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Black Seminoles of Texas

27 Feb

The account of the Black Seminoles in Texas begins in Florida.  Slavery had been abolished in Spanish Florida since the late 1600s and the area became a refuge for freed as well as fugitive slaves.  Though some were taken as slaves by the Native tribes that resided there, those of African descent are generally believed to have interacted peacefully with the native tribes, with some amount of intermarriage and more significantly, the adoption of the tribal ways and customs.  The people known as Seminoles are sometimes referred to as being a conglomeration of a number of tribes living in the area, including the Creek Tribe, although the Creek Tribe is also usually referred to separately.  Tribes included the Lower Creeks, Mikusukis and Apalachicola, among others and they are believed to have migrated there from the areas now represented by the states of Georgia and Alabama.

The United States government carried out several wars against the native tribes and freedmen from around 1812 to 1858.  After the War of 1812 between the United States and England, but before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, many United States Army personnel participated in what was called The Seminole Wars.  American settlers began to spread into Florida, while it was still the property of Spain, and later England, seeking the rich farm land previously occupied by the freedmen and native tribes.  The United States Army, then led by General Andrew Jackson, invaded Florida in the First Seminole War beginning around 1817 and in about two years, had taken control of Pensacola.  Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821.  After the First Seminole War, some of the Black Seminoles were said to have removed to the Bahamas, while many remained.

In 1830, the United States government passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the forcible transfer of many native tribes, including the Seminoles, to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).  The Seminoles and Black Seminoles resisted, leading to the Second Seminole War which was costly and lengthy for the United States, running from around 1835 to 1842.  The result was that most of the Seminoles (largely under the umbrella of the Creek Tribe, an historic and natural enemy) and some Black Seminoles were relocated to Indian Territory.  Some were enslaved by the Creeks under terms more harsh that they had been in Florida.  A good number of Black Seminoles resisted this and eventually made their way to Coahuila, Mexico where they resided for decades.  Some accounts attribute the departure of the Black Seminoles from Indian Territory to their having been preyed upon by slave hunters and others.  After decades of freedom, many elected to go to Mexico under John Horse, also known as Juan Caballa along with a contingent of Seminoles under Coacoochee, or Wild Cat.  There they served the Mexican Army and continued to raise their families.  The Mexican government offered grants of land in the general vicinity of Naciamento to the Black Seminoles and a splinter group of Seminoles in exchange for their assistance in patrolling the border.

There was one final but smaller Seminole conflict in Florida in the 1850s.  Again, the United States Army was brought in.  By 1858, most of the Seminoles and Black Seminoles were dispersed to other parts of the country, and to Mexico.

The Seminole Wars are not to be confused with the Creek War (1813-1814) which is described as a regional war between opposing Creek factions, European empires and the United States.  It took place in what is now Alabama and along the Gulf Coast.  Future Texas notables including David “Davy” Crockett and Sam Houston served in the Creek War.

As we often see in history, former allies can later become adversaries, and vice versa.  After the Civil War, the United States Army sought out their skills and in the 1870s in the Indian Wars of the west.  They had developed fighting and tracking skills in their many years in Florida and then along the Mexican border.  Some were recruited by Captain F. W. Perry to serve as scouts for the Army.  Black Seminole leader John Kibbetts and around a dozen other individuals were first engaged as scouts.  They were initially quartered at Fort Duncan, located in what would later become the town of Eagle Pass. Later, more of them served over the years at Fort Clark, near Bracketville, as well as other outposts in the west.  The scouts served continuously for several decades.

A cemetery was established for the Seminole Scouts in 1872 and it houses over four hundred graves of scouts and family members.  Four of those graves are of Seminoles who won the Medal of Honor: Pompey Factor, Isaac Payne, John Ward and Adam Paine.

The action in which Factor, Paine and Ward distinguished themselves was described as follows.  Their commander, John Bullis, took them to pursue raiders who had attacked a stagecoach on April 5, 1875.  Bullis and the scouts followed the trail west in Texas until they came upon the suspected raiders three weeks later as the suspects crossed the Pecos River.  Reportedly outnumbered ten to one, Bullis and the scouts hoped to surprise the raiders and drive off their mounts.  A battle ensued and the small Army contingent was forced to withdraw.  Bullis’ horse was shot out from under him and the three souts rescued him.  All were able to escape to the Devil’s River area of Texas until they could return safely to the fort.  Bullis recommended the scouts for the Medal of Honor and his recommendation was accepted.  All three scouts received their Medal in 1876.  Scouts Factor, Paine and Ward all survived the Indian Wars and lived into the 1900s. The story is told of Pompey Factor that in his later years he had become disabled and had lost his military records in a fire.  His attorney used his Medal of Honor as proof of his service and helped Factor obtain a military pension.

Adam Paine received his medal for action around Canyon Blanco near the Red River.  On September 26, 1874, Paine and four other scouts were assigned to look for hostile Indians.  They were soon attacked by over three dozen Kiowas.  Payne held back while the others escaped.  Eventually his horse was killed and he used it as a shield until he could secure one of the Indian ponies and escape.  He was nominated for his own Medal of Honor and received it the following year.  Paine died of unknown causes in 1877.

In Bracketville, the Army had created a reservation of sorts for them to live in.  They and their families had some stability until the scouts were disbanded in 1914 in a downsizing of the western troops.  The grounds of the fort and the reservation were sold by the government in 1940, once again displacing the Seminoles Scouts and their families.  A cemetery association was formed to care for the Scout cemetery.  The association was able to obtain official military grave stones for the 100 Seminoles who are buried in the cemetery.

For further reading, please see the websites of the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association and the Seminole Nation, I. T.

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Posted by on February 27, 2020 in black history, medal of honor

 

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