INDIANTOWN — Born and raised in a camp in Indiantown to an Indian mother and an Irish father, Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was lucky to have survived childhood. Equally fortunate is the Seminole Tribe, who benefited from her lifetime of accomplishments.
As a “half breed” she could have been put to death, as was the custom when she was born in 1923. Instead, her mother, Ada Tiger, moved the family to what was then the Dania reservation.
“They didn’t want her to live,” said Moses Jumper Jr., Betty Mae’s son. “In that time, they didn’t want the white race to be part of our culture. When they came to take her, she wouldn’t go. Her uncle stood by her and she was saved. They moved to Dania where she lived for the rest of her life.”
Jumper grew up, got a degree in nursing, brought modern medicine to her people, started the Tribe’s first newspaper, served as the first chairwoman of the Tribe, was a founder of United South & Eastern Tribes, was appointed by President Richard Nixon to the former National Council on Indian Opportunity, was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, earned a lifetime achievement award from the Native American Journalists Association, received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Florida State University and earned a host of other honors.
A plaque commemorating Jumper’s life was unveiled Feb. 7 at the Seminole Inn in Indiantown, seven miles from her birthplace.
Jumper’s other son Boettner “Ruggy” Jumper and great granddaughter Alexis Jumper also attended the event, along with more than 100 attendees who came to honor her. The marker is a Florida Heritage site and was sponsored by the Women’s Club of Stuart and the Florida Department of State.
After the historical marker was unveiled, the crowd gathered under a tent behind the Seminole Inn where Moses and Iris Wall, a friend of Betty Mae’s and owner of the Inn, spoke. Some of the overflow crowd set up chairs outside the tent, while others stood in the back in the shade to hear the speakers.
“We’re very proud of her and the things she was able to do,” Moses said. “She was a woman who cared about us and loved us. She was always willing to do things for us and for other people. She helped us grow and mature and become the people we are now.”
Jonnie Flewelling, Wall’s daughter and co-owner of the Inn, served as emcee and introduced Moses and her mother.
“One of the best things about your life is the legacy you leave,” Flewelling said. “We should all think about ours.”
Wall grew up in Indiantown, but was a few years younger than Betty Mae. There were only 36 kids in all of Martin County in 1948 when she graduated from high school, she said. Although they didn’t know each other well as children, Wall and Betty Mae connected again in the 1960s at a rodeo in Davie.
“We stayed at the Seminole campground and we talked and talked,” Wall said. “That started our relationship and we grew to be really good friends.”
Wall shared a few stories with the crowd, each one filled with warmth and humor.
“She was a wonderful lady,” Wall said. “I’m a very basic person and Betty Mae was the same. She was always herself and you could depend on her being herself.”
Although Siggy Jumper isn’t a member of the Seminole Tribe, he is Chiricahua Apache from New Mexico and he grew up among the Seminoles and Miccosukee in the 1970s. He shared his special connection with Betty Mae with the crowd.
“My grandmother went to nursing school with Betty Mae,” Jumper said. “I became the messenger between them. I kept a journal and they both encouraged me to write a book. Some elders told me stories and wanted me to include them in the book. I wasn’t writing a book, I was keeping a journal.”
That book he wasn’t writing, “Second Jumper; Searching for his Bloodline”, was published in 2011. Jumper credits Betty Mae and her neighbor Sam Frank for the book’s completion. Although Betty Mae never got to see it, he said she was the force behind it.
Ruggy Jumper is the youngest of the three Jumper children, after Moses and Scarlet. As the crowd adjourned to a luncheon in the historic Inn, he remarked on the memories of his mother shared by others.
“It’s really exciting and I’m just so proud of her being who she was,” he said. “Sometimes I wish we had spent more time together. I used to go to the Florida Folk Festival with her every year to sell her souvenirs. It was one of my favorite places to go.”
“It’s good to be talking about my mother and what she did and how she did it,” Moses added.
Alexis Jumper enjoys going to events honoring her great grandmother. She was only 16 when Betty Mae passed away.
“I feel like I learn so much about her,” she said. “I wish I could have known her longer.”