The Seminole Wars, also known as the Florida Wars, were three conflicts in Florida between various groups of Native Americans collectively known as Seminoles and the United States. The First Seminole War was from 1817 to 1818; the Second Seminole War from 1835 to 1842; and the Third Seminole War from 1855 to 1858. The Second Seminole War, often referred to as the Seminole War, lasted longer than any war involving the United States between the American Revolution and the Vietnam War.
Bands from various tribes in the southeastern United States began moving into the unoccupied lands in Florida. In 1715, Yamasees moved into Florida as allies of the Spanish after conflicts with the English colonies. Creek people, at first primarily Lower Creeks but later including Upper Creeks, also started moving into Florida. One group of Hitchiti-speakers, the Mikasuki, settled around what is now Lake Miccosukee near Tallahassee. This group has maintained its separate identity as today's Miccosukee. Another group of Hitchiti-speakers led by "Cowkeeper" settled in what is now Alachua County, an area where the Spanish had maintained cattle ranches in the 17th century. One of the best known ranches had been called Rancho de la Chua, and the area had become known as the "Alachua Prairie". The Spanish in St. Augustine began calling the Alachua Creeks Cimarrones, which roughly meant "wild ones" or "runaways", and which is the probable origin of "Seminole". This name was eventually also applied to the other groups in Florida, although the Indians still regarded themselves as members of different tribes. Other groups in Florida at the time of the Seminole Wars included Yuchis, "Spanish Indians", so called because it was believed that they were descended from Calusas, and "rancho Indians", living at Spanish/Cuban fishing camps on the Florida coast. Slaves who could reach Spanish Florida were essentially free. The Spanish authorities soon welcomed the escaped slaves, allowing them to settle in their own town, called Fort Mose, in close proximity to St. Augustine, and using them in a militia to help defend the city. Other escaped slaves joined various "Seminole" bands, sometimes as slaves, and sometimes as free members of the tribe. In any case, the burden of slavery under the Florida Indians was considerably lighter than in the English colonies. Joshua Reed Giddings wrote in 1858 on the subject, "They held their slaves in a state between that of servitude and freedom; the slave usually living with his own family and occupying his time as he pleased, paying his master annually a small stipend in corn and other vegetables. This class of slaves regarded servitude among the whites with the greatest degree of horror." While most of the former slaves at Fort Mose went to Cuba when the Spanish left Florida in 1763, others were still with various bands of Indians, and slaves continued to escape from the Carolinas and Georgia and make their way to Florida. The blacks that stayed with or later joined the Seminoles became integrated into the tribes, learning the languages, adopting the dress, and inter-marrying. Some of these Black Seminoles became important tribal leaders.
Florida had been divided into East Florida and West Florida by the British in 1763, and the Spanish retained the division when they regained Florida in 1783. West Florida extended from the Apalachicola River to the Mississippi River. Together with their possession of Louisiana, this gave the Spanish control of the lower reaches of all of the rivers draining the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains. In addition to the imperative to expand that became known as Manifest Destiny, the United States wanted to acquire Florida both to provide free commerce on western rivers, and to prevent Florida from being used a base for an invasion of the U.S. by a European country.
The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 put the mouth of the Mississippi River in American hands, but much of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee were drained by rivers that passed through East or West Florida to reach the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. claimed that the Louisiana Purchase had included West Florida west of the Perdido River, while Spain claimed that West Florida extended to the Mississippi River. In 1810, residents of Baton Rouge formed a new government, seized the local Spanish fort and requested protection by the United States. President James Madison authorized William C.C. Claiborne, governor of the Orleans Territory, to seize West Florida from the Mississippi River to as far east as the Perdido River, although Claiborne only occupied the area west of the Pearl River (the current eastern boundary of Louisiana). Madison then sent George Mathews to deal with Florida. When an offer to turn the remainder of West Florida over to the U.S. was rescinded by the governor of West Florida, Mathews traveled to East Florida in an attempt to incite a rebellion similar to what had occurred in Baton Rouge. The residents of East Florida were happy with the status quo, so a force of volunteers (who were promised free land) was raised in Georgia. In March 1812, this force of "Patriots", with the aid of some United States Navy gunboats, seized Fernandina. The seizure of Fernandina had originally been authorized by President James Madison, but he later disavowed it. The Patriots were unable to take the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, however, and the approach of war with Britain led to an end of the American incursion into East Florida. In 1813 an American force did succeed in seizing Mobile from the Spanish.
Before the Patriot army withdrew from Florida, Seminoles, as allies of the Spanish, began to attack them. These attacks reinforced the American view that the Seminoles were enemies. The presence of black Seminoles in the fighting also raised the old fear of a slave rebellion among the Georgians of the Patriot army. In September 1812, a company of Georgia volunteers attacked the Seminoles living on the Alachua prairie but did little damage. A larger force in early 1813 drove the Seminoles from their villages on the Alachua prairie, killing or driving off thousands of head of cattle.
The beginning and ending dates for the First Seminole War are not firmly established. The U.S. Army Infantry indicates that it lasted from 1814 until 1819. The U.S. Navy Naval Historical Center gives dates of 1816-1818. Another Army site dates the war as 1817-1818. Finally, the unit history of the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery describes the war as occurring solely in 1818.
Also in 1814, Britain, at war with the United States, landed forces in Pensacola and other places in West Florida and began to recruit Indian allies. In May 1814, a British force entered the mouth of the Apalachicola River, handing out arms to Seminoles, Creeks and runaway slaves. The British moved upriver and began building a fort at Prospect Bluff. After the British and their Indian allies were beaten back from an attack on Mobile, an American force led by General Jackson drove the British out of Pensacola. Work on the Prospect Bluff fort continued, however. When the war ended, the British forces left West Florida, except for Major Edward Nicholls of the Royal Marines. He directed the provisioning of the fort with cannon, muskets and ammunition, and told the Indians that the Treaty of Ghent guaranteed the return of all Indian lands lost during the war, including the Creek lands in Georgia and Alabama. The Seminoles were not interested in holding a fort, however, and returned to their villages. Before he left in the summer of 1815, Major Nicholls invited the runaway slaves in the area to take possession of the fort. Word spread about the fort, and it was soon being called the "Negro Fort" by whites in the Southern United States, who saw it as a dangerous inspiration for their slaves to run away or revolt.
Andrew Jackson wanted to eliminate the Negro Fort, but it was in Spanish territory. In April 1816, he informed the governor of West Florida that if the Spanish did not eliminate the fort, he would. The governor replied that he did not have the means at his disposal to take the fort. Jackson assigned Brig. Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines to deal with the fort. Gaines directed Col. Duncan Lamont Clinch to build Fort Scott on the Flint River just north of the Florida border. Gaines then made known his intention to supply Fort Scott from New Orleans via the Apalachicola River, which would mean passing through Spanish territory and past the Negro Fort. Gaines told Jackson that using the Apalachicola to supply Fort Scott would allow the U.S. Army to keep an eye on the Seminoles and the Negro Fort, and if the fort fired on the supply boats, it would give the Americans an excuse for destroying the fort.
A supply fleet for Fort Scott reached the Apalachicola in July 1816. Clinch marched down the Apalachicola with a force of more than 100 American soldiers and about 150 Creeks. The supply fleet met Clinch at the Negro Fort, and the two gunboats with the fleet took positions across the river from the fort. The blacks in the fort fired their cannon at the U.S. soldiers and their Creek allies, but had no training or experience in aiming the cannon. The Americans fired back, and the ninth shot fired by the gunboats, a "hot shot" (a cannon ball heated to a red glow), landed in the fort's powder magazine. The resulting explosion, which was heard more than 100 miles (160 km) away in Pensacola, leveled the fort. Of about 320 people who had been in the fort, more than 250 died instantly, and many more died from their injuries soon after. After the destruction of the fort, the U.S. Army withdrew from Florida, but American squatters and outlaws carried out raids against the Seminoles, killing the Indians and stealing their cattle. Resentment over the killings and thefts committed by white Americans spread among the Seminoles, leading to retaliation, particularly stealing cattle back from the settlers. On February 24, 1817, the Seminoles murdered Mrs. Garrett, a woman living in Camden County, Georgia, and her children, one three years old and the other two months old.
A week later a boat carrying supplies for Fort Scott, under the command of Lt. R. W. Scott, was attacked on the Apalachicola River. There were forty to fifty people on the boat, including twenty sick soldiers, seven wives of soldiers, and possibly some children. (While there are reports of four children being killed by the Seminoles, they were not mentioned in early reports of the massacre, and their presence has not been confirmed.) Most of the boat's passengers were killed by the Indians. One woman was taken prisoner, and six survivors made it to the fort.
General Gaines had been under orders not to invade Florida, later amended to allow short intrusions into Florida. When news of the Scott Massacre on the Apalachicola reached Washington, D.C., Gaines was ordered to invade Florida and pursue the Indians but not to attack any Spanish installations. However, Gaines had left for East Florida to deal with pirates who had occupied Fernandina. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun then ordered Andrew Jackson to lead the invasion of Florida.
At St. Marks Jackson seized the Spanish fort. There he found Alexander George Arbuthnot, a Scottish trader working out of the Bahamas. He traded with the Indians in Florida and had written letters to British and American officials on behalf of the Indians. He was rumored to be selling guns to the Indians and to be preparing them for war. He probably was selling guns, since the main trade item of the Indians was deer skins, and they needed guns to hunt the deer. Two Indian leaders, Josiah Francis, a Red Stick Creek, also known as the "Prophet" (not to be confused with Tenskwatawa), and Homathlemico, had been captured when they had gone out to an American ship flying the British Union Flag that had anchored off of St. Marks. As soon as Jackson arrived at St. Marks, the two Indians were brought ashore and hanged.
Jackson left St. Marks to attack villages along the Suwannee River, which were occupied primarily by fugitive slaves. On April 12, the army found a Red Stick village on Econfina River. Close to 40 Red Sticks were killed, and about 100 women and children were captured. In the village, they found Elizabeth Stewart, the woman who had been captured in the attack on the supply boat on the Apalachicola River the previous November. Harassed by Black Seminoles along the route, the army found the villages on the Suwannee empty. About this time, Robert Ambrister, a former Royal Marine and self-appointed British "agent", was captured by Jackson's army. Having destroyed the major Seminole and black villages, Jackson declared victory and sent the Georgia Militia and the Lower Creeks home. The remaining army then returned to St. Marks.
At St. Marks a military tribunal was convened, and Ambrister and Arbuthnot were charged with aiding the Seminoles, inciting them to war and leading them against the United States. Ambrister threw himself on the mercy of the court, while Arbuthnot maintained his innocence, saying that he had only been engaged in legal trade. The tribunal sentenced both men to death but then relented and changed Ambrister's sentence to fifty lashes and a year at hard labor. Jackson, however, reinstated Ambrister's death penalty. Ambrister was executed by a firing squad on April 29, 1818. Arbuthnot was hanged from the yardarm of his own ship.
Jackson left a garrison at St. Marks and returned to Ft. Gadsden. Jackson had first reported that all was peaceful and that he would be returning to Nashville, Tennessee. He later reported that Indians were gathering and being supplied by the Spanish, and he left Fort Gadsden with 1,000 men on May 7, headed for Pensacola. The governor of West Florida protested that most of the Indians at Pensacola were women and children and that the men were unarmed, but Jackson did not stop. When Jackson reached Pensacola on May 23, the governor and the 175-man Spanish garrison retreated to Fort Barrancas, leaving the city of Pensacola to Jackson. The two sides exchanged cannon fire for a couple of days, and then the Spanish surrendered Fort Barrancas on May 28. Jackson left Col. William King as military governor of West Florida and went home.
Britain protested the execution of two of its subjects who had never entered United States territory. There was talk in Britain of demanding reparations and taking reprisals. Americans worried about another war with Britain. In the end Britain, realizing how important the United States was to its economy, opted for maintaining good relations.
There were also repercussions in America. Congressional committees held hearings into the irregularites of the Ambrister and Arbuthnot trials. While most Americans supported Jackson, some worried that Jackson could become a "man on horseback", a Napoleon. When Congress reconvened in December 1818, resolutions were introduced condemning Jackson's actions. Jackson was too popular, and the resolutions failed, but the Ambrister and Arbuthnot executions left a stain on his reputation for the rest of his life, even if it was not enough to keep him from becoming president.
The Seminoles were still a problem for the new government. In early 1822, Capt. John R. Bell, provisional secretary of the Florida territory and temporary agent to the Seminoles, prepared an estimate of the number of Indians in Florida. He reported about 5,000 Indians, and 300 slaves held by Indians. He estimated that two-thirds of them were refugees from the Creek War, with no valid claim (in the U.S. view) to Florida. Indian settlements were located in the areas around the Apalachicola River, along the Suwannee River, from there souteastwards to the Alachua Prairie, and then southwestward to a little north of Tampa Bay.
Officials in Florida were concerned from the beginning about the situation with the Seminoles. Until a treaty was signed establishing a reservation, the Indians were not sure of where they could plant crops and expect to be able to harvest them, and they had to contend with white squatters moving into land they occupied. There was no system for licensing traders, and unlicensed traders were supplying the Seminoles with liquor. However, because of the part-time presence and frequent turnover of territorial officials, meetings with the Seminoles are canceled, postponed, or sometimes held merely to set a time and place for a new meeting.
In 1823, the government finally decided to settle the Seminoles on a reservation in the central part of the territory. A meeting to negotiate a treaty was scheduled for early September 1823 at Moultrie Creek, south of St. Augustine. About 425 Seminoles attended the meeting, choosing Neamathla to be their chief representative. Under the terms of the treaty negotiated there, the Seminoles were forced to place themselves under the protection of the United States and to give up all claim to lands in Florida, in exchange for a reservation of about four million acres (16,000 km²). The reservation would run down the middle of the Florida peninsula from just north of present-day Ocala to a line even with the southern end of Tampa Bay. The boundaries were well inland from both coasts, to prevent contact with traders from Cuba and the Bahamas. Neamathla and five other chiefs, however, were allowed to keep their villages along the Apalachicola River.
Under the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, the United States government was obligated to protect the Seminoles as long as they remained peaceful and law-abiding. The government was supposed to distribute farm implements, cattle and hogs to the Seminoles, compensate them for travel and losses involved in relocating to the reservation, and provide rations for a year, until the Seminoles could plant and harvest new crops. The government was also supposed to pay the tribe US$5,000 per year for twenty years and provide an interpreter, a school and a blacksmith for twenty years. In turn, the Seminoles had to allow roads to be built across the reservation and had to apprehend any runaway slaves or other fugitives and return them to United States jurisdiction.
Implementation of the treaty stalled. Fort Brooke, with four companies of infantry, was established on the site of present-day Tampa in early 1824, to show the Seminoles that the government was serious about moving them onto the reservation. However, by June James Gadsden, who was the principal author of the treaty and charged with implementing it, was reporting that the Seminoles were unhappy with the treaty and were hoping to renegotiate it. Fear of a new war crept in. In July, Governor DuVal mobilized the militia and ordered the Tallahassee and Mikasukee chiefs to meet him in St. Marks. At that meeting he ordered the Seminoles to move to the reservation by October 1, 1824.
The Seminoles still had not started moving to the reservation in October. Governor DuVal began paying the Seminoles compensation for the improvements they were having to leave as an incentive to move. He also had the rations that had been promised sent to Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay for distribution. The Seminoles finally began moving onto the reservation, but within a year some of them were moving back to their former homes between the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers. Although most of the Seminoles were on the reservation by 1826, they were not doing well. They had to clear and plant new fields, and even the fields that had been planted were hit by a drought. Some of the Seminoles were reported to have starved to death. Both Col. George M. Brooke, commander of Fort Brooke, and Governor DuVal wrote to Washington seeking help for the starving Seminoles, but the requests got caught up in a debate over whether the Seminoles should be moved to west of the Mississippi River. As a result, nothing was done for five months about providing relief for the Seminoles.
The Seminoles slowly settled into the reservation, although there were isolated clashes with whites. Fort King was built near the reservation agency, at the site of present-day Ocala, and by early 1827 the Army could report that the Seminoles were on the reservation and Florida was peaceful. This peace lasted for five years, during which time there were repeated calls for the Seminoles to be sent west of the Mississippi. The Seminoles were opposed to any such move, and especially to the suggestion that they join their Creek relations. Most whites regarded the Seminoles as simply Creeks who had recently moved to Florida, while the Seminoles claimed Florida as their home and denied that they had any connection with the Creeks.
The status of runaway slaves was a continuing irritation between Seminoles and whites. Seminoles and slave catchers argued over the ownership of slaves. New plantations in Florida increased the pool of slaves who could run away to the Seminoles. Worried about the possibility of an Indian uprising and/or a slave rebellion, Governor DuVal requested additional Federal troops for Florida. Instead, Fort King was closed in 1828. The Seminoles, short of food and finding the hunting becoming poorer on the reservation, were wandering off of it more often. Also in 1828, Andrew Jackson, the old enemy of the Seminoles, was elected President of the United States. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. All problems with the Seminoles were to be solved by moving them west of the Mississippi.
The United States Senate finally ratified the Treaty of Payne's Landing in April 1834. The treaty had given the Seminoles three years to move west of the Mississippi. The government interpreted the three years as starting 1832 and expected the Seminoles to move in 1835. Fort King was reopened in 1834. A new Seminole agent, Wiley Thompson, had been appointed in 1834, and the task of persuading the Seminoles to move fell to him. He called the chiefs together at Fort King in October 1834 to talk to them about the removal to the west. The Seminoles informed Thompson that they had no intention of moving and that they did not feel bound by the Treaty of Payne's Landing. Thompson then requested reinforcements for Fort King and Fort Brooke, reporting that, "the Indians after they had received the Annuity, purchased an unusually large quantity of Powder & Lead." General Clinch also warned Washington that the Seminoles did not intend to move and that more troops would be needed to force them to move. In March 1835, Thompson called the chiefs together to read a letter from Andrew Jackson to them. In his letter, Jackson said, "Should you ... refuse to move, I have then directed the Commanding officer to remove you by force." The chiefs asked for thirty days to respond. A month later, the Seminole chiefs told Thompson that they would not move west. Thompson and the chiefs began arguing, and General Clinch had to intervene to prevent bloodshed. Eventually, eight of the chiefs agreed to move west but asked to delay the move until the end of the year, and Thompson and Clinch agreed.
Five of the most important of the Seminole chiefs, including Micanopy of the Alachua Seminoles, had not agreed to the move. In retaliation, Thompson declared that those chiefs were removed from their positions. As relations with the Seminoles deteriorated, Thompson forbid the sale of guns and ammunition to the Seminoles. Osceola, a young warrior beginning to be noticed by the whites, was particularly upset by the ban, feeling that it equated Seminoles with slaves and said, "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 ... and the buzzard live upon his flesh." In spite of this, Thompson considered Osceola to be a friend and gave him a rifle. Later, though, when Osceola was causing trouble, Thompson had him locked up at Fort King for a night. The next day, in order to secure his release, Osceola agreed to abide by the Treaty of Payne's Landing and to bring his followers in.
The situation grew worse. On June 19, 1835, a group of whites searching for lost cattle found a group of Indians sitting around a campfire cooking the remains of what they claimed was one of their herd. The whites disarmed and proceeded to whip the Indians, when two more arrived and opened fire on the whites. Three whites were wounded and one Indian was killed and one wounded, at what became known as the skirmish at Hickory Sink. After complaining to Indian Agent Thompson and not receiving a satisfactory response, the Seminoles became further convinced that they would not receive fair compensations for their complaints of hostile treatment by the settlers. Believed to be in response for the incident at Hickory Sink, in August 1835, Private Kinsley Dalton (for whom Dalton, Georgia, is named) was killed by Seminoles as he was carrying the mail from Fort Brooke to Fort King.
In November 1835 Chief Charley Emathla, wanting no part of a war, agreed to removal and sold his cattle at Fort King in preparation for moving his people to Fort Brooke to emigrate to the west. This act was considered a betrayal by other Seminoles who months earlier declared in council that any Seminole chief who sold his cattle would be sentenced to death. Osceola met Charley Emathla on the trail back to his village and killed him, scattering the money from the cattle purchase across his body.
As the realization that the Seminoles would resist relocation sank in, Florida began preparing for war. Settlers fled to safety as Seminoles attacked plantations and a militia wagon train. Two companies, totaling 108 men under the command of Major Francis L. Dade, were sent from Fort Brooke to reinforce Fort King. On December 28, 1835, Seminoles ambushed the soldiers and wiped out the command. Only two soldiers made it back to Fort Brooke, and one died of his wounds a few days later. Over the next few months Generals Clinch, Gaines and Winfield Scott, as well as territorial governor Richard Keith Call, led large numbers of troops in futile pursuits of the Seminoles. In the meantime the Seminoles struck throughout the state, attacking isolated farms, settlements, plantations and Army forts, even burning the Cape Florida lighthouse. Supply problems and a high rate of illness during the summer caused the Army to abandon several forts. Andrew Jackson wasn't the only American growing tired of the war. Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock was among those who found the remains of the Dade party in February. In his journal he wrote a haunting account of the discovery, then vented his bitter discontent with the conflict: "The government is in the wrong, and this is the chief cause of the persevering opposition of the Indians, who have nobly defended their country against our attempt to enforce a fraudulent treaty. The natives used every means to avoid a war, but were forced into it by the tyranny of our government.
On November 21, 1836 at the Battle of Wahoo Swamp, the Seminole fought against American forces, killing David Moniac, the first Native American graduate of West Point. This key skirmish restored much confidence and proved their ability to hold their ground in the Florida wilds against their old enemies the Creeks and white settlers. Late in 1836, Major General Thomas Jesup was placed in command of the war. Jesup brought a new approach to the war. Instead of sending large columns out to try to force the Seminoles into a set-piece battle, he concentrated on wearing the Seminoles down. This required a large military presence in Florida, and Jesup eventually had a force of more than 9,000 men under his command. About half of the force were volunteers and militia. It also included a brigade of marines, and Navy and Revenue-Marine personnel patrolling the coast and inland rivers and streams.
In January 1837, there was a change in the war. In various actions, numerous Seminoles and Black Seminoles were killed or captured. At the end of January, some Seminole chiefs sent messengers to Jesup, and a truce was arranged. In March a "Capitulation" was signed by several chiefs, including Micanopy, stipulating that the Seminoles could be accompanied by their allies and "their negroes, their bona fide property," in their relocation to the West. By the end of May, many chiefs, including Micanopy, had surrendered. Two important leaders, Osceola and Sam Jones (a.k.a. Abiaca, Ar-pi-uck-i, Opoica, Arpeika, Aripeka, Aripeika), had not surrendered, however, and were known to be vehemently opposed to relocation. On June 2 these two leaders with about 200 followers entered the poorly guarded holding camp at Fort Brooke and led away the 700 Seminoles there who had surrendered. The war was on again, and Jesup would never again trust the word of an Indian. On Jesup's orders, Brigadier General Joseph Marion Hernández commanded the expedition that captured several Indian leaders, including Coacooche (Wildcat), Osceola and Micanopy when they appeared for conferences under a white flag of truce. Coacoochee and a number of other captives were able to escape their cell at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, but Osceola did not go with them.
Jesup organized a sweep down the peninsula with multiple columns, pushing the Seminoles further south. On Christmas Day, 1837, Colonel Zachary Taylor's column of 800 men encountered a body of about 400 Seminoles on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee. The Seminoles, were led by Sam Jones, Alligator and the recently escaped Coacoochee, and were well positioned in a hammock surrounded by sawgrass. Taylor's army came up to a large hammock with half a mile of swamp in front of it. On the far side of the hammock was Lake Okeechobee. Here the saw grass stood five feet high. The mud and water were three feet deep. Horses would be of no use. It was plain that the Seminole meant this to be the battleground. They had sliced the grass to provide an open field of fire and had notched the trees to steady their rifles. Their scouts were perched in the treetops to follow every movement of the troops coming up. At about half past noon, the sun shining directly overhead and the air still and quiet, Taylor moved his troops squarely into the center of the swamp. His plan was to make a direct attack rather than encircle the Indians. All his men were on foot. In the first line were the Missouri volunteers. As soon as they came within range, the Indians opened with heavy fire. The volunteers broke, and their commander, Colonel Gentry, fatally wounded, was unable to rally them. They fled back across the swamp. The fighting in the saw grass was deadliest for five companies of the Sixth Infantry; every officer but one, and most of their noncoms were killed or wounded. When that part of the regiment retired a short distance to re-form, they found only four men of these companies unharmed. The Seminoles were eventually driven from the hammock, escaping across the lake. Taylor lost 26 killed and 112 wounded, while the Seminole causalties were eleven dead and fourteen wounded. Nevertheless, the Battle of Lake Okeechobee was hailed as a great victory for Taylor and the Army.
At the end of January, Jesup's troops caught up with a large body of Seminoles to the east of Lake Okeechobee. The Seminoles were originally positioned in a hammock, but cannon and rocket fire drove them back across a wide stream, where they made another stand. The Seminoles eventually just faded away, having caused more casualties than they received, and the Battle of Loxahatchee was over. In February 1838, Seminole chiefs Tuskegee and Halleck Hadjo approached Jesup with the proposition that they would stop fighting if they were allowed to stay south of Lake Okeechobee. Jesup favored the idea but had to write to Washington for approval. The chiefs and their followers camped near the Army while awaiting the reply. When the secretary of war rejected the idea, Jesup seized the 500 Indians in the camp, sending them west.
In May, Jesup's request to be relieved of command was granted, and Zachary Taylor assumed command of the Army forces in Florida. With reduced forces in Florida, Taylor concentrated on keeping the Seminoles out of northern Florida by building many small posts at twenty-mile (30 km) intrervals across northern Florida, connected by a grid of roads. The winter season was fairly quiet. While incidents and skirmishes continued, there were no major actions. In Washington and around the country, support for the war was eroding. Many people were beginning to think that the Seminoles had earned a right to stay in Florida. The war was far from over and had become very costly. President Martin Van Buren sent the Commanding General of the Army, Alexander Macomb, to negotiate a new treaty with the Seminoles. On May 19, 1839, Macomb announced that an agreement had been reached with the Seminoles. The Seminoles were to stop fighting in exchange for a reservation in southern Florida.
As the summer passed, the agreement seemed to be holding. On July 23, some 150 Indians attacked a trading post on the Caloosahatchee River that was guarded by a detachment of 23 soldiers, under the command of Colonel William S. Harney. Some of the soldiers, including Colonel Harney, were able to reach the river and find boats to escape in, but most of the soldiers, as well as several civilians in the trading post, were killed. Many blamed the "Spanish" Indians, led by Chakaika, for the attack. but others suspected Sam Jones, whose band of Mikasukis had been the ones to actually reach agreement with Macomb. Sam Jones promised to turn the men responsible for the attack over to Harney in 33 days. Before that time was up, two soldiers visiting Sam Jones' camp were killed.
Trying new tactics, the Army turned to bloodhounds to track the Indians, with poor results. Taylor's blockhouse and patrol system in northern Florida kept the Seminoles on the move but could not clear them from the area. In May 1849, Zachary Taylor, having served longer than any preceding commander in the Florida war, was granted his request for a transfer and replaced by Brig. Gen. Walker Keith Armistead. Armistead immediately went on the offensive, actively campaigning during the summer. The Army was seeking the hidden camps of the Seminoles, burning fields and driving off horses, cattle and pigs. By the middle of the summer, the Army had destroyed of Seminole crops.
The Navy was taking a larger role in the war, with sailors and marines pushing up rivers and streams, and into the Everglades. In late 1839 Navy Lt. John T. McLaughlin was given command of a joint Army-Navy amphibious force to operate in Florida. McLaughlin established his base at Tea Table Key in the upper Florida Keys. Traveling from December 1840 to the middle of January 1841, McLaughlin's force crossed the Everglades from east to west in dugout canoes, the first group of whites to complete a crossing.
The naval base on Tea Table Key was manned by only a doctor, his patients, and five sailors under a midshipman to look after them. This small contingent mounted a couple of cannon on barges and tried to attack the Indians on Indian Key. The Indians fired back at the sailors with musket balls loaded in cannon on the shore. The recoil of the cannon broke them loose from the barges, sending them into the water, and the sailors had to retreat. The Indians burned the buildings on Indian Key after thoroughly looting it. In December 1840, Col. Harney at the head of ninety men found Chakaika's camp deep in the Everglades. Chakaika was killed, and some of the men in his band were hanged.
In May 1841, Armistead was replaced by Col. William Jenkins Worth as commander of Army forces in Florida. Because the war was unpopular with the nation and in Congress, Worth had to cut back. Nearly 1,000 civilian employees of the Army were released, and smaller commands were consolidated. Worth then ordered his men out on "search and destroy" missions during the summer, which effectively drove the Seminoles out of much of the rest of northern Florida.
The continuing pressure applied by the Army was having an effect. Some groups of Seminoles surrendered to avoid starvation. Others were seized when they came in to negotiate surrender, including, for the second time, Coacoochee. A large bribe secured Coacoochee's cooperation in persuading others to surrender.
After Colonel Worth recommended early in 1842 that the remaining Seminoles be left in peace, he received authorization to leave the remaining Seminoles on an informal reservation in southwestern Florida and to declare an end to the war, which he did on August 14, 1842. In the same month, Congress passed the Armed Occupation Act, which provided free land to settlers who improved the land and were prepared to defend themselves from Indians. At the end of 1842, the remaining Indians in Florida living outside the reservation in southwest Florida were rounded up and shipped west. By April 1843, the Army presence in Florida had been reduced to one regiment. By November 1843, Worth reported that the only Indians left in Florida were about 95 men and some 200 women and children living on the reservation, and that they were no longer a threat.
Peace had come to Florida. The Indians were mostly staying on the reservation. Groups of ten or so men would visit Tampa to trade and get drunk. Squatters were moving closer to the reservation, however, and in 1845 President James Polk established a 20-mile (30 km) wide buffer zone around the reservation. No land could be claimed within the buffer zone, no title would be issued for land there, and the U.S. Marshal would remove squatters from the buffer zone upon request. In 1845, Thomas P. Kennedy, who operated a store at Fort Brooke, converted his fishing station on Pine Island into a trading post for the Indians. The post did not do well, however, because whites who sold whiskey to the Indians told them that they would be seized and sent west if they went to Kennedy's store.
The Florida authorities continued to press for removal of all Indians from Florida. The Indians for their part tried to limit their contacts with whites as much as possible. In 1846, Captain John T. Sprague was placed in charge of Indian affairs in Florida. He had great difficulty in getting the chiefs to meet with him. They were very distrustful of the Army since it had often seized chiefs while under a flag of truce. He did manage to meet with all of the chiefs in 1847, while investigating a report of a raid on a farm. He reported that the Indians in Florida then consisted of 120 warriors, including seventy Seminoles in Billy Bowlegs' band, thirty Mikasukis in Sam Jones' band, twelve Creeks (Muscogee speakers) in Chipco's band, 4 Yuchis and 4 Choctaws. He also estimated that there were 100 women and 140 children.
The U.S. Army was not prepared to engage the Indians. It had few men stationed in Florida and no means to move them quickly to where they could protect the white settlers and capture the Indians. The War Department began a new buildup in Florida, placing Major General David E. Twiggs in command, and the state called up two companies of mounted volunteers to guard settlements. Captain John Casey, who was in charge of the effort to move the Indians west, was able to arrange a meeting between General Twiggs and several of the Indian leaders at Charlotte Harbor. At that meeting, Billy Bowlegs promised, with the approval of other leaders, to deliver the five men responsible for the attacks to the Army within thirty days. On October 18, Bowlegs delivered three of the men to Twiggs, along with the severed hand of another who had been killed while trying escape. The fifth man had been captured but had escaped.
After Bowlegs had delivered the three murderers, General Twiggs told the Indians, much to their dismay, that he had been ordered to remove them from Florida. The government would apply three tactics to carry out the removal. The Army in Florida was increased to 1,500 men. One hundred thousand dollars was appropriated for bribing Indians to move. Finally, a delegation of Seminole chiefs was brought from the Indian Territory to negotiate with their counterparts in Florida. Eventually a Mikasuki sub-chief, Kapiktoosootse, agreed to lead his people west. In February 1850, 74 Indians boarded ship for New Orleans. They were paid a total of US$15,953 in bribes and compensation for property left behind in Florida. There were a couple of incidents that soured relations after that. A Muskogee and a Mikasuki who had gone in to trade at the same time as Kapiktoosootse and his band were surrendering were involuntarily shipped off to New Orleans with them. Then, in March a mounted detachment of the Seventh Infantry penetrated far in the reservation. As a result, the other Indians broke off contact with the negotiators. By April, Twiggs was reporting to Washington that there was no hope of convincing any more Indians to move.
In August 1850, an orphan boy living on a farm in north central Florida was apparently killed by Indians. Eventually enough complaints about the incident had reached Washington to cause the secretary of war to order the surrender of the Indians responsible, or the president would hold the whole tribe responsible. Captain Casey was able to get word to Bowlegs and arrange a meeting in April. Bowlegs promised to deliver the men responsible, although they apparently were members of Chipco's band, over whom Bowlegs had no authority. Chipco decided to surrender three men as the possible killers, and they were arrested when they showed up to trade in Fort Myers. Once in custody, the three protested their innocence, saying that Chipco did not like them and that other men in Chipco's band were the actual killers, and Captain Casey believed them. The three men tried to escape from the jail in Tampa but were caught and chained up in their cell. They were later found hanging from the bars in their cell. One was still alive when found but was not cut down until the next day, after he had died. It was noted in the community that the constable who had chained the three men in their cell was the father-in-law of a brother of one of the men killed at the Kennedy and Darling store in 1849 (the Paynes Creek Massacre).
In January 1851, the Florida Legislature had created the position of commander of the Florida Militia, and Governor Thomas Brown appointed Benjamin Hopkins to it. Over the next two years, the Florida Militia pursued Indians that were outside the reservation boundaries. During this period the militia captured one man and a few women, and 140 hogs. One old Indian woman had committed suicide while being held by the militia, after the rest of her family had escaped. The whole operation had cost the state US$40,000.
Pressure from Florida officials once more pushed the federal government to take action. Captain Casey continued to try to persuade the Seminoles to move west but had no luck. He sent Billy Bowlegs and others to Washington again, but the chiefs refused to agree to move. In August 1854, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis initiated a program to force the Seminoles into a final conflict. The plan included a trade imbargo with the Indians, the survey and sale of land in southern Florida, and a stronger Army presence to protect the new settlers. Davis said that if the Indians did not agree to leave, the Army would use force.
When the news of the attack reached Tampa, the men of the city elected militia officers and organized companies. The newly-formed militia marched to the Peace River valley, recruited more men, and manned some forts along the river. Governor James Broome started organizing as many volunteer companies as he could. Because the state had limited funds, he tried to have the Army accept the volunteers. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis accepted two infantry companies and three mounted companies, about 260 men. Governor Broome kept another 400 men mobilized under state control. The state troops, both those accepted by the Army and those remaining under state control, had been partly armed and supplied by private donations. General Jesse Carter was appointed by Governor Broome as "special agent ... without military rank" to lead the state troops. Carter set half of the state troops to growing crops, and so only 200 of his men were available for patrols. A Tampa newspaper noted that the mounted patrols preferred to patrol in open country, which was easier for the horses, but it allowed the Seminoles to see them coming.
On January 6, 1856, two men gathering coontie south of the Miami River were killed. The settlers in the area promptly fled to Fort Dallas and Key Biscayne. A party of some twenty Seminoles under Ocsen Tustenuggee attacked a wood-cutting patrol outside of Fort Denaud, killing five of the six men. Despite the positioning of militia units to defend the area, the Seminoles also raided along the coast south of Tampa Bay. They killed one man and burned a house in what is now Sarasota, and on March 31, 1856, they tried to attack the "Braden Castle", the plantation home of Dr. Joseph Braden, in what is now Bradenton. The "Castle" was too strong for them, but they led away seven slaves and three mules. Burdened with prisoners and loot, the Seminoles did not move fast. While they were stopped at Big Charley Apopka Creek eating barbecued beef from a cow they had found and slaughtered, the militia caught up with them. The militiamen killed two of the Seminoles and recaptured the slaves and mules taken from Dr. Braden's plantation. The scalp of one of the dead Seminoles was displayed in Tampa, the other in Manatee.
During April, regular Army and militiamen patrolled around and into the reservation but made little contact with the Seminoles. One six-hour battle was fought near Bowlegs Town in April, with four regulars killed and three wounded before the Seminoles withdrew. The Seminoles continued to carry out small raids around the state. On May 14, 1856, fifteen Seminoles attacked the farm house of Captain Robert Bradley north of Tampa, killing two of his young children. One Seminole was killed by Bradley. Bradley may have been targeted because he had killed Tiger Tail's brother during the Second Seminole War. On May 17, Seminoles attacked a wagon train in central Florida, killing three men. Mail and stagecoach service in and out of Tampa was suspended until the military could provide protection.
On June 14, 1856, Seminoles attacked a farm two miles (3 km) from Fort Meade. All of the household made it safely into the house, and they were able to hold the Seminoles at bay. The gunfire was heard at Fort Meade, and seven mounted militiamen responded. Three of the militiamen were killed and two others wounded. More militiamen pursued the Seminoles but had to retreat when a sudden rain wet their powder. On June 16, twenty militiamen from Fort Fraser surprised a group of Seminoles along the Peace River, killing some of the Seminoles. The militiamen withdrew after losing two dead and three wounded. They claimed to have killed as many as twenty Seminoles, but the Indians admitted to only four dead and two wounded. However, one of the dead was Ocsen Tustenuggee, who seems to have been the only chief who would actively lead attacks against settlements.
The citizens of Florida were becoming disenchanted with the militia. There were complaints that the militiamen would pretend to patrol for a day or two and then go home to work their fields, and that they were given to idleness, drunkenness, and thievery. The officers were reported to be unwilling to submit required paperwork. Most importantly, the militia had failed to prevent attacks against settlers.
Colonel Gustaus Loomis replaced General Harney as commander in Florida, but the withdrawal of the Fifth Infantry left him with only ten companies of the Fourth Artillery, which was later reduced to just four companies. Loomis organized volunteers into boat companies, which were given metal "alligator boats" that had been built earlier specifically for use in the Big Cypress Swamp and Everglades. Thirty feet (9 m) long, pointed at both ends, and drawing two to three feet (0.7 m) of water, the boats could carry up to sixteen men into the swamps. These boat companies were able to capture many Indians, primarily women and children. The regulars did not do as well. Some officers, including Captain Abner Doubleday, observed that the Seminoles easily avoided the Army patrols. Doubleday attributed this to the fact that most of the enlisted men were recent immigrants who had no skills in woodcraft.
In 1857, ten companies of Florida militia were taken into federal service, totaling almost 800 men by September. In November these troops capture eighteen women and children from Billy Bowlegs' band. The troops also found and destroyed several towns and fields of crops. The troops moved into the Big Cypress Swamp starting on New Year's Day 1858, again destroying the towns and cultivated fields they found. Another delegation from the Indian Territory arrived in Florida in January and attempted to contact Bowlegs. The troops stood down while the attempt was made, and Bowlegs was contacted. The previous year the Seminoles had finally been given their own reservation in Indian Territory separate from the Creeks. Cash payments of US$500 to each warrior (more to the chiefs) and $100 to each woman were promised. On March 15, Bowlegs' and Assinwar's bands accepted the offer and agreed to go west. On May 4, a total of 163 Seminoles (including some captured earlier) were shipped to New Orleans. On May 8, 1858, Colonel Loomis declared the war to be over.