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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crayon Papers - THE SEMINOLES
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The Crayon Papers - THE SEMINOLES Post by :ke398 Category :Long Stories Author :Washington Irving Date :May 2012 Read :813

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The Crayon Papers - THE SEMINOLES

From the time of the chimerical cruising of Old Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth, the avaricious expedition of Pamphilo de Narvaez in quest of gold, and the chivalrous enterprise of Hernando de Soto, to discover and conquer a second Mexico, the natives of Florida have been continually subjected to the invasions and encroachments of white men. They have resisted them perseveringly but fruitlessly, and are now battling amid swamps and morasses for the last foothold of their native soil, with all the ferocity of despair. Can we wonder at the bitterness of a hostility that has been handed down from father to son, for upward of three centuries, and exasperated by the wrongs and miseries of each succeeding generation! The very name of the savages with which we are fighting betokens their fallen and homeless condition. Formed of the wrecks of once powerful tribes, and driven from their ancient seats of prosperity and dominion, they are known by the name of the Seminoles, or "Wanderers."

Bartram, who traveled through Florida in the latter part of the last century, speaks of passing through a great extent of ancient Indian fields, now silent and deserted, overgrown with forests, orange groves, and rank vegetation, the site of the ancient Alachua, the capital of a famous and powerful tribe, who in days of old could assemble thousands at bull-play and other athletic exercises "over these then happy fields and green plains." "Almost every step we take," adds he, "over these fertile heights, discovers the remains and traces of ancient human habitations and cultivation."

About the year 1763, when Florida was ceded by the Spaniards to the English, we are told that the Indians generally retired from the towns and the neighborhood of the whites, and burying themselves in the deep forests, intricate swamps and hommocks, and vast savannas of the interior, devoted themselves to a pastoral life, and the rearing of horses and cattle. These are the people that received the name of the Seminoles, or Wanderers, which they still retain.

Bartram gives a pleasing picture of them at the time he visited them in their wilderness; where their distance from the abodes of the white man gave them a transient quiet and security. "This handful of people," says he, "possesses a vast territory, all East and the greatest part of West Florida, which being naturally cut and divided into thousands of islets, knolls, and eminences, by the innumerable rivers, lakes, swamps, vast savannas, and ponds, form so many secure retreats and temporary dwelling-places that effectually guard them from any sudden invasions or attacks from their enemies; and being such a swampy, hommocky country, furnishes such a plenty and variety of supplies for the nourishment of varieties of animals that I can venture to assert that no part of the globe so abounds with wild game, or creatures fit for the food of man.

"Thus they enjoy a superabundance of the necessaries and conveniences of life, with the security of person and property, the two great concerns of mankind. The hides of deer, bears, tigers, and wolves, together with honey, wax, and other productions of the country, purchase their clothing equipage and domestic utensils from the whites. They seem to be free from want or desires. No cruel enemy to dread; nothing to give them disquietude but the gradual encroachments of the white people. Thus contented and undisturbed, they appear as blithe and free as the birds of the air, and like them as volatile and active, tuneful and vociferous. The visage, action, and deportment of the Seminoles form the most striking picture of happiness in this life; joy, contentment, love, and friendship, without guile or affectation, seem inherent in them, or predominant in their vital principle, for it leaves them with but the last breath of life.... They are fond of games and gambling, and amuse themselves like children, in relating extravagant stories, to cause surprise and mirth." (Footnote: Bartram's Travels in North America.)

The same writer gives an engaging picture of his treatment by these savages:

"Soon after entering the forests, we were met in the path by a small company of Indians, smiling and beckoning to us long before we joined them. This was a family of Talahasochte, who had been out on a hunt and were returning home loaded with barbecued meat, hides, and honey. Their company consisted of the man, his wife and children, well mounted on fine horses, with a number of pack-horses. The man offered us a fawn skin of honey, which I accepted, and at parting presented him with some fish-hooks, sewing-needles, etc.

"On our return to camp in the evening, we were saluted by a party of young Indian warriors, who had pitched their tents on a green eminence near the lake, at a small distance from our camp, under a little grove of oaks and palms. This company consisted of seven young Seminoles, under the conduct of a young prince or chief of Talahasochte, a town southward in the isthmus. They were all dressed and painted with singular elegance, and richly ornamented with silver plates, chains, etc., after the Seminole mode, with waving plumes of feathers on their crests. On our coming up to them, they arose and shook hands; we alighted and sat a while with them by their cheerful fire.

"The young prince informed our chief that he was in pursuit of a young fellow who had fled from the town carrying off with him one of his favorite young wives. He said, merrily, he would have the ears of both of them before he returned. He was rather above the middle stature, and the most perfect human figure I ever saw; of an amiable, engaging countenance, air, and deportment; free and familiar in conversation, yet retaining a becoming gracefulness and dignity. We arose, took leave of them, and crossed a little vale, covered with a charming green turf, already illuminated by the soft light of the full moon.

"Soon after joining our companions at camp, our neighbors, the prince and his associates, paid us a visit. We treated them with the best fare we had, having till this time preserved our spirituous liquors. They left us with perfect cordiality and cheerfulness, wishing us a good repose, and retired to their own camp. Having a band of music with them, consisting of a drum, flutes, and a rattle-gourd, they entertained us during the night with their music, vocal and instrumental.

"There is a languishing softness and melancholy air in the Indian convivial songs, especially of the amorous class, irresistibly moving attention, and exquisitely pleasing, especially in their solitary recesses, when all nature is silent."

Travelers who have been among them, in more recent times, before they had embarked in their present desperate struggle, represent them in much the same light; as leading a pleasant, indolent life, in a climate that required little shelter or clothing, and where the spontaneous fruits of the earth furnished subsistence without toil. A cleanly race, delighting in bathing, passing much of their time under the shade of their trees, with heaps of oranges and other fine fruits for their refreshment; talking, laughing, dancing and sleeping. Every chief had a fan hanging to his side, made of feathers of the wild turkey, the beautiful pink-colored crane, or the scarlet flamingo. With this he would sit and fan himself with great stateliness, while the young people danced before him. The women joined in the dances with the men, excepting the war-dances. They wore strings of tortoise-shells and pebbles round their legs, which rattled in cadence to the music. They were treated with more attention among the Seminoles than among most Indian tribes.

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