Okeechobee

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 Okeechobee, meaning “big water.” The word is a combination of okee (water) and chobee (big).

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

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

Okeechobee is perhaps the best known Muskogee language place name in Florida. Prior to the 19th century, however, the lake was known by a succession of different names. For example, in the map below the lake is labeled as “Lac du St. Esprit,” a French version of the Spanish imposed name Laguna Espiritu Santo (Lagoon of the Holy Spirit).

Excerpt from "Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie," by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, 1780

Excerpt from “Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie,” by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, 1780

Another name for the lake used by Europeans in the late 1700s was Lake Mayaco, as shown on the map below by English cartographer Bernard Romans. The term Mayaco is possibly derived from Mayaimi, a name for an indigenous tribe that occupied the area at the time of first contact with Europeans and Africans.

Excerpt from "General Map of the Southern British Colonies," by Bernard Romans, ca. 1776

Excerpt from “General Map of the Southern British Colonies,” by Bernard Romans, ca. 1776

Maps from early territorial Florida also used forms of the ancient term, such as Macaco in the below example by H.S. Tanner.

Excerpt from "Map of Florida," by H.S. Tanner, 1823

Excerpt from “Map of Florida,” by H.S. Tanner, 1823

The Americans learned a great deal about the geography of southern Florida during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Sometime in the early stages of that conflict, U.S. Army topographers started using Okeechobee as the name for the large, shallow lake that serves as the headwaters of the Everglades. The area around Lake Okeechobee witnessed significant combat during the Seminole Wars, especially during the Battles of Lake Okeechobee (December 25, 1837) and Loxahatchee (January 24, 1838).

Seminole families reoccupied the region near Lake Okeechobee following the conclusion of the Seminole Wars. As late as the 1920s and 1930s, Seminole camps in the area extended from as far north as Sawgrass Lake in western Brevard County, to as far south as the Palm Beach canal, and at several spots along the northern rim of Lake Okeechobee, from west of Fort Pierce to the Indian Prairie. Many of these camps moved to the Brighton Reservation after 1936. The Indiantown families moved to Dania (now Hollywood) in about 1928.

The majority of Seminoles in the early 20th century lived south of Lake Okeechobee, near the Big Cypress Swamp and along the Tamiami Trail. These southern bands of Seminoles, predominately Mikasuki-speakers, were sometimes known as either the Cypress or Miami Indians. Their counterparts living north of Lake Okeechobee were sometimes known as the “Cow Creeks,” after a small stream west of Fort Pierce that flows into the great lake.

Excerpt from "Approximate Location of Permanent Seminole Camps," by Roy Nash, 1930

Excerpt from “Approximate Location of Permanent Seminole Camps,” by Roy Nash, 1930

On the map above, Seminole camps near Lake Okeechobee circa 1930 are marked by numbered circles: 1. Billie Smith; 2. Sam Jones (not included on excerpt above); 3. Billie Buster; 4. Naha Tiger; 5. Joe Bowers; 6. Summerlin; 7. Willie Johns; 8. Charlie Micco; 9. Billy Bowlegs; 10. Billie Stewart; 11. Dan Parker; 12. Ella Montgomery.

Charlie Micco, Brighton Reservation, 1949

Charlie Micco, Brighton Reservation, 1949

Despite the tendency for Seminoles to live in matrilocal camps during the period depicted in Nash’s map, many outsiders, including government officials, assigned settlement names according to the resident elder male. This reflected an ongoing misunderstanding of the Seminoles’ social organization and a tendency to recognize men alone as suitable heads of household.

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); Roy Nash, “Survey of the Seminole Indians of Florida,” 71st U.S. Congress, 3rd sess., Senate Document 314 (Washington, D.C.: Govt. Print. Office, 1931); 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]).

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]).

Halpatiokee

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 word is Halpatiokee, literally meaning “alligator water.” The word can be translated into English as “alligator swamp.” According to scholars of Muskogee linguistics, the term is a combination of halpatter (alligator) and okee (water). The spelling Alpatiokee or Al-pa-ti-o-kee on the map below is a phonetic Anglicization of the Muskogee word.

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

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

In the 19th century, the Muskogee term halpatter was associated with a Seminole town in northern central Florida, known as Alligator to the Americans and now the site of Lake City. The term also referred to a Seminole War leader known as Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator Warrior). Other individuals may also have earned this name, which is a combination of a war title (Tustenuggee) and a town/clan name (Halpatter).

Today, at least three Florida place names include Halpatiokee. One is Halpatiokee Regional Park in Martin County, which encompasses part of the land identified as the Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp on the above “Map of the Seat of War in Florida” (1839). There are also roads named Halpatiokee in Palm Beach and Martin counties.

Even though the word appears to be a combination of halpatter and okee, it could have been erroneously recorded by American topographers. It is possible that the intended Muskogee term was halpattachobee, which can be translated as “big alligator,” as in this song performed by James E. Billie, Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, at the 1996 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs:

“Big Alligator,” by James E. Billie

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For more information, see 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). On settlement of Alligator and historical figures known as Halpatter Tustenuggee in the era of the Seminole Wars, see John K. Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 (University of Florida Press, 1991 [1967]); 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).