Black Indians of Texas

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Texas’ Black Indians
kilgore news herald

Because they appeared black, and not Native American, they were left out of the land grants.
Half a dozen runaway slaves warily straggled into Spanish Florida’s Seminole village. Having run away from their masters in North Carolina based only on rumors of a better life, they sought out the tribe’s leader. King Payne could speak no English and the travelers knew not the Seminole language but did understand each other. The smile on King Payne’s face as he motioned them to follow him made them feel at ease. Through the brush the blacks followed the red man into a clearing. Their nostrils filled with the fragrance of corn stalks, broken soil, fruit growing and food cooking. Grown mens’ eyes filled with tears of joy as they saw long cabins made of palmetto boards with thatched roofs. Cuscowilla, the town before them, became home to them and many others who no longer wanted to be owned by another man. Near modern-day San Augustine, this village gave many sanctuary starting about 1783.

After receiving time to rest from their journey, the ex-slaves were issued tools to till the soil. Seed to plant and weapons for self-defense against slavers also became theirs. Over time, some found Seminole women willing to marry them and the two races merged. The blacks proved themselves to be carpenters, hunters, farmers and fishermen.

Not all native Americans looked upon the escaped slaves as equals. Creeks, as a tribe, kidnapped and kept slaves or sold them to whites. As early as 1704 the Spanish government encouraged escaped slaves to come to Florida to help ward off the Creek raiders and British soldiers. By the start of the 1800’s, approximately two thousand Seminole lived in Florida. Incoming British settlers taught the Seminoles to use the ex-slaves as sharecroppers. Those of mixed race were known as Seminole Negroes.

Eventually Americans moved in and assigned Seminole, Creeks

John Horse, a Seminole Negro arose to lead his people. Another man, a Seminole, called Wild Cat became a leader also. Together, they kept the tribe from extinction. After years of fighting to stay in Florida, the American military finally won. The Seminoles and their black partners were all shipped to Indian Territory. Hundreds died on the way from diseases the whites brought in that they had no immunity to.

Upon arrival in present-day Oklahoma in 1838, the survivors faced starvation again. After ten years of hunger, Wild Cat concocted a plan-escape nine hundred miles south to Mexico. Two hundred and fifty brave souls mad the trek. Old two-wheeled Mexican carts hauled their few belongings as they crossed Texas, avoiding Comanche and slavers. Finding enough water for man and beast became a daily struggle. For nine months, the refugees crossed deserts, mountains, and rivers facing blizzards and Comanche, finally arriving in Mexico.

Mexico graciously welcomed them as partners to fight against Comanche and Apache. Mexico’s government promised Wild Cat’s people seventy thousand acres, when the Seminoles he left back in Texas on the Llano River arrived.

To Wild Cat and John Horse’s horror, Comanche had wiped out the 60 Seminoles left behind. Still three hundred survived, only one-third warriors, the rest elderly and women and children. Crossing the Rio Grande on rafts, they returned to Mexico. For years, Wild Cat and John Horse kept their end of the bargain, defending Mexico against Comanche and Apache raids.

Wild Cat died of small pox in Mexico in 1856 and John Horse, in 1882, in Mexico City. Some say Horse was murdered, others believe pneumonia took his life. No one is sure.

With their leaders gone, the Seminoles and Seminole Negroes decided to return to Indian Territory. As they crossed Texas, both groups were detained and basically forced to protect the Lone Star State from native tribes. In 1897, Texas gave land to the Seminoles, but none to the Seminole Negroes. Because they appeared black, and not Native American, they were left out of the land grants. Allowed to live near present-day Brackettville, the Seminole Negroes accepted the injustices.

In 1914, soldiers pulled wagons up to the homes of the Seminole Negroes. All belongings were loaded up, their homes torn down with crowbars as they watched in disbelief. Seminole Negroes followed their worldly goods into town. Soldiers dumped everything into the streets, leaving 180 hated homeless people to fend for themselves.

“Injun-niggers, get the hell out of the street,” the residents of Brackettville shouted. “Get lost! Go somewhere! Anywhere else!”

In 1866, the Seminole Indian Nation had formally adopted all the Seminole Negroes in Indian Territory, declaring them to be full citizens of the tribe.

As recent as the year 2000, the United States government agreed to give the Seminole Nation $56 million. Promptly, the Seminoles disowned the 2,000 Seminole Negroes they previously voted to be their equals. Fifteen thousand Seminoles split the multi-million settlement between themselves.

How much of the $56 million did the Seminole Negroes get? Not one red cent.

Source: Our land before we die, Jeff Guinn, Jeremy P Tarcher/Putnam, 2002


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