Apopka

This series looks at the etymology of Florida place names derived from the Muskogee and Hitchiti languages.

Many Florida place names owe their origins to Muskogee and Hitchiti, two of the languages spoken by members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The persistence of Muskogee and Hitchiti words as modern Florida place names reflects the prominent role played by Native Americans in the region’s history.

Today’s term is Apopka, meaning “potato eating.” According to scholars of Muskogee linguistics, the word is sometimes translated as “potato eating place.” Another possible meaning is “trout eating place,” which is the generally accepted translation of Tsala Apopka as in Lake Tsala Apopka in Citrus County, Florida.

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” (1839)

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” (1839)

Shown as “Ahapopka” on the map excerpt above, the term is spelled Apopka today and refers to both a city and a lake in modern-day Orange and Seminole counties in Central Florida.

Little is known about Seminole settlements near Lake Apopka, other than that the area apparently yielded wild tubers from the rich soil surrounding the lake, or, in reference to the possible alternate translation, furnished copious trout from the lake itself.

In an 1822 letter to Kentucky congressman Thomas Metcalfe, John Bell, “Acting Agent for the Indians in Florida,” included A-ha-pop-ka on his list of 35 “Indian Settlements in Florida.” Bell placed A-ha-pop-ka “back of the Musquito,” meaning the Mosquito Lagoon/Halifax River/Indian River area near modern-day Titusville on the east coast.

Another list, made two years after Bell’s, noted the settlement of Ahapapka at the head of the Ocklawaha River and listed Ocheesetustanuka as the chief. According to J.T. Sprague, Apopka was the birthplace and home at the beginning of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) of Coacoochee (Wildcat), one of the best known Seminole leaders of his time.

During the U.S. Army campaign against the Seminoles in early 1837, General Thomas Sidney Jesup described “a large Indian force” under the command of Osuchee (also known as Cooper) “on the borders of Ahpopka lake.” On January 23, Jesup ordered his troops to attack the settlement, which resulted in three Seminoles killed and 17 captured, including 8 Black Seminoles. The area near Apopka remained the scene of occasional fighting in the Second Seminole War as late as 1842. Jesup reported large herds of cattle near Apopka and south towards the high sand hills known as Thlanhatkee. These sand hills are traversed today by drivers traveling between Okahumpka and Ocoee on the Florida Turnpike.

To learn more, see Bertha E. Bloodworth and Alton C. Morris, Places in the Sun: The History and Romance of Florida Place Names (University Presses of Florida, 1978); John K. Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 (University of Florida Press, 1991 [1967]); Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin, A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, with Notes on the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Dialects of Creek (University of Nebraska Press, 2004); John T. Sprague, The Origins, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (University of Tampa Press, 2000 [1848]); John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors (University of Florida Press, 1998 [1922]).

Wacahoota

This series looks at the etymology of Florida place names derived from the Muskogee and Hitchiti languages.

Many Florida place names owe their origins to Muskogee and Hitchiti, two of the languages spoken by members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The persistence of Muskogee and Hitchiti words as modern Florida place names reflects the prominent role played by Native Americans in the region’s history.

Today’s term is Wacahoota, meaning “cowpen” or “cow barn.” According to scholars of Muskogee linguistics, the word is actually a combination of Spanish and Native languages: vaca (cow in Spanish) and hute/hoti (barn for cows in Muskogee).

Excerpt from "Map of the Seat of War in Florida," (1839)

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” (1839)

Shown as “Watkahootee” on the map excerpt above, the term is spelled Wacahoota today and refers to a crossroads southwest of Gainesville in Alachua County. In the early 19th century, Wacahoota was situated firmly in the heartland of the Alachua bands of Seminoles.

The Alachua Seminoles worked thousands of head of cattle on the wet prairies south of modern-day Gainesville, particularly on what is known today as Paynes Prairie. Payne refers to King Payne, leader of the Alachua Seminoles in the early 1800s. Previous leaders of this band were also tied to cattle ownership. For example, when William Bartram visited the area in the 1770s the leader of the Alachua Seminoles was known as the “Cowkeeper” to the British.

The “Map of the Seat of War in Florida” (1839) shows Watkahootee situated along a military road connecting the southern rim of the Alachua Prairie with the Suwannee River. This was likely the location of one or more cowpens used by Seminole cattlemen in the early 19th century. Since cattle grazed freely for most of the year, cow hunters used this location during round-ups and other times when necessary.

Other sources hint at the history of Seminole occupation in the modern Wacahoota area. Henry Washington, in a report to Robert Butler dated December 16, 1832, listed “Wacahootie” as among the lesser towns in the Alachua district. Another contemporary account includes “Wachitoka” situated between the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers.

The presence of these towns on American inventories demonstrates the continuity of the name. However, given the known and frequent migration of Seminole bands during this time period, determining if a settlement remained in the same exact spot is difficult at best. It is likely that residents of a town or village retained the name for their settlement as they moved from one locale to the next as American settlers and the U.S. military pushed them further down the peninsula.

For more information, see John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors (University of Florida Press, 1998 [1922]); Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin, A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, with Notes on the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Dialects of Creek (University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

Thomas Sidney Jesup and the Second Seminole War (Part Six)

General Thomas Sidney Jesup commanded military operations against the Seminoles in Florida during the early stages of the conflict now known as the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). The Second Seminole War was the longest and costliest Indian War in American history. Jesup’s field diary, available on Florida Memory, contains his perspective on the war from October 1, 1836, to May 30, 1837. This series of blog posts places significant entries from the Jesup diary in the context of the Seminole Wars and the history of Anglo-American Indian-African relations in the American South. Below is the sixth post in the series.

“Jumper said the Miccosukees had caused the war—that they were a “bad people” & Micanopy had not been able to restrain them—that the Indians, particularly the Seminoles, were desirous of peace and wished to live on terms of friendship with the white people.”

“Jumper said the Miccosukees had caused the war—that they were a “bad people” & Micanopy had not been able to restrain them—that the Indians, particularly the Seminoles, were desirous of peace and wished to live on terms of friendship with the white people.”

Native Americans living in Florida during the Seminole Wars were not, in fact, all Seminoles. However, from the perspective of the United States government, all Florida Indians were Seminoles. It was more expedient to deal with Native peoples inhabiting a particular region as if they were a single entity, with one set of political views, rather than recognize their diversity. This practice was foundational to the Indian policy of the United States in the early 19th century; all Indians in Alabama and Georgia were Creeks, and all Indians in Florida were Seminoles.

The reality was that the Creeks and Seminoles were not one political entity unto themselves; nor did they always act independently without joint council. The conflicts between the so-called “friendly” and “rebel” Red Stick Creeks, discussed in an earlier post, were only one of several ways Creeks (and Seminoles) divided themselves. They considered themselves first as a member of a clan, second as a resident of a town, and third, part of a larger collection of towns that comprised a confederacy. Scholars disagree over which—clan, town, or nation—was most important in influencing the identity and daily life of southeastern American Indians.

When Jesup arrived in Florida he quickly learned that a great difference of opinions existed among the Seminoles on the issue of removal. Because of his experience in the Second Creek War, he was already aware that not all Creeks considered themselves part of a single political entity. In this way, military officers on the ground often differed from policy makers far removed from the theater of war; Jesup learned to respect the internal divisions in Indian society even if his superior officers remained ignorant of the same.

In this entry from his field diary, Jesup reports that Jumper, also known as Otee Emathlar, echoed the sentiments of other Seminoles that the Miccosukees (also spelled Mikasuki and several other ways) had started the war. Jesup had previously heard this statement from the black Seminole Abraham, interpreter and adviser for Micanopy (see Jesup diary, January 31, 1837).

The Miccosukees migrated to Florida in the early 18th century. They spoke a dialect of the Muscogee language known as Hitchiti, which although related to was mutually unintelligible from the main Muscogee tongue. Their early date of arrival in Florida from the north made the Miccosukees the first Native American immigrants into the territory after the destruction of the Spanish Missions in 1702-1704.

According to Seminole leaders who met with Jesup, the Miccosukees refused to negotiate and intended to remain hostile to the United States. The division between Seminoles and Miccosukees is not as clear-cut as it may seem, and these were certainly not the only factions of Florida Indians involved in the war. Jesup also became aware of Creeks, Red Sticks, Tallahassees and Uchees (also spelled Yuchi or Euchee) involved in the fighting. With the exception of the Creeks friendly to the United States, most Florida Indians resisted removal.

Another factor that complicates Jumper’s statement is his intent. Jesup believed that Seminole leaders were delaying removal by blaming the war on the Miccosukees. It would have been impossible for Jesup to tell a Miccosukee from a Seminole unless they declared themselves to him. Assigning blame to the Miccosukees for causing the war might have been a tactic designed to frustrate and stall the Americans. While the negotiations dragged on, the Seminoles continued to receive federal rations. Since most of their livestock were driven off and their fields burned by the U.S. Army, the government-supplied rations were necessary for survival.

Evidence from the period after the end of the Seminole Wars in 1858 may support Jumper’s claim about divisions between Seminoles and Miccosukees. In the 20th century, the federal government became aware that Florida Indians considered themselves to be at least two distinct groups. Seminoles lived in the Kissimmee River Valley north of Lake Okeechobee and spoke Creek (or Muscogee), Miccosukees lived in the Big Cypress Swamp and near the Miami River and spoke Hitchiti (or Mikasuki).

The movement to federal reservations, which began in the 1930s, further highlighted these differences. In the 1950s and 1960s, internal political divisions led to the creation of two federally recognized tribes in southern Florida: the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. Some Florida Indians refused to join either of these Tribes, and remain independent to the present day.