That title is not something to be taken lightly. Look at other mascots around the state of Florida–neither the Hurricanes nor the Gators carry significance like that of the Seminoles.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s rich history became the foundation of FSU. The Seminole is unconquered, resilient, “wild and free.”
Unconquered is more than just a word. It’s a heritage. There were three Seminole Wars, all of which took place in the 1800s.
The dates of the first Seminole War are not clear–some accounts from army soldiers say 1814-1819. A great Seminole warrior, Osceola, took his family and nearly 3,000 other Creek Indians to Florida in 1814, after Andrew Jackson defeated the Upper Creeks. Four years later, Osceola and a few others were captured by Jackson’s troops.
In 1830, the U.S. Government passed the Indian Removal Act, which forced many Native Americans from their homes. Osceola actively opposed these indian removal negotiations. Osceola was not a hereditary chief, but he became one of the most respected and heralded leaders the tribe has ever known. According to a document the FSView acquired from the Office of University Relations, “legend has it that during one [negotiation] session Osceola angrily stabbed a knife through a treaty lying on the table.”
U.S. forces captured Osceola in 1837, two years into the second war. His leadership saved several hundred Seminoles from capture. The U.S. military gave up five years after Osceola’s capture and declared this Seminole War over on August 14, 1842.
Osceola’s spirit lives on as one of FSU’s greatest football traditions. Over 16 people have ridden Renegade and taken the name Osceola since the tradition’s start at the Oklahome State football game in 1978.
According to a grandson of Osceola, Richard Osceola [pronounced Oh-sea-oh-la], the tribe shares their unconquered mindset with FSU.
CLARIFICATION: Richard Osceola is grandson of Billy Osceola, the first elected chairman of the Seminole Tribe; Billy Osceola was elected in 1957.
“We never surrendered to the United States’ government,” said Osceola. “We try to bring that spirit to [the university], so we don’t mind them using the name. It doesn’t matter as long as they have the spirit.”
Chris Osceola, Richard’s cousin and the Hollywood Board Representative for the tribe, agreed.
“As long as they keep winning,” Chris Osceola said.
Osceola and Renegade
Florida State University enjoys one of the nation’s only positive relationships with a Native American tribe. According to Donna McHugh, an assistant vice president in the Office of University Relations, “we wouldn’t be what we are if we had to call ourselves something else.”
“They like the fact that Florida State University is using their name, so it’s a win-win situation,” said McHugh. “Our first relationship with the tribe probably was over the Osceola and Renegade tradition; it was a great tradition to start.”
The then-chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Howard Tommy, worked with an FSU graduate, Bill Durham, to create the tradition. It took time to get momentum behind the idea. Durham first proposed it when he was a student on the Homecoming committee in 1962. It wasn’t until a man by the name of Bobby Bowden became head coach that Durham’s idea began to grow–by then it was 1977.
Osceola rode Renegade onto the field for the first time in 1978.
“Looking back to that time, things were different,” said McHugh. “The whole regalia that Osceola wore was given to the Durhams by Chief Tommy, but by the time we get to more modern times, they wanted it to be a more traditional regalia that Osceola could have really worn. That is why you will notice a change in recent years as to how Osceola looks. It is now very authentic to the way it would have looked then.”
According to Richard Osceola, the FSU Seminoles and the Seminole Tribe Seminoles grew up together. The university was first called Seminole in 1947, and the tribe was federally recognized only 10 years later.
“We didn’t mind them using our name as far as we are today, and you have some […] other tribes that have conflicts with the NCAA,” said Richard Osceola. “They say this and that about the logos and whatnot. We are the unconquered tribe here, so we don’t have that feeling that other tribes have. We always felt unconquered. That’s how we were taught.”
The Current Tribe
Seminoles stay true to their core values and their old traditions. That doesn’t mean they aren’t up with the times. While speaking with the FSView, Chris Osceola was typing on his iPad. Driving into the Big Cypress reservation, it was easy to see Ford and Chevy trucks, plows, tractors and other clear indicators of the current times. At the same time, it’s easy to see each chickee that stands next to a house or building.
There are even a few chickees at the FSU reservation.
The tribe itself is divided into eight current clans: bear, snake, bird, Big Town, otter, wind, panther and deer. Some clans have become extinct with the death of its last woman–the Alligator clan is now extinct.
Two of these eight clans coincide with FSU’s main rivals: the alligator clan (University of Florida) and the wind clan (University of Miami), said Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Bill Steele.
Steele told of a time he ran into someone wearing a UM baseball cap and tried to talk about UM. The man told Steele he didn’t follow UM much, and wondered why Steele thought he was a UM fan.
“But you’re wearing a Miami hat,” said Steele. “He took it off and looked at it and said, ‘well, oh yeah, I’m wind clan,’ because of the hurricanes. So he was wearing the hat not because he was a UM fan but because they were the hurricanes.”
When many people think about a Native American they tend to think of an ancient human that wore a loincloth and carried a hatchet. That’s not the case when it comes to the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Although it’s not uncommon to see Seminoles wearing traditional dress, that’s usually saved for tribal occasions and not business.
“Those are the spirits we try to keep safest,” said Richard Osceola. “We practice that at home. When we go out into the business world, that’s when we dress for the atmosphere that we’re in. We have the green corn dance. We have our Indian days celebration. Other than that, we go out to church; We wear dress-up; We have our social dances still, and that’s when we wear our outfits and whatnot. They’ve come a long way.”
Chris Osceola agreed.
“A lot of the tribal officials–when they’re on official business–you’ll see them wear our traditional patchwork colors on their clothing, just to represent who we are,” said Chris Osceola. “There are some people who just like to wear it.”
“We more or less embrace it now,” said Chris Osceola.
The tribe and the university boast nothing but positivity from this relationship. The tribe is proud to have their name associated with an institution of higher education, and the university is proud to be known as home to the “unconquered Seminoles.”
“Back when all of these schools were having battles with Native American tribes about using their names–the Braves–remember all that stuff?” said Chris Osceola. “People were out there protesting. We never had an issue with it. We never saw it in a negative light like that. We were proud they were using our name.”
As McHugh said, the relationship is a “win-win.”
Growth of Friendship
The relationship between tribe and university has seen nothing but growth in recent years. The tribe just elected new leaders. The university has a new president. One constant that was ripped from the university was Bobby Bowden, who was instrumental in fostering this relationship.
“The wisdom that Bobby carried with the university all those years–he carried that with our leaders here with the tribe; they mingled together,” said Richard Osceola. “He was with us all those years, and as we were growing up he was a part of our lives. We always humbled him.”
As a member of the Tallahassee-famous Osceola family, Richard Osceola is proud to have his name associated with FSU.
“Every time I visit there they give me utmost respect,” said Richard Osceola. “As an Osceola, when I go visit the university itself, the behavior they have there–they teach more than just education; they teach behavior skills. That’s practiced very well in that university.”
Richard Osceola said he would like to see a Native American student participate in athletics at FSU.
“I would like to see a Native American on the football team or on the softball team,” said Richard Osceola. “I would like to see that, but our students now–they’re mostly into basketball, so they choose other schools. It’s hard to try to get them back into football.”
When it comes to school spirit and selection, it’s interesting to see where some Seminoles choose to attend, said Chris Osceola. He admitted his daughter has FSU listed as her number one–as if she had a choice.
“You’d be surprised around this tribe right now,” said Chris Osceola. “[Richard] and I are hard-core Seminole fans, but there are a lot of Seminoles who are Hurricanes fans; there are more Hurricane and Gator fans than there are Seminole fans in our own tribe–for reasons unbeknownst to me.”
In an article in the Seminole Tribune in July of 2005, writer Janice Billie said “the Seminole Tribal Council does not consider FSU’s tradition disrespectful; on the contrary it is seen as homage to their strength and resilience.” The Seminole Tribune is the “Voice of the Unconquered”–the newspaper for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
According to Richard Osceola, Tallahassee itself was named after a Native American chief.
“There was a chief by the name of Tallahassee, of the people before the tribe, back in the 1800s. Tallahatcheet; that’s how you would pronounce it in our language [Creek].”
In the traditional Native American language known as Muskogee Creek, Seminole means “wild and free,” according to Richard Osceola.
“He’s from Florida,” said Richard Osceola. “He’s always lived out of the wetlands, raised in the ‘glades with the wildlife. The definition of Seminole is ‘wild and free.’ Some say it’s runaway, but in our definition it’s wild and free–just being free like the water, the grass, the wind.”
Richard Osceola said he enjoyed being able to teach others about the Seminole people.
“We were out in Arizona one time watching the National Championship game, but there were people in Arizona that didn’t realize there were still Native Americans in Florida,” Richard Osceola said. “So, [the relationship between the tribe and university] serves us well.”
While there, Richard Osceola was asked: “what is a Seminole?”
“You’re looking at one,” he responded proudly.