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The Florida State Seminoles:
A Tradition of Tribute



Frequently Asked Questions about the Seminole Tradition at FSU

• What are the origins of the Seminole people and the Seminole name? (Answer)

• FSU is represented by an Indian figure named Osceola at football games and other events. Who was the real Osceola? (Answer)

• Does the university regard the Seminole name, or the team of Osceola and Renegade, as "mascots"? (Answer)

• The Indian warrior Osceola is depicted riding a horse before FSU football games. Do horses really play a role in the tradition of the real Seminole Indians? (Answer)

• How accurate is the Seminole garb worn by Osceola? (Answer)

• What about tomahawks, spears and some of the other Indian imagery used by FSU? (Answer)

• What is the origin of the "war chant" that is played at FSU sporting events? (Answer)

• What other institutions use the name "Seminole"? (Answer)


What are the origins of the Seminole people and the Seminole name?

The Web site of the Seminole Tribe of Florida (www.seminoletribe.com) offers the following information on the history of the Seminole Indians:

For thousands of years before the coming of Europeans to southeastern North America, perhaps as many as 400,000 of the ancestors of the Seminoles built towns and villages and complex civilizations across the vast area. After 1510, when the Spaniards began to explore and settle in their territory, disease killed many of these people, but they were never "destroyed" or "conquered," as so many of the white men's history books proclaim. The survivors amalgamated across the peninsula of Florida and continued their lives.

When the first English speakers entered the area of the Southeast that is now Florida, in 1763, they found many of these survivors — from tribes such as the Euchee, Yamasee, Timugua, Tequesta, Abalachi, Coça, and hundreds of others, living as "free people" across the head of the Florida peninsula, on the Alachua savannah (the area now known as Alachua County). In Maskókî, the core language, istî siminolî meant that they were "free people" because they had never been dominated by the Spaniards or the English interlopers. In the Hitchíti dialect of Maskókî, today known as Mikisúkî, the same phrase was yat'siminoli. English speakers ignored their separate tribal affiliations and just called them all Seminolies, or Seminoles.

Further north, in the area now known as Georgia, English traders, who had begun to settle in 1690, found many other Maskókî tribes living along low-lying creeks, especially the Oconî and Ogichî tribes, and, once again ignoring the realities of the Natives' lives, they began to refer to these and, soon, all of the Maskokî peoples across the Southeast just as "Creeks."

With the end of the American Revolutionary War and the creation of the United States in 1784, white settlers moved steadily southward into the Spanish and former English colonies. It became more and more obvious that a clash between white immigrants and the Native inhabitants of the land would take place sooner or later. The new U.S. began a concerted policy of taking or buying land from the Native tribes in the Northeast and the Atlantic seaboard states. By 1813, some of the Maskókî tribes in Alabama rose up against the white settlers and against those other tribes that supported white settlement. This conflict, known as the Creek War of 1813-14, was disastrous to the cultural relatives of the Seminoles. General, later president, Andrew Jackson, brought U.S. troops to crush the uprising and forced a treaty on the Creeks that took over 2,000,000 acres of land away from his foes and his allies alike. Several thousand Maskókî people, warriors and their wives and children, lost their homes and migrated southward into Spanish Florida, where they and the Seminoles increased their resistance to continued white settlement.

Over the next few years, Jackson illegally entered Spanish Florida to burn Native villages and kill resistance leaders. After the first series of encounters, known as the First Seminole War (1814-18), many Native families moved further into the peninsula. By 1820, the year before Spanish Florida became a U.S. Territory, there were at least 5,000 Seminoles, "Creeks" and Mikisúkî people living in Florida. But a series of treaties made in the 1820s and early 1830s failed to protect the rights of Florida's Native people and, by late 1835, war broke out again.

This one, the Second Seminole War (1835-42), would be the longest, most costly, and the last of the U.S.'s Wars of Indian Removal fought east of the Mississippi River. It would be the first "guerilla"-style war fought by U.S. troops. Not until the U.S. entered a tiny country in Southeast Asia called Vietnam, more than a century later, would U.S. soldiers fight again under such profoundly difficult conditions. The Natives were aided in their resistance by runaway slaves, who received protection from their Seminole allies (and, in some cases, owners) in return for a portion of the agricultural staples that they grew. These so-called "Black Seminoles" were fierce fighters who were also determined to preserve their freedom.

After the U.S. withdrew from the fighting, in 1842, an uneasy peace lasted for fourteen years. Then, in 1856, Billy Bowlegs and his followers were directly provoked by U.S. soldiers, and they retaliated. The ensuing series of skirmishes is known as the Third Seminole War (1856-58). When the U.S. again made a unilateral decision to withdraw — and, again, with no treaty or victory — the Seminole Wars ended. Over 3,000 Natives had been forcibly removed from Florida to the Western territories of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Possibly as few as 300 remained in Florida, and those had taken refuge inside the inhospitable swamps of the Everglades.

Their descendants remained isolated in the Everglades until the late 1800s, when white traders, Christian missionaries and the U.S. government agents began to enter their territory once again. From the 1920s onward, as the development boom exploded in South Florida, the Seminoles lost more and more of their hunting lands to tourists and settlers and were slowly forced into a wage economy. They became agricultural workers in the vegetable fields of South Florida, and tourist attractions, in their unique and colorful patchwork clothing, producing souvenirs and "wrestling" alligators for the tourists.

In 1934, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, reversing earlier policies and encouraging tribes to form their own governments. By the 1950s, Congress also set about cutting off aid to tribes across the country and, faced with a loss of support at a time when they were not yet ready to compete in a capitalist economy, the Florida Seminoles chose to adopt a constitutional form of government that could interface with the non-Native world. On August 21, 1957, a majority of Seminoles voted to establish an administrative entity called the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Not all of the Seminole people in Florida chose to participate in this new organization, however. In 1962, after several years of negotiations, a group of Mikisúkî speakers with camps along the Tamiami Trail created the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.

Today, there are about 500 members of this tribe. The Seminole Tribe of Florida has almost 3,000 members, living on five reservations across the peninsula at Hollywood (formerly Dania), Big Cypress, Brighton, Immokalee, and Tampa. The tribe obtains significant annual gross revenues from such diverse economic sources as agriculture, citrus, aircraft production, gaming, tobacco sales, land leases, cattle, and aquaculture.

An article published in the FSU Overtime Times, (Jan. 2, 2000), discussed the meaning of the name "Seminole":

The word has several translations; among them is "unconquered," referring to the Seminole ability to outlast enemies. But in the 1700s, it was translated as "runaway," as well as "wild people."

The first Creeks to accept the name Seminole were the Oconees, who spoke Muskogee. In Muskogee, "Sim-in-oli," or Seminole, means wild. But Muskogee-speaking Creeks also used a Spanish term, "cimarron," which means runaway.

FSU is represented by an Indian figure named Osceola at football games and other events. Who was the real Osceola?

We turn again to the Web site of the Seminole Tribe of Florida (www.seminoletribe.com), which says this about the legendary warrior:

The first piece of information is that he was never a "chief." He was born in the Indian town of Tallassee, in central Alabama, about 1804. His mother was a Tallassee woman and his father was an English trader named William Powell. Although there were many influential people in his family, there were no "chiefs" (leadership was hereditary among the Maskókî people). Several of his uncles were leaders during the Creek War of 1813-14, and his family was among those displaced by that brief but disastrous conflict.

Osceola gained national notoriety in the 1830s because of his passionate determination to resist removal, his ability to influence others, and his personal sense of style (one reporter called him "the Indian elegánt"). Osceola led other warriors in battles against U.S. troops for almost two years before illness overcame him. He was captured while meeting with U.S. troops, under a white flag of truce, about seven miles south of St. Augustine on October 21, 1837. He and over 200 other resistors were imprisoned in Fort Marion in St. Augustine until they were transferred to Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on January 1, 1838. Osceola died there, of an acute case of quinsey (strep throat) on January 30th. He was buried there, on military (now National Park Service) property, and remains there to this day.

Osceola had at least two wives and one child. They were sent to Oklahoma with the rest of the prisoners. His life is an exciting and important story — not just because of his involvement in the Wars of Removal but even more so because, as an individual, he was indicative of so many of the transitions that were taking place among his people at the time.

Does the university regard the Seminole name, or the team of Osceola and Renegade, as "mascots"?

No. FSU does not have a mascot — we have a symbol that we respect and prize. The Seminole people have suffered many hardships and injustices, but they have remained brave, dignified and proud. They are the unconquered. These traits serve as an inspiration to all of our students, including our athletes, as well as our alumni, faculty and staff.

By calling themselves Seminoles, members of the FSU community are engaging in a tradition of tribute for a people whose indomitable spirit is one that is deserving of honor.

The Indian warrior Osceola is depicted riding a horse before FSU football games. Do horses really play a role in the tradition of the real Seminole Indians?

The term "Seminoles" was first applied to the native peoples of Florida in the 18th century. During the 1770s, the naturalist William Bartram traveled extensively throughout Florida and wrote of the people, flora and fauna he observed. Visiting the Seminole town of Cuscowilla, near present-day Gainesville, he wrote of "innumerable droves of cattle . . . herds of sprightly deer, squadrons of beautiful fleet Seminole horses." This early description makes it clear that horses were, in fact, a part of Seminole society of the time.

In modern times, FSU supporter Bill Durham states that, in creating the tandem of Osceola and Renegade in the 1970s, he spoke with Howard Tommie, then chief of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In a Sept. 17, 1978, article in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, Tommie commented that horses were indeed a part of his tribe's tradition. He added that the Seminoles once had many horses, but that the white man stole some and ran others off into the swamps. In addition, Tommie not only approved of FSU's horse and rider concept, but had members of his tribe design authentic Seminole clothing for the rider.

How accurate is the Seminole garb worn by Osceola?

With the debut of FSU's Indian warrior Osceola in 1978, the Seminole Tribe of Florida provided the first outfit. It was a 19th-century long shirt, created in the style favored by the real Indian warrior Osceola, who fought U.S. forces during the Second Seminole War until his death in 1838. However, the long shirt wasn't ready until the second game of the 1978 season. For the first game, Durham was forced to make do.

In an Oct. 10, 1980, article in the Florida Flambeau, he described the design of the original outfit: "I made the first costume, which originally was an old bathrobe of Mrs. Chenoweth. (The Chenoweth family of Tallahassee took care of the horse, Renegade, at that time.) "But the one used now is an authentic Seminole costume."

By the second home game, the Seminole-made costume had arrived. The new costume consisted of a long, multi-colored cotton shirt with a neckerchief. The headdress was a long sash that hung over the rider's shoulder. The rider carried a long spear, handmade by local doctor Herb Mantooth, adorned with feathers.

FSU's 1993 Renegade yearbook states that "not only were the cloak and moccasins authentic, but around the rider's neck hung a unique artifact in Seminole history. This silver necklace sparkled with countless charms, Spanish coins collected by the Seminole Indians." Similar charms were known to be favorites of Osceola, and he appears in several historical portraits displaying the distinctive jewelry.

Later, the headdress was changed to a shorter cloth headband with a single feather in the back. The wig was added. With the final touches of body paint, the rider's image was complete. FSU's Indian mascot looked very much like the Florida Seminole hero Osceola.

Over the years, the costume of Osceola has been tweaked and tailored, always with the say-so of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In fact, the costume often has been handmade by tribe members.

What about tomahawks, spears and some of the other Indian imagery used by FSU?

In a June 8, 2000, guest editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Durham wrote that "many Seminoles painted themselves, were great warriors and did indeed use tomahawks, guns, knives, sharpened spears and any other weapons that were available to them. They rode horses for hunting and war. They also performed dance rituals for both religious and social reasons. One popular war dance was the 'scalp' dance."

Although every effort is made to make Osceola's appearance as historically accurate as possible, minor variances such as the warrior's flaming spear have become a cherished part of the FSU tradition.

"Look, those little differences don't bother us," Jim Shore, legal counsel for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said in an Aug. 16, 2005, article in the Tampa Tribune. "An (actual) Seminole warrior of the 1800s couldn't be depicted in modern time. But this character has a great resemblance to what he should be. It's modernized, not theatrical. The school has checked with us, over and over again. And we have no objections to how he's portrayed. It's always respectful."

Going back even further into their history, the Web site of the Seminole Tribe of Florida (www.seminoletribe.com) offers the following information on weapons used by the Seminole Indians to defend themselves against the Spanish:

In the 1500s, the Spaniards brought with them to Florida an early form of smooth-bore long arm called the Arquebus, as well as cannon, with which they tried to conquer the Maskókî tribes of the Southeast. The Seminoles' ancestors had spears with flint or bone or cane tips, war clubs studded with sharks' teeth, and bows and arrows. The Spaniards learned very quickly that their "superior" weaponry was not really a match for the bravery and firepower of the Indians and their weapons. Fire-hardened, cane arrows could pierce Spanish armor. The Spaniards soon began to discard their European armor in favor of Indian-style quilted textile coverings. The horse, which the Mikisúki speakers called ichî chobî or "big deer," was fearsome to the ancestors of the Seminoles. But these Maskókî warriors were the fiercest that the Spaniards had encountered anywhere in the Americas, and they were not frightened by the Spaniards' weapons.

What is the origin of the "war chant" that is played at FSU sporting events?

FSU's "war chant" was first heard in its current form in 1984, although its roots extend back some two decades.

In the 1960s, members of FSU's Marching Chiefs band chanted the melody of a popular cheer, "Massacre," during football games. In a sense, "Massacre" was the long version of the current war chant.

During a football game against Auburn in 1984, the Marching Chiefs began to perform the cheer. Some students behind the band joined in and continued the "war chant" portion after the band had ceased. The result, which was not very melodic at the time, sounded more like chants by American Indians in Western movies. Most say it came from the fraternity section, but many spirited FSU fans added the "chopping" motion, a repetitious bend at the elbow, to symbolize a tomahawk swinging down.

The chant continued largely among the student body during the 1985 season, and by the 1986 season was a stadiumwide activity. The Marching Chiefs refined the chant, adding its own special brand of musical accompaniment — and the result still is seen and heard today.

The war chant soon spread around the nation to other teams with Native American names, such as Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves and the National Football League's Kansas City Chiefs. However, the chopping motion gained more attention — and criticism — than did the chant itself.

Former FSU President Dale Lick discussed the war chant in a 1993 column for USA Today: "Some traditions we cannot control. For instance, in the early 1980s, when our band, the Marching Chiefs, began the now-famous arm motion while singing the 'war chant,' who knew that a few years later the gesture would be picked up by other teams' fans and named the 'tomahawk chop'? It's a term we did not choose and officially do not use."

What other institutions use the name "Seminole"?

Because the Seminole name is such an integral part of Florida's history, the name serves as the moniker for a geographical entity, Seminole County; a city, Seminole in Pinellas County; and a college, Seminole Community College. In addition, Florida's Osceola County is named for the legendary Indian warrior who led the Seminoles in the 1830s.

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