Black Seminole Indian Scouts - Story of tragedy and triumph from Florida to Fort Clark, Texas
Black Seminole Indian Scouts
Story of tragedy and triumph from Florida to Fort Clark, Texas
Keynote address by Ms. Joni Jordan
Black Seminole Indian Scouts Association Reunion - September 19, 1997 - Brackettville, Texas
125th Annual Anniversary Celebration
I am honored to have been asked to speak at this very special event - honor to miss charles e. Wilson - welcome to special guests - i've always heard that the characteristics of a good speaker is to be brief, be brilliant and be seated - today, i am not going to be a good speaker because i will be brilliant and be seated but i will not be brief. I have something important to say - i have chosen as my topic "reviving the legacy" (repeat) the word "legacy" , like most words in the dictionary, has more than one meaning. Mr. Webster defines the word legacy as - 1. A gift by will, especially of money or other personal property; or - 2. Something received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past - our ancestors had no silver, gold, or land, etc., to leave us - they left us a legacy of pride, courage, and bravery - to better understand these peculiar people, travel with me now as i tell the story of tragedy to triumph - from florida to fort clark from 1690 to 1997.
Much has been recorded in history about the deeds of black americans in the settlement of the west, but no group has been as over looked as the black seminole indian scounts who were stationed at fort clark in brackettville and fort duncan at eagle pass from 1870 to 1871.
Originally, they were mostly runaway slaves who sought refuge among the florida creek indians in the early 1690s. Eventually, the indian and black factions became known as the seminoles or "outlaw rebels". They lived with and mixed through marriage with the indians, but still maintained their own distinctive lifestyles and cultural traits. Many of the blacks spoke indian and english, which was to their benefit in later years. The thing that served them best though, was their ability to trail, hunt and fight in an unusually uncanny fashion. It was their reputation as skilled hunters and warriors which prompted the army to hire them as scouts - a reputation that was well earned by a group of people who had been lied to, cheated, herded like cattle and hunted like animals.
In the mid-to-late 1830's, they took an active part in the resistance to annex florida, which had been a safe haven for the black and indian seminoles for more than 50 years. After several broken and mis- represented treaties which led to battles between the seminoles and the u. S. Government, they were defeated and transported to the indian territory in oklahoma and arkansas. After a heartless roundup of seminole families, the deadly journey began. They were herded like cattle by the hated bluecoats. The tribe members did not have adequate food or blankets, and many of them died of starvation and disease. Others were ambushed and killed by bandits who preyed on them. One of the reasons this was called "the trail of tears" is because usually survivors were not permitted to stop and bury their dead.
Things were no better for them there. The blacks were chased and kidnapped by both the whites and lower creek indians, who sent them down the mississippi river to be sold at the auction block. All the seminoles were dominated by the creeks, who has been their enemies for years.
Finally, disgusted with their plight, the indians and blacks, under the command of indian chief wildcat, and black chief john horse, moved to mexico in the fall of 1849. In july of 1850 they reached the rio grande, just below the present eagle pass. The blacks settled mostly at moral, a few miles up river from piedras negras, and the indians at la navaja, however, there were settlements all along the border of the mexican state of coahuila.
They were furnished tools, seeds, livestock and ammunition by the mexican military. In return, they guarded the northern mexican border against texas fillibusters and renegade indians who were raiding mexican settlements and retreating across the rio grande. The indian seminoles felt the blacks were receiving special treatment by the mexican govern- ment. After chief wildcat and many of their tribes- men died of small pox, a black man outranked them with the mexican government. To the indians this was adding insult to their already damaged pride so many of them returned to the states. A short time later, indian chief jim jumper ordered all seminoles to the territory to increase forces for the confederacy in the civil war. Because of the threat of slavery, the black seminoles remained in mexico.
In 1870 west texas was fighting a losing battle with the plains indians who were terrorizing settlements. The civil war weakened cavalry was no match for the comanches and apaches who were ruthless in their raids, stealing, murdering and burning their way across the plains. What the army desperately needed was scouts to track the skillful renegades. The reputation of the black seminoles as trackers and fighters was well known by the u. S. Cavalry. In 1870 major zenas r. Bliss of the 25th infantry, a unit of all black enlisted, authorized captain f. W. Perry to travel to nacimiento, mexico and recruit black seminoles as u. S. Army scouts. In return for their services, the men would receive pay and also promises of rations for themselves and their families plus grants of land upon which they could settle after the mission was completed.
An agreement was reached between captain perry and chief john kibbits. Historians say that if the agreement was ever put on paper, it has long since disappeared. On the fourth of july 1870, the first group recruited crossed the silt laden waters of the rio grande to enlist at thriteen dollars a month. The first group mustered in by major bliss at fort duncan, texas were john kibbitt, joe dixie, dindie factor, pompie factor, hardie factor, adams fay, bobby kibbitt, john ward, john thompson and george washington. They were joined a short time later by 20 men from elija daniel's band and men from matamoros families. The scouts operated primarily out of fort clark and fort duncan, texas.
In 1873 a new chapter began in the history of the scouts when a new officer was assigned to the unit. Lt john lapham bullis was attached to the 24th infantry and saw in the seminole-negro indian scouts the type of highly mobile strick force he knew could be used to take the war to the enemy. For the next decade, working closely with the black as well as the white regiments, the scouts would see combat in extremely rugged conditions. Under a special agreement with the mexican government, the scouts were able to pursue raiders across the border into mexico and strike at their mountain strongholds. They saw action against the lipan apaches and kickapoos at remilino, mexico. A detachment of scouts was assigned to garrison a permanent camp at nevill's springs in what is now the big bend national park in west texas.
Seminole-negro indian scouts also accompanied well known cavalry commander colonel ranald mackenzie on his brilliant punitive expedition against the comanche at palo duro canyon in 1874.
Bullis himself was saved from death by the quick thinking of three of his scouts. While tracking a group of indians who had made off with 75 horses, bullis and the scouts engaged the indians at about 75 yards. The action was fast and furious and several comanche warriors were killed or wounded. Recovering from the initial attack, the indians were able to outflank the scouts and forced bullis and his men to make a break for their horses. The scouts, issac payne, john ward and pompey factor, succeeded in reaching their horses only to find that bullis' mount, a wild newly-broken horse had run off leaving him afoot. Even though under heavy fire, the scouts rode back to rescue the lieutenant. Just as sergeant ward swung lt bullis onto the back of his horse, a shot snapped his rifle sling and another shattered the stock. All three men were later awarded the congressional medal of honor. Bullis commanded the scouts until 1881 but the role of the scouts continued. His career was recognized with steady, if not rapid promotions. From humble beginnings as a private in the 125th new york volunteers during the civil war (he fought in the battle of harpers ferry and was captured by the confederates); to an officer in the 118th united states infantry regiment; after the civil war commissioned a second lieutenant in the 41st u. S. Infantry; commander of the seminole-negro scouts; and subsequently rising to the rank of brigadier general. Much of bullis' success can be linked to the exploits of the scouts. They bonded together with loyalty, dedication and respect throughout the many incredibly difficult missions that they accomplished utilizing their superbly honed frontier tracking skills, superior marksmanship and first rate horsemanship. The story of bullis and the seminole-negro indian scouts has never been fully told in books, movies or television, but the marks they left on the western frontier are as plan as the tracks they left in history over a hundred years ago.
Private adam paine was awarded the congressional medal of honor for gallantry in action and rendering invaluable service to colonel r. S. Mackenzie, 4th u. S. Cavalry at staked plains, texas, near the canyon blanco tributary of the red river 20 - 27 september 1874.
The scouts continued to trail and fight the hostiles. In the eight years of heavy action, not a single seminole scout was killed or even seriously wounded. They were well thought of by even the traditionally staid military minds of the 19th century. Major bliss characterized them as "excellent hunters and trailers, brave scouts and splendid fighteres". Colonel edward hatch thought of them as "fine trailers and good marksmen". They were well known for their incredible skill in tracking and were said to have almost enjoyed hand to hand combat. While the scouts were amassing an impressive record of frontier combat, their families were having to face discrimination, governmental indifference and racial violence. After some years had gone by, the land promised the scount has not been granted. The war department discovered that they had no land they could legally give away and to make matters worse, there was confusion from the bureau of indian affairs. The bureau declared that registration for the rolls of the seminole tribe had been closed in 1866. Seminole-blacks were now truly people without a country.
Just after midnight on new year's morning of 1877, adam paine - then a former csout, while attending a dance at the seminole camp, was blasted from behind with a double-barreled shotgun by a texas sheriff reportedly at such close range that his clothes were set on fire. Shortly thereafter pompey factor, five scouts and former scouts, became so exasperated by this second killing of scouts within a year - the third in less than two years - returned to mexico and while crossing the rio grande, washed the dust of texas from their horses hooves.
The scouts were disbanded in 1914, and despite continued efforts of the officer at fort clark, never granted the land promised them by the u. S. Government when they agreed to work with the cavalry. The scouts and their families were evicted from fort clark. Some returned to mexico but several stayed behind and one only need to look in a del rio, brackettville, or other texas phone book to find the surnames factor, wilson, ward, warrior, perryman, bruner, grayson, phillips, payne, thompson, daniels, and the list continues. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue to tell the story of their proud heritage - a heritage the history books forgot.
It was a long, hard road for the black seminoles. They had to overcome the persecution of the spanish and the english, slavery, disease, the abuse by the united states army, the trail of tears, starvation, bounty hunters, other hostile indian tribes, and the unfavorable conditions of the indian territory of oklahoma. But still they managed to survive. The fact that they were not completely eradicated and still have descendants living today is a testimony of their tenacity, bravery and enduring strength of spirit ---reviving the legacy!!!
Bio - joni jordan