This May Be The Last Time

This May Be the Last Time
2013, 90 min.
United States, Documentary
Director: Sterlin Harjo (Seminole, Creek)

In 1962, filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s grandfather disappeared in Sasakwa, Oklahoma. As the Seminole and Creek community searched for him, its members sang their traditional ancient hymns of faith and hope. Harjo’s first feature-length documentary, This May Be the Last Time explores the disappearance of his grandfather and the origins of these songs. Interviewing community members, religious leaders and a musical historian, Harjo traces the creation of the their hymns, and their roots in Native, Scots-Irish, and African American musical traditions. The film shows that the hymns have been a source of support during times of duress, including the brutal Trail of Tears when the people were forcibly removed from their Southeast homelands to Indian Territory, well into the present. Harjo mostly interviews elders, with gentle rapport, but these scenes are also a poignant reminder that, if traditional hymn-singing is to continue, a younger generation must take it on.

For more information:

Spring Baptist Church – est. 1850

Spring Baptist Church - Sasawka, OK

Sasakwa, August 14, 1950 – A hundred years ago, a group of Seminole Indians founded a Baptist church near Sasakwa a short time after they arrived in Oklahoma from their old homes in Florida.

This week, about 1,500 members of the Indian Baptist churches from several parts of Oklahoma will meet at Sasakwa for a meeting will be highlighted by the observance of the 100th birthday of the Church.

The 100 year-old religious institution was moved to Purcell a short time after its establishment. After a short stay at Purcell, the congregation moved it back to Sasakwa.

Known now as the Spring Indian Baptist Church, the institution has as large a congregation now as it ever had. It has had only four different pastors since it was founded.

The principal founder and first pastor was John Jumper, great Chief of the Seminole Nation and Colonel in the First Regiment of Seminole Mounted Volunteers for the Confederacy during the Civil War. He retained the pastorate until his death in 1894.

Jumper was succeeded by his son-in-law, John F. Brown, one of the greatest and best known Seminole Chiefs. Brown was Principal Chief of the Seminoles for 34 years. He held the pastorate of Spring Church from 1894 to 1919.

The homes of both great chiefs are still standing near Sasakwa.

Brown was succeeded in the pastorate of the church by Reverend Louis Harjo, who served from 1919 to 1937. One of the ministers who served under Reverend Harjo was George Harjo, no pricipal chief of the Seminole Nation. George Harjo still holds his post as minister, the second highest office that the church has.

Wilsey Palmer, a deacon during the pastorate of Reverend Harjo, became pastor December 25, 1937 and serves in that capacity now. Ministers at the time Palmer was ordained included: George and Fulkah Harjo and Louis Brown. Deacons were Chippie Harjo, Abler Coon, Peter Narcome, Sentevey, Punta Harjo, Jonah Harjo, Abler Davis and Ramsey Harjo.

Ministers now are George Harjo and Ben Daney. Deacons are Billy Coon, Sentevey, Ena Green, Timmie Harjo, Jonah Harjo and Peter Narcome.

The history of Spring Church is to a great extent the history of the Seminole Nation since 1850. Much of the history is not recorded and is known only to a few old members of the Tribe like Millie Tiger who remembers the Church’s earlier days after it was moved from Purcell to Sasakwa.

Colonel Jumper and John Brown would be pleased with the Spring Church of today. It remains a Seminole Indian Institution and services are conducted in the Indian language for its older members. Young people, however, play a big part in its existence and they have caused such un-Indian innovations as B.T.U. banners to be hung on its walls along with the old formal pictures of Jumper and Brown.

Next Wednesday, representatives of 28 Indian churches from the Muskogee-Seminole-Wichita Association will begin a fine-day camp meeting on the grounds of Spring Church, one and one-half miles west of Sasakwa. Representing several tribes, the Indians will come from Caddo, Creek, and Seminole counties and from Florida. They will feast and worship until Sunday, living during that time in tents and in the 17 permanent camp houses on the church grounds.

Perhaps one day, Brown’s mansion or one of the buildings at the church site will be turned into a museum. The history of Spring Church and the great Seminole Nation would be displayed in the form of collected relics and photographs. Until then, people with a love for history and Indian folklore can find an abounding treasure in visiting the old Spring Church and in talking to people like Wilsey Palmer.

Native American Heritage Trail

Native American Heritage Trail

The 36-page Florida Native American Heritage Trail guidebook is the newest addition to the Florida Heritage Trail series. The guide honors Florida’s Native American cultures, both past and present, by providing in-depth information for residents and visitors. The Florida Native American Heritage Trail describes in text and images over 100 heritage tourist destinations throughout the state where ancient Florida Native Americans left evidence of their cultures and where contemporary Native Americans thrive and exhibit their cultures. Features include a synopsis of the 12,000-plus years of Native American presence and significance in Florida, side bars of special interest topics, and biographies of individuals important to Florida’s Native American heritage written by archaeologists and living descendents of Native Americans.

The guide was produced by the Trail of Florida’s Indian Heritage with a grant from the Division of Historical Resources. The Trail of Florida’s Indian Heritage (formerly Trail of the Lost Tribes) is a non-profit organization promoting awareness and preservation of Florida’s ancient cultures. Founded in 2000, the Trail of Florida’s Indian Heritage is a membership network of three heritage interpreters and 26 public sites pertaining to the ancient Native American cultures in Florida, including museums with exhibits of ancient artifacts and mounds in city, county, state and national parks.

Copies of the publication have been distributed by the Florida Department of State to public libraries throughout the state and regional offices of the Florida Public Archaeology Network Additional funding from the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation has provided each of Florida’s approximately 3,500 public and private elementary schools to receive a copy of the publication.

Read the Florida Native American Heritage Trail online
Download the Florida Native American Heritage Trail (pdf, 4.4 MB)
Native American Tribes in Florida Bibliography

Published by the Florida Department of State,
Division of Historical Resources.
ISBN #1-889030-25-2

Elijah Daniels Seminole Scout

Elijah Daniels

Seminole (Creek) Scout

Elijah Daniel was born in Arkansas. He enlisted with the Scouts in October of 1871 and served until May of 1876. Sometime after 1878 he served as Chief of the Seminole Negroes. Mr. Daniel died on 12 January 1908 and is buried in the Seminole Negro Scout Cemetery in Brackettville, TX

The Elijah Daniels Band of Seminole-Negroes came from Fort Duncan at Eagle Pass to Fort Clark during the summer of 1872 establishing a village below the fort along Las Moras Creek. These remarkable men, and their descendants, faithfully served the U.S. Army as Scouts with uncommon gallantry for 42 years until the unit was disbanded in September 1914. No Scout was ever lost or wounded as a result of action with the enemy! Although the scouts never at any time mustered more than fifty men, four scouts won the congressional medal of honor for their conspicuous bravery and coolness under fire.

“It might as well be understood at once that no distinction will be made in reference to color of soldiers wearing the uniform of the United States.”  – Lt. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan

courtesy – Fort Clark Museum
Brackettville, Texas

Seminole Nation Bands Are Matrilineal

The band was one of the two major elements of Seminole Society.  Originally, each band was a separate Tribe which later joined with the others to form the Seminole Tribe in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Throughout the history of the Seminole Nation, the band was of primary importance to the Seminole people.

The band was the center of religious life; first with the great annual ceremonies such as the Green Corn Dance, and later with the churches. It was also the center of political and legal life. The band Chief, his assistant, and one of the band counselors from each band formed the Tribal Council. Within the band, the band Chiefs and the counselors made the laws for that band and served as a court to settle disputes within the band. The band also was a focus of economic life for the Seminole. Each band had a communal field which was worked by all of its able-bodied members. The produce of the field was under the control of the Chief and was used to feed guests, provide for orphans and the destitute, and to help with the expenses of running the band.

Through time, the number of bands has been steadily reduced, as some bands died out or joined with other, related bands. In the 1830’s in Florida, there may have been as many as 35 bands, in 1860 there were 24, and by 1879 there were only 14 bands – the current number. In 1866, two new bands were recognized. These were both Freedmen bands composed of Negroes who had been associated with the Seminole since before removal.

Band membership was determined by birth and a person belonged to the band of their mother. While it was possible to change bands, this required the permission of both bands; and band membership was usually for life. Bands were frequently known by the name of their Chief and therefore the names would frequently change when a new Chief was selected. The bands were also known on occasion by their old tribal names.  

Seminole Tribal Bands

Caesar Bruner

 * Ceyvah

Dosar Barkus


 * Fushatche







* Mekasukey

 * New Comer

 Nvrcvp Haco


* Rewahle

* Talahassee


* Thomas Palmer

 * Tvsekia Haco

 Wm. Connor

 * were red/war towns

the rest were white/peace towns


 Mvskokee Speaking Towns



New Comer




Tvsekia Haco

Tom Palmer


Hecete Speaking Towns




Nvrcvp Haco

The Black Seminoles’ Long March to Freedom


  The Black Seminoles, now called Seminole Maroons by ethnologists, are a group of people who live in Oklahoma, Texas, the Bahamas, and Coahuila, Mexico. Their ancestors were runaways from the plantations of South Carolina and Georgia beginning in the late seventeenth century who sought refuge in Spanish-controlled Florida. They lived among the Seminole Indians and were closely associated with them, but they maintained a separate identity and preserved their culture and traditions. Following the First and Second Seminole Wars (1817 -1818 and 1835 1842) some escaped to the Bahamas and others were removed with their Native American allies to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). Ten years later some of them moved to Mexico where their descendants, known as Indios Mascogos still live. After the Civil War, a group of them moved to Texas, where in the 1870s and 1880s, they served with the U.S. Army on the Texas frontier as the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts.

Their quest involved contact with Native Americans, Spanish, British and American soldiers, settlers, traders and government officials. They suffered and survived deprivation, exploitation and destitution. Today their descendants celebrate the persistence and perseverance of their ancestors.

Our people have lived in Texas for over 100 years. Before that, we were in Mexico, where some of us still live and before that we were in Oklahoma, and even earlier than that, Florida. And before that, we came from Africa. As far as weve come, in all our travels, we have never lost an awareness of our identity and pride in our freedom, because it is our freedom which makes us different from other Americans of African descent.

—- Miss Charles Emily Wilson


The experience of the Black Seminoles was similar to other maroon societies which proliferated throughout the Americas before slavery was abolished. Because they were in constant fear of being recaptured, they defended their freedom by developing extraordinary skills in guerilla warfare. They were proactive in finding ways to survive economically in new environments and they were savvy in their interaction with Native Americans. Leaders emerged from their communities who were skilled at understanding and negotiating with whites. Most important, all of these maroon communities, borrowed and blended elements of their experiences and integrated them into their own African heritage.

Historically the central question for those who came in contact with the Black Seminoles was whether they were African or American Indian. This issue of classification hounded them throughout their search for freedom. Individuals, agencies and institutions labeled them for their own purposes, more often than not determined by their own vested interests.

Today the Black Seminole community in Texas refer to themselves as Seminoles to set themselves apart from other Blacks and to emphasize the pride that they have in their unique history of having run away and resisted slavery. For similar reasons, the descendants living in Coahuila, Mexico, refer to themselves as Indios Mascogos, and in Oklahoma as Freedmen.

In the I 7th century our ancestors fought against slavery and escaped into the northern bushlands of Spanish FIorida. There we joined our Indian brothers and sisters who had also escaped from the oppression of the European slavers; together, for many years, we resisted their attempts to recapture us.

—- Miss Charles Emily Wilson


When the first fugitive slaves from Charleston arrived in Spanish St. Augustine, Florida, in 1687, they were given refuge and were integrated into a cohesive, multiracial, multicultural community. The men worked as cartwrights, jewelers, butchers, and innkeepers, while the women worked as cooks and laundresses. Some even owned small businesses. Interracial unions and marriages were common. This open society, bolstered by a relaxed attitude toward slavery and race, made it possible for slaves to use the courts to change their status, to lodge complaints against ill treatment, or to change owners. Those who were free acquired property, often converted to Catholicism and served in the militia. In this regard the Spanish were not entirely altruistic. They were willing to grant freedom to the Blacks and expected loyalty and service in return.

In 1838, the Spanish governor established a settlement for the runaways called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, becoming the first free Black settlement in North America. The residents of Mose, some one hundred men, women and children came in contact with various bands of Indians living nearby. In this multilingual environment, they no doubt adopted folkways of their neighbors and absorbed some of them into their ranks. On this frontier, these Blacks showed an ability to adapt, to be creative and to survive. Even with the support of the Spanish who gave them supplies and building materials, it took intelligence and determination to forge lives for themselves and their families.


At the same time the Blacks were establishing themselves at Mose, bands of Creeks split off from the main body of their tribe, dislocated through war and conflict, drifted into northern Florida. These people were called Seminoles. The name Seminole comes from the Spanish word cimaroon meaning “fugitives” or “wild ones” and was incorporated into the Creek language. The English word “maroon” comes from the same Spanish source.

Slavery among the Seminoles was not new. They captured other Indians in battle, “adopted” them into their tribe to replace members who had been killed and treated them amicably. Some Black slaves were purchased, others were given as “gifts” to chiefs by the British who had acquired Florida from the Spanish in 1763. Many of these Blacks lived independently in villages separate from their Indian “owners.” This independent living was the foundation of a new social group. They were efficient and productive farmers, owned livestock, and armed themselves against intruders. In deference to the Indian chief, they paid an annual tax, usually corn or some other foodstuff to be used for the common good. In return for their allegiance they were given the protection of the larger Seminole Indian community. An American general aptly described the relationship between the two groups as “vassals and allies.”

Gradually the distinction between who was slave and who was free blurred and the two communities, Black and Indian, were interdependent. The Blacks adopted Seminole ways of living and dressing. They spoke their own language, Creole, as well as English, Spanish and Indian dialects. They also understood the Europeans because they had lived on plantations.

These skills made them invaluable to the Seminoles as interpreters, go-betweens and advisors. Life for the Blacks amongst the Indians was idyllic, far different than it had been under the strict codes of plantation slavery. They were free and independent and they thrived under these conditions.


By the early 19th century the Blacks and Seminoles had established such strong communal ties that they banded together to fight side by side defending their land and their freedom. Their adversaries were the Americans who wanted to annex Florida and to prevent its use as a haven for fugitive slaves.

During the First Seminole War (1817-1818) General Andrew Jackson invaded Florida, destroyed Black and Indian towns, burned Spanish forts and routed the British. In this chaos, some Blacks fled to the Bahamas where some of their descendants now live. Ultimately Jackson captured Pensacola and the Spanish ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. During this conflict Blacks were recognized for their aggressive military prowess.

In 1823 some Seminole Indian leaders were induced to move to a reservation in Florida and to return any runaway slaves that did not “belong” to them. In typical “divide and rule” fashion, the Indians were warned that the Blacks cared nothing for them, but only wanted their protection from enslavement. Later the Indian Removal Act of 1830 decreed that the Indians would be removed to the West. The Blacks feared that if they assembled at one place along with their Indian allies to be transported, they would be returned to slavery.

They took the lead in stirring up resistance to removal and joined the Seminoles in a guerilla war known as the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). It turned out to be the longest and most expensive war in the United States to date. Once again, the Blacks proved to be courageous fighters and served prominent roles as advisers, spies and intermediaries. Their influence on the Seminole Indian chiefs prompted General Thomas S. Jesup to say: “This you may be assured is a negro and not an Indian War.” To end this long, bloody and costly war Jesup resorted to expedience. He granted freedom to the Blacks if they would go West as part of the Seminole Nation.

This war turned out to be a “War of Independence” for the Blacks. Some authorities say that this was the time that they emerged as a distinct social group because they shared the experience of running away, resisting slavery and fighting for that freedom. It was evident not only to themselves but to the outside world that they possessed the skills and intellect to subsist on their own and to create self-sufficient communities. In the years to come, this determination to remain separate and independent would face other challenges as they searched for a home where they could live as free men.

When we had to leave for safer territory in the 1830s to escape the slave raids in Florida, we went to Indian Territory and settled along the Canadian River in what is today Oklahoma. But slave raids continued from nearby states. In our search for peace, we left once again and went to Mexico, though some of our people stayed behind in Oklahoma, where their descendants still live today.

—- Miss Charles Emily Wilson


Once settled in the Indian Territory (1841-1850) the Black Seminoles and the Seminole Indians faced another common enemy: the Creeks. The Creeks were intent on enslaving the Black Seminoles and integrating the Seminole Indians into their community. Wild Cat, leader of the Seminole Indians and John Horse, leader of the Black Seminoles, resisted this domination.

Wild Cat didn’t want his power diminished by the Creek chiefs and planned to form a confederation with other southwestern Indians of which he would be the leader. John Horse and his band of Black Seminoles were most concerned about acquiring land where they would be safe from Creek slave hunters. Kidnapping of the Black Seminoles by the Creeks and white slave hunters became so prevalent that John Horse was forced to find ways to leave the territory. He went to Washington, D.C., to negotiate a special removal policy for his people. Unfortunately, nothing came of these efforts so that he was forced to join Wild Cat’s plan to move their bands to Mexico where slavery had been abolished in 1829. The Mexican government promised citizenship to colonists in exchange for helping to maintain peace along the northern border. In 1850, more than 300 Seminole Indians, Black Seminoles and Kickapoo Indians set out for Mexico on the nine month trek to the border.


Upon entering Mexico in July 1850, John Horse exclaimed: “When we came fleeing slavery, Mexico was a land of freedom and the Mexicans spread out their arms to us.” The Black Seminoles eventually settled in Nacimiento (where some of their descendants remain to this day) and the Seminole Indians settled in nearby Muzquiz. Given food subsidies, tools for farming and building materials, the Blacks put them to effective use and soon had a thriving agricultural community. A school and church were established.

One of the requirements for colonists was for the men to serve as a border patrol and protect the towns from raids by Comanche and Lipan Indians. The Black Seminoles once again proved to be excellent soldiers and with their Seminole Indian comrades, they gained a reputation for being loyal troops. In time, however, the Black Seminoles tired of this role, particularly when they were called upon to engage in the civil and foreign conflicts which engulfed Mexico in the early 1860s. This separatism and isolation increased after the death of Wild Cat and the return of the Seminoles to the Indian Territory. When the Civil War ended in the United States, the Black Seminoles looked forward to returning to the United States.

In 1870 a few hundred of our ancestors were asked to come to Texas to fight the Native Americans so that white people could settle in the region. Those Seminoles served as Scouts for the U.S. Army out of Ford Duncan in Eagle Pass and Fort Clark in Brackettville, where we live today.

—- Miss Charles Emily Wilson


At the end of the Civil War more white settlers moved to the Southwest and used the Overland Trail to cross Texas into New Mexico, Arizona and California. This brought them in conflict with southwestern Indian tribes, among them the Comanches and the Apaches, who had been relocated from their traditional hunting grounds to reservations in the New Mexico Territory. In retaliation, they raided white settlements, stole livestock and horses and destroyed property.

Army personnel at frontier bases in Texas were ill-equipped to stop the raids, track down and confront the fast-moving Indians. Nor did they have the necessary manpower to guard the porous Texas border. What they needed were experienced Indian fighters who knew the rugged terrain of the borderlands, understood the ways of the Indians and could speak the border language–a mixture of English and Spanish. The Black Seminoles had a reputation for being fearless fighters, and they were approached by army recruiters. Finally, in 1870, an arrangement was reached with them. The army formed a “Detachment of Seminole Negro Indian Scouts” and enlisted ten Black Seminoles. On July 4, 1870, the men and their families crossed the Rio Grande into Texas.

Under the command of Lieutenant John Bullis, from 1873 to 1881, the scouts went on twenty-six expeditions and were engaged in twelve battles without suffering any losses. They had excellent tracking skills, were precise marksmen and could endure searching for months at a time. Famed for their bravery, four of the Black Seminole scouts were awarded the Medal of Honor in the 1870s for “gallantry in action.”

In return for their services the men were promised salaries, rations, and living quarters for their families at the forts where they were stationed. Some accounts say that they were guaranteed their own land in Texas or in the Indian Territory following their service as scouts. But this promise was never fulfilled in spite of numerous appeals by the scouts and the officers who supported their requests. The War Department claimed not to have land that they could legally give them. Because they were not “ethnic” Indians, the Bureau of Indian Affairs would not honor their claims. In addition, registration for Seminole Indian reservation lands was closed in 1866, thus excluding the Black Seminoles from this opportunity.

By the 1880s the number of enlisted scouts was cut back and their rations reduced. In spite of such setbacks, they continued to live on the Fort Clark military post. It was a precarious existence, however, and the group was often destitute. The unenlisted men found extra work on nearby ranches. Some of the women worked as laundresses. But as the Indian wars declined, the scouts were transferred to custodial and constabulary work and were finally disbanded in 1914. The same year, their dependents were told to leave the post where they had lived for more than a generation.

We have given our loyalty and our skill to our country, and we have contributed to its history I can rest now, knowing that this has been recognized at last, and that future schoolchildren, both American and Seminole, will learn the part we have played in the growth of our great nation.

—- Miss Charles Emily Wilson


Even though the Black Seminoles never numbered more than several hundred at any given time, they have a special place in the history of Blacks in America. Their contribution is one which illuminates how personal and group determination overcame barriers of discrimination, poverty and deprivation. What emerged from their wanderings was a sense of identity, self-awareness and confidence which permitted them to keep moving in pursuit of a place to call their own, in pursuit of freedom. Out of the nightmare that was slavery, this is a heroic story of a people who persevered and managed to survive constant setbacks and repeated removals in an effort to achieve self-determination, justice and liberty.

– courtesy City College Library