84th Annual Brighton Field Day Festival February 17th-19th
Tribal Fair may be over, but Festival Season continues! This week, join us for a closer look at the Brighton Field Day Festival. This year’s Brighton Field Day Festival marks the 84th anniversary of the event hosted by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. From the rodeos to alligator wrestling, and even a star-studded concert on Saturday evening, this Brighton Field Day Festival is one you won’t want to miss!
Below, you can see a photograph taken by William D. Boehmer at Brighton Field Day in 1939. It shows the children’s clothing contest, and you can see Moses Jumper on the far left, Lena Gopher and her daughter Onnie, Richard Osceola and his son Joe Dan, and Lena Huff Billie and her son Billy Jumper. In the background at the left are Ada Tiger and Little Tigertail.
84th Annual Brighton Field Day Festival
This year’s Brighton Field Day Festival marks the 84th anniversary event. But, the origins of the festival started much earlier. In 1938, Edith and William D. Boehmer were employed as schoolteachers on the Brighton Reservation. William D. Boehmer was an Educational Field Agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and he and his wife Edith taught at the Brighton Day School. In 1938, they organized a “day of fun” for the local tribal community, where people could compete in sack race games, pie eating contests, and other various field day activities. Eventually, it would evolve into the Brighton Field Day Festival we all enjoy today, now in its 84th year. At first, Brighton Field Day was only for the tribal community, closed to outsiders. But, over time, the event evolved, shifting from “a friendly competition between reservations…into the popular fun-filled event it is today.”
Below is a flier for the 4th annual Brighton Field Day in 1971. A handwritten note reads “you are cordially invited! Howard E. Tommie, Chairman, Tribal Council.” Claudia Wilson, a nurse employed by the Seminole Tribe in the 1960s and 70s, donated the flier to the Clewiston Museum before it made its way to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. In 1971, tickets were $2.00 for adults and $1.50 for children (8 years and under were free). In the beginning, Brighton Field Day revolved almost entirely around the All-Indian Rodeo, as well as a free barbecue lunch with admission. Today, in addition to the rodeo, you can experience Seminole and native culture, dance, food, crafts, Freestyle Alligator Wrestling Competition, and even concerts. This will be the first Brighton Field Day event since 2020, and it is sure not to disappoint!
This year, the Brighton Field Day festival Rodeo schedule will be split between the three days. On Friday, February 17th, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Round 1 will be at 11:00am. Round 2 will follow at 7:00pm. The PRCA is the largest and oldest rodeo organization in the world, and Brighton joined the PRCA circuit in 1940. Round 3 will be held Saturday, February 18th at 3:00pm. The Xtreme Bulls competition will be held Sunday, February 19th at 3:00pm. Rodeo events include bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, and barrel racing.
This long history of Seminole rodeo is very apparent at the Brighton Field Day Festival, held annually at the Fred Smith Rodeo arena. Fred Smith was a Tribal icon, and deeply influential in the trajectory of Seminole cattle, as well as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Born in 1939, growing up on the Brighton Reservation, Smith was an accomplished cattleman, politician, and businessman. His grandfather, Charlie Micco, was one of the founders of the Seminole cattle industry. He was honored at the Brighton Field Day Festival in 2012, which recognized his contributions to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the community, and his family. A 2012 Seminole Tribune article about that year’s event detailed how Smith helped modernize the Seminole cattle industry, as well as being instrumental in the creation of the rodeo arena in Brighton, and a strong advocate for the Brighton Field Day events.
Gary Allan in Concert
Headlining the Brighton Field Day Festival this year is multi-platinum country artist Gary Allan. With ten studio albums and twenty-six studio singles, Gary Allan has been active in country music since 1996. Allan’s concert will be on Saturday, February 18th at 6 PM.
Freestyle Alligator Wrestling Competition (FAWC)
Another highlight of the Brighton Field Day Festival is the Freestyle Alligator Wrestling Competition (FAWC). Founded by Seminole Tribal alligator wrestler entrepreneurs and brothers James and Clinton Holt, FAWC “events create an opportunity for spectators to learn the story of surviving to thriving for the Seminole people, and how the alligator played a vital role in that journey.” Alligator wrestling has been a long-honored Seminole tradition, which evolved into a high-stakes and heart-pounding spectator sport in the tourist camps and villages of the early 20th century. Prior to this, hunting and handling alligators in the Everglades was important to Seminole survival. Alligator meat became an important staple food during the Seminole War period, when Seminoles survived deep in the Everglades evading U.S. troops. They developed many of the techniques seen today in modern wrestling as a way to capture and transport live gators back to camp.
Now, modern alligator wrestling emphasizes the relationship between wrestler and animal. In a 2021 New York Times article, Everett Osceola talked about how the sport works on “educating people – not just about Seminole history but about what it means to live with and around alligators.” In South Florida, this is an ever-important lesson. Wrestling, and alligators, are dangerous, and require an intense amount of skill and technique. FAWC events are judged on technique in wrangling, showmanship, technical skills, alligator aggression, and danger of the stunts performed. Four judges award the competitors points based on their proficiency, with a total of 100 points (25 per judge) available.
What about tickets?
Tickets to the 84th Annual Brighton Field Day Festival are $25 at the gate. Children 5 and under are free. On Friday, February 17th, seniors can purchase tickets at the gate for $20 (60 and older with ID). On Sunday, February 19th, veterans can purchase tickets at the gate for $20 (with ID). This year, the gates will open at 9am on Friday and Sunday, and 8:30a on Saturday.
The Brighton Field Day Festival is an exciting array of modern offerings rooted in Seminole tradition. In a 1989 Palm Beach Post article Ramsey Osceola, then 15 years old, emphasized this, stating that “[Brighton Field Day is] a little bit for everybody. It’s for the older Seminoles to sell their crafts and stuff, and for other people to learn about us. And for us it is just a lot of fun.” The festival is a celebration of Seminole culture and pride, and Ramsey continued that “It makes you feel good to be [Seminole]. Everybody is coming over here to see the Seminoles, and that is what I am.” (Palm Beach Post, 18 Feb 1989)
The 2023 Brighton Field Day Festival will be held from February 17th-19th, 2023 at the Fred Smith Rodeo Arena on the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation. The address is 17400 Sports Complex Road NE, Okeechobee, FL 34974. We hope to see you there!
Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to South Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series, and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Fort Myers, FL with her husband, son, and dog.