Polly Parker (Emateloye) was captured on Fisheating Creek in 1856, marched over to Egmont Key, forced onto a ship called Grey Cloud, shipped on up the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans where she would walk the Trail of Tears out west. But the ship stopped to refuel at Fort St. Marks, directly south of Tallahassee and, somehow, Polly escaped.
She walked through the woods and swamps all the way back to the Okeechobee area and began to create the Seminole Tribe as we know it today.
Eventually her children and their descendants would play monumental roles in our modern Tribe. In fact, Polly’s great-great-grandkids are very prominent members of the Seminole Tribe. I wonder: What would have happened if Polly had never escaped and returned home?
Would the Seminole Tribe exist the way it is today? Would we be less successful?
For these are very intelligent people. A joke I used to say around them is, “The dumbest person in the Polly Parker family is a genius.” Sometimes the smart brains don’t fall too far from the apple tree, as they say. In this case it is very true: Some very intelligent people came from Emateloye. Polly’s daughter Lucy Tiger begat Lena Morgan who had eight children: Hattie Bowers, Tom Bowers, Lottie Shore, Mildred Tommie, Dick Bowers, Andrew Bowers Sr., Joe Bowers and Casey Bowers.
The offspring of Lena Morgan include former Tribal Chairman Howard Tommie, former Tribal President Richard Bowers, former Tribal Board Representative Paul Bowers, Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr., former Tribal Secretary-Treasurer Dorothy Scott Osceola, former Health Director Elsie Bowers, Cultural Director Lorene Gopher, Gaming Commissioner Truman Bowers, former Tribal Clerk Mary Jane Willie, Governor’s Council Liaison Stephen Bowers, Secretary’s Administrative Assistant Wanda Bowers, Tribal Genealogist Geneva Shore, Seminole Craft Artist Nancy Shore, Cultural Events Specialist Lewis Gopher, Chairman’s Special Assistant Norman “Skeeter” Bowers and Tribal General Counsel Jim Shore. Hattie Bowers died as a child and both Tom Bowers’ children died young: Leon was a high school graduate studying veterinary medicine and Carol was a Community Health Worker for the Seminole Tribe.
One of Polly’s great-great-great-grandkids, Gloria Wilson, has had many Tribal positions and is now our Director of Community Planning. Another, Paula Bowers-Sanchez, is a professional singer, health educator and is married to our Tribal President. A great-great-great-great-grandchild, D’Anna Osceola, is a recent Miss Seminole. Four generations from Polly Parker, they continue to honor the family tree with quite a few more graduating from high school and, even better, from college. Yes, a very significant family in our Tribe.
You hear about Osceola. You hear about Micanopy. You hear about Wildcat and all their great deeds, but you don’t really hear about the women too much. And here is a Seminole woman in our modern times who performed this heroic feat in escaping and coming back home, where she continued her Clan of the Bird. The family spread and went on to marry other clans, but they are all related to Emateloye.
This is all very important to me. Back in earlier days when I was flying my airplane and going to Tallahassee, there was a VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Radio) range transmitter at Egmont Key, just off the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg. It gave out a radio signal so you can track where you are when you are flying through the air. I always thought of the many Seminoles, including Billy Bowlegs, who were put in the stockade there on Egmont and then shipped north on the Grey Cloud. Egmont Key is a very important part of our Seminole history. I’d like to have Andrew J. Bowers Jr., Jim Shore and all Polly’s living descendants visit the Egmont Key deportation center, then take the 100-mile boat trip all the way up to St. Marks. And stand there where she escaped to make it all the way back down to her home – more than 340 miles away – to start a family.
I would love to have a picture of the family standing right at the spot where the Grey Cloud left with this heroic woman not knowing what the future held, her destiny totally in doubt.
As it turned out, Emateloye’s destiny was to start the Seminole Tribe as it is today.
James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.