Published on October 15, 2012 by Amy
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.
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He was named Billy 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, and he was a member of the Snake Clan.
After it was established, Bowlegs lived on the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation, near Lake Okeechobee in present day Glades County.
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 Jame 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. 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 their 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 Suwanee River.
Bowlegs was buried in Ortona Cemetery in Ortona, Florida.
A historical marker honors Billy 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 Society and the Seminole Tribe.