De Soto and Vitachuco

The Florida Indians

Pursuit of the Seminoles Southward

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.

Encounter On The Hatches Lustee

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.

Colonel Taylor’s Campaign

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.

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864.

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