John Kibbetts, also known as Siteetastonachy or Snake Warrior, a nineteenth-century Black Seminole leader who orchestrated the enlistment of Black Seminole Indians as United States Army scouts, was born in 1810. The details of his early life in Florida are unknown. In all probability he was, like other Black Seminoles, a slave either of White planters or Seminoles. During the 1830s, Kibbetts fought in the Second Seminole War, which began when the United States government began to move the Seminoles and Black Seminoles from Florida to Indian Territory. Kibbetts gained some recognition during the conflict as a warrior and an interpreter. It is believed that sometime during the removal process he was granted his freedom and adopted as a member of the Seminole tribe. Manumission and adoption for the most part was confined to the leaders of the Black Seminoles like Kibbetts and Juan Caballo. According to treaties ending the Second Seminole War, Seminoles, along with their slaves, were supposed to move to Indian Territory and submit to Creek Indian authority. Upon their arrival, the majority of Seminoles became agitated by the Creeks' oppressive system, particularly with regard to their slaves. Slavery among the Creeks was more like that in the Southern plantation system than that of the Seminoles, among whom slaves had more autonomy. Creeks and White planters began pressuring the Seminoles to sell their slaves, but then, this effort having failed, began to conduct kidnapping raids into Black Seminole villages. After a Creek regulation that forbade all Blacks from carrying arms (1849), a practice Seminoles traditionally tolerated, the Black Seminoles decided that aggressive action was in order.
Under the leadership of Caballo and Kibbetts, they banded together in 1850 with a group of dissatisfied Seminoles led by Wild Cat. The group of about 700 traveled across Texas to Mexico seeking asylum. Under an agreement with the Mexican government, the band became military colonists charged with patrolling the borderlands in an effort to control renegade Apaches and Comanches. Eventually, the coalition was given land in the interior at Nacimiento, Coahuila. Wild Cat's Seminoles returned to the United States at the beginning of the Civil War, when the United States government established the Seminole Nation. Fearing re-enslavement, the Black Seminoles remained in Mexico, where their numbers increased with the arrival of runaways and freedmen of mixed Indian and African blood. Due to internal pressures, the main body of Black Seminoles split into four separate bands during the 1860s. Kibbetts became the leader of the 100 maroons at Nacimiento.
After the Civil War, renegade Comanches and Apaches in the Borderlands increased their raids in both countries, and the army was in desperate need of qualified scouts to track the bands. By 1870 the Black Seminoles at Nacimiento were extremely dissatisfied with life in Mexico and were interested in returning to Indian Territory. Kibbetts entered into negotiations with Capt. Frank W. Perry, who was authorized by Maj. Zenas R. Bliss of the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry to employ a number of the Black Seminoles as scouts. Although a written treaty did not survive, the Black Seminoles under Kibbetts crossed the border and enlisted in the belief that the army would provide them and their families with rations and land grants in exchange for their service. The army commissioned Kibbetts a sergeant, named his unit Seminole Negro Indian Scouts, and initially ordered him to concentrate on recruiting efforts. Eventually, the number of the scouts increased through recruitment of Black Seminoles, Texas freedmen, Mexican Blacks, and Blacks from the regular army. Kibbetts and the rest of the scouts distinguished themselves during the taming of the frontier. Four of the scouts were awarded the Medal of Honor. Despite their service, however, the army failed to fulfill its agreement to give them land. Kibbetts and Caballo began petitioning various government offices for action in 1873 but the federal bureaucracy continued to delay and to ignore the tribe's claim. Kibbetts served in the scouts until his death on September 7, 1876. He and his wife, Nancy, had three children. Their son Bobby also served in the scouts. Kibbetts is buried at the Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery in Brackettville, Texas. See also BLACK SEMINOLE SCOUTS.
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Grant Foreman, The Five Civilized Tribes (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1934). Kevin Mulroy, Freedom on the Border: The Seminole Maroons in Florida, the Indian Territory, Coahuila and Texas (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993). Kenneth Wiggins Porter, The Negro on the American Frontier (New York: Arno Press, 1971). Kenneth Wiggins Porter, "The Seminole Negro-Indian Scouts, 1870–1881," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 55 (January 1952). Scott Thybony, "Against All Odds," Smithsonian, August 1994.
Chiefs and Other Leaders
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
E. Douglas Sivad,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
November 18, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: