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Five generations enjoy Bowers family reunion

The Bowers family gathers in front of the Seminole Bible Baptist Church in Brighton on Dec. 3 for a group photo commemorating the reunion. All are descendants of the original eight Bowers siblings. (Beverly Bidney)

BRIGHTON — Five generations of the Bowers family, from babies to folks in their 80s, gathered for a reunion Dec. 3 at the Seminole Bible Baptist Church in Brighton.

The reunion was hosted by the family of Tom Bowers, who was a church deacon and the first official police officer and game warden for the Seminole Tribe. He was also a farmer, cattle rancher and one of the original eight siblings that form the nucleus of the extended family.

The eight Bowers siblings were Andrew Sr., Casey, Dick, Hattie, Joe, Lottie, Mildred and Tom. Their generation is gone, but some of their children include Paul Bowers, Andrew Bowers Jr., Edna Bowers, Elsie Bowers, Martha Jones, Richard Bowers, Bobbie Lou Bowers, Wanda Bowers, Nancy Willie, Mollie Bowers, Geneva Shore and Eddie Shore.

“Tom and Ada [nee Smith] loved this church,” said Wendy Riley, Tom Bowers’ granddaughter and one of the organizers of the reunion. “The family used to get together every Easter and Christmas right here and do what we are doing today.”

Branches of the Bowers family live in Big Cypress, Brighton, Hollywood and off reservation. They take turns hosting reunions, which began in 2014.

“This church is special, every generation has memories from here,” said Danette Bowers, Dick Bowers’ granddaughter. “This is still the original building. Everyone remembers the services and the singing.”

This was the first reunion since the pandemic began in 2020 and people were eager to talk and share family stories.

“If it wasn’t for Polly Parker, none of us would be here today,” said Gabriel Bowers, son of Mildred Bowers. “We are her direct descendants, a lot former and current leaders are her descendants.”

After leaving the Egmont Key internment camp on a ship headed for the Florida panhandle during the Seminole Wars, Polly Parker escaped captivity when the ship docked. Instead of being sent to Oklahoma, she made her way back to Seminole land near the present Brighton Reservation where many of her descendants live, including members of the Bowers family.

The Bowers family has grown so much that not every member knows each other.

“This is the only time the whole family gets together, from great grandmas to little kids,” said Wanda Bowers, Casey Bowers’ daughter. “You miss that connection to family after two years. We are all stoic and poker faced, until you start talking. It’s a strong connection.”

Kenny Tommie, Mildred Bowers’ grandson, was glad to be there to remember the ancestors and meet new family members.

“There’s a new generation coming up,” Tommie said. “We are honoring those we lost and keeping our family traditions going. The younger generation is stepping up.”

“Being around the Elders makes me humble,” said Martha Tommie, Tom Bowers’ niece. “The memories go way back. If it wasn’t for the ancestors, we wouldn’t be here today. I’m so glad I can be here and see my cousins.”

Lewis Gopher, Andrew Sr.’s great-grandson, attended the reunion with his granddaughter and Andrew Sr.’s great-great-great-granddaughter Amaya Houze, 2.

“This is a time to get together with the family you don’t really see that often, but you know they are your family,” Gopher said. “There’s no pressure, we’re just here to have a good time.”

“We all share the same kind of blood,” said Derek Smith, Andrew Sr.’s great-grandson. “These family events have been around for a long time and it’s good to see everyone together again.”

Esther Gopher, Joe Bowers’ granddaughter, reminisced about going to her Aunt Lottie Bowers’ camp by the red barn for Thanksgiving with the extended family every year.

“Everyone came by and we always stayed with family,” Gopher said. “It’s good for everyone to get to know who they are related to. We don’t see each other as much as we did as kids, but now as adults we want to get together more like we did years ago.”

“It’s good to see the family and all these young ones I don’t really know,” said Geneva Shore, Lottie Bowers’ daughter. “It makes me feel good.”

Although Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. is not a member of the Bowers family, he stopped by to say hello and was impressed with the reunion.

“It’s great that the family put the time and effort in to do this,” Chairman Osceola said. “There’s a lot of history here today; they are sharing that knowledge and passing it on to the next generation. My wish is for that wealth of knowledge to be passed to the next generations so the tribe can prosper long after we are gone.”

The cooking chickee was busy during the Bowers family reunion in Brighton as Charlotte Burgess, left, and Brighton Councilwoman Mariann Billie, right, made frybread and other traditional Seminole dishes. (Beverly Bidney)
An undated photo includes original Bowers siblings. (Courtesy photo)
T.L. Gopher watches as her sister Kahniyah Billie carefully removes a block from the giant game of Jenga. (Beverly Bidney)
Wearing the T-shirt made for the Bowers family reunion, Wendy Riley talks to family members in a tent set up on the grounds of the Seminole Bible Baptist Church in Brighton. (Beverly Bidney)
Wendy Riley and Martha Tommie share a moment at the Bowers family reunion. A member of the Deer Clan, Tommie is holding a stuffed deer. (Beverly Bidney)
Young members of the Bowers family enjoy a meal as a slide show of family members through the years plays in the background. (Beverly Bidney)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at