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Our Indian Ancestors

  • Written by  Margaret Miller Curtis
Creek Muscogee Indians Creek Muscogee Indians

As Hollywood, California is on the opposite side of the country, that may explain why cowboy and Indian movies were first set in the West, not the South. Nobody had much to say about southern Indians, but when someone attending the Cook family reunion announced there were Seminole Indians in the family tree, it created an outburst of excitement.

“Why would anybody be proud of that?” complained one of the in-laws. In fact, there are numerous northwest Florida families with Indian ancestors, especially if their Scotch-Irish or English ancestors were traders. To secure trading rights with local Indians, some traders married the daughters of prominent Indian chiefs. Perhaps it was hoped that intermarriage between the two races would prevent hostile relations between them, but that hope eventually proved futile, even though the wives and children of these marriages were converted to Christianity.     

Creek Indians (who included Muscogee Nation Indians), migrated from Georgia and Alabama into Northwest Florida, where they eventually became assimilated with the Seminoles. Those in the Blountstown area were specifically called Blount Indians, and those living near Altha were referred to as Ocheesee Indians. Some white Europeans, fleeing religious persecution in Europe, made their way to Ocheesee Landing, a small river landing, south of Altha, and on the west bank of the Apalachicola River. They traded with John Blount, chief of the Ocheesee tribe. When hostilities over land ownership broke out, the United States government forcibly removed the Seminoles to Oklahoma.        

   The Indians did not go peacefully. Under the charismatic leadership of a young Indian chief, Billy Powell, named in honor of his Scotch-Irish ancestors, and Osceola in honor of his Indian ancestors, they rebelled. Osceola was the son of William Powell, a British trader, but soon the young man was engaged in warfare with settlers, who were also descendants of both British and Indian families. Osceola was torn between two loyalties, but felt it was wrong to forcibly take land from anyone, so he sided with    his mother’s family. For him, it was a war between right and wrong. For white settlers, it was a threat to their lives and livelihoods.  

 My mother’s cousin, Rubylea Ray Hall, wrote a book, The Flamingo Prince, about Osceola, based on family stories about her maternal great-grandfather, Green Cohran. As a scout for the Federal Government, Cohran met Osceola, and liked him. He described Osceola as “kind, always teasing, laughing, generous and considerate, but shrewd and intelligent when faced with a difficult problem.” The two became good friends, and Cohran refused to engage in the fighting between the settlers and the Indians.  He knew that as Indians were not allowed to own guns, the Indian’s bows and arrows would be no match for those owned by the white men.      

   All fighting ended when Osceola was tricked by a deceptive flag of truce. General Thomas Jesup lured Osceola to a proposed peace meeting, but when he arrived, Osceola was captured and imprisoned. This capture by deceit caused a national uproar, and Congress condemned Jesup’s action. Even so, Osceola was not released, and within a few months, he died in prison, probably of malaria.   

   History is more interesting when it becomes personal. I did not know I had Indian ancestors until our daughter had my DNA analyzed by Ancestory.com and it reported 1% native American DNA. (A previous DNA test done by National Geographic had showed 100% DNA from the British Isles, and she wondered if the testing had been thorough enough.)   Our DNA determines not just how we look, but what our abilities and preferences are as well. 

 In a Science Museum in Phoenix, I once saw an exhibit showing all the many nationalities in the DNA of Americans I learned that like me, there are countless Americans in every state with Indian ancestors but most with no record of it. I researched the names of Jackson County settlers who inter- married with Indians, and it verified that the Cook name was among them. So was the Williams name as well as many other commonly known names of Jackson County residents.  It occurred to me that maybe, so many people raised in Florida’s Panhandle love nature, hunting, and fishing, is because these preferences are literally “in our blood.”   That could very well include the protesting in-law’s DNA as well, because he had two grandmothers, both of whom had Williams as their surname. It may also explain why most Americans, including my family, will have a turkey on their table on Thanksgiving Day. 

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