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Brighton cattle owners recreate old family photo

BRIGHTON — The descendants of Seminole Tribe cattle owners in Brighton recently gathered to recreate a family photo of their elders holding branding irons.

Generations of family members met July 13 at the Brighton shipping-marsh cattle pens to eat lunch and pose for the photo before loading up calves for transport.

Dozens of cattle owners in Brighton and Big Cypress shipped more than 3,500 calves to feedlots across the country in mid-July as part of an annual event.

The photo recreation was done with each descendant in the photo holding their respective families’ cattle branding tool. Some members are descended from the original owners from the 1940s.

The Tribe has a long history of men and women cattle owners. The historic lineage can be traced to families on the Brighton and Big Cypress Reservations, where the practice remains active today.

Nearly half of the Tribe’s almost 70 cattle owners are women. Late last year, about a dozen of the 29 women cattle owners reestablished the Florida Seminole Cattlewomen Association.

From left to right are Sidney Gore, Donnie Gore, Norman Johns, Andrew Bowers Jr., Joletta Carney, Patty Waldron, Buster Baxley, Perrie Whiddon, Alex Johns, Reno Osceola, Emma Jane Urbina, Shane Buck, Stanlo Johns, Theresa Johns Urbina, Billy Joe Johns, Wendi Bowers Riley, Carla Gopher Rodriguez and Beulah Gopher. (Photo Damon Scott)

Many of those women, whose group originally began in 2009, were present for the photo recreation in Brighton. Emma Urbina is the president and other officers include Wendi Riley, Lucy M. Bowers and Carla Gopher Rodriguez.

The Tribe is well-known as a large producer of cattle – one of the main enterprises of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc.

The Tribe’s cattle operations are one of the cornerstones toward its overall goal of sovereignty and self-sufficiency. The Seminole Tribe is one of the few tribes in the U.S. that grows enough protein to feed its own people, if necessary.

Last spring, the Tribe honored two cattle bosses at its 23rd annual Junior Cypress Cattle Drive & Rodeo in Big Cypress in, which has become an annual tradition.

The Florida Seminole Cattlewomen Association includes, from left to right, Stephanie Johns, Patty Johns Waldron, Theresa Johns Urbina, Emma Jane Urbina, Carla Gopher Rodriguez, Wendi Bowers Riley, Beulah Gopher, Perrie Whiddon and Joletta Carney. (Photo Damon Scott)

The two cattle bosses who were honored at the event were the Rev. Frank J. Billie – who passed away in 2008 at 96 – and Joe “Benji” Osceola. Both are members of Wind Clan.

“Most of the elders knew that for true sovereignty you have to be able to feed yourself, you have to be able to feed your people,” Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank said at a ceremony for the men. “With the cattle program we became organized and they knew we had to feed ourselves.”

Alex Johns, the Tribe’s natural resources director, recently finished a one-year term as president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. He was also present for the photo recreation in Brighton.

Editor’s note: Not all of the members of the cattle families were present at the time of the group photo. Those members include Donnie Gore, Polly Osceola Hayes, Lewis Gopher and others.

Donnie Gore and Polly Osceola Hayes both descend from Seminole cattle families. (Photo Damon Scott)
Brighton’s Lewis Gopher is part of a long line of Tribal cattle owners. (Photo Damon Scott)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at

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