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Florida Seminoles in 1917 considered themselves to be Mayas

Florida Seminoles in 1917 considered themselves to be Mayas

Bombshell! – The Creation and Migration Legends of the Miccosukee-Seminole People

The author, J. E. Lazelle, in 1917 was a teacher at the Indian Town School near Palm Beach, Florida. He apparently became the first educated white man to be allowed to live among the Miccosukee Seminoles.  He makes it very clear that the Miccosukee were a separate ethnic group than the majority of member tribal towns of the Creek Confederacy.  All Seminoles at that time in South Florida, considered themselves to be Mayas.  The other members of the Creek Confederacy were described as descendants of earlier Mayas, who immigrated to the Southeast, mixed with various “savage tribes.”

It is highly unlikely that the Miccosukee migrated to the Southeast in response to Spanish oppression in Mexico as stated by Lazelle.  Far more likely is that they emigrated out of Mexico because of the blood-thirsty attacks of the Aztec War Machine.

The indigenous names in this article are neither Muskogean nor Itza Maya.  The religious traditions are entirely different than those of the Muskogee Creeks or the Hitchiti Creeks.   A sequel to this article will explore the ramifications of this new information.  They create a different understanding of the Southeast’s indigenous history.

An Indian Town School still exists, but it is now focused on the education of migrant workers’ families, most of whom are indigenous peoples from Latin America.   It is now called the Hope Rural School.  Their website is: http://www.hoperuralschool.org/ .  

 

Palm Beach Post ~ March 1, 1917

The Seminole Indians of Florida by J. E. Lazzelle

The writer spent a number of months recently with a race that refuses to associate with American people, and when asked the reason why, respond “Esta hatke helnaugus loxi ojus,” which means in our language “White man no good. He lie heap too much.” This exclusiveness they carry out to the very letter.

The people that I refer to are the Seminole Indians of Florida. The only time they have anything to do with white people is when they wish to trade with them, and then they talk strictly trade, and those who have tried can testify that if one should ask hem a question that could, in any way, be construed as personal, in an inconceivably short time you will be looking at the Indian’s back quite a distance away.

Several hundred years ago the ancestors of the same Indian live in Yucatan, Mexico, as the ancient Aztec, or Montezumas, or probably still more ancient Mayas, a highly civilized race, who lived in Mexico just prior to the Aztecs, who in those days were in the highest stage of civilization of any Indians found on the American continent.

Over four hundred years when Cortez and band of Spaniards were sweeping through Mexico, conquering and making slaves of the Aztecs, this band of perhaps six or seven hundred descendants of the Nicascusco (Miccosukee?) Tribe of the Ancient Mayas left their native country of Yucatan; followed up and beyond the Gulf of Mexico, through Mexico and the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and finally the southern part of Georgia, where they were found by the English living along a large number of creeks; hence they were called the Creek Indians. They had attached themselves to other earlier descendants of the ancient Mayas and a large number of savage Indians they came through in their wanderings.  Those Mayas adopted the savages’ ways as the best mode of existence in their wanderings, and for this reason, they were called savages with all the rest of the American Indians.

About the beginning of the nineteenth century these Mayas decided to leave their old comrades, the Creeks and set down by themselves in Florida. The Creeks resented this division, and calling them what they considered a very bad name – a quitter . . . a runaway . . . or in their language a “Seminole” – –  hence the Florida tribe of Seminoles.

In the year 1835 all the Indians were ordered to leave their native land and go at once to the Indian Reservation, Oklahoma. The Creeks and all other tribes went, but these Florida Seminoles positively refused to go, and the result was what is known in history as the “the Seminole Indian War” which lasted seven years, and without doubt the most troublesome and disastrous of all the numerous Indian wars in this country.  At the end of the war a large part of the Seminoles were transported to the west.

As history puts it, “But it was not until 1858, when the entire body of Seminole Indians were removed, that the war was declared at an end.”  So it is supposed that present Florida Seminoles do not exist, at least legally.

These Mayas’ first experience with the Spaniards caused them to believe that the whites were all full of treachery, lies and deceit, and whose main object was to eventually make slaves of them. So when the United States government officials ordered them to go to the reservation west of the Mississippi, they took for granted that they were to be taken into slavery. And the treachery, broken promises, and broken treaties have, as they think, confirmed them in their first impression of the whites. In a general way, it has been driven home to them by almost all actions of the whites toward them. Is it any wonder that they refused to go to Oklahoma when ordered to Oklahoma by the government officials?

There is a popular saying in the United States, “There is no good Indian, but a dead Indian.” Every rule must have its exception, however, and if there ever was a “good Indian” Jim was that one.

There were seven of them, of the sub-tribe of Tigers, of the Seminoles.  Jim was their tribal chief, took a wife from the Gopher Turtle family; hence his name Jim Gopher.  When Indian marries, he always takes his wife’s name.

Jim got the idea in his head that as game was getting very scarce, and that the fertile lands of the Everglades were being slowly but surely all taken up by the enterprising whites who hold the deeds for all of it, that in a comparatively short time his means of making a living would be taken from him, and that the only thing he could do, and also his children, would be to secure an education, and get his living the same as the whites.  So he made arrangements for six of the Tiger Tribe and himself also to attend school at Indian Town, Palm Beach County, Florida. And more apt pupils, I never saw.

At noon we would eat our dinners out in the yard under the shade of a pine tree or live oak, and during one of these noon hours Jim again proved he was an exception to another fixed rule, for he talked, and whoever heard of a Seminole Indian talking?  In the month or more that I had known him before noon in question, he not spoken a hundred words all together, nor did he talk again after that time. So I came to the conclusion that his outburst of talk was caused by what happened to strike his interests.

He had evidently mentioned tribe lore which ears could gather in at their Shotkataw, or Green Corn Dance, in the council of his elders, and he is very proud of the age of his people; their achievements in the past; and their history, dating back to the very genesis of the world.

It was this story, or legend, of the creation of the world that he had learned from the wise men of his tribe about which he told us that noon-time . . . possibly the longest that any school teacher gave in Florida before . . . told us with fine scorn of our white skin, our inferiority, our racial youth, with the hot sun of that noon day flickering down through the lofty pine under which we sat, lighting up his expressive eyes. Here is the Hava Supi legend as Jim told it:

There were two gods, To-Chee-Paw, the good god, and Ho-ko-Man-Tu, the bad god. One day they came to earth.  It was very new, and there were no animals on it, no fish in the waters, no birds in the trees, and the clouds were still lying on the ground. To-Chee-Paw and Ho-Ko-Man-Tu started to walk about the earth to see what they could to make it a pleasant place for them to live in, but the clouds got in the way of their feet and the clouds and pushed down them over their heads as far they could reach.

After they had fixed the clouds up in the sky, and saw how beautiful the world was, To-Chee-Paw, the good god, said to Ho-Ku-Man-Tu, “Why don’t we make some living things to dwell in this beautiful place? Ho-Ku-Man-Tu being a bad god, thought it was too much trouble to do anything as good as that, but he said to To-Chee-Paw, “Do it yourself, if you want to, thinking that he would wait and see what the animals would look like. Perhaps he could make them bad and make them worship him instead of To-Chee-Paw.

Too-Chee-Paw, was much pleased, and started in right away to make the animals and birds and fish. He made them all good.  They all talked the same talk, played together, and were friends. He made male and female of each kind, and he made the Red Wolf,* the wise animal, who should give advice and counsel to the rest of the animals,  and he called him Kamahvi; and he would take him with him whenever he walked about the earth to talk with him and so learn from the Red Wolf what all other animals were talking about, and thinking and wanting, for To-Chee-Paw wanted all his creatures to be happy.

*The writer used the word coyote instead of Red Wolf.  However, there were no coyotes in Florida until the 1970s, while the Red Wolf is indigenous to Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

One day, Kanahvie, the Red Wolf said to To-Chee-Paw, Oh To-Chee-paw, why don’t you make another animal in your own shape, smaller of course, but still to look like you?  Then when you are away on a far journey, I could have someone to talk to and take council with. 

The idea pleased To-Chee-Paw, and he right away made a man, and called him, Kathetie-Kanahvi, which means “taught by the Red Wolf,” for it was arranged the coyote should take the first man and introduce him all he knew about the world and everything in it.

Katatheti-Kanahvi, the first man was very strong and handsome and good, and he learned quickly, and grew more and more each day to look and talk like To-Chee-Paw. He loved all the animals and they loved him, and at first he was very happy.

By and by though, he noticed that all the other animals had mates. They were all in couples and little animals were coming, and the animal fathers and mothers were very happy and busy with their children, and he began to wonder why he, of all animals, was all alone without any mate.  He began to feel lonely, seeing the happiness of the others, and he spoke to the Red Wolf and said, “Why can’t I have a mate and some little ones?”  Please ask the good god, To-Chee-Paw to let me have a mate to love and be a mother of some little men and women. And while you are asking him that, please ask him if I could not have also have a few friends like myself, in the image of To-Chee-Paw.

The wise Red Wolf saw To-Chee-Paw soon after and told him what Katatheti-Kanahvi had said.  The good god laughed and said, “I made only one of him because there is only one of me, but I suppose he is lonesome, and so I will tell him how to get a mate and also some friends. Send Katatheti-Kanahvi to me.”

The Red Wolf did so and then, To-Chee-Paw, hidden from sight, speaking to the man from the top of a lofty mountain said, “Katheti-Kanahvi, first man created by me, I have heard your prayer and will answer. Go you to a place, which I shall tell to the Red Wolf and to which he shall direct you.  There build a stone house of four walls, but with only one door and no roof, so that the sun my reach it’s every part.  Then go into the forest; cut ten logs of goodly thickness and as long as your own height.  Take these with the walls of the stone house you have built and lay them on the ground in a row.  Then cut eleven logs of a lesser thickness, and of a length reaching to your chin, as they stand on end.  Place these in another row within the house.  Then cut ten logs of still lesser thickness and half as long as the first logs and place them in another row inside the walls, and then cut still another ten half the length of the second row of logs and still smaller thickness than any. “

Six days shall finish your labors, and on the seventh day you must rest and do no kind of work.  Warn the Red Wolf that he, nor any animal, bird nor fish shall make a noise of any kind to disturb the work, which I To-Chee-Paw, shall do on this seventh day, which is my day.  Let it be known that this is my wish.  Obey and all will be well.”

The man arose from his knees and in fear of the great voice went in search  of his wise friend, the Red Wolf, thankful in his heart.  Kanahvi took him to a spot on the shore of a river and for the time of six days and nights, he worked and cut the logs and put them in rows, according to their size, all carefully laid in the stone house.

In this word the Red Wolf grew more and more interested every day until the morning of the seventh day, when the first man, obeying To-Chee-Paw, was asleep and resting quietly.  The Red Wolf could not resist the temptation to peep into the house where the logs lay, bathing in the warmth of the sun.  What he saw took his breath away. The logs were slowly changing. First, they split half way up, then a knob grew on their upper end, then a they split part way on each side, the pieces growing slowly into arms, the lower parts into legs, the knobs into head, until by and by fully formed men and women, boys and girls, took their places where the first log of each size lay.

Then they began to move and sit up, to roll their eyes, and then to stand, until the room inside the walls got so crowded that some of the living men, women and children were forced against the logs that were still changing.  When the Red Wolf saw all this he went loco . . . got crazy . . . and howled with fear. His howl awoke the man, who quickly kicked the Red Wolf for breaking the command of To-Chee-Paw by making a noise on the seventh day, and that is why the Red Wolf is ever seen by a man with his tail between his legs. 

With the howl of the Red Wolf, the logs stopped changing. Then Katheti-Kanahvi, the man, picked himself a mate and never was lonely any more, for he had friends of his own kind and children of his own, just like the other animals, and that’s how people came on the earth.

In the sunlight’s glow filtering through the pine trees, I mused on the strange similarity between his legend and the Biblical story, six days or periods of creation, and the one day set apart for quietness and rest.  Just as I sat musing on this, the voice of someone cut the silence with, “Say Jim, what became of the logs that were left over?”

Jim, with scorn in his voice, replied, “Bark all came off . . . rot . . . no good.  Ho-Ko-Man-Tu, bad god, make white man of these.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

2 Comments

  1. tfworthy@bellsouth.net'

    Excellent article as usual, Richard. Need your help with Alabama Indian Affairs Commission/ Federal recognition of Kawita (Creek ) Tribe. Many sacred sites being destroyed in Russell County, alabama. Especially the Abercrombie Mound. Requesting help from Corps of engineers and Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
    MVTO,
    TBird

    Reply
    • Have you tried contacting the Poarch Creek Band? They have jurisdictional authority in Russell County and are the official institutional support for the NAGPRA enforcement.

      Reply

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