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Origins of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts

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

Formation of The Seminole Negro Indian Scouts


At some point during Captain Perry’s visit with them on their land grant in Nacimiento de los Negros in Coahuila, the Seminole Negroes expressed interest in becoming Indian Scouts for the Army while waiting to move to Indian territory. From official records, it appears that the first suggestion that they actually become Indian Scouts may have come from the Seminole Negroes themselves, although Perry may have prompted it by asking if they would be willing to help in “service” against the Kickapoo. Always resourceful, the Seminole Negroes knew from experience that they could not rely on the government and should make sure they had ways to survive until things were settled. Perry seems to have told the Seminole Negroes that he would request permission for them to become Scouts and he encouraged them to cross over as soon as possible. 


On July 4, 1870, the first group of Seminole Negroes crossed the Rio Grande and voluntarily returned to the United States, hoping to rapidly resettle on land in Indian Territory. While they were on their way from Mexico to Texas, the military approved the formation of a new unit of Indian Scouts, and by August 1870 the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts were created. A portion of the Mascogos Negros remained in Nacimiento, and from then until now, the community of Black Seminoles has been fluid, crossing the border back and forth, with family members on both sides.

As the Seminole Negroes trickled in, the War Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs began a multi-decade battle over whose responsibility they were, and who would finance their relocation. The leadership of the Seminole Nation changed, and the new Chief was an ex-Confederate and did not want Seminole Negroes on the reservation. The military had encouraged the Seminole Negroes to return, aware of their their unique skills and potential value, but without having gotten the appropriate approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who did not want responsibility for them once the Seminole Nation refused them. Meanwhile, the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts and their families settled down at Fort Duncan,Texas, and eventually at Fort Clark. Once again they began defending the border against raiding Indians, only this time not for Mexico, but for the United States.

In 1873 Lieutenant John Lapham Bullis was put in charge of the Scouts at Fort Clark. Over the next 8 years, until Bullis relinquished command in 1881, the Scouts engaged in 26 lengthy campaigns, often heavily outnumbered by their adversaries. Not a single man was killed or seriously wounded in action. Although the Scouts never numbered more than 50 men at a time, four of them were awarded Medals of Honor, an astonishing achievement in a time when systemic racism meant that people of color were rarely acknowledged in the military or anywhere else.

The Scouts were instrumental in stopping Indian raids in Texas and protecting the local ranchers from loss of life and livestock. All their commanders praised their courage and skills and as one contemporary trooper said they were considered to be “the best body of scouts, trailers and Indian fighters ever engaged in the Government service along the border”.[19]

Despite the valiant service rendered by the Scouts, the Seminole Negro community was often near starvation, as the Army stopped giving them rations and the salaries of the few men who were scouts was not enough to support an entire community.



[19] Kevin Mulroy, Freedom on the Border,  117.

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