Seminole Chief in1837
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Ask people about Native Americans and they can usually recognize tribes like the Apaches and Sioux, or warriors like Cochise, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, or Crazy Horse. However, other than placing them within the State of Florida, most Americans know little about the great Seminole culture.
Seminoles descend from the Creek Nation, but their early history is not well understood. At the start of the sixteenth century, the Spanish attempted to get a stronger foothold in the New World by setting up missions to convert the indigenous populations. In Florida and Georgia, the Spanish were able to convince some members of the various Creek tribes to enter the missions. It was from this small group that the Seminole Nation arose in Florida.
By 1760, the main Creek Nation of seven tribes in Alabama and Georgia grew to about 25,000, and the Seminoles in Florida to about 1200 in number. By 1823, the Seminole population increased to 5000 and the Seminoles had become cattlemen. However, the white settlers’ desire for more land and cattle was a recipe for disaster.
Although the Seminoles had distanced themselves from the majority in the Creek Nation, the U.S. government did not seem to differentiate between the Seminole cattlemen and the Creeks in general. The resulting series of long wars against the Creeks decimated the Indian populations.
Most of the surviving Seminoles were relocated to the Southwest. In the end, just a few hundred Seminoles were left in the Florida territory, and those populations split. Half were resigned to live as hunters, guides, or objects of tourist curiosity on reservations. The other half isolated themselves from European-Americans by relocating to the swamplands of Florida.
Today, Seminole populations have grown and the tribes are thriving economically in the multibillion-dollar casino gaming industry.
Happy ending? You tell me.