of Indians, though known as Seminoles and so enrolled, whose dialect, customs, tribal name and origin are only remotely associated with the Seminoles. At the present time they are weakly banded together by the tribal name, Tuskegee.1 A few of the older people still commune in the almost extinct tongue, the younger generation, though recognizing their tribal affiliation and clan distinction, speak the Seminole language. Many have married into the Seminole clans, thereby causing their stock to become absorbed so that another generation will see their previous lineage no longer distinct.

Following their migration to Florida and during their residence there, up to a short while before the Civil War, the Tuskegee modified their native Alabama culture through the adoption of some Florida Seminole and Spanish traits.

A cross-section of their culture while residing in Florida will be given in the following brief study.



While in Florida, some of the Tuskegee preferred a somewhat nomadic life. In small groups, composed in the main of a man and his family, these people moved about through the swamplands by means of dugouts. By day they hunted and fished. Their habitations were hastily made shelters on some convenient shore, constructed for a night's use only. At times, desiring a change of diet, they stopped at the villages of settled kinsmen.

The habitation of the village-dwellers was an affair that strongly suggested the Seminole type.2 A circle of poles, each

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pole retaining a crotch, was set up on the circumference of the future structure and slender saplings laid from crotch to crotch. An inner circle of taller poles, likewise equipped with forks, were placed midway to the center. Rafters or beams connected each center pole. More slender saplings were tied by the butts to the lower circle of horizontal ones and the tops bent across the higher circle. Cross-pieces were then worked in and the roofing thatched with the abundant palmetto leaves. An opening was left in the center of the roof for a smoke exit. No walls were constructed, an uncommon feature.

Inside the structure, platforms were elevated and used for sleeping quarters. They were generally high enough to require a small ladder's use. Around this platform, netting was placed to keep out the multitudinous insects. As a rule, bedmates were mainly man and wife, the children occupying other platforms unless too young.

In the center of the floor, a floor little altered by the building of the habitation; was placed the fire which rarely was allowed to go out. It was due to no religious practice that the fire was so kept; the reason was, flies and heat spoiled the supplies of meat. To avoid this, the meat was suspended from the rafters in a place where the smoke would constantly be about it.3

A number of the above types of dwellings, inhabited mostly by members of a certain clan, constituted a village. These dwellings, as mentioned before, were open to the periodic visits of the wanderers.

Food: Supply and Preparation

The nomadic portion of the Tuskegee lived upon aquatic foods such as the alligator,4 turtles, fishes, clams and water birds. Fruit was secured, as were a few roots, from the interior. Corn and melons were obtained from the villages. Feathers and skins were exchanged for such.

Around the villages, maize, cane, pumpkins, melons, tobacco, peanuts, peppers and sweet potatoes were raised. These people had no hoes but the soil being so rich, little effort was needed to grow the vegetable foods. A site was chosen for the plants,

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holes punched in the earth at this site, seeds dropped into the holes and covered, and the semi-tropical climate took care of the rest. Coonti and other edible roots were gathered wild.

The principal use of corn was to dry it while still in the milk, parch it in ashes, then grind it to powder in a wooden mortar.5 While a type of corn cake was made from this powder, it was the basis of their favorite drink, abuske.6 Corn was boiled with meat, the product forming a daily type of food. Corn cakes were frequently eaten saturated in cane juice.

Tobacco was chewed,7 rolled into cigars,8 and smoked in clay pipes.

Of animal foods, the deer, bear, turkey, fish and alligators were the main types used. The settled Tuskegee was not known to have used shell-animals for food.

In killing the bear, great respect was paid to his prowess. A thicket was cleared in his haunts, a circle of hunters detailed to drive the bear into the clearing and once there, the hunters stood about the place and fired at him with their flint-lock rifles.9

Though possessing iron pots secured from the white traders, corn and meats were boiled by the primitive process of dropping heated rocks into the kettles. Other meats were roasted on a spit.

In cooking such vegetables as potatoes, certain roots, etc., these were placed in hot ashes. Corn cakes were likewise cooked; some were baked, swimming in bear fat.

Oranges, bananas and berries are reported to have been gathered in the nearby groves. It is possible the first two mentioned were present, even before white contact.

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In the preparation of cane juice, mentioned previously, sectons of cane were placed into the wooden mortars and beaten into a pulp. The sweet juice was then drained off and used without additional refining.

Dress and Personal Decoration

The men wore a "scalp-lock," fashioned by shavnig the head leaving only a narrow strip of hair from front to back. This hair was long enough to permit braiding. Feathers adorned a few heads; most of the men paid little attention to such ornate displays except at the periodic festivals and dances.

No age or marital distinction was shown in the women's hair dress. The universal custom of wearing bangs was expressed here. The rest of the hair was parted in the middle and braided. These braids were then coiled low on the back of the head. This method of "doing up" the hair is still found among a few of the present-day Tuskegee.


Most material for clothing was obtained through exchange with traders, most often through the medium of neighboring tribesmen than by direct contact. Children went naked, putting on clothing only in late childhood. The men and women wore an article of clothing described as a "long shirt." It was made of rich colors, arranged in a pattern of circles in a horizontal position. In length, it just reached the knees. A modified form of this dress may be observed among present-day Indians.

Moccasins and leggins and sometimes pants, were added to the men's apparel.



A few bsakets were woven from split cane stalks, corn husks and grass. The art was degenerate from that of their ancestors who excelled in basket-making.


No clay being available and iron vessels easily obtainable, this art was entirely forgotten. One centenarian, said her great-grandmother knew how to make clay vessels when the latter resided in Alabama.

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Some skins were tanned and used for various purposes. The tanning process was not learned but was possibly similar to most Southeastern methods; after all preliminary cleansing, the pulp of beaten green corn was applied and allowed to remain for awhile. It was then washed and pounded in a mortar, removed and worked over a beam until dry.

Cane Objects

In earlier days, cane tubes were used for blow-guns. Small tubes are still used for curative purposes, a subject for later discussion. Some knives were made of dried cane stalks. Other uses have been mentioned before.



The clan system was composed of a chief and four grades of subjects. At this period, certain clans were grouped together and marriage was exogamous in the group. Horror of incest was as great with them as with citizens of Oklahoma. In fact, this state has quite rigid laws regarding such.11

Clan relationships of the Tuskegee are confusing to the average student. For clarity, the relationships of a fictitious male who has married a female of another clan will be given in the following:

His blood sisters and brothers, his mother and father, are recognized as we would recognize them.

All female members of his own clan, outside his own family, are called a. "little mother," if older; b. "sister," if near his age; c. "niece," if younger.

All male members of his own clan would be called a. "uncle," if older; b. "brother," if near his age; c. "nephew," if younger.

In the father's clan, all males are termed, "little father." A11 females, regardless of age, are his "grandmother." Any man marrying a grandmother would be his grandfather.

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The sons and daughters of his father's brothers would be his brothers and sisters because the children's male parent came from the same clan as the father of the person under discussion.

The children of his mother's brothers would be called his own children, in as much as their father was of the same clan as he.

Blood grandparents are not related to him except in the case of his mother's mother who would be in the same clan and therefore known as his little mother.

Relationship to the wife's people was scanty; her children were his children. This marked the limits of his affiliation.


It is doubtful if the information received on this subject is correct because the informant for this article declared the Tuskegee knew no religion until after their contact with converted Seminoles in Oklahoma. It is strange missionaries failed to reach them as they did so many other tribes in the early days of American History.


Having no belief of a life after death, bodies of the dead were hauled off from the villages and covered with brush or stones. Later the custom improved and the bodies were placed in a hollow log. Food was left with the dead but beyond this, the grave was never revisited. It is said that a great fear of some kind took hold of the people, changing their regard of the dead.

At the present time, after burial, the departed's clothing and a bit of food are placed on the grave. A house is built above this but never repaired when it goes apart.


Then, as now, the Tuskegee was careful to never retire with his feet to the west. Dire results would follow such action.

Several superstitions are believed in by these people but they are typical of most Indians and will not be discussed here.

Belief in a shaman was a predominant feature. His activities were applied principally to healing the sick. Not one but several shamans might be associated with a single village. He concocted

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drinks from wild herbs, chanted magic words and blew through cane tubes upon the affected part or parts.12


Of the festivals and dances, only the Green Corn ceremony13 was remembered, due perhaps to its frequent repetition here in Oklahoma. As this is fully described in literature, only this mention will be made of it.


Myths consisted of stories similar to other Southeastern types; most of these dealt with animals who were able to converse with man and among themselves. A typical one is as follows

Hunters would leave the village to secure meat but when they reached the haunts of their prey, not a bit of life could be seen. One day it was learned an old alligator that lived near the village would inform the other animals that the hunters were starting out. The alligator was captured and condemned to death. He begged to be let live and was granted the request on the condition he would never tell on the hunters again.

13Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. X; pp. 170-195. "Green Corn Dance," reprinted after John H. Payne, by J. R. Swanton.

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