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Adapted from The North American Indian Portfolios, 1993 ~ Library of Congress</center></i></font>
Adapted from The North American Indian Portfolios, 1993 ~ Library of Congress
Face Painting
by David Mott & Rick Obermeyer (Dec. 1990)

in 19th Century Seminole Men`s Clothing
Rick Obermeyer ~ Editor


by David Mott and Rick Obermeyer (Dec., 19901


(Osceola on his deathbed) "He then called for his red paint, and his looking glass, which was held before him, when he deliberately painted one-half of his face, his neck and throat, -his wrists- the backs of his hands, and the handle of his knife, red with vermilion; a custom practiced when the irrevocable oath of war and destruction is taken." Dr. Frederick Weeden, quoted by Catlin, 1844

"Several of the Indians' fighting techniques were calculated to strike terror. Some warriors entered battle naked except for a loin cloth, but their bodies were streaked in bizarre examples in red and black paint... (In council) there might be a half red circle of paint under each eye and silver rings in the nose. A few famous braves had their ears elongated and slit." Page 123, Mahon, 1967.

"The men do not paint their faces, but occasionally wear ornaments when visiting a white man's camp or going to a town or on a trading expedition. I am told they sometimes paint their faces during the ceremonies of the Green Corn Dance, but was unable to get any definite information on this subject." Cory, 1896

"Co-lo-waw-la-nee....... Co-lo-wa-lus-tee...... Co-lo-wa-chaw-tee......
..... Paint (yellow)
-....Paint (black)
..... Paint (red)" Moore-Willson, 1914

"Yellow paint says a warrior is ready to die. Red war paint signifies blood; green under the eyes makes for 'see better at night.' Yellow, the color of death, means a man has lived his life and will fight to the finish." Capron, 1956.


While early 19th century Seminoles would paint their face and hands for special occasions, this practice was no longer done in public by the late 19th century.

Note that it was done on special occasions only, to augment one's appearance and power. All face painting should be done sparingly, and with high regard for the occasion. It might not be out of place at a battle re-enactment or for a serious ceremony, but would be entirely inappropriate for an encampment or for a casual demonstration. A reenactor would be misplaced if he painted himself while he lounged around camp, or while stomp dancing in any except a Green Corn Dance.

It would be a big mistake to put on face painting without having a genuine reason or need. Face paint was a way the Seminole drew upon the natural powers in his world to add to his own. A rough parallel might be the personal strength many Christians find in a crucifix hung from their neck.

Few things will cheapen a reenactor's appearance faster than inappropriate or garish face painting. Painting on a death's head or zebra stripes or modern camouflage patterns are cheap and showy, and indicate the wearer's ignorance, disregard, and disrespect for the culture he is trying to represent.

Seminoles were more likely to use powder than grease paint (Capron, 1956), which could be mixed with a little fat.

The use of colors might be as follows:

RED was the color of war. The Red Stick Creeks were the warrior villages. This was especially true among the Hitchiti speakers, who formed the nucleus of the Miccosukee Seminoles. It would be painted in bands or stripes on the face, as well as on the backs of the hands and on knife handles. The Red Stick Creeks might also favor red turbans.

WHITE was the color of peace. The White Stick villages were the peace party among the Creeks. If a group of Seminoles wore a strip of white around their red turbans, they were ready to talk truce. If Billy Bowleg wanted to parley, he made a sign of white beads and tobacco leaves on the trail leading to his camp.

BLACK was a "living" color, worn on the face to prepare for war.

GREEN worn under the eyes was supposed to empower the wearer with night vision.

YELLOW represented death, as it is the color of "old bones." Care should be taken not to wear a lot of yellow.

Seminole Silverwork
Peace Medals for Seminole Outfits
Seminole Beads

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing


Capron, Louis
1956 Florida's "Wild" Indians, the Seminole. National Geographic Magazine, December, Vol. 60, No. 6:819-840.

Catlin, George
1894 Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians. Z vols, 4th edition, London.

Cory, Charles B.
1896 Preface to Second Edition (and) The Seminole Indians, HUNTING AND FISHING IN FLORIDA.

Goggin, John M.
1955 "Osceola: Portraits, Features, and Dress," The Florida Historical Quarterly, XXXIII: 3 & 4, Gainesville.

Mahon, John K.
1967 HISTORY OF THE SECOND SEMINOLE WAR 1835-1842. University of Florida Press, Gainesville.

Moore-Willson, Minnie
1914 edition, THE SEMINOLES OF FLORIDA, Moffat, Yard and Company, New York.

Peithmann, Irvin M.
1957 THE UNCONQUERED SEMINOLE INDIANS. Great Outdoors Association, St. Petersburg.

Contributed by Rick Obermeyer E-mail:
From the book 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing
© 1991-2000 Sherwood F. Obermeyer Jr., 2124 Miscindy Place, Orlando, FL 32806

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