BIG CYPRESS — To anyone who knew her well, Betty Mae Jumper was a straight talker who exemplified honesty, hard work, determination and success against all odds whether wrestling an alligator or running the Tribe as the first female “chief.”
The inaugural Betty Mae Jumper Memorial Rodeo Feb. 20 at Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena celebrated Jumper’s lifetime of contributions to the Tribe with four hours of excitement from saddle bronc to bull riding.
Close to 200 people turned out to cheer on family members and friends who competed in the Eastern Indian Rodeo Association-sanctioned event mostly for fun and fellowship in memory of the tribal matriarch who passed on in 2011 at age 88.
“Nights like tonight take me back to seeing her at so many events, like Tribal Fair. She took the same booth at Tribal Fair every year and I knew when I ran through the place and turned that one corner, she would be there,” said Naha Jumper, Betty Mae Jumper’s grandson. “She was a good lady.”
A superhero of her time, she was the first Tribal citizen to achieve success in many areas: first high school graduate, registered nurse, newspaper editor, head of the Tribe’s Health Department and female tribal chairman in all of Indian Country. A cattle owner and co-founder of the United South Eastern Tribes consortium of 26 Tribes, Betty Mae was a no-nonsense leader who demanded the best from all Tribal citizens.
For readers of The Seminole Tribune, Betty Mae’s finger-wagging editorial columns, now republished as “Wisdom from the Past,” still speak clearly: Respect Seminole tradition and culture; honor God; say no to drugs and alcohol; be strong disciplinarians to children.
But, said her son Moses Jumper Jr., the woman who pioneered the future led more by example than words.
“I don’t remember her ever saying she loved me, but she showed me. She would give her life to us,” Jumper Jr. said.
His mother came close to death before her sixth birthday, Jumper Jr. said. By her own account in the biography “A Seminole Legend: The Life of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper,” several men in the Tribe wanted her drowned because her father was a French trapper.
On the night of the memorial rodeo, a Jumper family portrait showed the matriarch’s five-generation legacy of cattle keepers.
Competing in the memorial rodeo adult divisions were seven family members: Blevyns Jumper, Naha Jumper, Andre Jumper, Josh Jumper, Boogie Jumper, Buddah Jumper and Ahnie Jumper. Jumper children who participated in youth rodeo events earlier in the day included Jacee Jumper, Canaan Jumper, Madison Jumper, Riley Jumper, Talen Jumper, Caden Jumper and Kalgary Johns. Blevyns Jumper and Buddah Jumper competed in both adult and youth events.
Betty Mae and her husband, World War II veteran Moses Jumper Sr., raised about 240 head in Big Cypress. Their successors now boast about 550 head that are worked family-wide.
But Naha Jumper said the family is close because Betty Mae handed down more than livestock.
“She raised my father (Moses Jumper Jr.) and he instilled in us all that was good about her. As I got older, I realized how good that is,” Naha Jumper said.
The next Betty Mae Jumper Memorial Rodeo will likely be held in January 2017 with a larger audience, more competitors and bigger payouts, Moses Jumper Jr. said.