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Osceola At The 50-Yard Line

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Osceola At The 50-Yard Line

The Seams

Osceola At The 50-Yard Line

Osceola At The 50-Yard Line

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"Osceola" stands in front of a crowd at the FSU homecoming game. Eileen Soler/Seminole Tribune hide caption

toggle caption Eileen Soler/Seminole Tribune

"Osceola" stands in front of a crowd at the FSU homecoming game.

Eileen Soler/Seminole Tribune

Seminole patchwork is not well-known outside the state of Florida. The Seams looks at culture through clothing — and within this hand-sewn and folded patchwork is the story of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Norman "Skeeter" Bowers, 48, has a closetful of brightly colored Seminole Indian patchwork — jackets, vests, shirts, tunics — the kind the Seminoles have made and worn for over a century. He's a senior member of the tribe and a special liaison to the Florida State Seminoles powerhouse football team. The tribe has a unique relationship with the university, one of the few colleges with approval to still use a Native American name for its athletic teams. It's a decades-long relationship of mutual respect that got started in 1947.

The Seminole tribe allows Florida State to use not just its name for the football team, but also the iconography of one of its most powerful leaders, Osceola. Before each game, a student reenacts a scene, dressed as Osceola in tribal patchwork. The "Osceola rider" enters the stadium atop a horse named Renegade, carrying a feathered, flaming spear which he throws at the 50 yard line as football fans cheer.

Skeeter Bowers is now the tribal liaison to the "Renegade team": "I know that that mascot that portrays Osceola, it's not Seminole, it's not Native. But that spirit, basically it's that Seminole spirit, that Unconquered spirit, you know, is all they try to capture. Osceola's name still lives."

Bowers points to a mural he had painted of Osceola over his garage at his home on the Brighton Reservation. Osecola is shown standing over a table and planting a knife into a peace treaty. It's a legend for which the warrior is famous.

"He was gonna fight to the death," Bowers says. "He wasn't going to leave Florida, this was his home. When they were having talks with the U.S. government, basically he pushed his way to the front and went to that table and drawed his knife out and planted it in a peace treaty."

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is called "The Unconquered," and that's because between 1817 and 1858, the Seminoles fought three wars with U.S. troops. They never lost those battles, which they fought to a draw, and never declared surrender. Osceola, a military leader within the tribe, was captured under a false flag of truce near St. Augustine in 1837. He was betrayed by a U.S. general, and died in prison in South Carolina several months after his capture, in 1838.

Osceola At The Fifty Yard Line

  • There have been 16 Osceola re-enactors at FSU since 1977. Kyle Doney, left, is deputy director of the Native Learning Center in Hollywood, FL, and on FSU's Alumni Board. Usually, Osceola alone throws the flaming spear into mid-field, but Doney, a 2007 FSU grad and tribal member, has assisted four times in the pre-game "Tradition of Tribute."
    Hide caption
    There have been 16 Osceola re-enactors at FSU since 1977. Kyle Doney, left, is deputy director of the Native Learning Center in Hollywood, FL, and on FSU's Alumni Board. Usually, Osceola alone throws the flaming spear into mid-field, but Doney, a 2007 FSU grad and tribal member, has assisted four times in the pre-game "Tradition of Tribute."
    Jacki Lyden
  • Skeeter Bowers, 48, is assistant to the chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. He's so proud of FSU and Osceola that he has murals painted on his house on the Brighton Reservation, Okeechobee, Florida. This one shows FSU's dominance over the University of Florida Gators and the University of Miami Hurricanes. As for fry bread, it's a Seminole specialty.
    Hide caption
    Skeeter Bowers, 48, is assistant to the chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. He's so proud of FSU and Osceola that he has murals painted on his house on the Brighton Reservation, Okeechobee, Florida. This one shows FSU's dominance over the University of Florida Gators and the University of Miami Hurricanes. As for fry bread, it's a Seminole specialty.
    Jacki Lyden
  • Osceola was a Seminole warrior who refused to surrender to the U.S. government, but was betrayed under a false flag of truce. Of mixed parentage, he was also a flamboyant dresser, favoring some European touches, like long coats and sashes. Legend has it that he drove his knife through a peace treaty rather than sign it.
    Hide caption
    Osceola was a Seminole warrior who refused to surrender to the U.S. government, but was betrayed under a false flag of truce. Of mixed parentage, he was also a flamboyant dresser, favoring some European touches, like long coats and sashes. Legend has it that he drove his knife through a peace treaty rather than sign it.
    Jacki Lyden
  • Skeeter Bowers's closet is stuffed with handmade patchwork attire, including variations on FSU's garnet-and-gold colors. The Nike-made Seminoles football jersey features (with permission by the tribe) symbols for Man on Horse, Arrow, and Fire, alluding to the "Tradition of Tribute" when, before each game, "Osceola" throws a flaming lance toward the 50-yard line while on horseback.
    Hide caption
    Skeeter Bowers's closet is stuffed with handmade patchwork attire, including variations on FSU's garnet-and-gold colors. The Nike-made Seminoles football jersey features (with permission by the tribe) symbols for Man on Horse, Arrow, and Fire, alluding to the "Tradition of Tribute" when, before each game, "Osceola" throws a flaming lance toward the 50-yard line while on horseback.
    Jacki Lyden
  • The official seal of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in medicine colors of black, yellow, white and red.
    Hide caption
    The official seal of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in medicine colors of black, yellow, white and red.
    Jacki Lyden
  • Bowers's house is a shrine to the Seminole warrior, Osecola, who is also the tribe-approved symbol of the Florida State University Seminoles football team. Here, Osceola is shown on a scouting mission. The late artist, Guy LaBree, was a favorite of the tribe.
    Hide caption
    Bowers's house is a shrine to the Seminole warrior, Osecola, who is also the tribe-approved symbol of the Florida State University Seminoles football team. Here, Osceola is shown on a scouting mission. The late artist, Guy LaBree, was a favorite of the tribe.
    Jacki Lyden
  • Traveling from the Big Cypress Reservation in South Florida, the Seminole Riders get ready to lead the Homecoming Parade. Left to right: Moses Jumper, Cory Sawgrass, Kenny Descheene, Jr., and Kenny Descheene, Sr. This was the first time the tribe sent mounted riders to Tallahassee to take part in the Homecoming festivities around Osceola.
    Hide caption
    Traveling from the Big Cypress Reservation in South Florida, the Seminole Riders get ready to lead the Homecoming Parade. Left to right: Moses Jumper, Cory Sawgrass, Kenny Descheene, Jr., and Kenny Descheene, Sr. This was the first time the tribe sent mounted riders to Tallahassee to take part in the Homecoming festivities around Osceola.
    Robert Wehrli
  • Sawgrass, of Creek descent, shows off traditional adornments and attire, including silver earrings, a long shirt, and a crescent-shaped silver metal gorget at the FSU Homecoming parade. Behind him, the student playing Osceola wears a patchwork symbol for Fire. His horse Renegade isn't authentic to the real-life Osceola, impressive as he may be. He's an Appaloosa. Seminoles rode less showy horses.
    Hide caption
    Sawgrass, of Creek descent, shows off traditional adornments and attire, including silver earrings, a long shirt, and a crescent-shaped silver metal gorget at the FSU Homecoming parade. Behind him, the student playing Osceola wears a patchwork symbol for Fire. His horse Renegade isn't authentic to the real-life Osceola, impressive as he may be. He's an Appaloosa. Seminoles rode less showy horses.
    Robert Wehrli
  • Osceola (as played by Brendan Carter) on his horse leads the Homecoming Parade. There have been 16 Osceolas since 1978. All undergo special training in horsemanship and Seminole history. Osceola is silent except for war whoops — and becoming this character is an extremely competitive honor. The Durham family began the tradition in 1978 with the tribe's permission.
    Hide caption
    Osceola (as played by Brendan Carter) on his horse leads the Homecoming Parade. There have been 16 Osceolas since 1978. All undergo special training in horsemanship and Seminole history. Osceola is silent except for war whoops — and becoming this character is an extremely competitive honor. The Durham family began the tradition in 1978 with the tribe's permission.
    Robert Wehrli
  • Detail from Skeeter Bowers's special FSU Homecoming vest.
    Hide caption
    Detail from Skeeter Bowers's special FSU Homecoming vest.
    Robert Wehrli
  • Moses Jumper, a Seminole re-enactor from Big Cypress Reservation, and an FSU student portraying Osceola lead the 2015 FSU Homecoming parade.
    Hide caption
    Moses Jumper, a Seminole re-enactor from Big Cypress Reservation, and an FSU student portraying Osceola lead the 2015 FSU Homecoming parade.
    Robert Wehrli
  • Osceola and the Seminole Riders came for the first time from Big Cypress Reservation to lead the FSU Homecoming parade on November 13 in Tallahassee, Fla.
    Hide caption
    Osceola and the Seminole Riders came for the first time from Big Cypress Reservation to lead the FSU Homecoming parade on November 13 in Tallahassee, Fla.
    Robert Wehrli
  • Moses Jumper is a member of the Snake Clan, a former athletic director for the tribe, and a popular re-enactor in Seminole events around Florida.
    Hide caption
    Moses Jumper is a member of the Snake Clan, a former athletic director for the tribe, and a popular re-enactor in Seminole events around Florida.
    Robert Wehrli
  • Reigning Seminole tribal royalty stand on the field at half time to crown the Homecoming King and Queen. (L to R) Skyla Osceola, Junior Miss Florida Seminole; Gregory James ll, Little Mr. Seminole; Victoria Benard, Little Miss Seminole; Wanda Bowers, director of the Miss Florida Seminole Princess Pageant; and Destiny Nunez, Miss Florida Seminole.
    Hide caption
    Reigning Seminole tribal royalty stand on the field at half time to crown the Homecoming King and Queen. (L to R) Skyla Osceola, Junior Miss Florida Seminole; Gregory James ll, Little Mr. Seminole; Victoria Benard, Little Miss Seminole; Wanda Bowers, director of the Miss Florida Seminole Princess Pageant; and Destiny Nunez, Miss Florida Seminole.
    Jacki Lyden
  • The FSU student portraying Osceola stands in front of a crowd at the FSU homecoming game.
    Hide caption
    The FSU student portraying Osceola stands in front of a crowd at the FSU homecoming game.
    Eileen Soler/Seminole Tribune
  • The student portraying Osceola wields his flaming torch at the FSU homecoming game.
    Hide caption
    The student portraying Osceola wields his flaming torch at the FSU homecoming game.
    Eileen Soler/Seminole Tribune
  • Kyle Doney participates in the "tradition of tribute."
    Hide caption
    Kyle Doney participates in the "tradition of tribute."
    Seminole Tribune/Eileen Soler

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But by the latter half of the 19th century, the Seminoles had retreated back into the Everglades, vastly reduced in number. The majority of the tribe had long since been shipped off to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. The few who remained emerged at the end of the 19th century, doing what they could to survive in a new world. They catered to the tourist trade, making, selling and wearing their colorful patchwork. They wrestled alligator and restocked their cattle herds. Today, they own the Hard Rock Cafe franchise around the world. There are 4,000 tribal members on five reservations in South Florida, and a sixth closely related tribe of 600, the Miccosukee, thrives on a reservation near Miami.

Kyle Doney, 31, is an FSU alumnus. He's also a Seminole tribal member and deputy director of the Native Learning Center in Hollywood, Florida, where the tribe has its headquarters. For the homecoming game on Nov. 14, he participated in the "tradition of tribute" re-enactment. On that day, the "warrior Osceola" handed the spear to Doney, who plunged it into the ground midfield before the game. Doney was dressed in a Seminole turban, breastplate and leggings. Like the "Osceola" student rider, his regalia was made for him by the tribe. He looked like he'd stepped out of the Everglades in the 19th century.

"It just kind of brings you back and [makes you] think about everything that has happened, the wars and battles," said Doney. "You know it's just that unconquered spirit that they had in them when they wore it. And just to wear that nowadays? I'm very proud and honored."

The NCAA tried to do away with Osceola and other Indian names in college sports 10 years ago. In response, the Seminole Tribe of Florida pushed back and passed a resolution supporting the use of the tribe's name and the Osceola re-enactor. Two years ago, James Billie, the tribe's chairman, defended the use of the tradition in an editorial he wrote for the tribe's newspaper, The Seminole Tribune.

Last year, the tribe authorized Nike to print its symbols on FSU's football jersey. The tribe receives no compensation for this, but a spokesman for the tribe says it's a win-win situation that goes well beyond the football field. For example, FSU offers scholarships to Seminole students, honorary doctorates to distinguished members of the tribe and cultural exchanges between the tribe and the school. The school also says it tries to actively recruit Seminole students.

Todd Van Horne oversaw that project for Nike. Nike incorporated the symbols for Fire, Arrow, and Man on Horse onto the jersey. "We worked with the Seminole Tribe on the symbolism, so when you bring those things together, it replicates the storytelling mechanism of their pre-game ritual of Osceola coming out on the horse and planting the flaming spear at mid-field."

Not all members of the tribe are 100 percent on-board with this appropriation. Moses Jumper is a 65-year-old tribal elder. He explains, "We have some people in the tribe that thinks we ought to do away with the thing," he said, of the "Osceola" character. "And we have some that are trying to make relations work."

As a former athletic director for the tribe, Moses Jumper would like to see more Seminole athletes — FSU has just one Seminole player on the football team. And this year, he brought a group of Seminole horseback riders to the homecoming parade for the first time. And he did it in part because of his respect for one man, Allen Durham.

Durham's family started the "Osceola" tradition back in the late 1970's. He played "Osceola" himself, years ago. It's an honor for students to do so. Before the game, Durham gathered a small group together and invited Moses Jumper to speak.

Moses Jumper, a Seminole re-enactor from Big Cypress and "Osceola" lead the 2015 FSU Homecoming parade. Robert Wehrli hide caption

toggle caption Robert Wehrli

Moses Jumper, a Seminole re-enactor from Big Cypress and "Osceola" lead the 2015 FSU Homecoming parade.

Robert Wehrli

"Moses has been so helpful with us. And we can't thank you enough for everything you do to help us make this traditional tribute as accurate as we can. And as is tradition with the Renegade team, we always come in with hands on top of each other and have our team shout before we take the field. And we would love it if you'd be our first hand today. Team on three, okay? One, two, three, TEAM!"

And then the "war drums" sounded, and Osceola, in full regalia, rode out on his horse, Renegade. The horse reared, and the warrior threw his flaming spear. Seminole tribe members paraded out on the field wearing patchwork in a riot of color. The crowd, including some of the tribe, sang the chant. For Skeeter Bowers, it's love.

"The band kicks right into the war chant. And as the band kicks into the war chant you got 85,000 people doing the chop and going, 'oh, oh-o-oh, oh,' and that goes right through my body. That never gets old."

And the Florida State Seminoles were unconquered, defeating North Carolina State 34 to 17. Tonight they face their fiercest rival, the University of Florida Gators.

Reporting for this story comes in part from the Florida Humanities Council and Florida Cultural Resources, Tarpon Springs.

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