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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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Chapter III. — Outbreak of the Florida War.

WHILE this state of things existed in the South, the diurnal press teemed with rumors, which were not only frequently contradictory, but always appeared to originate from the apprehensions of exposed settlers. Early in the month of January, the astounding intelligence reached Washington, that Major Dade and his entire command, both officers and men, had been waylaid and massacred by the Seminoles in Florida.

The Seminoles 630 are connected with the Creeks, both by ties of blood and language. Their sympathies had, doubtless, been with the Creeks in their long controversy with Georgia, but their action on this occasion appears to have arisen from internal dissatisfaction. In an elaborate report, 631 made February 9, 1836, and communicated by the President to Congress, it is asserted that the Seminoles were not satisfied with the terms of the treaty concluded at Payne's Landing, May 9, 1832. The extent of this disaffection was not known. The difficulty does not appear in this light, in any of the reports made by the agents; and the Government, at least, was ignorant of it. On their failure to comply with their treaty agreement to remove to the West, and the expiration of the time and times granted for that purpose, troops were concentrated in the vicinity of the Seminoles, and the local commander, General Clinch, directed to organize companies of regulars. As early as February, 1835, he was authorized to draw from the North six additional companies, four of which were artillery. A spirit of dissatisfaction was evinced by the Indians during the summer and autumn. Several outrages occurred while keeping up the communications between fort and fort, and it was apprehended that the Creeks secretly participated in this feeling of animosity. In

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November, General Clinch having reported that it would be necessary to call out volunteers for the protection of the frontiers, he was authorized to deliver arms from the public stores for their equipment. The maintenance of the lines of communication between distant posts, separated by a wilderness country, interspersed with deep creeks, and frequently with dense thickets and hammocks, was a difficult and harassing service. The lines were attacked at various points, and the defiles and quagmires offered singular facilities for the prosecution of the Indian mode of warfare. Fort King, the headquarters of the army, was situated about 100 miles from Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay, the Wythlacooche river intervening between them. The Indians burned down a bridge over a deep stream, within six miles of Fort Brooke, but it was rebuilt. At this time there were upwards of 600 regular troops in the field. 632

A mail-carrier had been murdered in August, within six miles of Tampa Bay; 633 Charles Emathla, a chief friendly to emigration, had been scalped; the Mickasukies were hostile, and held a strong position on the Wythlacooche river; the Tallassees were accused of holding secret councils; and the Pea creek band were engaged in continual depredations. The aspect of affairs was extremely threatening.

While matters were in this position, on the 23d of December, Major Dade marched from Fort Brooke, on Tampa Bay, for Fort Clinch, with a detachment of two companies, one six-pounder, and the usual complement of military stores and supplies. The entire force numbered 100 muskets. The first day he halted at a stream, distant seven miles from Fort Brooke, called the Little Hillsboro river, the bridge over which had been burned by the hostile Indians, and subsequently rebuilt. The following day he progressed six miles, reached the Big Wythlacooche on the 27th, and on the 28th arrived at the defile, where he was waylaid by the Indians, distant only sixty-five miles from Fort Brooke. He was attacked about ten o'clock on the morning of the 28th. It appeared that the Indians had narrowly watched his march, disturbing his barricades at night, but keeping out of sight, on his flanks, during the day, until he had proceeded a few miles beyond the Wythlacooche, where 100 Pea creek warriors, under the negro Harry, and, as has been estimated, more than double that number 634 of the Mickasukies, and of the bands of Eufollahs and Alafiers, under the chiefs Little Cloud and Alligator, formed an ambuscade on both sides of the road. The column, marching in ordinary open order, was suddenly attacked on all sides with showers of arrows and balls; Major Dade was shot dead from his horse at the first onset. The command immediately closed their ranks and unlimbered the field-piece, from which forty-nine rounds were fired. 635 But the shots were fired at random, no body of the

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enemy being visible at one spot, while their arrows and balls were discharged from their places of concealment with deadly aim. Seven commissioned officers were killed in quick succession; the ranks were riddled, and every effort to re-form the men failed. The Indians picked up and used the muskets of the dead soldiers against their surviving comrades. 636 Lieutenant Basinger, after being fatally wounded, had his throat cut by a negro. The most horrid butchery occurred. Several of the wounded, who knew the leaders of the enemy, appealed for their lives in vain; the cry for quarter was answered by the knife or tomahawk. Not an officer nor any of the command escaped, except two soldiers who crept off. 637 After being badly wounded, but yet remaining perfectly conscious, they laid motionless among the dead until an opportunity offered for escape. Some accounts estimate the American loss at 112 men. How many men the Indians lost has never been ascertained.

Such was the massacre (for battle it was not) of the Wythlacooche, the news of which operated like an electric shock, and made as deep an impression on the Americans, as the massacre at Cabul did, in after times, on the British in India. An officer, writing from Fort Brooke, on the 1st of January, four days after the sanguinary event, says: "Such are the Indian combinations, that it is not considered practicable to force or keep open a communication with Fort King, with less than a well-appointed and instructed force of 1000 men. Three out of four bridges are destroyed, and two fords are very difficult; and the country may generally be described as a series of ambuscades and defiles." 638

On the 31st of December, General Clinch, with 200 regulars and a large force of militia volunteers, marched to the Wythlacooche, and fought a sharp action on the banks of that stream, near the scene of Dade's defeat, with the same Indians, who manifested as much determined intrepidity as they had previously evinced. In this engagement, Osceola was noticed to have been actively engaged in marshalling the Indians. The action was severe; General Clinch had nine of his force killed, and ninety-eight wounded. 639 In a letter from St. Augustine, of the 6th of January, 1836, it is said, "General Clinch has fought, and got the worst of it; driven back to his pickets." 640

It is difficult to depict the political and social commotion created in Florida by these events. The Indians attacked every defenceless house and plantation; murders and conflagrations devastated the country; and the accounts of the atrocities of the savages, were they collated, would fill a book. "The newspapers," says a writer from St. Mary's, in Georgia, under date of January 16th, "have, perhaps, abundantly informed you to what a deplorable situation we are now reduced. The temporising policy of General Thompson, the Indian Superintendent, and the forbearance of our Government, have set the merciless savages upon our plantations, our crops, and our dwellings; and,

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really, I do not see what is to become of us and this country, if military succors do not IMMEDIATELY arrive. The Indians seem to be fully bent on the most determined resistance, and, in the action on the Wythlacooche, displayed a firmness and desperation never exceeded in the history of Indian warfare." 641

A simultaneous outbreak took place throughout Florida. On the 28th of December, the day of Dade's massacre, a party of ten men were dining with Rodgers, the sutler at Port King, in a dwelling distant not 250 yards from the block-house, when they were suddenly beset, and fired on by a party of Indians. A hundred shots, it is estimated, were discharged through the open window, by which the host, who was sitting at the head of his table, and four of his guests, were killed. Among the latter were General Thompson, the Indian agent, Lieutenant Constantine Smith, U. S. A., and two others. Five persons, who fled to the fort, escaped. The officials and attendants sought refuge in a hammock, but were shot down before they reached it. The cook, a negro woman, who hid herself behind a barrel, and succeeded in effecting her escape, was a spectator of all the barbarities committed. Osceola, who was the leader of the party, entered first, overthrew a table, gazed sternly round for a moment, and then went out. 642 The body of Thompson, the agent, was found to have been pierced with fifteen bullets, and sixteen entered that of Rodgers, the post-sutler. The Indians scalped all the dead to the very ears, and then beat in their skulls.

Between the day of the massacre and the middle of the ensuing January, a wide extent of country was made a scene of desolation. Houses were burned, the occupants killed, cattle and stock driven off, the mail routes interrupted, and a general panic and confusion created.

The causes which originated this war become apparent, when attention is directed to the peculiar prejudices and mental reservations of the Indians. By the treaty negotiated at Payne's Landing, on the Ochlawaha, May 9th, 1832, the Seminoles ceded their lands, and all claims to lands, which they held in Florida, in consideration of the payment to them of a yearly annuity of $15,400. They also agreed to send a delegation of their most respected chiefs to view the territory offered them west of the Mississippi, and to ascertain whether the western Creeks would allow the Seminoles to rejoin them. It was stipulated in the treaty, that the improvements left in Florida should be paid for by the United States; their cattle be estimated and paid for; and the blacksmiths' services, sanctioned by a prior treaty, be continued to them in the west. Provision was made that each person, on reaching the new location, should receive a blanket and a home-spun frock; and an additional annuity of $3000 per year, for fifteen years, was to be divided among them. Claims having been made on them for runaway slaves from the southern plantations, $7000 were allowed for the satisfaction of such demands. Under the seventh article of this treaty, they agree to remove within three years, at

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the expense of the United States, by whom they are to be supplied with one year's subsistence in the new territory. A treaty concluded with the Creeks, at Fort Gibson, March 28th, 1833, provided for the rebel tribe an ample country. The Seminoles living north of the boundary line, designated by the treaty of Camp Moultrie, began to remove to the West; but these removals proceeded slowly, being delayed by embarrassments. At the close of the time stipulated by the treaty of May 9th, 1832. it having been decided that the emigrants should proceed by water, across the Gulf of Mexico, to their western home, vessels for their transportation arrived at Tampa Bay, and their speedy embarkation was urged. Throughout the year 1835 there appeared to be strong objections to emigration, on the part of all the principal Seminole bands, and they finally refused to go.

In a full report, made by the War Department, February 9, 1836, and communicated to Congress, 643 this general dissatisfaction with the treaty of Payne's Landing is the cause assigned for the war. In the prosecution of this war, geographical phenomena singularly favored the cause of the Seminoles, and it may be figuratively said that the country itself fought for them; every swamp and hammock was a fortress.

Nature has rendered the peninsula of Florida peculiarly attractive to the Indians. Its tangled morasses, its dense and impenetrable hammocks, and its serpentine streams, form so many natural defences against European enemies; and spontaneous means of subsistence are also abundant. The rivers are covered with the greatest abundance of water-fowl; the adjoining seas abound in turtle; and the soil, where arable, yields a profusion of vegetable nourishment in the contee-plant, which is the arrow-root of commerce. 644 The Florida war was, in truth, a contest waged against geographical and climatic laws. To elude the pursuit of an enemy in these labyrinths was such an easy matter, that an Indian hid in a hammock could not be discovered at the distance of ten feet. Cattle, originally introduced by the Indians, were found to reproduce on the prairie meadows with the greatest rapidity.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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