The Florida Indians
Various Minor Engagements
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.
Surrender Of Large Numbers Of Indians
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.
Bloodhounds From Cuba
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.
Attack Upon A Company Of Actors
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.
Seminole Chiefs Brought Back From The West To Report Their Condition To Their Countrymen
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.”
Indians Shipped West
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.
Remaining In Florida
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.