In 1849, the actions of an African American man saved hundreds of lives from slavery and inspired some of the country’s leading abolitionists. Chief John Horse along with his closest Indian ally, Chief Coacoochee, staged a massive exodus of enslaved blacks and Indians to Mexico where slavery had been outlawed since 1829.
This initiative led antislavery lawmaker John Quincy Adams to influence arguments in the U.S. Congress that would eventually create a national precedent for emancipation. That precedent, the Black Seminole armistice of 1838, resonated into the 1840s and through the 1860s when former president Abraham Lincoln freed the country’s slaves.
The stories of the black Seminoles and the American Buffalo Soldiers are deeply threaded into the fabric of American history, but many have claimed that this history is not accurately told in schools, history books or even passed down through family trees and stories. This problem was addressed at a recent celebration commemorating the lives and accomplishments of the Black Seminole Scouts. The event was held in honor of National American Indian Heritage Month at the St. Elizabeths Hospital Chapel.
William “Dub” Warrior, the great-great grandson of Chief John Horse, received an award for his patriotism. Warrior was one of several descendants of the black Seminoles and the Buffalo Soldiers who attended the event.
“This is a great honor,” said Warrior who is of mixed Native American and Black heritage. He said that he is black just as much as he is Mexican and Native American. “If you are half of anything, you are still what you are. You cannot tell what a person is just by looking at them.”
Billy Jean Meyers is a descendent of “not one, but two Black Seminole Indians. “We live and enjoy life today because of what they did.” A retired librarian, Meyers is listed in the “Red Black Connection” as a descendent of Black Seminole Indians.
“It is important we instill our memory, our history and our culture in the young,” Meyers said. “We should make it our responsibility to write a family tree. Thank you to the parents for capturing out history and passing it on.”
“This event epitomizes what our organization stands for and that is to preserve the history of those achievers,” said Trooper Michael Theard, vice president of the Greater Washington, D.C. Chapter for the 9th and 10th (Horse) Calvary Association.
The American Buffalo Soldiers were members of the U.S. Army, formed in 1866 and presumably given the name Buffalo Soldiers by the Native American Indians that they battled. Although there were several other African American regiments that were raised during the Civil War, the Buffalo Soldiers were established by Congress as the first peacetime all-black regiment in the U.S. Army.
“Being black is what being a Buffalo Soldier means to me,” Waldo Johnson said. “When I was young, we were taught history and contributions of all the ethnic groups, but there was no mention made of the black Buffalo Soldiers who fought and helped to build the West,” Johnson said. “They built the telegraph lines and the forts. I represent that part of history that was so horribly left out.”