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From wars to prosperity, Florida Seminoles survive

James E. BillieWhen the Spanish got here in 1513, for the first 100 years, the Indians were still carrying on their traditional ways. But during that 100-year stretch, the Indians began slowly assuming certain European ways. And then, when the 1600s came, they were definitely wearing European clothes and trying to live that lifestyle. By the 1700s, many Indians had started to become businessmen, tradesmen selling deer hides. In those days, some Indians even went to Europe, selling their hides.

As the 1700s went on, the Indians were trading and dressing like the white folks. The white folks, the Spanish people had knives, pot and pans, clothing that you could wash and re-wear. Indians were in leather. You could wash it, but the clothes would become stiff. In fact, a lot of good things came from Europe that made the Indians’ lives a lot easier.

To sit here and think that American Indians were very savage and a threat to the white man is not particularly true; there was a time when they were living and working together. But dissension started to develop because new people coming from Europe were all trying to find a piece of land and, of course, they began encroaching on Indian land. And that is when the attacks and killings began to take place. Indians were protecting their land.

So in 1830, President Andrew Jackson passed a bill called the Indian Removal Act. And with that vote (the Senate passed the bill 28–19, the House 102–97) soldiers immediately started chasing the Southeastern Indians out of their homelands, shipping them west of the Mississippi. And here came the Indian Wars.

I get a tickle out of the Indian Wars. I was always fascinated with Tennessee. The Tennessee Volunteers, they called themselves. Well, let’s tell the rest of the story about the Tennessee Volunteers. About that time, there were more than several million white people already in the United States and they were starting to outnumber the Indians, themselves. So here come the Tennessee Volunteers who, for some reason, were supposed to be brave men volunteering to go and beat the Indians.

But the truth of the matter about why they joined and became Volunteers is starvation. A lot of these white folks were starving to death. They had just jumped on a boat and come to America and they were literally starving to death. They soon found out that if you joined the military, they had food rations. If you joined the military you could eat every day. And that is why there were a lot of Volunteers.

Then when they came down to Florida and got their butts kicked, a lot of them went AWOL. That’s right, the brave Volunteers went AWOL and some even became friends of the Seminoles. So, you see, these Indian Wars, a lot of these skirmishes were started because of starvation. You had all these white people crying, “The Indians are hostile again,” because they were starving to death and they wanted to get the rations.

Yes, the Seminole Wars were kind of fascinating. Since I learned about the Seminole Wars, I always thought Seminoles deserved a lot better than what they had when I was young. I wondered what could put the Indians back on top, so to speak. Then it started to happen right before my eyes.

Somebody approached Howard Tommie about something called Bingo and he left it on the table for the next challenger to take. I always felt that somewhere down the line we deserved to get on top of the world, so a guy named James Billie carried it on a little further and brought us to the doorstep of the Hard Rock.

But the one I like the best, because he deserves many merits, was Mitchell Cypress, who as Chairman, carried us even further to where we now own businesses around the world with the Hard Rock. So, if it wasn’t for Mitchell being in the right place, if it wasn’t for James Billie being in the right place or Howard Tommie being in the right place, we probably wouldn’t have what we got today. So hats off to all those guys.

But Mitchell was the one who signed the contract with the advice of Jim Allen, the CEO of Hard Rock. I’m glad Mitchell listened to Jim. We’ve got to give credit, also, to David Cordish who finally brought us into the business world and somehow, with the advice of Jim Allen, we bought out Hard Rock, Mitchell signed the deal and we have continued further on.

Next time I see Mitchell, I’m gonna give him a kiss.


Matter of fact, the dividends that we receive today, the substantial amount of dividends that we have, happened during the time of Mitchell and we are all enjoying that benefit right now. Next time you see Mitchell, give him a hug and say, “Thank you.” And, of course, you had other Councilmen, too. You had David, Max, Roger and a lot of the time you saw Andrew in there. And Richard Bowers. Those were the guys who made the deal go through.

It’s been an interesting turn of events. And now, our budget is substantial. And my departments are telling me it’s not enough.

When is it ever enough? Does anybody know?



James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.