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Me-Le, Seminole, Son of Ho-laq-to-mik-ko

Native American Nations | Seminole Indians of Florida

                     

A sketch made by Lieutenant Brown, of Saint Francis Barracks, Saint Augustine, Florida, who accompanied me on my trip to the Cat Fish Lake settlement, enables me to show, in gala dress, Me-le, a half breed Seminole, the son of an Indian, Ho-laq-to-mik-ko, by a Negress adopted into the tribe when a child.

The picture described does not appear in the printed text, and is not included in the List of Illustrations.

Me-le sat for his picture in my room at a hotel in Orlando. He had just come seventy miles from his home, at Cat Fish Lake, to see the white man and a white man’s town. He was clothed “in his best,” and, moreover, had just purchased and was wearing a pair of store boots in addition to his home-made finery. He was the owner of the one pair of red flannel leggings of which I have spoken. These were not long enough to cover the brown skin of his sturdy thighs. His ornaments were silver crescents, wristlets, a silver studded belt, and a peculiar battlement-like band of silver on the edge of his turban. Notice his uncropped head of luxuriant, curly hair, the only exception I observed to the singular cut of hair peculiar to the Seminole men. Me-le, however, is in many other more important respects an exceptional character. He is not at all in favor with the Seminole of pure blood. “Me-le ho-lo-wa kis” (Me-le is of no account) was the judgment passed upon him to me by some of the Indians. Why? Because he likes the white man and would live the white man’s life if he knew how to break away safely from his tribe. He has been progressive enough to build for himself a frame house, enclosed on all sides and entered by a door. More than that, he is not satisfied with the hunting habits and the simple agriculture of his people, nor with their ways of doing other things. He has started an orange grove, and in a short time will have a hundred trees, so he says, bearing fruit. He has bought and uses a sewing machine, and he was intelligent enough, so the report goes, when the machine had been taken to pieces in his presence, to put it together again without mistake. He once called off for me from a newspaper the names of the letters of our alphabet, and legibly wrote his English name, “John Willis Mik-ko.” Mik-ko has a restless, inquisitive mind, and deserves the notice and care of those who are interested in the progress of this people. Seeking him one day at Orlando, I found him busily studying the locomotive engine of the little road which had been pushed out into that part of the frontier of Florida’s civilized population. Next morning he was at the station to see the train depart, and told me he would like to go with me to Jacksonville. He is the only Florida Seminole, I believe, who had at that time seen a railway.

Psychical Characteristics

I shall now glance at what may more properly be called the psychical characteristics of the Florida Indians. I have been led to the conclusion that for Indians they have attained a relatively high degree of psychical development. They are an uncivilized, I hardly like to call them a savage, people. They are antagonistic to white men, as a race, and to the white man’s culture, but they have characteristics of their own, many of which are commendable. They are decided in their enmity to any representative of the white man’s government and to everything which bears upon it the government’s mark. To one, however, who is acquainted with recent history this enmity is but natural, and a confessed representative of the government need not be surprised at finding in the Seminole only forbidding and unlovely qualities. But when suspicion is disarmed, one whom they have welcomed to their confidence will find them evincing characteristics which will excite his admiration and esteem. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the Seminole, not as a representative of our National Government, but under conditions which induced them to welcome me as a friend. In my intercourse with them, I found them to be not only the brave, self reliant, proud people who have from time to time withstood our nation’s armies in defense of their rights, but also a people amiable, affectionate, truthful, and communicative. Nor are they devoid of a sense of humor. With only few exceptions, I found them genial. Indeed, the old chief, Tûs-te-nûg-ge, a man whose war whoop and deadly hand, during the last half century, have often been heard and felt among the Florida swamps and prairies, was the only one disposed to sulk in my presence and to repel friendly advances. He called me to him when I entered the camp where he was, and, with great dignity of manner, asked after my business among his people. After listening, through my interpreter, to my answers to his questions, he turned from me and honored me no further. I call the Seminole communicative, because most with whom I spoke were eager to talk, and, as far as they could with the imperfect means at their disposal, to give me the information I sought. “Doctor Na-ki-ta” (Doctor What-is-it) I was playfully named at the Cat Fish Lake settlement; yet the people there were seemingly as ready to try to answer as I was to ask, “What is it?” I said they are truthful. That is their reputation with many of the white men I met, and I have reason to believe that the reputation is under ordinary circumstances well founded. They answered promptly and without equivocation “No” or “Yes” or “I don’t know.” And they are affectionate to one another, and, so far as I saw, amiable in their domestic and social intercourse. Parental affection is characteristic of their home life, as several illustrative instances I might mention would show. I will mention one. Täl-la-häs-ke is the father of six fine looking boys, ranging in age from four to eighteen years. Seven months before I met him his wife died, and when I was at his camp this strong Indian appeared to have become both mother and father to his children. His solicitous affection seemed continually to follow these boys, watching their movements and caring for their comfort. Especially did he throw a tender care about the little one of his household. I have seen this little fellow clambering, just like many a little paleface, over his father’s knees and back, persistently demanding attention but in no way disturbing the father’s amiability or serenity, even while the latter was trying to oblige me by answering puzzling questions upon matters connected with his tribe. One night, as Lieutenant Brown and I sat by the campfire at Täl-la-häs-ke’s lodge—the larger boys, two Seminole Negresses, three pigs, and several dogs, together with Täl-la-häs-ke, forming a picturesque circle in the ashes around the bright light—I heard muffled moans from the little palmetto shelter on my right, under which the three smaller boys were bundled up in cotton cloth on deer skins for the night’s sleep. Upon the moans followed immediately the frightened cry of the baby boy, waking out of bad dreams and crying for the mother who could not answer; “Its-ki, Its-ki” (mother, mother) begged the little fellow, struggling from under his covering. At once the big Indian grasped his child, hugged him to his breast, pressed the little head to his cheek, consoling him all the while with caressing words, whose meaning I felt, though I could not have translated them into English, until the boy, wide awake, laughed with his father and us all and was ready to be again rolled up beside his sleeping brothers. I have said also that the Seminole are frank. Formal or hypocritical courtesy does not characterize them. One of my party wished to accompany Ka-tca-la-ni (“Yellow Tiger”) on a hunt. He wished to see how the Indian would find, approach, and capture his game. “Me go hunt with you, Tom, to-day?” asked our man. “No,” answered Tom, and in his own language continued, “not to-day; to-morrow.” To-morrow came, and, with it, Tom to our camp. “You can go to Horse Creek with me; then I hunt alone and you come back,” was the Indian’s remark as both set out. I afterwards learned that Ka-tca-la-ni was all kindness on the trail to Horse Creek, three miles away, aiding the amateur hunter in his search for game and giving him the first shot at what was started. At Horse Creek, however, Tom stopped, and, turning to his companion, said, “Now you hi-e-pus (go)!” That was frankness indeed, and quite refreshing to us who had not been honored by it. But equally outspoken, without intending offense, I found them always. You could not mistake their meaning, did you understand their words. Diplomacy seems, as yet, to be an unlearned art among them.

KO-NIP-HA-TCO

Here is another illustration of their frankness. One Indian, Ko-nip-ha-tco (“Billy”), a brother of “Key West Billy,” has become so desirous of identifying himself with the white people that in 1879 he came to Capt. F. A. Hendry, at Myers, and asked permission to live with him. Permission was willingly given, and when I went to Florida this “Billy” had been studying our language and ways for more than a year. At that time he was the only Seminole who had separated himself from his people and had cast in his lot with the whites. He had clothed himself in our dress and taken to the bed and table, instead of the ground and kettle, for sleep and food. “Me all same white man,” he boastfully told me one day. But I will not here relate the interesting story of “Billy’s” previous life or of his adventures in reaching his present proud position. It is sufficient to say that, for the time at least, he had become in the eyes of his people a member of a foreign community. As may be easily guessed, Ko-nip-ha-tco’s act was not at all looked upon with favor by the Indians; it was, on the contrary, seriously opposed. Several tribal councils made him the subject of discussion, and once, during the year before I met him, five of his relatives came to Myers and compelled him to return with them for a time to his home at the Big Cypress Swamp. But to my illustration of Seminole frankness: In the autumn of 1880, Mat-te-lo, a prominent Seminole, was at Myers and happened to meet Captain Hendry. While they stood together “Billy” passed. Hardly had the young fellow disappeared when Mat-te-lo said to Captain Hendry, “Bum-by. Indian kill Billy.” But an answer came. In this case the answer of the white man was equally frank: “Mat-te-lo, when Indian kill Billy, white man kill Indian, remember.” And so the talk ended, the Seminole looking hard at the captain to try to discover whether he had meant what he said.

Intellectual Ability

In range of intellectual power and mental processes the Florida Indians, when compared with the intellectual abilities and operations of the cultivated American, are quite limited. But if the Seminole are to be judged by comparison with other American aborigines, I believe they easily enter the first class. They seem to be mentally active. When the full expression of any of my questions failed, a substantive or two, an adverb, and a little pantomime generally sufficed to convey the meaning to my hearers. In their intercourse with one another, they are, as a rule, voluble, vivacious, showing the possession of relatively active brains and mental fertility. Certainly, most of the Seminole I met cannot justly be called either stupid or intellectually sluggish, and I observed that, when invited to think of matters with which they are not familiar or which are beyond the verge of the domain which their intellectual faculties have mastered, they nevertheless bravely endeavored to satisfy me before they were willing to acknowledge themselves powerless. They would not at once answer a misunderstood or unintelligible question, but would return inquiry upon inquiry, before the decided “I don’t know” was uttered. Those with whom I particularly dealt were exceptionally patient under the strains to which I put their minds. Ko-nip-ha-tco, by no means a brilliant member of his tribe, is much to be commended for his patient, persistent, intellectual industry. I kept the young fellow busy for about a fortnight, from half-past eight in the morning until five in the afternoon, with but an hour and a half’s intermission at noon. Occupying our time with inquiries not very interesting to him, about the language and life of his people, I could see how much I wearied him. Often I found by his answers that his brain was, to a degree, paralyzed by the long continued tension to which it was subjected. But he held on bravely through the severe heat of an attic room at Myers. Despite the insects, myriads of which took a great interest in us and our surroundings, despite the persistent invitation of the near woods to him to leave “Doctor Na-ki-ta” and to tramp off in them on a deer hunt (for “Billy” is a lover of the woods and a bold and successful hunter), he held on courageously. The only sign of weakening he made was on one day, about noon, when, after many, to me, vexatious failures to draw from him certain translations into his own language of phrases containing verbs illustrating variations of mood, time, number, &c., he said to me: “Doctor, how long you want me to tell you Indian language?” “Why?” I replied, “are you tired, Billy?” “No,” he answered, “a littly. Me think me tell you all. Me don’t know English language. Bum-by you come, next winter, me tell you all. Me go school. Me learn. Me go hunt deer to-mollow.” I was afraid of losing my hold upon him, for time was precious. “Billy,” I said, “you go now. You hunt to-day. I need you just three days more and then you can hunt all the time. To-morrow come, and I will ask you easier questions.” After only a moment’s hesitation, “Me no go, Doctor; me stay,” was his courageous decision.


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The Seminole Indians of Florida, Clay MacCauley, 1664

Seminole Indians of Florida

 

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