John Chupco was a full-blood Seminole born in the Florida Everglades around 1821. In his early 30s, the tall and athletic Chupco had become a chief of the “Newcomer Band” of Seminoles and helped to lead them during their forced removal to Indian Territory in 1855.
In 1861 when Albert Pike approached the Five Tribes seeking alliance treaties with the Confederacy, Chupco was an outspoken opponent of such a treaty and refused to sign it as a town chief. Gathering other like-minded members of his nation, Chupco, along with another town leader named Billy Bowlegs, joined forces with Opothle Yahola, the Creek leader of those Indians who wished to remain loyal to their treaties with the United States.
This group was camping together in the Creek Nation when they were attacked by Confederate forces in December of 1861. Forced to flee, Yahola and Chupco led the Loyals toward Kansas, fighting three skirmishes along the way. They eventually found refuge near Fort Scott, but were destitute and demoralized by the time they arrived. They would spend a miserable winter of 1862 in Kansas.
Chupco, along with a number of Creek and Seminole men enlisted in the Union army, formed the First Indian Home Guard. Chupco was a sergeant in Company F of the First Regiment. He would also become the chief of the Loyal Seminoles and served these Union sympathizers throughout the Civil War years. Because of his height – 6 foot 7 inches – Chupco gained the nickname “Long John” from his fellow soldiers.
After the war, Chupco continued as chief of the Loyal Seminoles while John Jumper was chief of the Confederate sympathizers. “Long John” represented his people at the negotiations for the Reconstruction Treaty of 1866 held in Fort Smith. From the signing of this treaty, Chupco was recognized by the federal government as the Seminole chief for the remainder of his life.
The Seminoles, like the other tribes, faced the enormous task of rebuilding their nation that had been destroyed by the war. Chupco expected every Seminole to help in this building process and would levy fines against anyone caught loafing. He re-established his own farm and ranch with about 140 acres in crop production and a large herd of livestock. In 1869 he joined the Presbyterian congregation in the Seminole capital of Wewoka.
One story is told that demonstrates Long John’s enormous stride and stamina. It is said that he walked from Little River to Fort Gibson in a single day. That was a distance of over 100 miles. How many hours this “day” included is unclear, but he had to have walked over five miles per hour to have completed this journey.
Chupco continued his service as Seminole chief until his death in 1881 at age 60. Though he had never received much formal education, he had been viewed as an able administrator who served his people well.
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