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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

HORSE, JOHN (ca. 1812–1882).

Black Seminole leader John Horse was born in Florida circa 1812. A Seminole slave of African American, American Indian, and Spanish descent, he became a subchief during the Second Seminole War (1835–42) and participated in negotiations with the U.S. Army. Horse capitulated in 1838 and thereafter acted as an army guide and interpreter. He convinced many Seminole to surrender and assisted in their removal west. He relocated to the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) in 1842 and received his freedom in 1843.

Horse accompanied a Seminole delegation to Washington, D.C., in 1844, resulting in his near assassination. Some Seminole considered him a meddler or held him responsible for their removal. For his own protection he resided at Fort Gibson and served as an interpreter. In spring 1849 he helped found a Black Seminole settlement near present Wewoka in Seminole County.

In autumn 1849 Horse and approximately twenty Black Seminole families followed Seminole chief Wild Cat (Coacoochee) and his band to Mexico. Granted land in the state of Coahuila, the immigrants fought for Mexico against the Apache, the Comanche, and Texas filibusters. For his service Horse, whom Mexican officials knew as Juan Caballo and recognized as chief of the Black Seminole, was named a captain in the Mexican army. (John Horse was known by several names, including Gopher John, John Cowaya, John Cavallo, and John Coheia.)

In 1870 Horse resided at Laguna de Parras in Coahuila. He subsequently moved to Fort Duncan, Texas, where many Black Seminole had become U.S. Army scouts. Although he did not enlist, he served the army as an interpreter and negotiator. When the U.S. government failed to help the Black Seminole relocate to the Seminole Nation in the Indian Territory, John Horse returned to Mexico and died there in 1882.

Jon D. May

Learn More

Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., Africans and Seminoles: From Removal to Emancipation (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977).

Edwin C. McReynolds, The Seminoles (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1957).

Kenneth W. Porter, "Seminole in Mexico, 1850–1861," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 29 (Summer 1951).

Kenneth W. Porter, The Negro on the American Frontier (New York: Arno Press, 1971).

E. Douglas Sivad, "Juan Caballo," in The New Handbook of Texas, ed. Ron Tyler (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1996).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Jon D. May, “Horse, John,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=HO033.

Published January 15, 2010

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