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Essay/Term paper: The seminole

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The Seminole

"As the United States is a nation made up of people from many nations, so the
Seminole is a tribe made up of Indians from many tribes."  (Garbarino 13)  The
Seminole are the indigenous people living in southeastern America.  They lived
in what is now Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and
Mississippi.  The Seminole had a Muskogean language of the Hokan-Siouan stock. 
(Bookshelf)  The Indian tribes found in the southeast were the Creek, Choctaw,
Chickasaw, Cherokee, Yuchi, Yamassee, Apalachicola, Timucua, and Calusa.  The
southeastern Indians were described by the Spanish as being tall with
complexions ranging from olive, to brownish.  The Indians in the mountainous
regions were described as having lighter complexions, and those in the sunnier
regions as brown.  (Garbarino 13)

The Seminole were originally part of the Creek, but they began to migrate from
Southern Georgia to Northern Florida in the later half of the eighteenth
century.  The Seminole fled there because Spain owned Florida, and they hoped
they would be free.  They shared the land with another group of Indians, the
Apalachee and the Timucua, who spoke the Mikasuki Language.  (Seminole Indians
290)  By about the year 1775, they began to be known by the name Seminole, which
is derived from the Creek word simanoli, meaning "separatist," or "runaway". 
The name, Seminole, could also originate from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning
"wild."  Also joining the migrants were Indian and Negro slaves, who fled from
the power struggles between the Americans and the Indians.  (Seminole 626)

The Indians who moved to Florida all had similar ways of life.  After their
migration, they kept many of the qualities of their original culture. Their
natural environment affected every aspect of their culture and life.  The
environment determined what food they ate, what clothing they could wear, the
houses that they could build, and how to live in them.  The environment even
influenced the language and rituals.  Due to this involvement with Nature, they
revered all of Nature.  (Garbarino 13)

The landscape in which the Seminole lived was composed of fertile valleys, thick
woods, and low mountains.  The largest and most powerful tribes took the
desirable locations, the fertile valleys.  The small tribes settled in the woods
and mountains.  (Garbarino 14)  The environment influenced the types of food the
people could find the most.  It allowed maize, beans, and squash to grow
plentifully.  Although these plants grow plentifully, the Seminoles lived more
by hunting and gathering.  It was easier to hunt and fish because the woodlands
and rivers were filled with an abundance of game.  The Indians also gathered
founds that were found in the environment, like berries, nuts, tubers, and
seeds.  (Seminole 626)

The jobs of gathering and growing plants were doled out to the women.  They also
had to prepare and cook the food that the men obtained.   Most of the time, they
baked boiled, or broiled the food.  The women also preserved the food that they
collect, such as plums and persimmons.  (Garbarino 17)  The men usually helped
where there was heavy and intensive work to be do be done, like clearing land
and harvesting, but the men's main jobs were to hunt, fish, and battle. 
(Seminole Indians 290)  The men hunted animals for their hides in addition to
their meats.  The most hunted for animals were:  deer, squirrels, rabbits,
raccoons, bears, turkeys, ducks, and geese.  The Indians also ate alligator meat,
turtle meat, shellfish, and fresh and salt-water fish.  (Garbarino 15)

The Indians lived in villages that ranged in size from 20 to 100 houses and in
population from 100 to more than one thousand.  The homes were most likely to be
built around a square or town plaza.  The central area of the square was left
for ceremonial purposes.  The chief's house, a meeting hall, storage building,
and often the home of an important medicine man or religious leader surrounded
the square.  Around these buildings, the townspeople made their homes. 
(Garbarino 20)

Early Seminoles used to build log cabins, but later on they began to live in
basic shelters with thatched roofs that were supported by poles.  These homes
were called chickees.  They had a chickee for summer, winter, and for a woman
who is going to have a baby.  The huts had raised platforms and the roof was
thatched with palmetto leaves.  (Lepthien 7, 24-25)  Most of the towns with
these chickees were stockaded or palisaded.  That means they were surrounded
with logs that formed a protective fence.  This fence had usually had one or two
openings, which allowed passage in and out.  The men reinforced the walls with
crossbeams and daubed clay or mud over the open spaces.  (Garbarino 20-21)

All of the Indians of the Southeast belonged to clans.  People were a member of
the clan that their mother belonged.  Clan  membership was just as important as
the village you lived in.  Clans were usually ranked within tribes, making some
clans higher in status than others.  Since a boy was not part of his father's
clan, it was the maternal uncle's job to instruct him in hunting and warfare. 
The mother cared for the girls that she has.  Even though a child did not belong
to the father's clan, the father was responsible for the support of his children
and they usually had a warm relationship.  (Seminole Indians 290)  A person must
marry someone outside the clan because it formed an alliance between clans.  It
was not forbidden to marry into the father's clan, but it was unusual.  Men of
very high status usually married two wives, if he could provide more than one
wife could manage.  The first wife was usually happy to have them and all the
wives lived in different houses.  Divorce was just a matter of separation.  If a
woman wanted a divorce, she would leave a bundle of his belongings outside and
he left to go to his mother's house.  (Garbarino 23)

Spain claimed a new land that Juan Ponce de Leon had named Florida.  Ponce De
Leon named the land Florida because of the festival that was going on in Spain
at that time, Pascua Florida.  Spain had claimed the land from the southernmost
tip of Florida to the Chesapeake Bay and to the Mississippi River.  Juan Ponce
de Leon tried establish a settlement along the coast of Florida, but all he did
was bother the Indians in the area.  As a result of the skirmish between the
Indians and the Spaniards, he was wounded very badly.  He died a little while
later at his base in Cuba.  (Garbarino 33)

In the ensuing 50 years, many others reinforced Spain's claim to Florida.  None
of the adventurers tried to settle, so they did not take any land away from the
Indians, but they built little forts and supply depots.  They were not many
conflicts between the Spanish and the Indians, except when the Spanish held
Indians captive and used them for forced labor and guides.  (Garbarino 33)

As a result of the contact with the Spanish, some Indians contracted diseases
like fatal pneumonia and smallpox.  Some Indians did not even have to be in
contact with the Spanish to get the diseases.  If the Indians were in contact
with other Indians who had the germs, they could also get the disease.  The
Indians could not fight against this enemy, so the Indians were rapidly reduced. 
(Lepthien 5-6)

The French also tried to establish a colony in Florida in 1564, but they failed
because the Spanish captured the settlement the following and extinguished the
belief that France had claims in Florida.  One year later, the Spanish found the
first Spanish and the first permanent European settlement in the southeast.  It
was named St. Augustine.  The English were also interested in the Southeast. 
Sir Francis Drake commanded an English force against St. Augustine in 1586, but
his forces failed to penetrate the Spanish fortress; however, the English
established the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia just north of Florida and the
Spanish always worried about the inevitable expansion of English territory
southward.  (Garbarino 34)

There soon began a rivalry between the Spanish and the English.  The Indians
either chose the English or the Spanish.  Some Indians joined the English and
killed other Indians.  A few that were not captured, killed, enslaved, or died
by disease fled to the Spanish West Indies.  (Lepthien 13)  After this time
there was massive and reigning confusion.  Indian tribes killed other Indians. 
The English trying to get rid of the Indians played one tribe off for another
and caused more chaos.  As a result, many tribes were reduced in size, and many
people were homeless and hopeless.  (Garbarino 36)

Soon afterward, the English presence in America grew, and colonists began to
settle on Indian land.  In 1715, the settlers and the Yamassee tribe began to
fight.  The Yamassee were badly defeated, and they moved into Northern Florida,
where there was no competition for land.  The state of Georgia worked as a
buffer between the Spanish and the English.  (Garbarino 37)  Many African slaves
and Indians lived in the buffer zone and were not bothered.  The Indians
accepted the blacks in their tribes and they even inter-married.  Then, the
English established the colony of Georgia, so the area could no longer be an
area for runaways.  All of the people fled to Florida, where the Europeans
mispronounce their names.  The Europeans called them Seminoles when the word is
really simanoli.  In 1763, Britain forced Spain to trade Florida for Cuba. 
(Garbarino 39)

In 1783, Florida became Spanish after Great Britain lost the Revolutionary War. 
The period of peace and prosperity was now over for the Seminoles.  The American
settlers were soon attracted to the fertile land that the Seminole owned.  Some
of them even trespassed and set up farms.  (Lepthien 16)  The Indians warned
them that they would be attacked if they did not leave.  The Americans did not
comply with the Seminole, so they raided the American Homesteads.  Also, at this
time, the plantation owners whose slaves had become Seminoles, demanded their
slaves back, and they sent slave-catchers to the Seminole lands.  (Garbarino 39)

The War of 1812 also affected the Seminole because some were with the United
States, and some were with Great Britain.  As a result of continuing skirmishes
between the United States and the Seminole, the United States declared war on
the Florida Indians in 1817.  They claimed that their mission was to recapture
slaves, but the soldiers illegally went into Florida, and since the Spanish
control in Florida was weak, U.S. continued to raid into Spanish territory.  The
Seminole villages were burned, livestock captured, and food was destroyed or
confiscated.  The fighting between the Seminole and the United States was later
known to be the First Seminole War.  It was fought from 1817-1818.  (Seminole
626)  The Seminole fought bravely.  Billy Bowlegs led the Seminole.  The United
States Army was led by Andrew Jackson, who later became President.  Many Indians
were killed in the fighting, and those that survived, retreated into the marsh. 
Andrew Jackson's victory caused the Spanish to sign a treaty with the U.S.
setting up Florida for sale.  On February 22, 1821, Florida became a part of the
United States of America.  (Garbarino 40-41)

On September 6, 1823, near St. Augustine, 70 Seminole chiefs met with Florida
governor William P. DuVal to discuss the removal of the Seminole.  Most of the
Seminole Chiefs agreed to the Indians move to a reservation further south.  The
Seminole gave the U.S. 30 million acres of fertile farmland, and the U.S. gave
them 5 million acres of land that was unfit for cultivation.  The Seminoles took
a year to move, and when they go there, they were soon afflicted by widespread
hunger.  They grew more and more discontented with their present situation.

By the year 1830, the Seminole's old land was already settled, and the
homesteaders were looking for more.  The Federal Government was planning to
remove all Eastern Indians to the west of Mississippi.  President Andrew Jackson
was given the authority to relocate the Eastern Indian Tribes.  In 1832, some
Seminole decided that they could fight no more, so they moved, but the two most
powerful leaders, Micanopy and King Philip, refused to leave.  They believed
that they had rearranged their lives so much that they were going to stay. 
Seven Seminole leaders went to check out the reservation that they were going to
be put on, and there, the leaders signed the Treaty of Fort Gibson, in which
they agreed to move.  When the leaders returned to Florida, they said that they
were tricked into signing the treaty, and they refused to leave.  (Garbarino 45-

The Seminole were given until January 1, 1836 to move by.  One month before the
deadline, Seminole warriors began to raid against U.S. troops stationed in
Florida, thus began the Second Seminole War.  (Garbarino 46)  This was one of
the most costly U.S. versus Indian wars.  This war lasted for seven years. 
Their brave leader, Osceola, led the Seminole.  The warriors hid the families in
the Everglades, and they used guerrilla warfare.  This war cost the U.S.
Government between 40 Million Dollars and 60 Million Dollars.  Almost 2000 men
died for the United States and the death total was uncounted for the Seminole. 
(Seminole War 626)  The Seminole Warriors began to terrorized the settlers in
the area.  The burned and pillaged the homes of the wealthy plantation owners. 
The Seminole destroyed 16 plantations in one month.  Osceola was completely
against the raiding of these homes.  He did not want to hurt any women or
children.  Osceola taught the Indians how to use ambush and withdrawal to
surprise the enemy.  (Garbarino 52)

The U.S. Army now had a new General.  General Thomas S. Jesup took command of
the 10,000 men in Florida.  He attacked the Seminole villages, ruined their
crops, captured their cattle and horses, and took their women and children
hostage.  All of these combined lowered much of the Indian's enthusiasm for
battle.  On October 23, 1837, near St. Augustine, Osceola and several of his
warriors, met with one of Jesup's officers to release King Philip.  The Indians
carried a white flag and tried to call a truce, but they were captured and
imprisoned.  Later the same year, a delegation of 11 Seminole chiefs, met with
General Jesup with a white flag of truce.  They were also captured.  The
prisoners were moved to another prison, and soon afterward, Osceola died. 
Instead of lowering the morale of the Seminole, the death of their war chief
inspired them to fight on.  (Garbarino 52)

Soon the war began to end because enthusiasm was low and the might and numbers
of the U.S. Army intimidated the Indians.  There was no treaty to end the war;
the war just began to stop, and then it completely stopped.  No one came to give
them a treaty because no one wanted to go into the Everglades to acknowledge the
signing of a treaty.  (Garbarino 54)  Problems began to mount in 1855, when
surveyors went to map the Everglades, and then they took away the ripest crops
that the Chief, Billy Bowlegs, had, and then they burned the rest of their
crops.  The Indians then attacked them, and wounded several of them.  Over the
next three years, there were little skirmishes, but there was little bloodshed. 
In 1858, 163 Seminole moved west of the Mississippi.  Only a few remained in the
Everglades, and those that remained, moved deeper into the Everglades.  After
that, they were left alone.  (Garbarino 54-55)

Today, many Seminole live on small farms in Oklahoma.  They were among the Five
Civilized Tribes that include the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Choctaw.  The
Seminole that remained in Florida make a living by hunting, fishing, farming,
raising cattle, or working in tourism.  (Seminole Indians 291)

"For more than 200 years the Seminole have survived as a tribe by adapting to
change without giving up their traditional ways entirely.  The preservation of
their customs has helped the Seminole maintain a strong sense of identity as a
distinct and proud people."" (Garbarino 102)

Works Cited

Garbarino, Merwyn S.  The Seminole.  New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.

Lepthien, Emilie U.  The Seminole.  Chicago: Childrens Press, 1985.

"Seminole."  Encyclopedia Britannica.  1993 ed.

"Seminole."  Microsoft Bookshelf.  CD-ROM.  1994 ed.

"Seminole Indians."  The World Book Encyclopedia.  1992 ed.

"Seminole Wars."  Encyclopedia Britannica.  1993 ed.


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