Home > Black American History > Black Seminole Indian Scouts: From Slaves to American Heroes

Black Seminole Indian Scouts: From Slaves to American Heroes


From slaves to American heroes, the Scouts were true frontiersman who played a huge part in securing the American border and taming the west.   By the end of the Civil War, the U.S. was having major problems defending the Texas-Mexican border.  The border was under constant attack by invading Comanche and Apache Indians, as well as marauding bandits who sought to advance themselves through lawlessness.  In fact, 1n 1867, out of the 16, 066 U.S. soldiers stationed in the South, one-fourth of them were in Texas, mainly to address Indian warfare.

In 1870, The U.S. Army met with Black Seminole leaders, John Kibbetts and John Horse, with a request that the group help the government stop the raids on Texas by the raiders.  The Seminoles were excellent candidates because of their skills in hunting and tracking.  They were also experienced horseman and marksman, and they understood Indian culture.  They also were able to speak several of the Indian languages.  Horse and Kibbetts agreed to the government’s use of the scouts in exchange for provisions of food, travel expenses and land grants for the scouts’ families.

Many of the Black Seminoles were eager to get back to the United States after the Civil War.  Mexico was in a constant state of civil war during the time of the Mexican Revolution, and the Black Seminoles had to carry a heavier load of fighting against raiding Indians crossing the Mexican border when the larger group of Seminoles migrated back to Indian Territory.

The Seminoles left Mexico in two waves, the first, under John Kibbetts, arrived in Texas on July 4, 1870, and a year later, the second under Horse.  The groups settled in Southwest Texas, in Fort Duncan near Eagle Pass and Fort Clark in Brackettville.  It was Col. Zenas Randall Bliss who brought the Seminole Negro Indians to Fort Duncan August 16, 1870. 

At Fort Duncan, Kibbetts was commissioned a sergeant and his followers enlisted as privates.  The first Seminole Scouts in active duty at Fort Duncan were Kibbetts, Joe Dixie, Dindie Factor, Pompey Factor, Hardie Factor, Adams Fay, Bobby Kibbetts, John Ward, John Thompson, and George Washington.

At the start of their service at Fort Duncan, the Black Seminoles served as scouts for the 25th infantry.  There, they received pay at the regular army rate for privates, plus rations, arms, and ammunition for their service.

At first, the Black Seminole Indian Scouts worked under Kibbetts leadership.  Shortly afterward, the Scouts were placed under the leadership of U.S. Army Lt. John Bullis. 

The Black Seminole Indian Scouts’ primary focus was to help stop the frequent raids of Indians on the Texas-Mexico border villages.  In May of 1873, under the leadership of Col. Ranald Mackenzie, a group of sixteen Scouts along with Lt. Bullis and joined by the 4th Calvary, crossed the Rio Grande into Coahuila, Mexico.  Their mission was to conduct a raid on the menacing Kickapoo tribe. 

The Kickapoos carried out Texas cattle raids for years and had become a huge problem for the Texas ranchers.  The Kickapoo hated the Americans for taking their land and exacted revenge on them often because of it.  When Mexico offered the Kickapoo land grants in exchange for protection from Texas ranchers, they quickly accepted.

They were brave trackers and fighters who had command of the English, Spanish and multiple Indian languages, which made them extremely effective in service along the border. 

Once in Mexico, the Kickapoos frequently raided ranches as far north of the Rio Grande as San Antonio.  On May 16, 1874, Mackenzie and his group left from Fort Clark and traveled about seventy miles into Mexico to reach one of the Kickapoo villages.  The Scouts did there part by conducting surveillance on the village and notifying the Colonel that the Kickapoo warriors were gone.  The attack was swift as the troops swept in and burned the village.  Nineteen Indians were killed, forty more were taken as prisoners, and the village’s supplies were destroyed, which left the group vulnerable.

The Black Seminole Scouts served at Fort Duncan from 1870 to 1876 and at Fort Clark in Bracketville from 1872 to 1914.  From 1873 to 1881, during twenty-six expeditions they engaged in twelve battles without losing a single scout in combat, even when greatly outnumbered.  They also served and fought alongside the 8th, 9th, and 10th Calvary.

Lt. Col. Wesley Merritt of the 9th Cavalry was impressed with the Seminole Scouts service and had many of them transferred to Ft. Clark.  At Fort Clark, when they were not on patrol, the Black Seminoles lived in Seminole Camp nearby Las Moras Creek with their families.  It was at Ft. Clark that the scouts came under the leadership of Lt. John L. Bullis.  

Four of the Black Seminole Scouts won the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor for their brave and heroic service.  The first of the Black Seminole Scouts to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor was Pvt. Adam Paine.  Paine received his award for his gallant fighting during the Red River War of 1874-1875, but most specifically for his duty in the Battle of Canyon Blanco in 1874.  The other three Scouts, Sgt. John Ward, Pvt. Pompey Factor, and trumpeter Issac Payne, received their awards for their heroic actions in saving their commanding officer, Lt. John Bullis, during a Comanche raid at the Eagle’s Nest Crossing of the Pecos River in 1875.  Despite being grossly outnumbered thirty-to-four, the Scouts risked their lives to save Bullis, who was unable to mount his horse.  While Factor and Payne provided cover, Ward went back and retrieved their leader before retreating to safety.    

As life along the border became less tense, the Seminole Scouts continued to provide invaluable service.  In 1885, a detachment of Seminole-Negro Scouts garrisoned a camp at Nevill’s Springs in what is now Big Bend National Park.   In 1882, Black Seminole Scouts were recruited to provide security for the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad.  They also served six years at Nevill’s Springs with troops from Fort Davis, and were stationed at Camp Pena Colorado near Marathon.

In the end, despite the valiant service they provided to the U.S. government, the Seminole Scouts were victims of broken promises.  The scouts were promised land grants in exchange for their service, but never received it.  Many were forced to steal cattle to provide for themselves and their family when the U.S. military stopped providing rations for anyone who was not a regularly enlisted scout.  Even with the endorsements of several high ranking military officials, including Bullis and Mackenzie, the Scouts were left without provisions.  Many, including Factor, were denied pensions by the U.S. Army.  Without money or land to call their own, the Scouts became squatters on U.S. military reservations.  The military fed and housed them for a while, but by 1914, the military disbanded the scouts and they were ordered to leave the military grounds.   

Socially the Scouts also suffered from harsh acts of racism and discrimination.  On Christmas Day of 1874, Seminole Scout George Washington was shot and killed in an altercation at a saloon in Eagle Pass, Texas by a member of the notorious King Fisher gang.  Adam Paine, the Congressional Medal of Honor, was viciously shot in the back and killed by a Texas Sheriff while he was enjoying a dance celebration on New Years morning in 1877.  In response to the killing, some of the Seminole Scouts, including Factor, returned to the Nacimiento community in Mexico.

Many Whites around the Fort Clark/Bracketville area pressured the military to disband the Scouts so they could purchase the land that the Scouts and their families settled on.

When the Scouts unit was finally disbanded on July 10, 1914, the U.S. Government kicked the Black Seminole Scouts off of the Fort Clark base.  Many of the scouts moved with their families to Bracketville, Texas.  Many of the Seminole Scouts’ descendants still live in Bracketville, working as farmers and ranchers, proudly embracing the great history of their ancestors.  Although largely ignored or completely forgotten in American history in the past, the Black Seminole Scouts are now beginning to receive the proper attention and recognition that they deserve.  From slaves to American heroes, the Scouts were true frontiersman who played a huge part in securing the American border and taming the west.

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  1. October 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm

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