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Seminole Indian Tribe
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Florida,Georgia,Native American | No Comments
The term semanóle, or isti simanóle, signifies separatist or runaway, and as a tribal name points to the Indians who left the Creek, especially the Lower Creek settlements, for Florida, to live, hunt and fish there in entire independence. The term does not mean wild, savage, as frequently stated; if applied now in this sense to animals, it is because of its original meaning, “what has become a runaway”: pínua simanóle wild turkey (cf. pín-apúiga domesticated turkey), tchu-áta semanóli, antelope, literally, “goat turned runaway, wild,” from tchu-áta, ítchu háta goat, lit., “bleating deer.”1 The present Seminoles of Florida call themselves Ikaniú-ksalgi or “Peninsula-People” (from íkana land, niúksa, for in-yúksa its point, its promontory, -algi: collective ending); another name for them is Tallaháski, from their town Tallahassee, now capital of the State of Florida. The Wendát or Hurons call them Ungiayó-rono, “Peninsula-People,” from ungiáyo peninsula. In Creek, the Florida peninsula is called also Ikan-fáski, the “Pointed Land,” the Seminoles: Ikana-fáskalgi “people of the pointed land.” The name most commonly given to the Seminoles in the Indian Territory by the Creeks is Simanōlalgi, by the Hitchiti: Simanōlali.
Indians speaking the Creek language lived in the south of the peninsula as early as the sixteenth century. This fact is fully proved by the local names and by other terms used in these parts transmitted by Fontanedo (in 1559, cf. Calusa): seletega! “run hither!” now pronounced silítiga, silítka, abbrev. from isilítka; isilítkäs I run away, lit., I carry myself away, off; lítkäs I am running. Silítiga is now used as a personal name among the Creeks.
We have seen that a portion of Fontanedo’s local names of the Calusa country are of Creek origin, and that another portion is probably Timucua. The rest of them, like Yagua and others, seem to be of Caribbean origin, and a transient or stationary population of Caribs is mentioned by Hervas, Catalogo de las lenguas I, p. 386 as having lived in the Apalachi country.2
The hostile encounter between Creeks and Calusa, mentioned by Romans (cf. Calusa), probably took place about A. D. 1700, but the name Seminole does not appear as early as that. Previous to that event the Creeks seem to have held only the coastline and the north part of what is now the area of Florida State. A further accession resulted from the arrival of the Yamassi, whom Governor Craven had driven into Georgia and into the arms of their enemies, the Spaniards of Florida, after suppressing the revolt of 1715 in which they had participated.
The Seminoles of modern times are a people compounded of the following elements: separatists from the Lower Creek and Hitchiti towns; remnants of tribes partly civilized by the Spaniards; Yamassi Indians and some Negroes. According to Hawkins, Sketch of the Creek Country (1799), pp. 25, 26, they had emigrated from Okóni, Sawokli, Yufála, Ta-mála
Apalatchúkla and Hitchiti (all of which are Lower Creek towns), being invited to Florida by the plenty of game, the mildness of the climate and the productiveness of the soil. The Seminoles mentioned by him inhabited the whole peninsula, from Apalachicola river to the “Florida Point,” and had the following seven towns: Semanóle Talahássi, Mikasuki, Witchotúkmi, Alachua, Oklawáha láko, Talua-tchápk-apópka, Kalusa-hátchi. Some of the larger immigrations from the Creek towns into those parts occurred: in 1750, after the end of the Revolutionary war, in 1808 and after the revolt of the Upper Creeks in 1814.
When Wm. Bartram traveled through the Seminole country, about 1773, he was informed that Cuscowilla, a town on a lake of the same name and a sort of Seminole capital, had been built by Indians from Okóni old town, settled upon the Alachua plains: They abdicated the ancient Alachua town on the borders of the savanna, about fifty miles west from the river San Juan, and built here, calling the new town Cuscowilla. (About 1710) they had emigrated from Oconee town, on the Oconee River, on account of the proximity of the white people. “They formerly waged war with the “Tomocos (Timucua), Utinas, Calloosas, Yamases” and other Florida tribes.3
The Seminoles were always regarded as a sort of outcasts by the Creek tribes from which they had seceded, and no doubt there were reasons for this. The emigration included many of the more turbulent elements of the population, and the mere fact that many of them spoke another dialect than the Maskoki proper (some belonging to the Hitchiti or south eastern division of the family) is likely to have cast a shadow upon them. The anecdote narrated by Milfort (Memoire, p. 311-317) furnishes ample proof of the low esteem in which the Seminoles were held by the Creeks. But, on the other side, emigration was favored by the Creek communities themselves through the practice observed by some of their number to send away a part of their young men to form branch villages, whenever the number of the inhabitants began to exceed two hundred. Several towns will be found in our “List of Creek Settlements,” in which the process of segmentation was going on upon a large scale in the eighteenth century.
The Seminoles first appear as a distinct politic body in American history under one of their chiefs, called King Payne, at the beginning of this century. This refers more particularly to the Seminoles of the northern parts of what is now Florida; these Indians showed, like the Creeks, hostile intentions towards the thirteen states during and after the Revolution, and conjointly with the Upper Creeks on Tallapoosa River concluded a treaty of friendship with the Spaniards at Pensacola in May 1784. Although under Spanish control, the Seminoles entered into hostilities with the Americans in 1793 and in 1812. In the latter year Payne miko was killed in a battle at Alachua, and his brother, the influential Bowlegs, died soon after. These unruly tribes surprised and massacred American settlers on the Satilla River, Georgia, in 1817, and another conflict began, which terminated in the destruction of the Mikasuki and Suwanee river towns of the Seminoles by General Jackson, in April 1818. After the cession of Florida, and its incorporation into the American Union (1819), the Seminoles gave up all their territory by the treaty of Fort Moultrie, September 18th, 1823, receiving in exchange goods and annuities. When the government concluded to move these Indians west of the Mississippi river, a treaty of a conditional character was concluded with them at Payne s Landing, in 1832. The larger portion were removed, but the more stubborn part dissented, and thus gave origin to one of the gravest conflicts which ever occurred between Indians and whites. The Seminole war began with the massacre of Major Dade’s command near Wahoo swamp, December 28th, 1835, and continued with unabated fury for five years, entailing an immense expenditure of money and lives. A number of Creek warriors joined the hostile Seminoles in 1836.
A census of the Seminoles taken in 1822 gave a population of 3899, with 800 Negroes belonging to them. The population of the Seminoles in the Indian Territory amounted to 2667 in 1881 (Ind. Affairs Rep.), and that of the Florida Seminoles will be stated below. There are some Seminoles now in Mexico, who went there with their Negro slaves.
The settlements of the Seminoles were partly erratic, comparable to hunters camps, partly stationary. The stationary villages existed chiefly in the northern parts of the Seminole lands, corresponding to Southern Georgia and Northern Florida of our days. A very instructive table exists of some of their stationary villages, drawn up by Capt. Young, and printed in Rev. Morse s Report on the Indians of the United States (1822), p. 364. This table however includes, with a few exceptions, only places situated near Apalachicola river (east and west of it), in Alabama, Georgia and Florida; the list was probably made at a time when Florida was still under Spanish domination, which accounts for the fact that the county names are not added to the localities. Many of these towns were, in fact, Lower Creek towns and not be longing to the Seminole proper, all of whom lived east of Apalachicola river, mostly at some distance from it. Seminole and Lower Creek were, in earlier times, often regarded as identical appellations; cf. Milfort, Mem., p. 118.
The remarks included in parentheses were added by myself.
From reports of the eighteenth century we learn that in the south of the Floridian peninsula the Seminoles were scattered in small bodies, in barren deserts, forests, etc., and that at intervals they assembled to take black drink or deliberate on tribal matters. It is also stated that in consequence of their separation the Seminole language had changed greatly from the original Creek; a statement which is not borne out by recent investigations, and probably refers only to the Seminole towns speaking Hitchiti dialects.
By order of the Bureau of Ethnology, Rev. Clay MacCauley in 1880 visited the Seminoles settled in the southern parts of the peninsula, to take their census and institute ethno logic researches. He found that their population amounted to 208 Indians, and that they lived in five settlements to which he gave the following names:
Traces of languages other than the Seminole were not discovered by him.
In December 1882 J. Francis Le Baron transmitted to the Smithsonian Institution a few ethnologic notices and a vocabulary obtained from the Seminole Indians of Chipko’s (since deceased) band, which he had visited in March 1881 in their village near Lake Pierce. The dialect of the vocabulary does not differ from Creek in any appreciable degree. On marriage customs and the annual busk of these Indians he makes the following remarks: “They do not marry or inter mix with the whites, and are very jealous of the virtue of their women, punishing with death any squaw that accepts the attentions of a white man. Some Seminoles exhibit a mixture of Negro blood, but some are very tall, fine-looking savages. Their three tribes live at Chipko town, near Lake Oketchobee, and in the Everglades. They have a semi-religious annual festival in June or July, called the green corn dance, the new corn being then ripe enough to be eaten. Plurality of wives is forbidden by their laws. Tom Tiger, a fine-looking Indian, is said to have broken this rule by marrying two wives, for which misdemeanor he was banished from the tribe. He traveled about one hundred miles to the nearest tribe in the Everglades, and jumped unseen into the ring at the green corn dance. This procured him absolution, conformably to their laws.”
This adjective is found verbified in isimanōläídshit “he has caused himself to be a runaway.” ↩
Cf. Proceed. Am. Philos. Society of Phila., 1880, pp. 466, 478. ↩
William Bartram, Travels, p. 97. 179. 190-193. 216. 217. 251. 379-380. The name Cuscowilla bears a curious resemblance to the Chicasa town Tuskawillao, mentioned by Adair, History, p. 353. Cf. also Okóni, in List of Creek Settlements. ↩
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