1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Public Works Administration
(PWA) in order to create jobs for those that were still suffering from the Great
Depression. Out of the PWA the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was born. Thanks
to the WPA and the monies paid to writers, we now have a collection of interviews
of people whose stories would have been lost in history.
are now found in a public collection known as the WPA Life Histories Collection.
One of the writers funded by the WPA is Florence Angermiller of Uvalde,
Texas. Her interview with Johanna July of Brackettville,
Texas is a story that I have read over and over.
This story will include
the words of Johanna July as recorded by Florence Angermiller.
July was born around 1850 in Mexico.
She was the daughter of Elijah July a Black
Seminole Scout of Ft. Duncan, Texas. The Black Seminole are descendents of
Seminole Indians and runaway slaves from the south. These slaves found refuge
in Florida among the Seminole Indian tribe. In the 1830’s the Seminole and Black
Seminole were moved to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. Many feared capture by
the slave hunters and left Oklahoma Territory for the safe confines of Mexico.
At the conclusion of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery, the
Black Seminole began to cross the Rio Grande back into Texas.
Back in Texas, special detachments of Black Seminole
helped the troops at Ft. Duncan and Ft. Clark control the hostile Comanche and
Apache Indians. The Black Seminole Scouts knew the Indians, knew the language,
knew the land and knew the horses.
Elijah July, a Black Seminole, became
the domodoro, the breaker of horses. His two children and son and daughter
helped with the watering and feeding of the herd of horses. Elijah spent his days
breaking the horses for the troops at Ft. Duncan.
After the death of her
father, her brother left leaving Johanna with the entire herd to care for and
to break. Thus Johanna became the domora of Ft. Duncan.
ride a hoss like dey do dese days. I couldn’t straddle ‘em. I didn’t use no bridle
either, just a rope around deir necks and looped over de nose. We called it a
‘nosin’ same as a half hitch. Old man Adam Wilson learned me how to ride. He was
an old scout. Right today I don’t like a saddle an’ I don’t like shoes. I can
sure get over the de ground barefooted.”
Mrs. Angermiller wrote that Johanna
wore bright homespun dresses, beads and gold earrings. She smoked shuck cigarettes
made of Black Horse tobacco a dark tobacco manufactured in Mexico.
“I could break a hoss myself, me and my Lawd. Many a narrow scrape I’ve
been through wid hosses and mules. I’ll tell you how I broke my hosses. I would
pull off my clothes and get into de clothes I intended to bathe in and I would
lead ‘em right into the Rio Grande and keep ‘em in dere til dey got pretty well
worried. When dey was wild, wild, I would lead ‘em down to de river and get ‘im
out in water where he couldn’t stan’ up and I would swim up and get ‘em by de
mane an’ ease up on ‘im. He couldn’t pitch and when I did let ‘em out of dat deep
water he didn’t want to pitch. Sometimes dey wasn’t so wore out an’ would take
a runnin’ spree wid me when dey got out in shallow water where dey could get deir
feet on de ground, and dey would run clear up into de corral. But I was young
and I was havin’ a good time.
“I was used to hard ridin’. I’ve been chased
by de Indians. One day it was cloudy and I went out to cut hay for de hosses,
and as the Lawd should have it, I got so sleepy I said, ‘Suppose I lay down here
an’ take myself a nap an’ den finish cuttin’ my hay. But I thought ‘No, I better
go on and cut my hay, an’ about den, I seen de hosses getting’ nervous an’ dey
had der ears up lookin’ at somethin’ and’ actin’ scared. I had a big bay an’ I
could call ‘im up to me so I hollered to ‘im, Come Bill, come Bill! An’ all de
hosses come runnin’. I jumped on a little gray hoss named Charley, an’ when I
cut my eye aroun’ here come a Indian in full gallop, leanin’ over on his hoss,
en’ I started runnin’ an’ run clear by de army post, me and all dem hosses. The
post sent the scout out and dey took up de trail. Dey was two Indians an’ dey
followed ‘em clear into Mexico and brought ‘em back. But dat didn’t break me.
I was always out wid dem hosses. “
Johanna knew the skills of horse husbandry
both inside and out however she never developed the skills necessary to become
a wife. She married a Scout at age 18 and moved to Ft. Clark. Johanna made attempts
to become a dutiful house wife but she missed her horses and missed the outdoors.
Try as she might her husband tired of her ways and their marriage became quite
stormy. One night Johanna slipped away and rode home to her mother.
never did go back to ‘im. He come down dere three or four times to get me but
I wouldn’t go. He shot at me two different times but he missed me, den he tried
to rope me, but de Lawd fixed it so my head was too low and de rope went over.
I got to the brush an’ he never could find me. He would have killed me, an’ I
“After he died I married twice mo’. I helped my last husband
break hosses an’ mules. I ‘member one bad mule. He was the meanest one I ever
had any dealin’s wid. He was ‘hip-shotten.’ I had to tie his good front leg to
his good back leg and’, don’t you know. He’d catch me by de clothes and toss me
and shake me if he could get hold of me. I never did break ‘im, I got ‘fraid of
‘im. I’ve had some awful scrapes. I hunted and trapped wid my las’ husband and
sold many a hide. I could get out and cut a cord and a half of wood, easy. Down
here on de Fadillas ranch I’ve had mules run away wid me an’ sometimes tear de
wagon to pieces.
“My last husband had been dead eight years now. My first
husband was so mean to me I suppose dat was why de Lawd fixed it so I didn’t divo’ce
‘im he didn’t divo’ce me, and’ now what little bread I’m getting, I’m getting’
it right off of him.”
Johanna as you the reader can tell had a very full
life and she probably had no idea that one day people would be reading about her
life. At the time of her interview with Mrs. Angermiller, she was 77 years old.
She never did agree with the way the government treated the Black Seminole Scouts
but that is another story.
Johanna died sometime after World
War II and is buried in the Seminole Cemetery outside of Brackettville,
Texas. If you can use your imagination you can probably vision her barefooted,
wearing a brightly colored dress, standing in her garden gate rolling a shuck
cigarette of Black Horse tobacco.