by David Mott & Rick Obermeyer (Dec. 1990)
in 19th Century Seminole Men`s Clothing
by David Mott and Rick Obermeyer (Dec.,
(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
..... Paint (yellow)
..... 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."
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
The use of colors might
be as follows:
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
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.
was a "living" color, worn on the face to prepare for
worn under the eyes was supposed to empower the wearer with night
represented death, as it is the color of "old bones."
Care should be taken not to wear a lot of yellow.
Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing
1956 Florida's "Wild" Indians, the Seminole. National Geographic Magazine, December, Vol. 60, No. 6:819-840.
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.
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.
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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
unless otherwise cited.