Blow, blow Seminole Wind
Blow like you’re never gonna blow again
I’m calling to you like a long-lost friend…
Blow, blow from the Okeechobee,
All the way up to the Micanopy.
There’s not a more heart-tugging remembrance for this tribe than John Anderson’s Seminole Wind. From the “draining of the swamp” to the tears of their revered leader Osceola, you feel for what was lost.
Osceola was captured in 1838 by the dirtiest of tricks. After lengthy wars between the government and the Seminoles, leaders came together under the white flag for truce talks. But the United States, breaking yet another promise, arrested Osceola and threw him into prison, where he soon died.
Not long afterwards, many Seminoles were relocated to Oklahoma; others fled beloved hunting grounds in north Florida and pushed south. Eventually, some survivors finally agreed to settle on reservations. But for those used to roaming over broad stretches of territory to hunt and fish, it was too much to ask.
Betty Mae Jumper recalled those days in a column first published in 1997. “The Tommie family led by old Annie Tommie and her son Tony Tommie were the first family to arrive,” she wrote in The Seminole Tribune of the group’s journey in the late 1930s to what they called the “Big City” reservation in Dania.
In the 1940s, as more families moved in, medicine men gave stern warnings. “I remember them coming to our camp in Hollywood and talking to my great uncle Jimmie Gopher,” Jumper wrote, “telling him how they could send us away anytime, once they had gathered us all in one place.” But Annie Tommie countered: “Who would buy us? We have nothing… The government promises to leave us alone if we pick the land and stay on it.”
For those who did settle down, time has been kind, in terms of both material success and respect. Now a spiffy, full-sized newspaper, The Seminole Tribune has written of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s purchase of a $51 million Gulfstream jet to fly high-rollers in to its casino. Another story a few years ago concerned the failing oil company that, under tribe ownership, brought in $60 million in its first year. All this for a group numbering 2,000, 1,300 of whom are living on six reservations.
And of course now there is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Broward’s most prominent new landmark and the grandest sign of the Seminoles’ prosperity.
How the Seminoles got from canoe to casino is a story worthy of a book. It seems like only yesterday – 1977 – when a small community of pickers and farmers took a hint from Native Americans out west and found a way to open tax-free cigarette shops. Next came a few bingo parlors – and the rest is Seminole history.
The name Seminole was given to Florida Indians by English-speakers. The Native Americans themselves, according to the tribe’s website, “continue to know and remember that they were Yuchi or Yamasee or Tequesta or Abalachi.” (The Miccosukees, who broke off from the tribe in 1962, are also Seminoles.)
Frank Stranahan enjoyed amicable relations with them, as did – according to James W. Covington in The Seminoles of Florida – Ben Hoggs in Fort Pierce, George W. Storter in Everglades City and W.M. Burdine in Miami. Traders trusted the Seminoles to such an extent that they would advance them anywhere from $50 to $300 in goods for a hunt, and then settle up when the skins came in.
Before Stranahan arrived, traders came down from Jacksonville to meet with the Seminoles in Fort Lauderdale. Their ship, the Cornelia, was laden with salt in hundred-pound sacks, rice, grits, beads, dresses and yards of calico. They anchored at a place they called “Fun Landing,” a spot chosen by the Seminoles on the New River.
At the appointed phase of the moon, according to Capt. W.M. Scott, then just a cabin boy on the schooner, “There would appear about 200 Indians including squaws and children. Their canoes would be loaded with alligator hides, white egret plumes and alligator teeth.”
The white traders knew they couldn’t start bartering first thing or the Seminoles would go away. So the men were invited aboard for a drink of whiskey. When everybody was loosened up, the trading for hides would begin. No money was involved. But a price was set, and then the women came aboard – basically to go shopping.
With all the drinking that went on the night before, Capt. Scott was surprised by this sight early in the morning: “The Indians would approach the river bank, kneel, and when the sun rose, prostrate themselves on the ground.” They made the traders’ name for the landing seem rather flip.