Photo: The Sam Jones statue at Treetops Park in Davie.
Certainly one of the most enigmatic characters we know from the Seminole Wars is Abiaka, or Sam Jones. As a legendary hero of almost mystical status, Abiaka is certainly well known among the Florida Seminole & Miccosukee, but I don’t know if it is the same in Oklahoma. The Fla Indians consider him the reason they remain in Florida.
He is the Florida version of Geronimo. At least he is not known enough for a bunch of spaghetti western movies or dime store novels spreading fiction about him. Like Geronimo, Abiaka’s medicine was said to be very powerful. But there is a lot he did not pass down but took with him.
I am sure that someone will read this and tell me that I am all wrong. It seems that Abiaka has beoome everything to everybody, which is what happens when a historical figure becomes a legendary cultural hero. Various sources are in variance in content. Since the army had nothing good to say about him, the historical records do not help.
I have been told that Abiaka is related to the Muskogee word Apvyvkv. Translations are difficult because words encompass entire concepts--It is just too difficult to get into here. But part of the meaning explained to me is one who seeks to ensure that warriors return from battle alive and well. And that seems to be how Abiaka is portrayed in various statues and artistic renditions
Abiaka is not from the word for Eagle, which some people have said. One name for Eagle is Lvmhe in Muskogee. An eagle is not a bird that you see much in southeastern culture. An Eagle will steal a fish from an osprey, and for that reason is not held in very high regard. Maybe that makes the Eagle appropriate for the United States? Since I am an Eagle Scout myself, it is a difficult re-education for me. In southeastern lore, birds such as the anhinga or woodpecker are much more important.
There is a statue of Abiaka in front of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, leading the women and children to safety during the war. An identical statue is in Treetops Park in Davie, west of Fort Lauderdale, which was a former Seminole town known as Pine Island. (My photo at the top of the page that I took at the statue’s dedication years ago.)
There is another statue of Abiaka at Billie Swamp Safari that you can only see from a distance. No one can approach it. It is closed from the public due to the Water Buffalo crossing the trail that leads to it. This statue is surrounded by other statues representing the eight clans still here in Florida.
Sam Jones’ age when he passed away around 1863 is speculated anywhere from 90 to 200 years of age.
I have read that Aripeka in Hernando County on the west coast of Florida was the former site of his village. He got the name of Sam Jones when he was known to sell fish to the soldiers outside Fort King, around Silver Springs. There was a popular song at the time of a fisherman named Sam Jones, so that is what the soldiers started to call him.
His medicine helped his people through their darkest times. One story is that at one of the talks (1834?), was that he was so enraged at the Indian agent and general, that he stomped his foot on the ground and caused the platform they were sitting upon to come tumbling down. It is also said that Abiaka’s medicine could kill the soldier’s horses.
Late in the war, Abiaka remained far from the soldiers. He had a village on a hammock island, probably in the Shark River, that was occupied by Harney’s dragoon soldiers in 1840. All the people had fled before the arrival of the soldiers. When the soldiers camped out there, they complained about roaches getting into everything and eating all their rations. Maybe Abiaka’s medicine?
Sam Jones further secreted himself in Big Cypress. He was never captured and died there around 1863.
The village in Big Cypress is well known to the Seminoles of Florida, but they will not disclose the location to non-tribal members. It is said to be just north of Big Cypress Reservation. Janet Wood Reno visited the site with Josie Billie, as described in her book, “To Hell With Politics.” (I just ordered copy for mere pennies off Amazon.) It seems strange to me that he would show her the site unless Reno had some family connection.
The book said that when Josie Billie showed this site to Reno, there was evidence that a panther had slept there the night before; a very powerful sign and apparently Abiaka’s clan animal, and Josie Billie’s. (And I am told that Josie is closely related to Sam Jones.) It is said that only Panther Clan can visit the site. I know an archaeologist who now works for the tribe, who said that he was prevented from visiting there because of several natural occurrences that kept him away during the attempted visit, but that didn’t keep away his guides who were Panther Clan.
When James Billie was previously tribal chairman in the 1990s, there were many interesting and colorful people following behind him. One of these was Richard Showalter, who I saw in 1997 and again in 1999. I don’t know if Richard is still alive. He was instantly familiar to me, because his family established Showalter Field in Winter Park, a former airfield that is now a sports complex. I went to many football games and ran many miles around that track as a kid.
Richard Showalter would come across most as totally bonkers. He suffered a full brain aneurysm but miraculously survived. His epiphany was of Abiaka / Sam Jones. Richard was in the process of writing a book about the true Sam Jones, whatever that was. Apparently whatever Richard said, James seemed to take it seriously. But, I never saw anything in writing.
Talking to Richard, he was the type of person who understood a different reality than what we perceive, and left me questioning if he had figured out the universe and I was the crazy one? He said that Sam Jones is everywhere, and all around us. Maybe Sam Jones or Abiaka is not a person, but an entire concept?