Since the 150th anniversary reenactment of Dade’s Battle in 1985, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has taken an interest in our reenactments. It is part of their history, after all. I remember Tribal Chairman, Chief James Billie, at several events. The involvement of the Seminole Tribe is the most important element of our events. This is the history of the suffering and victory of these special people who never left Florida.
Our patriarch of Seminole reenacting, Swamp Owl, became employed full-time at the Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Reservation. James Billie wrote a song that appeared on one of his albums, “The Old Ways Will Survive,” and credited us for helping make it so.
In 1997 the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum opened up at Big Cypress Reservation, and two years later the first Seminole War reenactment was held at the museum, on the Seminole reservation. (Of course the Indians always win—if not, the crowd would make sure they would.) This event was known as the Kissimmee Slough Shootout, from 1999 to 2006, named after the local slough that is part of the Everglades eco-system. The coordination for the event and budget always expend a lot of effort to make this reenactment the most spectacular in Florida. The pyrotechnics at the battle and the fireworks show Saturday night is the best anywhere.
Aside from all the fun, this event at Big Cypress Reservation is very important. It is a window of history for the Seminole children to see what their ancestors dressed like, and the hardships they endured to remain in Florida. I would expect every Seminole school student who attends the event to go home with a sense of pride on what they have accomplished. We also wonder if this event has helped spark a revitalization or renaissance of the Seminole crafts and traditions. I hope so, and would be very proud to be a part of it, if this is the case.
In the past, the event at Big Cypress has brought reenactors by invitation only. Only the best and most responsible have been invited. This was to ensure that the right people were invited to make the proper presentation.
Next year the event at Big Cypress is being moved 5 miles down the road to the Billie Swamp Safari eco-park on the reservation. This will start a new chapter in the event. We are grateful to Brian Zepeda of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum for making eight wonderful years of the Kissimmee Slough Shootout at Big Cypress.
In 2001 the Dade Battlefield society completed a 30-minute video of the battle and distributed it to every school in Sumter County. This took several years of reenactments to film. I see myself in four different outfits during the battle, and many reenactors with changing hairstyles and changing beards among my soldier friends.
In the past five years, many of our familiar faces have passed away. Among the reenactors we have said goodbye to Wes Coleman, Gray Bear, Tennessee/Jennie, and Chris Gardner. Among historians we have seen the passing of James Covington and Dr. John Mahon. Among the Seminole Tribe, we have seen the passing of Museum Director Billy Cypress, Henry Billie, Mary Frances Johns, Sonny Billie, and Susie Billie. I am sorry if I missed a few. All of these people I had met, some I knew personally, and all were very dear to me.
End of my report on the history of Seminole reenacting—but certainly not the end of the story.
as you said, the next generation is coming along, though some of us seem to be aging too fast ourselves. we now have a good foundation for the future, though, and i am proud ot have had a hand in it. Jimmy Sawgrass's son Cody, Matthew Griffin and his uncle John, Chuck Adams and his very young son, Gary Kemp's son, the Watt family, Heather (the cookie lady) and her husband Mike, and many, many others. if we can only keep the good relations between re-enactors and the parks, keep getting the new recruits, and keep preserving our history, we can keep a vital part of our country's history around for a while longer. maybe we can learn from the mistakes made, instead of having to repeat them.
thank you chris, for this history of Seminole living history here in Florida. it is much appreciated...
one project i have played with (not really seriously) was to do a short video about re-enacting from the re-enactor's point of view, sort of like the "trekkies" movie about star trek fans. something that would be funny, but still show a good view of what things are like. 15-20 minutes or so...
a bit of this history would be good to include, if not all. think about it...
i'll have to start sneaking the camera around with me...figure out a way to hide one on me during battle that can see and hear everything...take an event or two and maybe stay out of outfit almost altogether and concentrate on filming some stuff. we'll have to think up some questions to ask/interviews to do. and try to come up with the best place to catch bloopers. and of course, the stupid/overasked questions part, where we get some of the most annoying things spectators ask...