Famous Figures in Florida’s Native American Heritage

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Abiaka (Arpeika, Sam Jones)

Ca. 1765-1870

Although little is known about Seminole medicine man Abiaka, the Seminole Tribe says he may have been more important to Seminole resistance than Osceola. Abiaka was a powerful spiritual leader who used his medicine to stir Seminole warriors into a frenzy. Many years older than most of the Seminole leadership of that era, Abiaka was a staunch resister of removal. He kept the resistance fueled before and after Osceola’s period of prominence. He was present at the attack on Dade’s troops and the Battle of Loxahatchee, and his genius directed Seminole gains in the 1837 Battle of Okeechobee. When the fighting had concluded, he was the only major Seminole leader to remain in Florida. Starved, surrounded, sought with a vengeance, Abiaka would answer no flag of truce, no offer of compromise, no demand of surrender. He founded a settlement along the Pine Island Ridge, near Dania. His original camp was in the Big Cypress Swamp, not far from the Seminole Tribe’s Big Cypress community of today. – Brenda Swann

Betty Mae Jumper

1923-2011

Betty Mae Jumper spent her early childhood on the Seminole reservation in Dania, now called Hollywood, where she attended the reservation school. She then went to school in Cherokee, N.C., and became one of the first Seminoles to graduate high school. She went to nursing school in Oklahoma, returning to Florida to be a nurse for the Seminoles. She married Moses Jumper, and together they raised three children. When the Seminole Tribe of Florida received federal recognition in 1957, Betty Mae was on the First Tribal Council and was elected Chairperson of the Seminole Tribe of Florida in 1967, becoming the first woman to lead the Seminoles. In 1979, she established the Seminole Tribune, the widely circulated newspaper that brings information and news about the Seminoles to the Native American community and the world. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, she regularly appeared as a Seminole storyteller at the Florida Folk Festival and other events. She has authored several books and was the recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native American Journalists Association. The Native America Indian Women’s Association named her among the top 50 Indian women in the U.S., and she is a member of the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. – Brenda Swann


Billy Bowlegs

1810-1859

Known as Holata Mico or Alligator Chief, Billy Bowlegs was a hereditary chief, descended from Cowkeeper, and probably a nephew of Micanopy. He was a key Seminole leader during the Second and Third Seminole Wars, especially after the capture of Osceola in 1838. A series of successful attacks by his small band of 200 warriors eventually led to a peace treaty in 1842, ending the Second Seminole War. The Florida Territory was relatively calm until 1855, when a U.S. Army raid on Bowlegs’ camp at Great Cypress Swamp provoked three more years of guerrilla-style warfare. One of the last Seminole leaders to agree to removal to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, Billy Bowlegs, along with more than 100 followers, boarded the steamer Grey Cloud at Egmont Key near Tampa in 1858 for the arduous journey to Oklahoma. - James J. Miller


Buffalo Tiger

1920-

Buffalo Tiger is a venerated elder of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians who resides in southern Florida. He was born in 1920 at a traditional Indian camp, deep in the Everglades. Mostaki was his childhood name. The Tigers are members of the Bird Clan, and he spent his childhood learning the language and traditions of his people. As a child, Mostaki accompanied his family on visits to trading posts in Miami where he occasionally played with white youngsters and began to learn English. He never attended school until he was an adult and then only for a short time. Like other Miccosukee boys, at about age 15, he received an adult name from elders at the Green Corn Dance, the annual ceremony of his people. However, the white children that he played with said he ran like a buffalo and that name stuck. Buffalo Tiger was unusual among the reclusive Miccosukees who preferred to remain in their Everglades camps. He took a job in Miami, married a non-Indian woman and interacted with white society. Thus he became an invaluable negotiator for his people when, in the 1950s, they requested federal recognition as a tribe separate from the Florida Seminoles. When the U.S. government refused to grant the Miccosukees tribal status, Buffalo led a delegation to Cuba in 1959, where they were eagerly recognized by Fidel Castro. Officials in Washington quickly reconsidered their position and the Miccosukee Tribe’s government was organized in 1962. Buffalo was elected its first chairman and served for 23 years. Under his leadership, the Miccosukees became the first tribe to totally manage its own affairs under President Nixon’s new Indian Self-Determination Policy. After stepping down from tribal government, Buffalo Tiger began a successful airboat tour business that he continues to operate on the Tamiami Trail. - Harry A. Kersey, Jr.

 

Coacoochee (Wild Cat)

Ca. 1808-1857

Coacoochee (Ko AH koo chee) was an effective and colorful leader in the Seminole resistance to the American invasion of Florida in the 1830s and 1840s. He was born about 1808 near the Oklawaha River in east-central Florida. His mother was a sister of the Seminole principal chief Micco Nuppa ("Micanopy") and his father was micco (leader) of a Seminole town on the St. Johns River. Therefore, Coacoochee belonged to the elite lineage that provided the most influential Seminole leaders. By 1836, Coacoochee was raiding American settlements in eastern Florida. After his celebrated escape from the U.S. prison at Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos) in November 1837, he succeeded Asin Yahola or Ussi Yahola (Osceola) as paramount military leader of the Seminole resistance and held that position longer and more effectively than his more famous predecessor. Coacoochee became micco of a small community during the war and occupied a series of other offices in the Seminole government after his people’s forced relocation to an area now in Oklahoma in November 1841. After Micco Nuppa’s death in 1848, the Council passed over Coacoochee for the position of principal chief despite his extraordinary talent for leadership. Presumably frustrated with that and with Muscogee ("Creek") and American interference in Seminole affairs, he moved his town to Coahuila, Mexico, between 1849 and 1850. A community of maroons (free Africans) led by John Cowaya (John Horse) accompanied them, and a group of Kickapoos, originally from the Great Lakes area, joined them briefly. They negotiated a treaty with Mexico, agreeing to defend the Mexican border country under Coacoochee’s leadership in exchange for land, goods, and services. In 1857, Coacoochee and many of his people died of smallpox. His community soon fell apart, and the Seminoles left Coahuila by 1861. Seminoles still remember and admire him. - Susan A. Miller

 

Cowkeeper

Ca. 1710-1783

Cowkeeper, whose traditional name was Ahaya, was the first recorded chief of the Alachua Band of Seminoles. He was witness to and part of the initial migration of the Oconee people from central Georgia to the Chattahoochee River and eventually to Paynes Prairie. He played a central role in the emergence of the Seminoles as an independent political force in Spanish and British Florida. Cowkeeper’s village, Cuscowilla, at the site of present-day Micanopy, included several hundred people, herds of cattle and horses, cornfields and many wood-framed buildings around an open square with a council house at the center. Cowkeeper and his people enjoyed a special status during the 20-year British occupation of Florida, due to his skill as a diplomat as well as his hatred of the Spanish. He is best known through William Bartram’s account of his hospitality at Cuscowilla in 1774. Cowkeeper died in 1783 just after Florida again came under Spanish control. . – Brenda Swann

 

Juan Ortiz and the Tocobaga Princess

Ca. 1780-1849

Shortly after landing near Tampa Bay in 1539, Hernando de Soto and his soldiers were surprised by a man who told them in Spanish that he was Juan Ortiz from Seville, Spain. Native Americans had captured him years before and almost killed him, until the daughter of the chief pleaded for his life. The saga began in 1528, when a Spanish expedition with many soldiers, headed by Pánfilo de Narváez, landed near Tampa Bay. Juan Ortiz, one of the soldiers who went ashore, was quickly captured by the Tocobaga Indians. Chief Hirrihigua wanted to kill Ortiz in retaliation for the Spanish mistreatment of Indians, but the chief’s daughter successfully pleaded for Ortiz’s life. The Indians made Ortiz a slave, forcing him to do menial tasks like guarding the hut where the dead were kept before burial. After falling asleep while guarding the corpses, Ortiz awoke to find that an animal had dragged off the corpse of a dead child. Ortiz chased the animal, wounded it and recovered the body. The chief was angry at Ortiz for falling asleep while guarding the hut and wanted to kill him, but once again the chief’s daughter successfully pleaded for his life. Worried about his safety, the chief’s daughter helped Ortiz escape to another tribe. Ortiz traveled with several Indian tribes and learned their languages and customs, and in doing so became a great help to the 1539 Hernando de Soto expedition. Ortiz eventually died while accompanying de Soto, but he recorded many fascinating stories about his time with the pre-European societies of Florida. - Kevin McCarthy

 

Micanopy

Ca. 1780-1849

Micanopy, whose name in the Hitchiti language means "high chief," was a generation older than Osceola and Billy Bowlegs, two other Seminole leaders. Born around 1780 near St. Augustine, he became hereditary leader of the Seminoles in 1819, near the beginning of the American Territorial Period. U.S. government policy encouraged colonization of the new territory, as a step toward statehood, and Micanopy became a strong defender against white settlement of Indian lands. At the Treaty of Payne’s Landing in 1832, other Seminole leaders agreed to relocate, but Micanopy refused, aligning with younger leaders such as Osceola. Their bold attack on Major Dade’s forces, known as the Dade Massacre, and on troops under General Clinch in 1835 ignited the seven-year Second Seminole war. Recognizing that resettlement was inevitable, Micanopy eventually negotiated terms of removal. After removal, he remained a strong Seminole leader, pressing for independence from the Creek Nation in Indian Territory out West. - James J. Miller


Osceola

1804-1838

Born in 1804 to a Creek mother and Scottish trader, William Powell, Osceola became a prominent Seminole leader during the Second Seminole War. By age 15, he had already learned much from Neamathla, a Seminole leader in the First Seminole War, and received his adult name, Ussi Yahola, meaning Black Drink Singer. Although not a hereditary chief, he was elected war chief in 1832. His fierce resistance to removal and his leadership of an undefeated Seminole force led to great fame. His capture under a flag of truce by General Thomas Jesup in October 1837 added further embarrassment to the failed U.S. military effort. After a brief imprisonment at Castillo de San Marcos, then known as Fort Marion, in St. Augustine, he was moved to Fort Moultrie in Charleston where he survived less than a year. His death and burial with full military honors were reported across the nation and in Europe. Counties in Florida and several other states, as well as Osceola National Forest, honor his name. - James J. Miller

 

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