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

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Museum Store Sunday

By Rebecca Petrie, Retail Manager

MMS 2018

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.

2018 Universal Jewelers
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.

We Are Here
 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

 

 

 

The American Indian Arts Celebration Now In Its 21st Year

By Matt Koenig, Last Call Marketing

Filmmakers John and Kenn Little will headline the 21st annual American Indian Arts Celebration (AIAC) presented by The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. They join us on the heels of touring the nation to discuss their 2017 debut documentary More Than a Word. This year’s event is hosted on the museum grounds in the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation on November 2-3. Visitors can enjoy traditional and contemporary arts and crafts, dance and music of the Seminole, Southeastern and other Indian tribes from across the country.

From exciting entertainment, wildlife shows to fantastic food trucks, there is something for everyone. This is an event for the entire family and not to be missed.  The sensational backdrop for this event is the scenic Florida Everglades. The rich blue skies, verdant fields, and miles of sawgrass and hammocks provide the ultimate setting for this amazing celebration. Here’s a peak at our top entertainment:

John & Kenn Little

Little(3)Brothers John Little and Kenn Little are originally from Denver, CO are members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

John Little is currently a PhD student at the University of Minnesota. He recently completed his master’s degree in history at the University of South Dakota and is working on completing his Educational Doctorate. His thesis was on the Lakota and the Vietnam War. His goals are to write Indigenous people in the historical narrative and help Native students into higher education. His primary focus is on Native American veterans, music, cultural appropriation, and mascots.

Kenn Little is a graphic designer and filmmaker currently residing in Kansas City, MO. John received his bachelor’s degree in graphic design and new media from Full Sail University. His experiences include print design, typography, digital design, music and video. He has several short films and music videos to his credit.

Nakotah LaRance

nakotah6-time World Hoop Dance Champion and Native American Actor. He currently does both public and private performances. He was a principal dancer for Cirque Du Soleil’s “Totem” show and now does special projects for them.

Native Pride

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An internationally known high-energy show featuring an innovative blend of modern and traditional Native American dance styles.

Anthony Balentine

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Better known by his stage name Aye Five, is an unsigned rapper from the Big Cypress Reservation.  He will be joined by Carradine and DC.

Billy Walker

An alligator wrestler and storyteller from the Big Cypress Reservation. Billy began wrestling alligators in the 1980s and still catches alligators to use for his shows. He feels that gator wrestling is a way to preserve the traditions of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

21st Annual American Indian Arts Celebration at a Glance

Friday, November 2, 2018 10 AM – 5 PM

Saturday, November 3, 2018 10 AM – 7 PM

Native American Art Vendors

Special Presentations

Music / Dance

Wildlife Shows

Food Trucks / Beverages

Same Day Free Admission to Museum

Free Parking

 

Save the Planet (Too)!

By Ellen Shoults Batchelor, Head of Security

Many exciting changes are underway at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum! In addition to our new THPO office building and our Museum re-design, we are also going green. Very green!

Upgrading to Green

We are doing our part to help conserve the world’s resources. We have eliminated the use of paper plates, plastic silverware, paper cups, and regular cleaning products, and changed to LED lighting, automatic flush toilets, and more.

Staff members have been issued water bottles for daily, reusable use. Water coolers, water bottle fillers, and water fountains have been installed and strategically located throughout our facilities to serve both our staff and our visitors.

We have set up a composter to “feed” our garden, which we plant several times a year with the help of the Boys and Girls Club afterschool program. Traditional crops are planted which we hope one day will be large enough in volume to help with the nutritional needs of the Big Cypress community.

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Saving the Planet is Now Our Culture

We are engaging our employees in our vision to save the planet. Creating efficiency goals, making it fun, and being inclusive is our focus. How can you measure our savings? How can our green mission enhance the Big Cypress community and better serve our customers? We will solicit ideas and input from our employees and hear suggestions from our visitors. Together, we can make a difference!

Hard Rock to Help ‘Save the Planet’ by Eliminating Plastic Straws

Hard Rock International (HRI) recently announced the goal to eliminate plastic straws at properties worldwide effective September 1, 2018, in addition to existing ‘green’ initiatives already in place at the Hard Rock Cafes/Hotels/Casinos globally.  On top of the straw initiative, HRI transitioned to paper only to-go bags in mid-August.

HRC Save Planet

One of Seminole Hard Rock’s founding mottos is to ‘Save the Planet’, and these recent initiatives are only an extension of the commitment they have made to do their part. Vendors and partners have been and will continue to be instrumental in activating their endeavors across the globe, and they are proud to help make a difference in conscientious sustainability practices as a business.

As leaders in gaming and hospitality, the iconic Hard Rock brand will be announcing more save the planet initiatives in the next few months, including partnerships with key charity partners that share the values of the business to help protect the earth’s natural resources and environment.

Human Energy Conservation

Healthy, energetic employees are more creative and productive. We hope to help keep our team healthy by creating a safe, non-toxic environment. We plan to serve sustainable brain food at meetings including: nuts, organic fruits and vegetables, and even dark chocolate– all which play a role in maintaining mental acuity!

Green Cleaning

Do you love the smell of a nice, clean office? Guess what: many of those familiar scents are toxic to your body and to the environment.  Replacing window cleaners, dish and hand soaps, and bathroom cleaners with healthy alternatives is key to our green initiative. The benefits include improved health, increased clarity, a reduction in allergic reactions, and a healthier planet.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved by a single individual or enterprise. Everyone must participate. We will demonstrate our leadership and commitment to a healthy, safe future by joining the ranks of business leaders who make sustainable choices. We will prioritize partners and vendors who share this commitment.

We have expanded our journey to being green and will continue to add initiatives whenever we see an opportunity to improve and help do our part to making this a better, brighter, more responsible community.

We will continue to save our planet!