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The Florida Indians
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Few portions of the Western Continent have witnessed such scenes of barbarous warfare between the natives and European adventurers, or between subjects of contending nations at the East, as the long, low peninsula, which lies at the southern extremity of the Atlantic seacoast of the United States. Its whole history is strangely romantic, and might well tempt us away from our subject, were there room to chronicle all the interesting details of its discovery, conquest, and settlement.
The first picture presented to our minds, when we turn back to these early times, is of Juan Ponce de Leon, governor of Porto Rico, led by Indian fables in 1512 to search amid the low islands of the coast for a fountain that should bestow perpetual youth; landing upon the green and flowery shores, and bestowing upon the country its pleasing and musical appellation. All of North America, to the northward and eastward of Mexico, went by the name of Florida, before English settlements were made upon the coast. Failing in his first search, Leon undertook a second expedition into the unknown world, in hopes of finding mines of the precious metals, but was killed in a fight with the natives.
The perfidious Luke Valasquez de Ayllón, in 1518, visited the coast to the northward of Florida, to procure gold and slaves. The kindly natives, whom he tempted on board, were shut under hatches, and conveyed to Cuba. Returning again to the country, he and his party were justly punished for their treachery, nearly all of them being slain by the inhabitants, who, mindful of former injuries, rose upon them unawares, after putting them off their guard by demonstrations of friendship. Those who had been carried into servitude mostly perished, some by voluntary starvation, and others from grief and despair.
The Indians of Florida are represented by all early historians as a high-spirited and courageous race, showing considerable skill in agriculture, and exhibiting marks of far greater civilization than those of the North. It seems not improbable, judging from their traditions, appearance, and customs, that they, as well as the Natchez, had emigrated from Mexico, perhaps at no very remote period. They resided in towns and villages of considerable extent, and showed a degree of resolution and desperate valor, in defending their homes against the murderous Spaniards, which has seldom been equaled. Unappaled by the terrible execution of the unknown weapons of their enemies, who, mounted upon horses (hitherto unknown in the country) and clad in defensive armor, presented a novel and unaccountable spectacle to their wondering eyes, they disputed the invaded territory inch by inch.
Like most of their red brethren, they could not long brook the indignity of slavery; the proud spirit of the Indian can never, like that of the African, be so humbled that his race can continue and multiply in servitude.
The old Portuguese narrator of De Soto’s conquest, speaking of the Indian slaves of Cuba, says that their custom was to hang themselves, to escape the toil and degradation of working the mines. He tells of an overseer in the service of Vasco Porcalho, (afterwards De Soto’s lieutenant-general,) who, “knowing the Indians under his charge had resolved to hang themselves, went and staid for them at the place where they intended to put this dismal resolution into execution, with a rope in his hand: he told them they must not imagine that any of their designs were hid from him, and that he was come to hang himself with them, that he might torment them in the other world an hundred times more than he had done in this.” His expedient had the desired effect upon their superstitious and credulous minds, and, giving up their purpose, they returned submissively to their tasks.
Pamphilo de Narvaez, in April 1528, with a commission from Charles the Fifth to conquer and take possession, landed four hundred men and forty or fifty horses at East Florida. Penetrating the wilderness, they crossed the country to Appalache, sometimes experiencing kind treatment from the Indians, at other times in danger from their attacks. Finding no gold, and but little provision at this town, from which they drove out the inhabitants on their first arrival, the Spaniards shaped their course to the south towards Aute. Tormented by hunger; beset by hidden foes; disheartened by the terrible difficulties which beset their path, from the almost impassable natural conformation of the country; and worn out by incessant exertion, Narvaez and his men reached Aute only to “find it burned and deserted by its inhabitants.
Many of the party having already perished, the rest, hopeless of making further progress by land, set to work to construct boats in which they might reach a port of safety. “With singular ingenuity they prepared tools from the iron of their accoutrements; and, with no further materials than were furnished by the productions of the forest, and the manes, tails, and skins of their horses, five small boats were built. They embarked and set sail, but nearly all perished either by famine or by the dangers of the sea. Only a handful of the number were ever heard from, among whom was Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. With only four companions he kept on his course to the West, and, after years of peril, hardship, and servitude, reached the Spanish settlements of Mexico.
The next Spanish expedition to Florida was of far more importance and interest than either that had preceded it. The celebrated Fernando de Soto, after acquiring an immense fortune as a companion of Pizarro, at Peru, was moved by the restless spirit of adventure to undertake a more complete examination of the New World opened to Spanish cupidity and curiosity.
We can but briefly touch upon the incidents of Florida history for nearly two centuries after De Soto s invasion. The French Huguenot refugees, who settled upon St. John’s River in 1562, found the natives placable and generous. Although their kindness was but ill reciprocated by the colony, no very serious difficulties occurred between the two races. The power and self-confidence of the Indians had been broken, and their numbers greatly reduced, by the desolating ravages committed by the Spaniards.
In the brutal and murderous wars between the French and Spanish colonies, which succeeded the new attempts at settlement, the Indians, although they took no conspicuous part, were occasionally involved in hostilities. The most important era in the native history of this period is that of the establishment of a regular missionary system of instruction.
The central point of these operations was the convent of St. Helena, situated at St. Augustine. Don Pedro Menendez de Avilla, the Spanish governor who founded this town, and who had been commissioned by the king of Spain to spread the Catholic religion among the Indians, was indefatigable in carrying out his sovereign s intentions. The success met with by the ecclesiastics sent forth among the various tribes, is astonishing. In the wilder ness of central Florida may still be seen the ruins of buildings erected by their means for religious exercises. Their efforts were not confined to the vicinity of the colonies: emissaries penetrated the western forests, even to the Mississippi; and amid the rough mountain districts of the north, they were to be found living with the Indians, and assiduously instructing them, not only in their religious creed, but in language and useful arts.
The Spanish influence might perhaps have been maintained over the Indians during the existence of the colony, but for the jealous suspicions of Cabrana, who was made governor in 1680. He put to death the principal chief of the Yamasees, or inhabitants of East Florida, upon an accusation of having given aid and comfort to the English settlers on the St. John’s, then called May River. The consequence of this act was a long and troublesome war.
The unfortunate Indians were for many years after this event made the tools of the hostile European colonies: first in the French and Spanish wars, and afterwards, in 1702 and 1704, when Governor Moore, of South Carolina, invaded Florida.
In the northwestern districts of the peninsula dwelt the Appalachees; the rest of the country was inhabited by the Yemasees. These two nations had formerly been upon terms of the bitterest enmity, but had been reconciled by the mediation of the Spaniards. Moore, followed by a considerable body of English, and a large force of Creek Indians, ravaged nearly the whole country, beginning at Appalachee, and proceeding southeasterly to the Atlantic seaboard. He carried away many Indians of the, conquered tribes to the English plantations as slaves.
After a long period of hopeless and profitless warfare, in which they had nothing to gain by success, and by means of which they were disabled from agriculture and deprived of a settled abode, the scattered remnants of the Indian tribes gradually took up their quarters in the heart of the country, and farther towards the south. In the latter part of the eighteenth century they acquired the name of Seminoles, said to signify ” wanderers.”
In the year 1792, an unprincipled adventurer from England, named Bowles, made strenuous attempts to excite the hostility of the Indians against the Spanish settlers. Failing in a direct attempt to plunder an Indian trading-house on the St. John’s, and finding himself abandoned by his associates, he betook himself to the Creeks, married a woman of that tribe, and persuaded the Indians that the store of goods which he had attacked belonged rightfully to them. He met with considerable success in deceiving the simple-minded natives, and, assisted by several chiefs of the Creek nation, he got possession of the fortress of St. Marks. Delivering himself up to riot and drunkenness, with his followers, it proved no difficult task for the Spanish troops to retake the fort. Bowles was allowed to escape, but was afterwards delivered up by his Indian allies, and taken to Cuba a prisoner. The Seminoles were partially involved in the wars of 1812 and the two succeeding years, when the Americans invaded Florida. Their chief leaders were King Payne and his brother, the noted Boleck or Bowlegs. Having done no little damage by burning buildings and plundering the plantations in their vicinity, they purposed to march northward, but were engaged and routed nearer home, by General Newman, with a body of troops from Georgia. This force having crossed the St. John’s, marched into Alachua, and encountered Payne within a few miles of his head-quarters. The Indians fought bravely, but could not resist the superior skill of the whites. Payne was killed, and his men were driven off in the first engagement; but they rallied, and returned to the attack with redoubled energy. They possessed them selves of the body of their chief; and afterwards, surrounding the American forces, kept them in a state of siege for a number of days, imperfectly protected by a structure of logs.
After this period, and previous to the cession of the Floridas to the United States, the affairs of the Seminoles and their American neighbors were unsettled, and some bloody scenes were enacted. Fugitive slaves from the adjoining states found a secure asylum among the immense wilds of the marshy and uninhabited territory of the Floridas, and conflicting claims of Indians and whites respecting Negroes long after formed a fertile source of quarrel and complaint. Some of the Seminoles became possessed of large numbers of slaves, holding them by undisputed title.
In the month of March 1818, General Jackson, with more than three thousand men, over one half of whom were Creek warriors, marched into West Florida to punish and check the ravages of the Seminoles. With little opposition from the inhabitants, the towns surrounding the lake of Miccosukie were destroyed, and much booty, in corn and cattle, was secured. The Indian villages upon the Oscilla and St. Mark’s Rivers, known as the Fowel towns, met with a similar fate. St. Mark s was soon after occupied by the invaders, and, in the ensuing month, the great body of the Seminoles, aided by large numbers of negroes, was defeated on the borders of the Suwanee, and several hundred were taken prisoners. The rest fled into East Florida.
“Hark, that quick, fierce cry,
That rends the utter silence; tis the whoop
Of battle, and a throng of savage men,
With naked arms, and faces stained like blood,
Fill the green wilderness.
Soon the conquerors
And conquered vanish, and the dead remain,
Gashed horribly with tomahawks.” Bryant.
After the whole country had passed into the hands of the American government, it was thought necessary to take steps to secure the frontiers of the white settlements from the incursions of the Indians, and to confine the latter to certain specified districts. In the year 1823, there fore, on the 18th of September, a treaty was concluded at the camp on Moultrie Creek, between commissioners from the United States and a number of Seminole chiefs, whereby it was stipulated, that all territory not reserved by the articles should pass to the American government; that the Indians should confine themselves to a large district described by courses and bounds in the heart of the peninsula; that fugitive slaves should be delivered up, the reasonable expenses of securing them being provided for; and that certain sums should be paid by the government to compensate for the expenses and losses of removal, and to establish the Indians comfortably in their new quarters. Various minor particulars were embodied in the treaty, which was signed with mark and seal, on the part of the Seminoles, by the principal chief Micanopy; by Tuske Hajo, Emathlochee, Econchatimico, Tokosemathla (known as Hicks), Charley Amathla, Tustenugge, John Blunt, Mulatto King, Philip, Nea Mathla, and twenty-one others, possessed of or claiming the authority of chiefs.
An exception was made, by an additional article, in favor of six of the signers; who were allowed, in consideration of former services, to remain upon the lands then occupied by them.
Micanopy is described by Williams as a “large fat man, rather obtuse in intellect, but kind to his people and slaves.”
The Indians were removed in accordance with the provisions of the agreement, and, until 1835, no serious hostilities took place between them and the whites. Com plaints were, indeed, made on both sides of unredressed wrongs and outrages. The Alachuan settlers lost their cattle, and attributed the thefts to the Indians: on the other hand, the Indians complained, with justice, of numberless impositions and deceptions to which they were exposed in their intercourse with unprincipled traders and speculators.
To quiet all disturbance it was at last deemed expedient by the American government, to effect an entire removal of the Seminoles to the west of the Mississippi. Accordingly, a meeting was appointed by Micanopy and the government emissaries, to be held at Payne’s Landing, on the Ocklawaha River, on the eighth of May 1832. Fifteen chiefs were present, and, after much argument, signed an agreement, in behalf of themselves and their people, to accede to the proposals of government provided the new lands assigned them should prove acceptable to a deputation from their number who should first go to make examination. The United States were to pay the tribe fifteen thousand four hundred dollars, and the removal was to take place within three years. The authority of the signers of this treaty to bind the whole of the Seminole tribes has been frequently, and with no little reason, called in question. Certain it is, that to a majority of the nation the proposition was highly distasteful.
Several chiefs, with Micanopy’s prime counselor, Abraham, an astute Negro, undertook the survey of the Western Reserve, and signed a writing expressive of their satisfaction with its appearance. It was claimed by the Indians, and their partisans, that some deception was used both in the wording of this certificate, and generally as to the conclusiveness of the arrangements entered into at Payne’s Landing.
As the end of the term prescribed, within which they must leave their homes, drew near, opposition to removal and determination to resist it, continued to gain force among the Indians. They complained of the accounts brought them of the belligerent character of the savages who would be their near neighbors, and strenuously objected to a plan, set on foot at Washington, for uniting their tribe with that of their old enemies the Creeks.
Serious disturbances commenced in 1835. Some months previously, whites had been, upon one or two occasions, fired upon by the Indians, and mutual wrongs, insults, and injuries, had excited general ill-feeling between the two nations. In the month of October, of this year, several Indians were detected in killing a cow near Kenapaha pond, not far from Miccosukie. They were set upon by seven whites, who seized their arms, and commenced beating them with whips. An affray succeeded, in which several were wounded on both sides, and two of the Indians were killed outright. This may be considered to be the commencement of the war: it was the first bloodshed, but was soon followed by other outrages. The mail rider, upon his route from Fort Brooke, on Tampa Bay, to Fort King, fell a victim to Indian revenge; his body was found hacked and mutilated.
It now appeared that the Seminole, determined to maintain their ground, had been, for some time, purchasing and hoarding great stores of arms and ammunition. Their numbers were considerable; they had among them leaders known to be bold, determined, and sagacious; they considered themselves wronged and oppressed; and all these circumstances, combined with their intimate knowledge of the impassable wilderness to which they could at any moment retire, convinced the discerning that a war with them must be fraught with danger and difficulty, and might be indefinitely protracted.
The young chief, Osceola, whose name is more intimately associated than any other with the bloody events that succeeded, now began to attract attention for his acuteness, energy, and determined hostility to the whites. He was a quadroon of the Red Stick (anglicized from the French “Baton Rouge”) tribe, of Miccosukie; his mother being a half-breed, and his father supposed to be an Englishman named Powel a name ordinarily borne by the chief. Osceola had opposed the plan of removal at previous councils, with great vigor, and on one occasion demeaned himself with, such violence that he was seized by General Thompson, the government agent, and kept for a day or two confined in fetters. Dissembling his rage, he, for a time, managed to disarm suspicion; bringing in a great number of his followers, and solemnly ratifying the treaty.
His true purposes and feelings were first known by the part he took in the murder of John Hicks and Charley Amathla, two chiefs who had been prominent in forwarding the treaty of removal. He obtained great ascendancy for himself and followers among the whole nation of the Seminole; and mainly through his influence, instead of collecting their cattle and stock for appraisal, at the time when they were notified that they must leave the country, the warriors of the tribe secreted their women and children in swamps remote from white settlements, and scoured the country in hostile attitude.
Troops were ordered to Florida from various quarters. Major Dade, arriving at Tampa Bay, with a company of United States infantry, being reinforced, with two other companies, started on the 4th of December, to the relief of General Clinch, at Fort King. His force consisted of over one hundred regular troops, supplied with ten days provision: they took with them a small field-piece. Some delay occurred upon the march, owing to the difficulty of transporting the cannon, and on the 28th they had advanced no farther than a few miles to the northward of the forks of the Ouithlacoochee. Here they were attacked by an unknown multitude of Indians, under the command of Micanopy, and his brother-in-law, the celebrated Jumper, who had avoided signing the treaty of Moultrie Creek. The savages were crouching among the long wiregrass, and protected by the trunks of the pine-trees, when they commenced their fire. The effect was deadly; Major Dade and a great number of his men were killed at the first discharge. The soldiers continued to fight bravely, sheltering themselves as well as possible behind trees; and, as the Indians rose up, poured in their fire so briskly as to drive the enemy from the field. Every instant was now occupied in forming a slight protection by cutting and piling up the trunks of pines. The Indians, however, soon returned in great force, and, surrounding the little entrenchment, destroyed nearly every man of the company. After they had taken possession of the arms, which lay scattered around, the Indians retired, but a body of mounted negroes are said to have come up and finished the murderous work by knocking out the brains of the wounded. Only four men escaped, being passed over by the Negroes and Indians, as they lay wounded and motionless among the dead bodies. One of these was killed on the following day, while endeavoring to make his way back to the fort: the other three, cautiously threading their path through the wilder ness, arrived safe at Tampa Bay.
On the same day with the destruction of Dade’s command, Osceola revenged himself upon his hated foe, General Wiley Thompson, by whom he had been imprisoned, as before mentioned. A company of nine, among them General Thompson, were dining at the house of a Mr. Rogers, within fifty rods of Fort King, when the house was beset by Indians, and a volley poured in upon the company. Thompson and four others were killed; the rest escaped to the fort.
In the course of the month, various plantations were destroyed in different parts of the country bordering on the Indian reserve, and some skirmishing took place. On the last day of December, General Clinch, who had been stationed at Fort Drane, thirty miles north-west of Fort King, being on his march towards Osceola’s head-quarters with a considerable force of Florida volunteers and about two hundred regular troops, encountered the enemy upon the left bank of the Ouithlacoochee.
The Indians, numbering, as was supposed, about six hundred, headed by Osceola, fell upon the first division of the American army that had affected the passage of the river. The stream, contrary to expectation, was in no place fordable, and the only means of crossing was by a single canoe, the horses passed the river by swimming. The Indian commander evinced great bravery and consummate marksmanship, and his men, firing from the cover of a thick growth of under wood, and from behind trees, proved difficult opponents to dislodge. The troops, with one or two slight exceptions, stood firm, and after repeated charges, drove the Indians from the field. In this engagement more than fifty Americans were wounded, and several killed; the loss of the enemy was reported to have been over one hundred.
Additional troops from Louisiana, and forces connected with the marine service, were collected at Tampa Bay; and a large detachment, under General Gaines, marched to Fort King, where they arrived on the 22d of February. Provisions being scarce, and the state of the roads being such that supplies could not be easily procured, Gaines and his force commenced their return to Tampa, by the route formerly taken by Clinch, across the Ouithlacoochee. On the bank of the river, no great distance from the scene of the last battle, the army was, in a manner, surrounded and besieged for more than a week, by Indians, apparently to the number of from one to two thousand. A galling fire was kept up at every exposed point. Word was sent to Fort Drane, where General Clinch was stationed, for relief, as the provisions of the army were nearly expended.
On the 6th of March, a conference was held between the American officers and three of the principal Indian chiefs Osceola, Jumper, and Alligator. The camp had been hailed during the previous night, and a wish for a parley expressed on the part of the savages. The chiefs professed a desire for peace; said they were weary of war, and that, if they could be allowed to retire quietly beyond the Ouithlacoochee, and could remain there unmolested, they would create no further disturbance. They were informed that the general had no authority to conclude any agreement with them, and that their only course was to comply with the requisitions of the government, as forces, which it would be impossible for them to resist, were on their way to enforce submission. The Indian chiefs wished for an opportunity to take counsel with their great King Micanopy, before returning an answer; but General Clinch appearing, with the desired relief, and engaging with a detachment of the Indians, the meeting was broken up. They agreed, however, before retiring, to draw off their warriors to the south bank of the river, and to hold themselves ready to attend further council when notified.
Nothing further was effected, and the combined American forces returned to Fort Drane.
“And there are tales of sad reality
In the dark legends of thy border war.”
By this time grievous injury had been done by the Indians to the settlements in East Florida. Philip was the principal leader in the devastation’s that took place in that region. New Smyrna, at Mosquito Inlet, was destroyed, and the plantations upon Halifax river, to the northward of the town, were ravaged and the settlers driven off. The white inhabitants of the interior were everywhere obliged either to abandon their homes, or to erect defenses and to establish a regular watch.
General Scott having been appointed to the command of the army in Florida during the spring of this year (1836), formed a plan to penetrate the heart of the country, with a large force, from three different quarters simultaneously, and thus surround the Indians and cut off their retreat. Generals Clinch and Eustice, and Colonel Lindsey were appointed to lead the three divisions. General Clinch s party was attended by General Scott in person. The army was put in motion in the latter part of the month of March.
The service was accomplished, but with little good effect. The Indians, possessing perfect knowledge of the country, instead of opposing the advancing columns in force, hung about the flanks and rear of the army, and kept up a vexatious skirmishing. No important engagement took place, and the three divisions, after lying for a few days at Tampa, were again put in motion. Separate detachments were ordered to proceed, one to Fort Drane, one to attack the enemy at Pease Creek, to the southward, one to ravage the country in the vicinity of the Ouithlacoochee, and another to march to Volusia.
Little benefit appears to have resulted from the campaign: a careful attention to the plans of Indian warfare laid down, at an earlier age, by Captain Benjamin Church, of New England, or by the redoubtable pioneer of Virginia, Captain John Smith, might have produced effects far more decided.
A small detachment of troops had been left, about the middle of March, to guard a quantity of provision, stored in a rude building fifteen miles up the Ouithlacoochee. Not having been heard from for many weeks after, they were supposed to have been cut off by the Indians, and no attempt was made to relieve them until towards the latter part of May, when three of the garrison managed to escape the vigilance of their besiegers, and to convey intelligence of their condition to Tallahassee. The small party had been defending their post gallantly for more than two months against hosts of the enemy; their block house had been partially destroyed over their heads, so that they were exposed to the inclemencies of the weather, and their provision consisted entirely of corn. A steamer was sent to the river s mouth, and the company was brought down to it in a barge.
As the season advanced, the enervating influence of the climate produced its natural effect upon the troops. The fevers of the country attacked those who were not acclimated, and the rest were but poorly conditioned for an arduous campaign. Active operations for the most part ceased; the volunteers were discharged, and the regular soldiers distributed among the different forts extending from St. Augustine across the country to the Suwanne. The Indians were free to roam where they listed through the immense wilderness to the southward, and to lay plans of secret attack upon every exposed settlement or plantation.
About the end of April, a terrible massacre took place at Charlotte Harbor; and in May and June, the country between the St. Johns and the Atlantic, nearly as far north as St. Augustine, was generally ravaged by the Indians. Their attacks extended to the vicinity of Mandarin, only sixteen or eighteen miles south of Jacksonville. A Mr. Motte, residing at that place, was murdered, and his establishment was destroyed.
Early in June, the Indians, emboldened by success in the destruction of plantations, and the expulsion of the whites from such extensive districts, beset the fort at Micanopy, which was garrisoned by a company under the command of Major Heillman, then at the head of the army west of St. John’s River. They were driven off, but not without some loss on the part of the whites.
In July, Fort Drane had become so unhealthy that it was thought necessary to abandon it. As the troops were on their march upon the evacuation of the place, they had a sharp brush with some hundreds of Indians who lay in wait for them near Welika Pond, in the vicinity of Micanopy. Towards the close of the month the lighthouse at Cape Florida was destroyed. The keeper, named Thompson, was singularly preserved by clinging to the top of the stonewall of the building, while the woodwork was burned out from within. After the Indians had, by their own act, cut off the means of access to the summit, they descried the unfortunate man, half dead with the heat and smoke, and shot at him a long time without effect. He was able to crouch in such a manner upon the top of the wall as to elude their aim, until they took their departure.
It would be impracticable, in a sketch of this kind, to give full particulars of the skirmishing, plundering, and murders which were to be heard of on every side during the summer of 1836. About the middle of August, it was ascertained that Osceola and a large company of his followers were staying in the vicinity of the abandoned Fort Drane, for the sake of securing the corn growing upon the neighboring plantations. They were attacked and defeated by Major Pierce.
In September a marauding party of Indians made their way to within seven miles of Jacksonville, where they attacked the house of Mr. Higginbotham. There were only two men in the house, but having a number of guns, and receiving resolute assistance from the women of the family, they successfully resisted the assault. After the Indians had retired, Higginbotham hastened with all speed to Jacksonville, and procured a party of twelve men, under Major Hart, to pursue them. Taking the Indian trail, the company followed it to the house of Mr. Johns, ten miles distant from the scene of the attack. The building had been reduced to ashes, and the half-burned body of its proprietor lay among the ruins. Mrs. Johns had been scalped, and left to perish. Before their departure, one of the savages set fire to her clothes, but she managed to extinguish the flame, and to creep away from the burning building. In this miserable condition she was discovered, lying by the border of the swamp, and kindly cared for.
The perpetrators of this outrage, having secured good horses, effected their escape.
Before the end of this month, additional forces from Tennessee were brought into Florida, and a body of nearly a thousand Creeks, led by the chiefs Paddy Carr and Jim Boy, came to lend their aid against the Indians of the peninsula. An army of from one to two thousand men, including the Tennessee brigade, under Governor Call, marched, in the beginning of October, to the deserted Fort Drane, but found that the Indians had recently left their quarters in that neighborhood. The trail of the fugitives was followed towards the Ouithlacoochee, but the pursuit of savages, in their own country, especially in such a country as Florida, by regular troops, encumbered with baggage, and ignorant of the fastnesses of the enemy, proved as futile in that instance as upon former and subsequent occasions. Little was accomplished against the enemy, who were enabled, at any time, to retreat beyond the reach of their pursuers, and only showed themselves where they could attack the whites at a disadvantage. Under existing circumstances, the main force was obliged to return to Fort Drane, not without the loss of a great number of their horses from hard service upon indifferent food.
Colonel Lane, with a strong force of Creek Indians and regular troops, made an excursion into the enemy s country from Tampa Bay, during the early part of this month. Near the Ocklikany Lake, called the Spotted Lake, from the great number of small wooded islands which cover its surface, about sixty miles from Tampa, an Indian trail was struck. -The party followed this track to the south ward, and came successively upon several considerable Indian villages deserted by the inhabitants. Large cornfields were seen in the vicinity of these settlements, and some hundreds of cattle were secured by the Creek Indians of the company. At one advantageous post, where the thick under wood on the borders of a small lake offered protection to an ambush, the Seminoles attempted, unsuccessfully, to resist the invaders. They were driven out into the open country and dispersed. Lane and his detachment joined General Call at Fort Drane on the 19th. He survived this service but a few days, being found in his tent, nearly dead, with the point of his sword thrust into the brain over his eye: there was little doubt among those conversant with the circumstances of his death, but that it occurred accidentally.
The combined army, of more than two thousand men, marched to the Ouithlacoochee in November. This region, which had been a favorite resort of the Seminoles through out the war, was now found entirely abandoned, and trails were discovered trending towards the great Wahoo Swamp. That the main body of the enemy had moved in that direction, was also affirmed by an old Negro, found at an abandoned village on the river. Taking up the pursuit, a portion of the American forces followed the trail, and had a sharp engagement with the Indians on the border of the swamp. There was, however, abundant space for the fugitives to retreat into, where the whites were unable to follow them, and no heavy loss occurred on either side.
Another battle took place on the 21st, in which the Seminoles displayed more resolution, and stood the charge of the regular troops with greater firmness, than had ever before been observed in them. The dangers of the extensive morass to which they retreated proved more insurmountable than those attendant upon the contest with the savages themselves.
Provisions being nearly exhausted, and it being impossible to procure supplies in such a wilderness, the army proceeded to Volusia, between Lake George and Dexter s Lake. There it was joined by General Jessup, who had been appointed to the chief command in Florida, with four hundred mounted volunteers from Alabama.
We have already given more space to the details of the Florida campaign, than such ill-advised, ill-conducted, and trivial operations deserve. We would be the last to endeavor to detract from the deserved laurels of many of the brave men who were engaged in them, while we can but lament that their lives should have been sacrificed; less by the weapons of the savages than by the diseases of the country; that the public money should have been squandered; and the whole peninsula so long kept in a state of agitation and suspense, when pacific measures might have kept matters comparatively at rest.
Before the first of January, General Jessup, marching with his troops from Volusia, with the cooperation of Colonel Foster, dispatched from Tampa, ranged the whole country on the Ouithlacoochee and other haunts of the Seminoles, and examined the deep recesses of the Wahoo morass, without finding an enemy. The Indian trails which were observed, all led to the unexplored wilderness of the south. Thither he started in pursuit of the fugitive Seminoles, on the d of January (1837). On the succeeding day, a detachment, under Colonel Cawfield, surprised Osuchee or Cooper, a Seminole chief, then encamped at Ahapopka Lake, from which flows the Ocklawaha. The chief and several of his warriors were killed, and a number of prisoners were taken.
The main army, still following the course of the Indian track, now came to the high ridge of sandy hills lying directly south of Lake Ahapopka. The second day after passing these hills, cattle of the Indians were seen, and shortly after a scouting party, under Colonel Henderson, discovered the enemy upon the borders of the stream of Hatchee Lustee. The troops instantly charged, and drove them into the swamp, taking twenty or thirty prisoners, mostly women and children.
On the same day, another large body of Indians was discovered a little farther to the westward, who fled precipitately upon the approach of troops. One of the Seminole was found watching by his sick wife, who had been left as unable to travel. This Indian was sent the next morning (January 28th) to invite the Seminole chiefs to a conference. The army was marched to the border of Tohopekaliga Lake, (into which empties the Hatchee Lustee Creek,) and encamped between its waters and the Big Cypress swamp, to await the return of the messenger. He made his appearance on the following day, bringing intelligence from the hostile chiefs, who agreed to have a parley. The first, who presented himself, on the part of the Seminole, was Abraham, Micanopy s Negro counselor. Having held a consultation with General Jessup, he returned to his people; but three days after, February 3d, escorted Jumper, Alligator, and two other chiefs to the camp. It was concluded that a grand talk should be held, and a new treaty entered into on the 18th of the month, at Fort Dade, on the Big Ouithlacoochee. To that establishment the army immediately repaired, as it was agreed that hostilities should be suspended until after the council.
On the 8th of the month, several hundred Indians, led by Philip, the chief who had long been the terror of the eastern portion of the peninsula, attacked Colonel Fanning, then in the occupation of a station on Lake Monroe, with a mixed garrison of regulars, volunteers, and Creeks. The Creek chief Paddy Carr was of the company. The assailants were driven off with loss, and, in their retreat, met a messenger sent by Micanopy to convey intelligence of the truce.
Some delays occurred in bringing about the conference assigned for the 18th, but at last most of the principal Seminole chiefs signed a treaty similar to that of Payne s Landing, whereby they agreed to remove west of the Mississippi. The United States government was to make remuneration for the stock, which must necessarily be left behind, and to pay stipulated annuities, as before agreed. There can be but little doubt that, even on this occasion, the Indians had no real intention of complying with the requisitions of government. Few came in on the days appointed, and rumors were circulated among them whether actually believed, or only used as an excuse for absenting them selves, does not appear that the whites intended to destroy the whole tribe as soon as they should be secured on board the government vessels.
Osceola and Coe Hajo, still pretending that their endeavor was to collect their people for transportation, held a great festival or game at ball near Fort Mellon, upon Lake Monroe, at the eastern part of the peninsula. They doubtless chose this place for gathering their followers, as being at a safe distance from the point of embarkation on Tampa Bay. On the d of June, Osceola took two hundred of his warriors to Tampa Bay, and, either by force or persuasion, induced the old king Micanopy, and all the other Indians who had rendezvoused there in pursuance of the treaty, to move off again to the wilderness.
Hearing of this, the commandant at Fort Mellon, Colonel Harney, made up his mind to entrap such of the chiefs as were in his vicinity, under pretense of a conference; and retaliate upon the Seminoles for their breach of faith at Tampa, by seizing those who should appear. Osceola got wind of the design, and it consequently proved futile.
Fort Mellon and Volusia were abandoned during this month, the sickness attendant upon the season having commenced its ravages among the troops, and the Indians were left free to roam over that whole portion of the country, while the settlers whose dwellings were exposed to their assaults, were forced to fly to places of protection.
The last of the month, Captain Walton, keeper of the floating light on Carysford reef, was killed, together with one of his assistants, at Key Largos, the most considerable of the Florida Keys. He had a garden at this island, and had just landed, coming from the light, when he and his party were fired upon. The whole southeastern seacoast was then in undisturbed possession of the hostile Indians.
In September, General Hernandez, stationed at Fort Peyton, a few miles from St. Augustine, made an expedition to the southward, and captured the dreaded Philip, Uchee Billy, and nearly one hundred other Indians and Negroes. Philip’s son, coming with a flag of truce to St. Augustine, was taken prisoner, and retained in captivity.
Other chiefs and warriors among them Tustenugge delivered themselves up at Black Creek, and several captures were made at other points; but the most important transaction of this autumn whether justifiable or not was the seizure of Osceola, Alligator, and six other of the leading Seminole. They had come into the neighborhood of Fort Peyton, and sent word to General Jessup that they desired a parley.
General Hernandez was deputed to hold the conference, but the talk of the Indians being pronounced “evasive and unsatisfactory,” the commander-in-chief dispatched a force to capture the whole body; these chiefs accordingly, with over sixty followers, fell into the hands of their enemies. The excuse given for this act was, that the treachery of the Indians upon former occasions had deprived them of all claims to good faith on the part of the whites. Osceola was removed to Charleston, and died in confinement on the 30th of January 1838. If he had survived, he was to have been taken, with other Seminoles, to the west of the Mississippi.
In the same month, various other captures were made, until the Indians in bondage at St. Augustine numbered nearly one hundred and fifty. The United States forces, consisting of regulars, volunteers, seamen, and Indian allies, distributed among the various posts in Florida at this time, are set down at little short of nine thousand men!
Sam Jones, or Abiaca, was, after the capture of Osceola, one of the most forward of the Seminole chiefs. He appears to have been spokesman at a conference held, not far from this time, between his tribe and deputies from the Creek nation, bearing proposals and advice from their celebrated chief John Ross.
We must next proceed to the campaign of Colonel Zachary Taylor, the hero of many battles, and afterwards the distinguished president of the United States. He left Fort Gardner, a station sixty miles due east from Fort Brooke, on Tampa Bay, with some six hundred troops, to follow the enemy into their hidden retreats at the south. Pursuing the course of the Kissimee, the army had advanced within fifteen miles of the great lake Okeechobee, on the northern borders of the unexplored everglades, when intelligence was obtained from a prisoner, that the Seminoles were encamped in force on the eastern shore of the Kissimee Lake. “With a portion of his army, Colonel Taylor crossed the river, and hastened to attack the Indians in the hammock where they were posted. Never before had the Indian rifles done more deadly execution, and never had their warriors evinced more determined courage. They were with great difficulty dislodged and dispersed: the number of killed and wounded on the part of the whites considerably exceeded that of the Indians, no less than one hundred and eleven of Col. Taylor’s men being wounded, and twenty-eight killed.
During December, (1837,) several encounters of minor importance took place in different parts of the country. Many prisoners were taken in the district between Fort Mellon and Lake Poinsett, near the headwaters of the St. John s, and a small skirmish occurred as far north as the Suwanne. There was a more severely contested action near Fort Fanning, on this river, early in January, (1838,) in which the whites met with some loss, but succeeded in taking a number of prisoners.
On the eastern seacoast, not far from Jupiter Inlet, a company under Lieutenant Powell was worsted in an engagement, and retreated with loss. The Indians had been driven into a swamp on Lochahatchee Creek, where they made a spirited resistance until their pursuers found it necessary to retreat.
General Jessup attacked and broke up this encampment of the Indians, towards the end of January. He was him self wounded in the action. Toskegee was the chief who commanded the Seminoles in both these battles.
The general was now anxious to conclude a treaty with the Indians, by which they should be allowed to remain in their own country, confining themselves to specified districts. But the government refused assent to any such proposition. He nevertheless proceeded to bring about parleys with his savage opponents, as it was evident that desultory hostilities might be indefinitely protracted.
The Seminoles, miserably reduced by the troubled life they had led so long, and weary of profitless warfare, hard ship and exposure, were induced to surrender in large numbers. They apparently expected to be allowed to re main in the country, as they were assured by the officers with whom they treated that every endeavor would be made to procure that permission from the government.
When General Jessup left Florida, in April 1838, leaving General Taylor in command, more than two thousand of the dangerous tribe were in the power of the whites. Part of these had been captured, but the larger portion had delivered themselves up upon fair promises.
Philip and Jumper both died on their route to the west, the former on board the vessel in which he was embarked, and the latter at New Orleans.
The hopes entertained, after these events, that the war was substantially at an end, proved fallacious. Murders were committed during the summer and fall, by prowling parties of Indians in widely distant parts of the country. On the Ocklikoni and Oscilla Rivers, in West Florida, small establishments suffered from the depredations of the savages; and their hostile feeling was manifest whenever a vessel was in distress upon the dangerous eastern and southern coast.
This desultory warfare, marked by many painful and horrible details of private suffering and disaster, continued until the spring of 1839. No conference could be obtained with the leading chiefs, and Indians were every where lurking in small bands ready to fire upon the solitary traveler, or to rush at an unguarded hour upon an isolated plantation.
General Macomb, who had command of the army during April and May, succeeded in bringing about a parley with some of the Seminoles, in which it was agreed that the tribe should stay peaceably in Florida until intelligence could be brought of the safe arrival and prosperous condition of the captives already shipped westward. The Tallahassee chief, Tigertail, and Abiaca, having had no concern with this treaty, refused to abide by it, and bloody skirmishes and assassinations continued to be heard from on every side.
The government of Florida now offered a bounty of two hundred dollars for each Indian secured or killed. We cannot even enumerate one half the petty engagements and sanguinary transactions of the ensuing winter and spring. In March 1840, bloodhounds were brought into Florida from Cuba, to aid in tracking and ferreting out the savages from their lurking places. General Taylor had been authorized, during the preceding autumn, to procure this novel addition to the efficient force of the army, and natives of the island were also secured to train and manage the dogs. There was a great outcry raised, and perhaps justly, at this barbarous plan of warfare, but little seems to have resulted from the operation except the furnishing a valuable breed of the animal for future domestic use, and the supplying of excellent subject matter for the caricaturists, who made the war a theme for ridicule.
Before the 1st of June, many more families were massacred, and several bloody engagements occurred between comparatively small companies of whites and Indians. Near the close of May, a ludicrous though tragical incident took place on the road between Picolata and St. Augustine.
A company of play-actors, en route for the latter town, were set upon by the noted chief Wild Cat, with a large body of Indians. Four were killed, and the “property” of the establishment fell into the hands of the savages. Nothing could have delighted them more than an acquisition so congenial to their tastes. The tawdry red velvet, spangles, and sashes, which every where obtain as, the appropriate costume of the stage, were now put to a new use, and served as royal appendages to the dusky forms of the Seminole warriors. Decked in this finery, they made their exultant appearance before Fort Searle, challenging the little garrison to an engagement.
The month of August was marked by scenes of terrible interest. On the Suwanne, eleven families were driven from their homes, and many of their members murdered: the settlement on Indian Key was almost totally destroyed, six persons being massacred. Nothing was accomplished in any way tending to bring the war to an end, or to mitigate its horrors, until autumn.
It was resolved, at last, to try fair measures, since foul proved of so little avail, and a number of the principal Seminoles who had experienced the realities of a western life, among whom were old Micanopy and Alligator, were brought back to Florida, for the purpose of pointing out to their brethren the advantages of their new homes, and inducing peaceable compliance with the intended removal. A meeting was obtained at Fort King, early in November, with Tigertail and other Seminole chiefs; but after a few days of profitless parley, the whole of the hostile party disappeared, and with them all prospect of an amicable settlement of difficulties.
The Indians continued their depredations, murdering and plundering with greater boldness than ever. In December, Colonel Harney attacked the enemy in quarters, which they had till then occupied in undisturbed security, viz.: the islands and dry spots of that waste of ” grass-water,” as the natives term it, the Everglades. He had obtained a Negro guide, who knew of the haunts of the chief Chaikika and his people, and, taking a considerable company in boats, he proceeded to beat up his quarters. The party came upon the Indians most unexpectedly: Chaikika was shot by a private after he had thrown down his arms, and his men, with their families, were surrounded and taken before they had time to escape. Nine of the men were hanged! on the ground that they were concerned in the Indian Key massacre; some of the property plundered on that occasion being found in the camp.
The only other important event of the month was the surrender of a son and a brother of the old and implacable chieftain Tigertail. They delivered themselves up at Fort King. In Middle Florida, traveling continued as unsafe as ever, unless in well-armed companies, of force sufficient to keep the lurking savages in awe.
We have now chronicled the principal events of this tedious, harassing, and most expensive war. Hostilities did not, indeed, cease at the period under our present consideration, but a knowledge of the true policy to be pursued towards these ignorant and truly unfortunate savages began to be generally diffused, and more conciliatory measures were adopted.
John C. Spencer, Secretary of War, in November, 184, reported that, during the current year, four hundred and fifty Indians had been sent west of the Mississippi from Florida, and that two hundred more were supposed to have surrendered. This report proceeds: ” The number of troops has been gradually diminished, leaving an adequate number to protect the inhabitants from the miserable remnants of tribes, still remaining. “We have advices that arrangements have been made with all but a very few of those Indians for their removal west of the Mississippi, or to the district in the southern part of the peninsula as signed them for their habitation; and it is believed that, by this time, all the bands north of that district, have agreed to cease hostilities and remove there. Two or three instances of outrages have occurred since the orders were issued for the termination of hostilities, but they are ascertained to have been committed by bands who were ignorant of the measures adopted, or of the terms offered.”
Some difficulty arose from the extreme dislike which the Seminoles, who were moved westward, entertained of being located upon the same district with the Creeks, and a deputation from their body of a number of warriors, including Alligator and Wild Cat, repaired to the seat of government for redress. Measures were taken to satisfy them.
The Indians who still keep possession of a district in Southern Florida, consisting of Seminoles, Micasaukies, Creeks, Uchees, and Choctaws, are variously estimated as numbering from three hundred and fifty to five hundred, including women and children. Seventy-six were shipped to the west in 1850.
As a tribe, they have long been at peace with their white neighbors, although some individuals of these people have, and at no distant date, given proof that the spirit of the savage is not yet totally extinct.
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