FLORIDA OF THE SEMINOLES

 

THE STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUTHERN FRONTIER

THE SEMINOLE WARS OF FLORIDA

No event hindered the development of the Territory of Florida and slowed the effort of Floridians to gain statehood more than the Seminole Wars. The conflict between white man and Indian in Florida became the longest continuous war in which the United States Government engaged an enemy. To the Seminole, it is a war that never officially ended.

 

The origin of the Seminole conflict date back to Governor Moore's invasion into Spanish Florida in 1704 in which he introduced bands of Creeks into the region to destroy the Spanish Apalachee. Many of these Indians remained in Florida and later joined the British to fight Georgia settlers during the American Revolution.

 

The development of the Southern states disrupted the boundaries of all native American groups in the region. In the mid-1700's Creeks, predominately of the Hitchiti-speaking Oconee tribe, left Western Georgia and moved southward to the Gainesville prairies. Perhaps they were adventurous young Indians since Seminole means "runaway" or "wild". More likely they were groups of Indians who found Spanish Florida a save refuge from the onslaught of white settlements.

 

 

While these Seminoles were not direct participants in the Creek Wars of 1813, their ability to adapt to such European ways as wheat farming and cattle raising aroused the anger of Georgia farmers who accused them of stealing their cattle. Most of the Seminole herds appeared to be wild Spanish stock. More significantly, planters noted that the Indians welcomed and accepted the arrival of runaway African-American slaves.

 

When Florida became a Territory in 1821, its first Governor Andy Jackson considered the some 7,000 Seminoles in Florida a major handicap in the development of Florida. Busy with the settlement of Americans, Jackson did not have the time and manpower to curtail the arrival of even more Creeks along the Panhandle.

 


Map of Seminole Wars in Florida

THE TREATY OF MOULTRIE CREEK

In September of 1823, the next Territorial Governor William F. Duval met the Seminoles at Moultrie Creek on the St. Johns River. Duval proposed the creation of a reservation area in the southern interior of the peninsula of Florida as the solution for the two peoples. After much contriving, most chiefs accepted the plan, provided the West Florida Creeks were given a treaty for land along the Apalachicola River. The Seminoles made no commitment on slavery or alleged stolen cattle, two important issues..

 

The more militant braves never complied with the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. They had already been forced from their traditional hunting grounds, changed their livelihood from farming to cattle, and disliked any form of confinement. Neamathia, a Mikasukis from North Florida, challenged Duval:


"Do you think . . . I am like a bat, that hangs by its claws in a dark cave, and that I can see nothing of what is going on around me? Ever since I was a small boy I have seen the white people steadily encroaching upon the Indians, and driving them from their homes and hunting grounds . . . I will tell you plainly, if I had the power, I would tonight cut the throat of every white man in Florida.

 


Neamathia's fears were quickly realized as conflict between Indian and white settler started almost immediately after the signing of the document. By 1828, the Florida Legislative Council was urging Congress to remove all Seminoles from Florida Territory. Northern Congressmen were reluctant to bring up the issue of the Smeinoles in committee, but the new President Andrew Jackson, not friend to the Indians, was firm in his plans to remove all troublesome tribes west of the Mississippi River. Since Florida was a much needed slave territory, Southern Congressmen vigorously backed Jackson's plans.

 

Upon the threat of losing their annual Government annuity to pay the cost of moving into the new reservation area, the old chiefs agreed to discuss the problem with Indian agent Colonel James Gadsden. In the so-named Treaty of Payne's Landing, outside Silver Springs, the chiefs agreed to send six Seminole inspectors to Oklahoma to check the proposed Seminole tribal grounds.


THE SECOND SEMINOLE WAR

The inspectors would sign the Treaty of Fort Gibson (Oklahoma) after their visit to Oklahoma. It is doubtful if the Seminoles fully understood the full extent of the treaty, thanks it is believed to the bribing of interpreters by Government agents. The Seminoles were given a tourist tour of only the most desirable areas of the reservation. They were not told they would share their reservation with other tribes not did they satisfaction to their concerns about the suitability of the land to Seminole crops.

 

The older chiefs led by Micanopy accepted the Treaty of Fort Gibson, but younger Indians became infuriated when details of the agreement became interpreted. A young Indian named Osceola, recently arrived from the Panhandle and vowed to organize the younger Indians against the plan. Although wed to a Seminole, Osceola's mother was Choctaw and his father was believed to be a white trader from Mobile. Tribal websites note this fact today. Osceola knew white society and he knew that the treaty did not even guarantee that the Seminoles would not have to share land with other tribes.





Osceola was particularly incensed when he discovered the Treaty indicated that runaway slaves who lived with the Seminoles, many of them intermarried into the villages, would remain in Florida. It was apparent to Osceola, they would be returned to slavery even if it were impossible to locate their previous owners.

 

While the older chiefs prepared for travel to Fort Brooke (Tampa) established for the debarkation by boat to Oklahoma via the Mississippi-Arkansas River systems, Oscola quickly thrust his knife into a copy of the treaty, shouting:


"Am I a Negro slave? My skin is dark, but not black! I am an Indian, a Seminole. The white man shall not make me black. I will make the white man red with blood, and then blacken him in the sun and rain, where the wolf shall gnaw his bones and the buzzard shall live on his flesh."


THE DADE MASSACRE

In December of 1835 Osceola began his war in dramatic fashion when his men ambushed the new Indian agent General Wiley Thompson, by his office just outside the gates of Fort King (Ocala). The Seminoles next killed Chief Emathia, who was helping Thompson recruit Indians to go to Fort Brooke (Tampa). The reaction by the United States Government was to send reinforcements even though there were few trained foot soldiers in Florida.


An even more stunning event would soon follow - the worst defeat of U.S. troops to the American Indian outside of the stupidity of George Armstrong Custer. Major Francis L. Dade and 110 soldiers, many of them untrained artillery soldiers, was ordered from Fort Brooke (Tampa) to bolster forces at Fort King (Ocala). Halfway to their destination they were ambushed by a large band of Seminoles and their slave allies, at a site where many of the Indians hide in the unlikely spot of a lake bank. Only a few soldiers escaped the attack.

 

Unfortunately for the Seminoles, the Dade Massacre pressured Northerners in Congress to accept Southern proposals for more troops and equipment. Since the Florida militia could not assure protection to farmers and planters, homesteaders south of Gainesville fled to the safety of the coast. The Government decided the Seminoles had to be surrounded by a ring of small wooden forts where U.S. troops could operate in protecting a region.

 


 

Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Meade, and Fort Pierce were started as forts in the Seminole Wars. Even Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay was subject to increased protection as many Seminoles slipped away just minutes for scheduled departure to Oklahoma. Eventually, Seminoles were keep on Egmont Key to assure their safe removal.

 

Federal troops adopted a strategy of crisscrossing the interior by boat and foot driving the Seminoles into open country. The major weakness of the Seminoles was their women and children could not move around like the warrior units so the U. S. Government adopted a policy of hunting down, uprooting, and capturing the Indian villages.


The Capture of Osceola A Prison Cell in Saint Augustine

In 1837 Osceola was captured under a flag of truce and delivered to General Thomas Jesup, a Southerner in charge of the Indian war strategy. Osceola refused to accept any Oklahoma agreement so he was transported to Four Moultrie's prison outside Charleston, South Carolina, where the great Seminole warrior died of throat inflammation. Even in death, Osceola was attacked as soldiers beheaded his body before burial.


SEMINOLE WAR IN THE SWAMPS

The surviving Seminoles were driven southward toward the Everglades. They were used to adjusting their way of life, even some of their cultural activities just to survive. Some Seminoles had married the last remaining Calusa and adopted an economy of hunting and fishing in the swamps.


FORCED MOVEMENT OF SEMINOLES SOUTHWARD IN FLORIDA

Federal troops built Fort Dallas on the banks of the Miami River to block the route into the Everglades on the east and constructed Fort Dulaney at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee to supply Fort Myers and Fort Denaud up the river. At the latter fort Captain B. L. E. Bonneville launched boat patrols to disrupt the Seminoles.

 

In May of 1838 General Alex Macomb signed the Biscayne Bay agreements with Chief Chitto-Tustenuggee of the Muskogees and Miccosukee. This temporary provision allowed the Indians to stay in a district, from Punta Rassa at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee to Lake Okeechobee, then south to the Shark River and the Gulf. The Indians considered this the first step to staying in Florida, but even this marshy wilderness could not protect the Indians. Farmers and trappers ignored the agreement, and Cuban fishermen, long time trading friends to the Indians, were told to avoid Indian contact.

 

In July of 1839, open warfare broke out in Southwest Florida when traders and Indians clashed. Chekiki, the last of the Calusa tribe, allied his people with the Seminoles in a last ditch attempt at freedom.

 


THE THIRD SEMINOLE WAR

 

In 1841, when North Florida was booming with settlers, South Florida was still a war zone. Congress appropriated more than one million dollars to capture by bribe or bullet the surviving Indians. The Indian Council, headed by Holatta-Micco (Billy Bowlegs) was determined to defend the Biscayne holdings. The Third Artillery under Major Childs and Lt. John McLaughlin began to crisscross the swamps with the intent of destroying anything that would help the Seminoles. By 1842 230 Indians had been captured by this strategy.


Billy Bowlegs of the Third Seminole War Andrew Jackson

There was great pressure in Congress among Northerners to curtail this expensive and bloody conflict, which could only result in the creation of another slave state. A truce was started when Billy Bowlegs agreed to stop hostilities. It did not last.

 

Inspired by the discovery of the rich muck lands of the Okeechobee area, Governor Thomas Brown encouraged cattlemen and farmers, protected by the Florida militia, to enter the region. Fort Myers was developed into a full sized village. In December of 1855, Lt. George Hardstuff, on a "survey" of Seminole facilities, ram survey lines across Billy Bowlegs prize banana garden. The Indians returned to the war.

 

Five hundred dollar rewards for braves, $250 for women, and $100 for children were offered to white bounty hunters. Indians could receive the same rewards for giving up. The Seminoles rejected the financial rewards and began their guerrilla warfare. A band of forty Oklahoma Seminole could not convince the Indians to surrender.

 

Billy Bowlegs rejected bribes of $5,000 plus $100 per surrendered Indian, but when his granddaughter was seized, he was forced to surrender. On May 4, 1858, the last of the famous Seminole warriors met the soldiers at Billy's Creek and was sent forever from Florida. A handful of Seminoles remained in the Everglades, but fighting ended.

 

The Seminoles had delayed Florida statehood for thirty years. They had never surrendered, each person allowed to decide whether to accept a treaty. Now the frontier was ready for settlement and only the Civil War would delay the potential growth of this last frontier.