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 Native American Heritage Month

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, November, we celebrate the histories, cultures, traditions, and contributions of Native Americans.

The first American Indian Day to be celebrated occurred on the second Saturday of May 1916, which was declared by the governor of New York.  President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” It continues to be celebrated today as Native American Heritage Day. It is also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

We celebrate some of the Seminoles and Miccosukees of Florida. Both are federally recognized tribes and have their own form of government, constitutions, and flags. The Seminoles have six reservations, Tampa, Ft. Pierce, Brighton, Immokalee, Big Cypress, and Hollywood.  The reservations of the Miccosukee Tribe include, Alligator Alley (next to Big Cypress), Tamiami Trial, and Krome Avenue and US 41.

To learn more about the Seminole Tribe of Florida, click here, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, click here.



Some Black Seminoles were able to hold important positions in the tribe. One such Black Seminole was Abraham, a former slave from Florida. It is believed that the British gave him his freedom during the War of 1812. He was known to then live among the towns along the Suwannee River, where Seminole Chief Micanopy protected him. Abraham became important to the Seminoles as an interpreter and counselor. He was part of the Seminole delegation, or group, that visited Washington, D.C., in 1826. In 1832 he was one of two interpreters at the Treaty of Payne’s Landing, which forced the Seminoles to leave Florida at the expense of the United States.

Arpeika (d. 1859/1861)
Arpeika, also known as Abiaca or Sam Jones, was a well-respected Mikasuki medicine man. According to one report, Arpeika sold fish to officers at Fort King, which reminded a soldier from New York of a fish seller he knew by the name of Sam Jones. So the soldier dubbed the medicine man “Sam Jones.” From the Withlacoochee River where Sam Jones and his band had lived, they moved to the St. Johns River area, then to Lake Okeechobee, and then further south into the Everglades during the Second Seminole War. He was known to operate in the New River region. Jones participated in the Battles of Okeechobee (1837) and Loxahatchee (1838). U.S. troops failed to capture Arpeika during the Second and Third Seminole Wars.

Chachi (d. ca. 1855)
Chachi, also known as Chai, was a local Seminole chief whose village was located in the area of the Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach, Florida. He may be the first resident of what became Palm Beach County to be known by name. Chachi became a scout for the U.S. Army in 1841. His wife, Polly, may have also assisted military patrols. At the beginning of the Third Seminole War, Chai committed suicide because he did not want to serve as a guide again for the U.S. Military.

Coacoochee (ca. 1810-1857)


A 19th century drawing of Coacoochee.

Courtesy Florida State Archives.

Born about 1810, Coacoochee (Wild Cat) was the son of King Philip, chief of a Miccosukee (Mikasuki) band in Mosquito County, Florida, and the sister of Micanopy, chief of the Seminole Nation. Both Indians and soldiers knew him as a fierce warrior. General Joseph Hernandez captured Coacoochee with Osceola and others in 1837 at meeting while under a flag of truce. He escaped with Black Seminole John Horse and a small group of Seminoles. Coacoochee and his warriors participated the Battle of Fort Mellon, February 8, 1837, and the Battle of Okeechobee, December 25, 1837. Towards the end of the war, Lieutenant Colonel William S. Harney captured Coacoochee’s daughter and mother. Colonel William Jenkins Worth, commander of U.S. troops in Florida, was then able to convince Wild Cat to meet. In 1841, Coacoochee was sent west to Indian Territory. He failed to be appointed chief of the Seminoles and in 1849 he lead his band of Seminoles and Black Seminoles into Mexico where they were welcomed.  Coacoochee died of smallpox in Alto, Mexico.


Painting of King Philip by George

Catlin. Courtesy Smithsonian

American Museum of Art.

Ea-Mat-la (d. 1839)
Ea-mat-la, also known as King Philip, was a chief during the Second Seminole War. He was captured by General Joseph Hernandez at Dunlawton Plantation on September 9, 1837, and held prisoner until he was shipped west to Indian Territory. It was said that King Philip was highly respected for his character and intelligence. While imprisoned at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, George Catlin painted his portrait and those of Osceola, Ye-how-lo-gee, (Cloud), Co-ee-ha-jo, La-shee (the licker), commonly called Creek Billy, and Mick-e-no-pah. Catlin wrote that King Philip was a “very aged chief, who has been a man of great notoriety and distinction in his time.” In 1839 King Philip was transported with other captured Seminoles to Arkansas when he died. His was buried on the west bank of the Mississippi River.

Halpatta Tustennuggee (1795-?)


A 19th century drawing of Alligator.

Halpatta Tustennuggee , also known as Alligator, was a leading war leader during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and participated in Dade’s Massacre and at the Battles of Withlacoochee and Okeechobee. He was said to be about forty years old, five-feet tall, a comic, extremely cunning, and a dangerous enemy. Halpatta Tustennuggee’s town know as “Halapata Telfora” or Alligator Town located in Columbia County, Florida. Today it is Lake City. Alligator later surrendered and went to Indian Territory. He was later brought back to Florida to help convince other Seminoles to surrender.


Billy Bowlegs, ca. 1850s.  Courtesy Florida

State Archives.

Holata Micco (1810-1864)
Holata Micco or Billy Bowlegs, a corruption of his real name Bolek, descended from Cowkeeper of the Oconee tribe of Seminoles from the Alachua area (present day Micanopy, Florida). He was one of signers of the 1832 Treaty of Payne’s Landing. During the Second Seminole War he became a prominent leader. He and his band never surrendered or were captured and were living in southwest Florida by the end of the war. Afterwards, he and other Seminole leaders were invited to Washington, D.C. This was a move by the federal government to “awe” the Seminoles. He lived in relative peace until the start of the Third Seminole War (1855-1858). This war started when U.S. Army engineers on a surveying mission destroyed Bowleg’s banana trees they found in the Everglades. Warriors from Billy Bowlegs group attacked and almost wiped out the Americans. This led to the Third and final Seminole War. The army tried but could not capture Bowlegs however, in 1858 he was convinced to surrender and move to Indian Territory. A writer for Harper’s Weekly described Billy Bowlegs as “a rather good-looking Indian of about fifty years. He has a fine forehead, a keen, black eye; is somewhat above the medium height, and weighs about 160 pounds.” During the American Civil War, Holata Micco sided with the Union and was commission a captain of Company A, First Indian Regiment. After fighting with honor for the Union, Billy Bowlegs died of cholera or smallpox.

John Horse (ca. 1812-1882)


John Horse, 19th century. Courtesy Florida State


Prominent Black Seminole John Horse, also known as Juan Caballo, Juan Cavallo, John Cowaya, and Gopher John, was a Black Seminole leader and Osceola’s interpreter during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). In 1837 at a staged truce negotiation with General Joseph Hernandez, John Horse along with Osceola, Coacoochee (Wild Cat), son of King Philip, and others were taken captive and held at Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marco) in St. Augustine. John Horse and Wild Cat made a daring escape from the fort and re-joined the fight against U.S. soldiers trying to remove the Seminoles and Miccosukees from Florida. They took part in the Battle of Okeechobee in December 1837 against Colonel Zachary Taylor. John Horse was finally convinced to surrender in 1838 and served as a guide and interpreter for the U.S. Army until he move west to Indian Territory in 1842. In 1844 John was a member of a Seminole delegation to Washington, D.C. In Seminole County, Oklahoma, John founded the Black Seminole community of Wewoka in 1849. He later moved into Mexico with other Seminoles and later came back to the U.S. and briefly served as a scout for the U.S. Army. He died in Mexico in 1882.


Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. Courtesy

Florida State Archives.

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper (1923-2011)
Born in 1923 near Indiantown, Martin County, Betty Mae’s (Pa-ta-kee) mother was Ada Tiger, a member of the Snake Clan, and her father was a white man, a Frenchman and sugar cane cutter. She was the first to read and write English, first to graduate high school, and she went on to train as a nurse at Kiowa Indian Hospital in Oklahoma. In 1967 she became the first female elected as chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, serving from 1967-1971. In 1994, Governor Lawton Chiles inducted Betty Mae into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame. Betty Mae wrote two books, And with the Wagon—Came God’s Word and Legends of the Seminoles and narrated a video, "The Corn Lady."  Her honors include the Florida Department of State Folklife Heritage Award, an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Florida State University, in 1997 she received the first Lifetime Achievement Award ever presented by the Native American Journalists Association and she was named "Woman of the Year" for 1997 by the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Micanopy (ca. 1780-1848/49)


Micanopy. Courtesy

Florida State Archives.

At the beginning of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) Micanopy was the principal leader of the Seminoles. His village, Cuscowilla, was located at the area of present day Micanopy, Alachua County, Florida. He and his Alachua band fought against forced removal from their homeland and were present at Dade’s Massacre in December 1835. In 1837 he was captured and imprisoned at Charleston, South Carolina, before being sent to Indian Territory where he died.


Paiting of Osceola by George

Catlin. Courtesy Smithsonian

American Museum of Art.

Osceola (1800-1838)
Born in 1800 to a white father and Creek mother, Osceola’s name comes from the Native American term Asiyahola. This was the cry given by those taking a ceremonial black drink that was supposed to cleanse the body and spirit. Osceola, also known as Powell, did not have the status of chief. However, he emerged as a leader and symbol of the Seminole’s resistance. He stood against the Americans who wanted to remove the Seminoles from their homes. Osceola became highly respected as he led the Seminoles against the Americans.

 In 1835 Osceola stuck his knife into a treaty he was asked to sign. This treaty would have removed his people from their Florida lands, forcing them to go to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.

In December 1835, Osceola and a group of warriors attacked and killed government agent Wiley Thompson. This was an act of revenge. Thompson had jailed Osceola earlier in the year.

In 1837 troops under the command of General Joseph Hernandez captured Osceola by tricking him. The Americans wanted to talk with Osceola, so when he showed the white flag, soldiers moved in and captured Osceola and other prominent Seminoles. The military imprisoned him in St. Augustine. Later, the military moved Osceola to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina, where he died the following year. Famous artist George Catlin painted Osceola’s portrait just before the war leader died in 1838 while in prison.

Buffalo Tiger (1920-2015)


Buffalo Tiger. Courtesy The Palm

Beach Post.

William Buffalo Tiger was born Heenehatche on March 6, 1920, in a Miccasukee village located in the Everglades to Sally Tiger and Tiger Tiger.

As a young man, Buffalo Tiger became a leading spokesperson about modern encroachment on Miccosukee land and the Everglades. In 1957 he was chief of the Miccosukee Tribe and shortly thereafter, he became the first chairman of the Miccosukees. He led the way for the tribe to be recognized by the State of Florida and then in 1962, the U.S. government official recognized the tribe as the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. In 1959, he even led a delegation to Cuba which officially recognized the tribe as a sovereign nation.

Buffalo Tiger continued to work with both state and federal authorities to protect the Miccosukee’s resources, both cultural and natural. This led to a contract in 1971 with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in which, the tribe took over of the "comprehensive social and educational programs formerly run by agency bureaucrats.” The Miccosukees were the first tribe in the U.S. to take such action prior to the passage of the 1975 Indian self-determination act.

Along with the head of the Seminole Tribe, Buffalo Tiger served as co-chair on the governor’s Council on Indian Affairs established in 1974 as an advisory committee to the governor.

In 1985 he was voted out of office after serving as chairman since the 1950s. His legacy brought control of their programs, economic future, medicine, education. He continually fought to preserve the Miccosukee culture and the founding of the Miccosukee Village Museum in 1983. After he left office, Buffalo Tiger went in to private business establishing an airboat service to take tourists into the Everglades.

Books and Articles
Eck, Christopher R. “South Florida’s Prelude to War: Army Correspondence Concerning Miami, Fort Dallas, and the Everglades prior to the Outbreak of the Third Seminole War, 1850-1855,” Tequesta, no. LXII, 2002, 113n77.

Ensley, Gerald. “Neamathla led tribe near Lake Lafayette,” Tallahassee Democrat, February 5, 2014.

Knetsch, Joe. Florida’s Seminole War’s 1817-1858. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

Mahon, John K. History of the Second Seminole War 1835-1842. Gainesville: University Presses of  Florida, 1992.

Mahoney, Lawrence. “Coacoochee’s Last Stand,” Sun Sentinel, December 22, 1985.

Man, Anthony. “Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, 88, Seminole leader dies,” Sun Sentinel, January 11, 2011.

Porter, Kenneth W. "Seminole in Mexico, 1850-1861," The Chronicles of Oklahoma, 29 Summer 1951.

“Robert Anderson Fights Indians in South Florida,” Broward Legacy, Summer/Fall 1986, vol. 9, no. 3-4, 12-18, 17n54.

Roberts, H.J. West Palm Beach Centennial Reflections. West Palm Beach: Sunshine Sentinel Press, Inc., 1994.

Sprague, John T. The Origin, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War. 1847. Reprint, Tampa: University of Tampa Press, 2000.

Stapleton, Christine. "Former Miccosukee chief who met with Castro dies," The Palm Beach Post, January 7, 2015.

Wells, Tom, “Lights of Miami Lure the Young Away From a Vanishing Tribe,” Los Angeles Times, February 23, 1997.

Web Sites
Betty Mae Jumper: A Seminole Legend,

Campfire Stories with George Catlin: An Encounter of Two Culture. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians by George Catlin. LETTER—No. 57. FORT MOULTRIE, SOUTH CAROLINA.

Coacoochee [Wild Cat]. Texas State Historical Society,

Florida Women’s Hall of Fame,

Halpatter Tustenuggee “Alligator,” Sequoyah National Research Center, University of Arkansas at Little Rock,

“Horse, John,” Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture,

Micanopy, Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture

Klinkenberg, Jeff. “The Tamiami Trail, Chapter 4: Big Cypress Miccosukee Reservation,” St. Petersburg Times, 2003. Retrieved February 2015.

Seminole War Chiefs,

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