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Seminole Arts

Native American Nations | Seminole Indians of Florida


Industrial Arts

In reference to the way in which, the Seminole Indians have met necessities for invention and have expressed the artistic impulse, I found little to add to what I have already placed on record.

Utensils and Implements

The proximity of this people to the Europeans for the last three centuries, while it has not led them to adopt the white man’s civilization in matters of government, religion, language, manners, and customs, has, nevertheless, induced them to appropriate for their own use some of the utensils, implements, weapons, &c., of the strangers. For example, it was easy for the ancestors of these Indians to see that the iron kettle of the white man was better in every way than their own earthenware pots. Gradually, therefore, the art of making pottery died out among them, and now, as I believe, there is no pottery whatever in use among the Florida Indians. They neither make nor purchase it. They no longer buy even small articles of earthenware, preferring tin instead, Iron implements likewise have supplanted those made of stone. Even their word for stone, “Tcat-to,” has been applied to iron. They purchase hoes, hunting knives, hatchets, axes, and, for special use in their homes, knives nearly two feet in length. With these long knives they dress timber, chop meat, etc.


They continue the use of the bow and arrow, but no longer for the purposes of war, or, by the adults, for the purposes of hunting. The rifle serves them much better. It seems to be customary for every male in the tribe over twelve years of age to provide himself with a rifle. The bow, as now made, is a single piece of mulberry or other elastic wood and is from four to six feet in length; the bowstring is made of twisted deer rawhide; the arrows are of cane and of hard wood and vary in length from two to four feet; they are, as a rule, tipped with a sharp conical roll of sheet iron. The skill of the young men in the use of the bow and arrow is remarkable.

Weaving and Basket Making

The Seminole are not now weavers. Their few wants for clothing and bedding are supplied by fabrics manufactured by white men. They are in a small way, however, basket makers. From the swamp cane, and sometimes from the covering of the stalk of the fan palmetto, they manufacture flat baskets and sieves for domestic service.

Uses of the Palmetto

In this connection I call attention to the inestimable value of the palmetto tree to the Florida Indians. From the trunk of the tree the frames and platforms of their houses are made; of its leaves durable water tight roofs are made for the houses; with the leaves their lodges are covered and beds protecting the body from the dampness of the ground are made; the tough fiber which lies between the stems of the leaves and the bark furnishes them with material from which they make twine and rope of great strength and from which they could, were it necessary, weave cloth for clothing; the tender new growth at the top of the tree is a very nutritious and palatable article of food, to be eaten either raw or baked; its taste is somewhat like that of the chestnut; its texture is crisp like that of our celery stalk.

Fig. 73. Mortar and pestle

Mortar and Pestle

The home made mortar and pestle has not yet been supplanted by any utensil furnished by the trader. This is still the best mill they have in which to grind their corn. The mortar is made from a log of live oak (?) wood, ordinarily about two feet in length and from fifteen to twenty inches in diameter. One end of the log is hollowed out to quite a depth, and in this, by the hammering of a pestle made of mastic wood, the corn is reduced to hominy or to the impalpable flour of which I have spoken. (Fig. 73.)

Canoe making

Canoe making is still one of their industrial arts, the canoe being their chief means of transportation. The Indian settlements are all so situated that the inhabitants of one can reach those of the others by water. The canoe is what is known as a “dugout,” made from the cypress log.

Fire making

The art of fire making by simple friction is now, I believe, neglected among the Seminole, unless at the starting of the sacred fire for the Green Corn Dance. A fire is now kindled either by the common Ma-tci (matches) of the civilized man or by steel and flint, powder and paper. “Tom Tiger” showed me how he builds a fire when away from home. He held, crumpled between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, a bit of paper. In the folds of the paper he poured from his powder horn a small quantity of gunpowder. Close beside the paper he held also a piece of flint. Striking this flint with a bit of steel and at the same time giving to the left hand a quick upward movement, he ignited the powder and paper. From this he soon made a fire among the pitch pine chippings he had previously prepared.

Fig. 74. Hide stretcher

Preparation of Skins

I did not learn just how the Indians dress deer skins, but I observed that they had in use and for sale the dried skin, with the hair of the animal left on it; the bright yellow buckskin, very soft and strong; and also the dark red buckskin, which evidently had passed, in part of its preparation, through smoke. I was told that the brains of the animal serve an important use in the skin dressing process. The accompanying sketch shows a simple frame in use for stretching and drying the skin. (Fig. 74)


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The Seminole Indians of Florida, Clay MacCauley, 1664

Seminole Indians of Florida


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