Billy Bowlegs III

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Billy Bowlegs III in 1895

Billy Bowlegs III, Billy Fewell, aka Cofehapkee (1862–1965), was a Seminole elder, also of African-American descent. He was a tribal historian in Florida.

Early life and education[edit]

He was named Billie Fewell by his African-American father and Seminole mother. Fewell was also known by his Seminole name, Cofehapkee. He learned the cultural ways of the Seminole from his mother's family and elders. His maternal grandfather was Osceola,[1] and he was a member of the Snake Clan.[2] His mother, Nancy, was killed in 1889, along with several other members of the Snake Clan, by his uncle, Jim Jumper, in the Jim Jumper massacre.[3]

After it was established, Bowlegs lived on the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation,[4] near Lake Okeechobee in present-day Glades County.


Color photo of Billy, circa 1949, photograph by Joseph Janney Steinmetz

As an adult, he renamed himself after Billy Bowlegs (Holata Micco), the prominent Seminole chief during the Seminole Wars. A Black Indian, Bowlegs became an elder in the tribe. He learned and taught much about its history.

Bowlegs befriended James Mallory and Minnie Moore Willson, who moved to Florida in the early 1880s. They became advocates for the Seminole. The couple described him in their book, The Seminole of Florida, 1896.[5] He wanted to improve their understanding of the tribe's culture. The Willsons helped gain approval in 1913 by the Florida state legislature for a 100,000-acre (400 km2) reservation for the Seminole in the Everglades. They testified on the Seminole's behalf to the federal government in hearings in 1917. In the mid-1950s, he performed traditional dances at the Florida Folk Festival in Union County, on the Suwannee River.

Bowlegs was buried in Ortona Cemetery in Ortona, Florida.

  • note: Both the historical marker and the historical marker database record his name as Billie not Billy.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Historical marker

A historical marker honors Billie Bowlegs III, also known as Chufi Hajo, near Moore Haven. It is located at the intersection of U.S. 27 and State Road 78. It was erected by the Polk County Historical Commission and the Seminole Tribe.[6]


  1. ^ "Billie Bowlegs III" Florida Alive. (retrieved 13 March 2010)
  2. ^ Foreman, 4
  3. ^ Stout, Wesley (March 1, 1965). "Billy Bowlegs Told of How 7 Were Killed". The Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  4. ^ Foreman, 6
  5. ^ "Chief Billy Bowlegs", Reclaiming the Everglades: Everglades Biographies, Publication of Archival, Library & Museum Materials, Florida International University
  6. ^ "Billy Bowlegs III", Historical Marker Database, accessed 9 Oct 2009


  • Foreman, Ronald. First citizens and other Florida folks: essays on Florida folklife. Tallahassee: Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs, 1984.