John Horse, also known as Juan Caballo, Juan Cavallo, John Cowaya or “Gopher John,” was a black Seminole warrior and military advisor to Osceola. His aliases were the products of different slave owners in Spanish Florida. Born of African and Indian descent, Gopher John was said to be the most successful black freedom fighter of his time. He led his people during the slave uprising of 1850 and led a massive pilgrimage from Florida to Mexico.
The muscular, six-foot tall soldier was an expert marksman and said to be one of the coolest and confident men in the land. He wore long, straight hair under his turban with plumes, a hunting shirt that gathered at the waist with a sash and silver clips on his lapels. His leggings were decorated with ribbons.
As legend says, John Horse got the nickname “Gopher John” as a child. He had owned a few turtles and was asked to sell them to a U.S. Army Commander. The commander kept asking John to supply him with more turtles and paid John for them. When it was time for a big turtle meat feast at the Army camp, the commander noticed only a few turtles in the pen. John had re-sold the man his own turtles over and over again. The commander nicknamed him Gopher John.
John Horse lived through the War of 1812 and two Seminole Wars. He fought against Creek Indians and the U.S. Army for the freedom of the Seminoles. However, in order to gain freedom for his family, he worked as a translator for the U.S. Army in the Second Seminole war. After building the village of Wewoka for his people, he traveled to Washington to lobby for land settlement and freedom. For 20 years, between 1850-1870, he was leader of the Black Seminoles in the southwest.
John Horse, or Gopher John, died in Mexico City in 1882 while on a mission to settle a land dispute.
Little Known Black History Fact: Gopher John, Seminole Warrior was originally published on blackamericaweb.com