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Origins of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts

Written by Katarina "Kato" Wittich and Edited by Sarah N. Johnson

Exodus to Mexico

In 1848, it became clear that the government would no longer stand by General Jesup's promise. Under pressure to resolve the situation of the Seminole Negroes, the U.S. Attorney General decided that the resettlement agreement had been based on faulty premises and that, by law, all the Seminole Negroes should revert to the enslaved status they had before Jesup's proposal. [14]The military began arrangements to forcibly return the Seminole Negroes to their supposed “masters” and both Creek and Seminole Indians began to actively prosecute their claims to Seminole Negroes, often without any basis at all. Colonel Loomis, the commander at Fort Gibson described it this way: “ A half-breed Creek goes to a Seminole & buys a title to a negro…no matter whether the Seminole has a shadow of a title himself…The half-breed sells his title to a white man; & they …run the negro…to the States”. In other words, out of Indian Territory and into the hands of southern enslavers where it was impossible to trace the individual and they were lost forever.[15]

There was no safety for the Seminole Negroes unless they abandoned their farms and camped on the Cherokee reservation at Fort Gibson, which meant they could not raise crops or provide for themselves and were dependent on military rations for survival  With the enslavers emboldened by the governments new position, Seminole Negroes were not even safe on the Fort, and raiders managed to steal them right under the noses of the military. The commanding officers were sometimes able to track the enslavers and rescue  the Seminole Negroes back, but many families were torn apart as members were sold away so rapidly that they could not be recovered. [16]

By the end of 1849, two extraordinary men, Seminole Chief Coacoochee, otherwise known as Wild Cat, and Seminole Negro Chief John Horse, allies since their years of fighting together in the Seminole Wars, decided that conditions on the Creek reservation were unbearable. They jointly led their bands out of Indian Territory on an odyssey across the United States to Mexico, where slavery had been abolished since 1829.

Their goals were mutually supportive, so they created an alliance that was to change the future of both of their peoples. Wild Cat’s intention was to form a coalition of several tribes who would live in freedom as military colonists for the Mexican government instead of in captivity on a reservation. John Horse wanted to find a home for his people where they could live and flourish in safety, away from slavery and predatory enslavers.

During their 20 years in Coahuila, Mexico (July 1850- July 1870), the Seminoles and the Seminole Negroes served as military colonists for the Mexican Government. John Horse and Wild Cat were both made officers in the Mexican Army, each commanding units made up of their own men, and were active in engagements against raiding Indians, bandits, internal rebellions and wars and the filibustering invasions by U.S. Rangers and slave raiders attempting to annex portions of Mexico to create a pro slavery state. They shared duties and land grants with a band of Kickapoo Indians who had come with them from Indian Territory.

In 1857, Wild Cat and many of the Seminoles he led died of smallpox.  The Seminole Negroes, who were referred to in Mexico as Mascogos, were not as hard hit and continued working as military colonists. Then during the Civil War, the Seminole Nation sided with the Confederacy and the remaining Seminoles in Mexico were called back to Oklahoma to fight against the Union and for slavery. Eventually civil unrest in Mexico and threats to their land grants made life for the Mascogos unstable. Their alliance with the Kickapoo had become difficult after the original band of Kickapoo allies left and were replaced by a larger Kickapoo band who were adversarial and competitive over land and water rights.


After the Civil War, with slavery abolished and Radical Reconstruction in progress, it looked as if the U.S. government might begin to protect the rights of its black citizens. The Seminole Nation in Oklahoma was under the leadership of traditional Seminoles who honored their bonds with their black allies and encouraged their return to the Seminole reservation. Congress and the Bureau of Indian Affairs had begun to discuss allocating funds to attempt to persuade all “roving Indians” who were living on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and raiding in Texas, to move onto reservations. This included the Mascogos (Seminole Negroes), the Seminoles, the Kickapoo, the Lipan Apaches and others. [17] The Mascogos, had now become aware that they might be welcomed back and given land in Indian Territory, and they decided to request safe passage and return to reclaim their land rights in the U.S. where conditions might be better for them than in Mexico.[18]


[14] Littlefield, Africans and Seminoles 106-128.   In 1846, Seminole Negro Chief John Horse went to Washington D.C. to plead the case for his people. General Jesup, retired from command of the forces in Florida and residing in D.C., took up the fight for the Seminole Negroes. Despite his often quoted statement about the Seminoles that ”the country can be rid of them only by exterminating them” and his frequent use of breach of treaty and trickery to capture them, he now seems to have developed a sense of responsibility toward the Seminole Negroes. This may have been because “He liked the Negroes better than Indians” as Seminole Chief Wild Cat is quoted as saying. (110) Or this may have had to do with a developing relationship with John Horse during the time that Horse was in D.C. Jesup even helped Horse take the issue to President Polk by requesting  that the promises he had made to the Seminole Negroes should be honored and those who had voluntarily come to Indian Territory should be given land and Free Papers to prove their freedom. In his appeal he said that if the President would not take action to protect the Seminole Negroes, he would take the case before Congress. Instead, the case ended up in the hands of the U.S. Attorney General Mason.

[15] Amos and Senter, The Black Seminoles119.

[16] Littlefield Jr., Africans and Seminoles ,113.

[17] Mulroy, Freedom on the Border, 110.

[18] For original documentation and a detailed analyses of the process that brought the Seminole Negroes back into the United States, please see the booklet published by the Seminole Negro Indian Scout Historical Society entitled Origins of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts, written by Katarina ( Kato) Wittich and edited by Sarah Nicole Johnson.  It will be available on this website in September 2020 for the 150th anniversary of the Scouts.

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