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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

By Rick Obermeyer (1991)

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


The attack on Fort Cooper was "headed by four or five chiefs, who were distinguished by their white plumes, and their movements in directing and inspiring their men." Myer M. Cohen, NOTICES OF FLORIDA AND THE CAMPAIGNS, 1836, quoted in Elwell, 1988.

(1837) "Coacoochee... retired into the hammock to deck himself out, emerging resplendent with a plume of white crane feathers, bright scarlet leggings, and a silver band around his turban." Page 224, Mahon, 1967

"At the important council which met after some delays on November 10th, 1840, Halleck wore a fine turban ornamented with black ostrich feathers, and his followers waited on him like a prince." Page 282, Mahon, 1967

(during Second Seminole War) "On occasions of ceremony however there are certain peculiarities of costume which are seldom departed from. For instance the ostrich plumes which decorate the heads of the Chiefs. These are worn differently by different individuals. CoaHarjo wore his on the front part of his head and so did most of the other chiefs I saw, with certain modifications, -but Osceola was peculiar for wearing his always on the opposite side and hanging off to the rear, as I have drawn them." J. R. Vinton, quoted by Goggin, 1955

"(Osceola) wore three ostrich feathers in his head and a turban made of a vari-colored cotton shawl..." George Catlin, quoted by Goggin, 1955.

"(Osceola at time of capture)... cress 'd in a blue calico shirt, leggings of red cloth with a row of buttons on the outside of the leg & a red print shawl wrapp'd around his head and another his neck and shoulders." N. S. Jarvis, quoted by Goggin, 1955

"Capt. P. Morrison in command of the Indian post sent to Maj. H. J. Hook Osceola's effects as follows: four black and two white ostrich feathers, large silk shawl used for head dress..." newspaper account, quoted by Goggin, 1955

(Billy Bowlegs) "Finally, there was a turban wound from a red shawl 'surmounted with white feathers, encircled with a silver band."' Porter, 1967

(Billy Bowlegs' 1852 visit to Washington) "On his head he wore a kind of turban enclosed in a broad silver band and surmounted by a profusion of black ostrich feathers." newspaper account, quoted by Covington, 1982

(Pratt, 1879) "The men wear the usual breech clout, a calico shirt ornamented with bright strips of ribbon, and a small shawl of bright colors folded the width of the hand and wrapped around the head like a turban." Sturtevant, 1956

{1880) "The next article of the man's ordinary costume is the turban. This a remarkable structure and gives to its wearer much of his unique appearance. At present it is made of one or more small shawls. These shawls are generally woolen and copied in figure and color from the plaid o£ some Scotch clan. They are so folded that they are about 3 inches wide and as long as the diagonal of the fabric. They are then, one or more of them successively, wrapped tightly around the head, the top of the head remaining bare; the last end o£ the last shawl is tucked skillfully and firmly away, without the use of pins, somewhere in the many folds of the turban. The structure when finished looks like a section of a decorated cylinder crowded down upon the man's head. I examined one of these turbans and found it rather a firm piece of work, made of several shawls wound into seven concentric rings. It was over 20 inches in diameter, the shell of the cylinder being perhaps 7 inches thick and 3 in width. This headdress, at the southern settlements, is regularly worn in the camps and sometimes in the hunt. While hunting, however, it seems to be the general custom for the warriors to go bareheaded. At the' northern camps, a kerchief bound about the head frequently takes the place of the turban in everyday life, but on dress or festival occasions, at both the northern and southern settlements, this curious turban is the customary covering for the head of the Seminole braves. Having no pockets in his dress, he has discovered that the folds of his turban may be put to a pocket's uses..." MacCauley, 1887

(ca. 1895) "It is worn almost constantly; and is made impromptu from shawls or colossal handkerchiefs wrapped round and round the head and then secured in shape by a band, often made of beaten silver which encircles the whole with brilliant effect. With young braves the more important the occasion, the more enormous the turban." Moore-Willson, 1914

(Billy Bowlegs III, cat 1895) "His large turban was embraced by a silver band, made from four silver dollars beaten with the implements that can be found at an Indian village." Moore-Willson, 1914

"Their turban is made of a woolen shawl, sometimes covered with a piece of calico and even silk when they wish to be particularly gorgeous in their attire. On one occasion I saw an Indian by the name of Billy Bowlegs wearing a turban encircled by a band of metal (probably tin). The older Indians usually wear a red woolen turban made by widening a shawl around their heads, which they fasten by tucking the ends skillfully away beneath the folds without the use of pins. As a rule they do not wear the turban when hunting...except in the very hottest weather." Cory, 1895


The reenactor has the challenge of finding silk or wool scarves in Florida to make an older style turban. Silk is usually too costly and modern rayon is inappropriate. Any wool Scotch plaid muffler or scarf is fine, or any floral or paisley print. Plain solids are actually less common. The reenactor has a lot of freedom of choice here.

If you don't have friends or relatives up North to locate one for you, and you aren't lucky at garage sales or flea markets, you can get wool plaid scarves from mail order places that cater to people who make outfits for Scottish games. Plaid and paisley wool cloth is in better fabric stores for S30 to $50 a yard, and sometimes on sale. Go in together with some friends, buy two yards, cut the piece into thirds lengthwise, and you have the equivalent to 3 wool scarves at about the same price each.

A reenactor can also make a suitable turban with large paisley or floral print cotton handkerchiefs, even though this kind is more likely to fit into the late 19th century.


For dress up occasions (and what reenactment is not a dressy occasion), the turban needs to get the extra touches. The most obvious is ostrich plumes, the Seminole feather of choice. Creeks occasionally wore eagle or some other fancy feather, but there is as yet no documentation for any feather other than ostrich or crane for early 19th century Seminoles. They didn't start wearing egret plumes until later, when they were living down in the Everglades.

Finding those ostrich plumes is another challenge for the hobbyist.

Friends have reported finding fat fluffy plumes in theatrical and costume shops (Orlando), a magic store (Sarasota), window dressing suppliers (Winter Park), and wedding boutiques (Miami). They have been reported in places like Pier One Imports and in flea markets.

Ostrich feathers come dyed in many colors, but perhaps not every color is appropriate for the 19th century. The lS20's Seminole pictures in McKenney-Hall show a total of about 20 plumes. One of Osceola's three is white, and Yahahajo's single one is red. The other eighteen are all black. Eight ostrich plumes are among the Creek portraits; one is white (dyed red at the tip), two are red, and the other five are black.

The portrait by Curtis and Catlin's two portraits of Osceola confirm his use of-one white and two black feathers. In his other Seminole portraits, Catlin shows us Mick-E-No-Pah (two white feathers), Lah-Shee (one small white one), Ye-How-Lo-Gee (one small blue one), and Co-Ee-He-Jo (two black ones).

The photographs and lithographs of Billy Bowlegs show him wearing two to five plumes, always black. Only Billy Bowlegs seems to ever wear more than three at a time.

This seems to be a number large enough to be a pretty good sampling. Black is obviously a big favorite, much more than white (which was unexpected by the author). There are a couple of red ones and a small dark blue one, but there is no support for yellow, green, orange, light blue, or purple.

By the way, if your ostrich plumes ever get caught in the rain, don't panic even though they will look terrible, not unlike a drowned rat. Hang them up to dry and they will fluff out again. Maybe not as good as new, but not a total loss, either.


It appears that some reenactors are a little vague on what goes on the outside of the cloth turban. Some turbans have so many pins on them that they look like early 19th century equivalents of baseball caps. While those reenactors may have had fun assembling those pins, and do look impressive wearing all of them, there is not much to indicate that Seminoles actually followed that fashion.

Seminoles did not pin anything at all on their turbans until after about the 1880's, when triangular beaded pendants started to appear. Even then, the pendants are seen only infrequently in period photographs, although many museums now display examples (Smithsonian; American Museum of Natural History, New York; Milwaukee Public Museum; Historical Assoc. of Martin County, Stuart, FL).

A reenactor who wanted to dress up his turban would do much better to add a headband. These were made in German silver alloy or, rarely, real silver. A headband made out of real silver back then would have been quite an affluent flashy accessory, probably something like a Rolex watch today. A much more economical German silver headband is a very nice added touch to any outfit, then or now.

Not every turban had one. Osceola didn't wear one. Of the ten McKenney-Hall pictures of Seminoles, all wear turbans, but only four have headbands, varying from two to three fingers wide. Catlin painted six Seminole men, only one of which has a headband. The highest proportion is in an 1853 print of "'Billy Bowlegs,' and His Suite of Indian Chiefs," in which four o£ six Seminoles are wearing headbands. There are also a couple shown among the Creeks in McKenney-Hall. These have the same kind of rounded crenellations that are on most (but not all) of the Seminole headbands.

Among the Seminoles, Tukosee Mathla's appears to be unique in that it has pierced designs. Yahahajo's is not crenellated and is undecorated except for incised lines inside the edges, similar to those on gorgets, as is the one shown in Catlin's painting of Lah-shee. The one in Billy Bowleq's photograph has large crenellations, but there doesn't appear to be any incised ornamentation or lines at all.

Headbands were popular with the Seminoles. for a long time. They were still worn well past 1900, sometimes even along with beaded pendants. These later headbands tended to be slightly narrower and have very small crenellations, if any at all.

Like many other parts of an old-style Seminole outfit, headbands aren't complicated pieces to make. German silver is available from Indian hobbyist catalogs, and can occasionally be found in local lapidary stores. It's a simple way to add A lot of flair to your outfit.

Seminole Silverwork
Peace Medals for Seminole Outfits
Seminole Beads
Face Painting

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing


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

Covington, James W.
1982 THE BILLY BOWLEGS WAR, The Mickler House Publishers, Chuluota

Elwell, Rich.
1988 "Georgia Mllltia at Fort Cooper In the Second Seminole War." The Rebel Sabretache, XIV: 5, Sept.-Oct. Atlanta Soldier Society.

Goggin, John M.
1955 "Osceola: Portraits, Features, and Dress," The Florida Historical Quarterly, XXXIIJ: 3 & 9, Gainesville.

MacCauley, Clay
1887 "The Seminole Indians of Florida." Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Washington DC.

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.

Porter, Kenneth W.
1967 "Billy Bowlegs (Holata Micco) in the Seminole Wars." Florida Historical Quarterly 45:219-42.

Sturtevant, William C.
1956 "R. H. Pratt's Report on the Seminole In 1879." Florida Anthropologist, 9: 1-24

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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