Drum Circles and Their Place in Seminole History

By Tara Backhouse, Museum Collections Manager

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s mission is simple but broad: to celebrate, preserve, and interpret Seminole Culture and History.  It’s a beautiful mission and it’s a privilege to be able to dedicate so much of my life to its sentiments.  To be able to do it right, and I hope that we are, takes a lot of thought, analysis and action.  It’s not a simple thing, because culture and history are complex and all-encompassing.  Our focus in history covers a relatively small part of the world (the southeastern United States) and a very small part of the time that history has been happening, generally the last few hundred years.  However, the Seminole slice of history is still vast, rich and multifaceted.  We cannot tell the Seminole story quickly or easily.  It cannot be done in one exhibit, one blog, one tour, or through one historic object!  As the Collections Manager, that is my main concern:  the historic objects.  Additional devoted team members head up those other aspects, but we all work together to make sure we do our best with the same mission.

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Unpuzzling the Past

If you’re familiar with Seminole history, there are a lot of things you may recognize immediately as essential to our mission: a piece of patchwork, a doll or basket, and perhaps a historic photograph or postcard.

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We’re happy when we uncover a piece of Seminole history and culture that we haven’t talked about in a public forum. It’s not always obvious if an object that’s offered to us is relevant to Seminole history, and we have to scratch our heads and think outside the box at times like this.  This is what happened in 2017 when we were contacted by a Mr. Sigfried R. Second-Jumper, aka Siggy Jumper. Mr. Jumper told us he had a drum made by Thomas Storm Sr., and that it would be a great addition to our Museum.

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We recognized this object immediately as the type of drum used in western Native American drum circles. But a Seminole drum circle?  We’d never heard of that.  With Mr. Jumper’s help we learned that Cypress Prairie, the drum circle he participated in from 1998-2001, was a collaboration between Seminole and other native people, and that helped us to understand that it was indeed an important part of the Seminole story.

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Cypress Prairie members worked with local schools to teach drumming and share the joy they got from the music.

Totem Poles

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has welcomed the traditions of other tribes for at least 100 years. Around the turn of the 19th century, Seminole people became involved in tourist attractions that featured their own cultural traditions packaged in a way that tourists would appreciate and pay for.  In turn, people working in those camps were exposed to totem poles and other forms of art that weren’t traditionally Seminole.  So, they adapted and took on some of those traditions.

Some people say that things like totem poles need to be thought of differently, that they are not Seminole, because they originated on the west coast of North America. But in my opinion, that’s a very narrow viewpoint.  History doesn’t stop, and culture changes constantly.  And why should Seminole artists have been exclusionary in the early 20th century, when they saw totem poles and admired them?  After all, new skills helped Seminole people make money.  Anything that helped Seminole people gain economic independence after a devastating century needs to be appreciated.  For these reasons, we have totem poles in our collection.

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Collections Officer Robin Kilgo and Conservator Corey Smith prepare a totem pole for storage in 2012.

Showcasing Talent and Traditions

Tribal Fairs and Pow Wows are other venues through which Seminole people have long celebrated native talent from far and wide. Whether it is fancy dancers from the Great Plains or fire dancers from Mexico, all these performance traditions show the pride and resilience of native peoples who were disrespected, persecuted, subjugated, massacred and driven out of their homelands over a 300-hundred-year period.   So, it seems natural to me that native people would want to share the beauty that survived with each other, and that people from one tribe would learn the dances and music of another tribe.

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Drum circles have also been a feature at Seminole events for many decades. Some of the pictures in our historic collection illustrate the healing power of musical traditions like this.

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You can find pictures of the dances at Tribal Fairs and well as thousands of other pieces of Seminole history, by searching our online collections: https://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/

If you need assistance, give us a call at 863-902-1113 and ask for the Collections Division.

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If you can, come see us at the Museum on Big Cypress! Objects from the Siggy R. Second-Jumper collection are on display until April 4th, 2019.  In the Selections from the Collections gallery you can read about his extraordinary story and you can be inspired by the beautiful music that Cypress Prairie created.  We will continue to collect stories like his that show the wealth and variety of Seminole life, so that we can do the best job possible to celebrate, preserve, and interpret Seminole Culture and History.  We need your help to make it happen.  Please contact us if you’re interested in helping tell the Tribe’s story!

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Indiana Jones and the Pile of Trash

By Brandy Norton, Field Technician

Everyone thinks archaeologists live a super exciting life like Indiana Jones, running through booby traps and being scared by snakes. Half of that is very true…unfortunately, it’s the part about the snakes. Working as an archaeologist can be exciting, however, my definition of exciting is not going to be included in the next adventures of Indy on the big screen! Unless they really want to film “Indiana Jones and the Pile of Trash.” You see, archaeologists love a big old pile of trash. We call them middens to be a little more scientific. Middens in South Florida usually contain lots of what we call faunal remains, which are anything left behind when an animal dies, such as bones, scales, and shell. These faunal remains can tell us many things, including what people ate and where they lived. Middens also contain pieces of pottery (called sherds), bone tools, and occasionally stone tools (called lithics)–basically anything that people used and then threw away.

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Google map imagery of tree islands. See the classic tear drop shape.

Tree Islands

Archaeologists often find middens on tree islands. A tree island is an area of elevated land within the Everglades that was carved out by water flowing around it. The elevation paired with the availability of fish and turtles made these tree islands the most suitable area to live.  These places are often referred to as “hammocks.” Over time they developed a characteristic tear drop shape, making them easy to spot from above. Tree islands contain lots of vegetation, the most prominent tending to be oak trees and palm trees, but plants with edible fruits and berries, such as beauty berry and citrus trees are also common.

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What’s left of the turtle? Lots of shell!

Vital Information Discovered

The Tribal Archaeology Section (TAS) began investigating one tree island in 2016. We were able to recover over 24,000 faunal bones that let us explore the past lives of Okeechobee area people. We were able to get dates on some of the faunal remains, telling us when they were left behind, sometimes within a hundred years of their use. Knowing the time frame in which artifacts were deposited allowed us to compare those dates to large climatic events that have occurred in the last 1,000 years. This helped us to identify patterns in the availability of certain animals when climate was warm and wet versus when it was cold and dry. The most commonly identified animals were turtles, fish, and snakes. These are all aquatic (or water) species. These were the top three species throughout all climatic events, but the overall availability of these species decreased from A.D. 1430-1820. Deer were more common during droughts that occurred during this time, but they never cracked the top five! This means that, no matter what the weather, aquatic species were the most reliable.

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Taxa is a term for that refers to a broad range of animals when they cannot be classified more specifically. This chart shows the most common taxa from our investigations.

Confirming Faunal Remains Through Oral History

However, faunal remains cannot tell us why people do what they do. We have to rely on other methods to further understand what the faunal bones are telling us. One method the THPO uses often is called ethnography. Ethnography involves talking to the people who are currently living on the land (which here would be the Seminole Tribe of Florida) in order to understand what happened in the past. Because the people currently living in the Everglades have the same plant and animal resources available to them as the prehistoric occupants, we can try to see  what oral histories say about what people were eating and if that resembles the faunal remains we have found in our excavations.  If they are similar, we can make comparisons between the ways those animals were used now and how they would have been used in the past. Not exactly an Indiana Jones suspense tale, but exciting to us as we continue to learn more about the Everglades and the Seminole Tribe!

An Incredible Piece of History Comes Home

By Tara Backhouse, Museum Collections Manager

One seemingly ordinary day in mid-September, I sat down to check my email as I do every morning, expecting not to find anything out of the ordinary.  Imagine my surprise when I got a wonderful email from a couple who were in possession of a 19th century beaded sash with an amazing story.

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The blue and green fingerwoven belt dates to the early 19th century and is extremely fragile.

It was in an old brown envelope that read: “J. Bryan Grimes, Secretary of State, Raleigh, N.C.”.  Handwritten upon the envelope was “Osceola’s Sash.”

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This early 20th century paper envelope held the belt for many years, but is not as old as the belt itself.

A separate typed tag attached to the belt:

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The attached tag appears to be contemporary with the envelope, so it is not as old as the sash itself either.

The end of the email expressed kind and gracious sentiments:

We would like to return this precious artifact to its rightful owner, the Seminole Tribe of Florida. We feel it should be displayed for all to admire. May it help bring the reality of Osceola’s life and accomplishments as a war hero and First Nations chief into the forefront of public awareness.

Not Everything is as it Appears

As the Collections Manager for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, part of my job is to acquire historic objects for the museum collection.  I’ve been involved in this process for over 10 years, so I’ve seen quite a few offers presented to the Tribe.  Some have been great pieces of Seminole history that we’re proud to accept, and many have come at little or no cost to the Tribe.  But there have also been many disappointments:  Art and artifacts that aren’t what they were advertised to be; priceless pieces that come with too high of a price; and people who aren’t what they claim to be!  When someone offers to donate something valuable to the Museum, they often change their tune during the process, and we end up not being able to seal the deal.  Not only that, but a historical claim like the one on the tag is very hard to prove.  Osceola is a great Seminole War hero, and many people claim they have something that belonged to him.  Only a fraction of these things turn out to be real possibilities.   So, I had all that in the back of my mind when I started to converse with Joseph and Laralyn Riverwind, as well as Melba Checote-Eads, who sent me the email.  Imagine how thrilled I was to learn that the Riverwinds are kind and honest people, who would never mislead the Seminole Tribe or anyone else.  They had been themselves surprised to be given the sash by an acquaintance who had purchased the belt during an estate sale.  They were entrusted to do the right thing, and to make sure the belt got the appreciation and care that it deserved.

Research Underway

While waiting for the donation to arrive, the staff at the Museum set about researching the information on the tag, and the style and colors of the belt, in order to tie it to Osceola’s history.  We found out that Francis T. Bryan was a soldier under Zachary Taylor, and that J. Bryan Grimes Jr. was the Secretary of State of North Carolina for the first couple decades of the 20th century.  So, it was a good first step to verify the history of those men.  We also researched the objects that are known to have belonged to Osceola, when he was captured under a white flag of truce near St. Augustine, FL in October 1837, and then when he was imprisoned by the U.S. Army later that year in South Carolina at Fort Moultrie.  While in prison, Osceola sat for three artists.  They painted and drew several portraits, and that’s why we have a realistic idea of what he looked like and what he wore at that time.  In this 1838 George Catlin painting of the warrior, the tassels of a dark green or blue belt are visible around his waist.  The belt in this painting bears a striking resemblance to the belt that was gifted.

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George Catlin’s 1838 Portrait of Osceola, painted just before Osceola’s death.  The belt he is wearing looks very similar to the donated belt.

Osceola owned a range of clothing and accessories when he was imprisoned.  Sadly, he passed away in 1838, shortly after he met with the artists.  However, other scholars have done a lot to research his possessions that were documented at that time.  As the most knowledgeable researcher says on this subject, “the subject of the belts, sashes, pouches, and garters which may have belonged to Osceola is a very confusing one.” (Wickman 1991:176)  In “Osceola’s Legacy,” Pat Wickman reports that five belts of Osceola were mentioned in written works or appear in his portraits.  Wickman was only able to find the history of three of those belts, and of those three, only one is currently verified to exist.  (As it happens, that particular beaded and finger woven belt is already part of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki’s collection).

The Belt Arrives at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

We were finally able to see the belt in person when the donors brought it to Big Cypress and unveiled in in front of Council and Board representatives, interested community members, and Museum and Tribal Historic Preservation Office staff.  We were all stunned and left speechless by what we saw.

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An excited and overwhelmed audience views the sash for the first time together.  (Front with backs to the camera, from left to right, are Lewis Gopher, Councilman Manuel Tiger, and Delores Alvarez.  In the back, l to r, Allice Billie, Patricia Osceola, Laralyn Riverwind, Joseph Riverwind and Robin Croskery Howard).

The belt is olive and dark brown in color, and is tightly woven in a diamond pattern.  Its tassels are covered with extremely small white seed beads.  The belt is undeniably old, and is very fragile.   There was no doubt that the belt carries with it much history and power.  Our leaders, advisors, and visitors all spoke about the deep emotions that came with this donation.  Humility, gratefulness, poignancy and happiness were shared by all.  We noted with amazement that next week will be the 180th anniversary of Osceola’s capture.  What a fitting time to welcome his belt home!

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(l to r) Big Cypress Board Member Joe Frank, and Tribal Historic Preservation Office staff members Juan Cancel and Domonique DeBeaubien watch as Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Conservator Robin Croskery Howard examines the fragile beaded tassels attached to the main body of the belt.

At the viewing, we displayed a copy of Catlin’s painting.  We shared our thoughts and research.  Historical research is not an exact science.  We’ll continue to research this belt and its story, and hopefully we’ll find more evidence to connect it with Osceola.  We’re happy to say at this time that the belt appears to date to the early 1800’s.   It looks likely that Osceola owned a belt of this style and color.  We at the Museum vow to take steps to preserve this priceless object and to make it accessible to our community.  Please contact us if you would like to see it.  We only ask for your patience with our preservation process.  We are here to bring Seminole history to you and future generations, and we’d love to explain how we do that in person.

Thank you!

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Donors and STOF representatives pose to commemorate the gift (l to r; Councilman Manuel Tiger, Joseph Riverwind, Laralyn Riverwind, Board Member Joe Frank, Lewis Gopher, and Melba Checote-Eads)

Citation:

1991  Wickman, Patricia R.  Osceola’s Legacy.  The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa

Museum Store Sunday

By Rebecca Petrie, Retail Manager

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Museum stores are notorious, or perhaps celebrated is a better word, for having the most unique, inspired and original gift items for just about everyone.  With that being said, it’s that time of year again…. the holidays (and with them gift buying) are just around the corner.  On November 25th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Store will be hosting our second annual Museum Store Sunday, joining 900 museum stores around the globe in this event.  We have big plans which include a trunk show featuring Southwest Native American jewelry from Norman Assad’s Universal Jewelers and Trading Co. as well as a free gift with every purchase, and the opportunity to win one of this year’s Seminole Doll ornaments!

Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mr. Assad is locally known to those who admire handcrafted silver, turquoise, shell and other natural stone jewelry.  The handy work of many of the artists he represents are from the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribes and can be currently be seen in the Museum Store.  The trunk show will give visitors the ability to purchase holiday gifts (or gifts for you) at a reduced price.  Our Seminole Doll ornaments will also be available, which have become an annual tradition with each year featuring new patchwork patterns.  Not only will our patrons be entered into a drawing for one of these lovely ornaments, but we will also give a free gift, while supplies last, with every Museum Store purchase.

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A representation of the Southwest jewelry that will be available at the trunk show
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The 2018 Seminole Doll ornaments

The Museum Store also offers a host of unique gifts from Seminole handcrafts- beadwork, carvings, patchwork and baskets, to Seminole-inspired items like our Italian marble coasters, bandolier earrings, patchwork patterned socks and color-changing t-shirts.  If you love books, then we have you covered. Our literary section is highlighted by such topics as Seminole history, legends, and the natural world of the Everglades.  For the kids (or those who are kids at heart) we offer some great toys.

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Woodcarvings by Paul Bowers, Sr.
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Baskets Coaster Set
Marble coasters featuring Seminole Baskets
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Earring inspired by a palmetto fan woven by Louise Osceola

Come out to the Museum to see our exhibits including “We Are Here! Voices & Hands Making Community Happen” which tells the story of how the departments within the Seminole Tribe of Florida make our Tribal communities happen, “Are We There Yet?” which shows the engagement of Tribal youth with story maps and “Selections From the Collection” featuring the Siegfried R. Second-Jumper collection. You can end your visit in the Museum Store, where you will find fun and informative items that represent our stunning exhibits. We will also have ornaments from the “We Are Here” exhibit including: nurse’s caps to firefighter’s helmets, realtor’s SOLD signs and construction cones. AND of course, we have the ever-popular socks including nurses, police, teachers and firefighters. There are books for the kids telling the story of the day in the life of a police officer and what it is like to attend schools around the world. And don’t forget Mr. Second-Jumper’s book, Searching for Bloodlines.

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 Some of the ornaments the represent the various Tribal departments

What better way to end your Thanksgiving weekend than by spending Sunday strolling our boardwalk and finishing up- or starting- your holiday shopping?  Come join us for Museum Store Sunday!  And remember as always, Museum Members receive a discount on all of their purchases.

Interested or just need more information?  Give us a call 9:00AM until 4:45PM daily at 863-902-1113 extension 12224.  Unable to attend in person?  You can check out our webstore at: https://www.seminole-store.com/

Seminole Big Cypress Reservation: Culture, Kool-Aid & Gators!

by Justin Giles, Oral History Coordinator

The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Big Cypress Reservation is a well-established tourist destination located in the Florida Everglades. Each day I witness the reservation’s popularity as I say hello and welcome visitors to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  Travelers from across the globe to the local Floridians like students and tourists make their way to the Big Cypress Reservation to have a good time and experience a little slice of Seminole life.

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Summer Work Experience Program participants pose with a “pointing man” sign on the Museum’s boardwalk

Big Cypress enjoys warm weather year-round. Visitors have a good time here as they visit Billie Swamp Safari and eat nuggets made from gator tail after a day of touring the Florida Everglades in a swamp buggy or airboat.  Guests join in the fun at numerous events like the upcoming American Indian Arts Celebration on November 2-3 while visiting the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Guests are reminded as they sip their Kool-Aid at Sweet Tooth Café or sample fry bread at the Swamp Water Café that the Big Cypress is also home to many Seminole people. The Seminole Tribe has a proud history and culture that was once purposefully closed off the rest of the world by the Seminole people themselves.

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 Justin with Big Cypress artist Paul Bowers

As the Oral History Coordinator, I have the privilege of understanding Seminole history and culture with a bit more insight than the average visitors that make their way to the Florida Everglades and Big Cypress. After all, one of the main facets of my job is to interview Tribal community members about their life growing up Seminole and to record oral histories passed down from generation to generation.

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Justin with Carol Cypress at the Big Cypress Senior Center

These interviews are either audio or video recordings which are then accessioned and archived into the Museum’s oral history collection.  Some of these recordings may be restricted and are only to be viewed or heard by Seminole tribal members, while others are available for researches or used as supplemental material for museum exhibits. The mission of the Oral History Program is to preserve historical and contemporary Seminole life for the future generations of Seminole people.

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Justin (far left) and Cherrah Giles (far right) with Tina Osceola and family, and Sonya Cypress and family, at an exhibit about Seminole patchwork

Many of the oral histories that Seminole community members share with our program talk about a time of survival when fighting against encroachment on their ancestral lands from Spain and the United States. The Seminole historical figures from the Seminole War such as Osceola, Abiaka, and Micanopy are indeed legendary.

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Osceola, a painting by Robert John Curtis

These great leaders fought hard to maintain and preserve their Seminole way of life and hold on to the land of their ancestors.  Many other oral histories chronicle happier times like the stomp dances, birthdays, social gatherings and everyday contemporary life. After all, the Florida Everglades and Big Cypress Reservation are home to these stories and to a thriving Seminole culture.

There is certainly a lot to experience and learn while visiting the Seminole Big Cypress Reservation. Additionally, you can also visit other Seminole Reservations in Hollywood, Brighton, Immokalee, Ft. Pierce and Tampa. Just keep an eye out for the bears, panthers, and gators and remind yourself that you are visiting the home of the great Seminole!

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Many alligators, even cute baby ones, live on Big Cypress