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Part 1--the History of Seminole Reenacting

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History of Seminole Reenacting part 1

I want to make a brief history of Seminole reenacting as I experienced it. Since I have been doing this for 20 years, I think that I have seen most of it and pretty much know what has happened.

This will be a seven-part series. Or maybe eight. I haven't finished it all yet. I don’t want to take the time to post photos here, because it will take a lot of research and searching to locate all the old stuff. Most of which I do not even have anymore.

Keep in mind that this is my own observations and opinions. It is the history as I remember it. I am not perfect and some people may disagree. I am not doing interviews. I am not looking up old newsletters and newspaper articles. I am not scanning old photos. If you disagree, start your own blog.

Now why we do reenacting, is a discussion for a later time. And it is probably very interesting. And not everyone who reads it will agree with me on that either. Let’s just say it might turn out to be verrrryyyy interesting!

Seminole War reenacting is unique. We are confined to events exclusively in Florida, unless we want to portray Creek and venture north of the border. We are in a time period that not too many places reenact—the 1830s. Even the soldier’s uniforms are very different from twenty years before and after. If you want to do this time period, there is not a lot of versatility outside the state. This was a major event in U.S. history that was soon forgotten after it happened.

The 1980s and the beginning of Seminole War Reenacting.

About 1980 the Dade Battlefield State Historic Site started to have annual commemorations of the battle. First a few guys dressed as soldiers the first few years. They probably were not very accurate, but at the time nobody had much research available for the 1832 uniform.

Well, enter Swamp Owl. Swamp Owl is the patriarch of Seminole reenactors, and the first one who started to try and portray an 1835 Seminole. He showed up at the Dade Battlefield commemoration, adding a little flavor to the event. They started to try and do battle reenactments in succeeding years, and Swamp Owl had to run around sounding like 200 Indians in the woods. At least that is what he says. Swamp Owl is an old Florida resident who has Seminole and settler ancestry. I know his real name, but no use mentioning it. Most of the reenactors I will mention will be known more by their “stage name” than their Anglican names. Everyone will recognize them more for their stage names.

1985 was the 150th anniversary of the Dade Battle, and they decided to hold a full-blown reenactment. That was the first event I ever attended, and as a spectator in the audience, and not a reenactor. I had heard about it from Rick Obermeyer just a few days before. At the end of the battle, I cheered for the Seminoles, and got icy glares for an otherwise silent audience. Several Seminole tribal members also attended and were wearing patchwork, which was not suppose to show up until 80 years after the battle. But at the time they needed participants, and we were just starting on the clothing. Among the Seminoles were several scouts who participate in the scouting fraternity, the Order of the Arrow, known as the OA. A long-time friend of mine, Jimmy Sawgrass, was also there dressed out in what was then an impressive 1800s Seminole outfit. Because of Rick, Jimmy, and several others that I recognized, I decided that I could join them too, and soon after started working on my outfit and building a blackpowder rifle.

Another event that spurred interest and activity in the 1980s was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Okeechobee. Willard Steele published a book of the history and archaeology of the site. 19 years later in 2006 we finally saw the state of Florida purchase part of the remaining property of the battle site to make into a state park. Unfortunately the battle reenactment at Lake O in 1987 was a one-time event, but it did see participation of a descendant of Colonel Gentry, the commander of Missouri Militia company that was killed at the battle.

In 2001 the Lake O event was restarted, but it only happened for about three or four years afterwards because of local politics and politicians involved. And that they could never decide on a date to have the event, which made it hard for reenactors to plan their calendar to attend. Mostly the same people are involved in the reenactments, and we all know each other. When they would decide on a date, it would often be too late in the season to change plans of other events we had already committed too. So participant numbers were never large. Hopefully this event will start again now that the property is a state park.
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