The Everglades Traveler

Renowned botanist and author John K. Small (1869-1938) conducted seasonal fieldwork in the Florida Everglades for more than 30 years. Along the way he captured scenes of Seminole life in South Florida during the early 20th century – a period of great transition for modern Florida Indians.

Unidentified family in front of a chickee, January 25, 1927

Unidentified family in front of their chickee, January 25, 1927

 

Josie Billie and family near Deep Lake in the Big Cypress Swamp, April 1921

Josie Billie and family near Deep Lake in the Big Cypress Swamp, April 1921

In the early 1900s, Seminole families transitioned from a primarily trading-based economy to one that demanded greater engagement with wage labor. They also experienced firsthand the ecological changes, caused by drainage schemes, documented by pioneering naturalists such as J.K. Small.

Children of Doctor Tommy Jimmy near Kendall, November 1916

Children of Doctor Tommy Jimmy near Kendall, November 1916

 

Unidentified young women near the Tantie trading post , ca. 1913

Unidentified young women near the Tantie trading post , ca. 1913

Small’s best known work, From Eden to Sahara: Florida’s Tragedy (1929), cemented his legacy along with other prominent naturalist-authors who also drew their inspiration from the Florida landscape. J.K. Small’s contributions to the natural history of Florida stand firmly beside the likes of William Bartram, Bernard Romans, Archie Carr, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Pumpkins grown by Wildcat, September 1929

Pumpkins grown by Wildcat, September 1929

 

Fanny Stuart and Susie Tiger near their camp in the Indian Prairie, west of Lake Okeechobee, May 1919

Fanny Stuart and Susie Tiger near their camp in the Indian Prairie, west of Lake Okeechobee, May 1919

The John K. Small Collection (M83-2), held by the State Archives of Florida, consists of correspondence and over 3,000 photographs reflecting his career as a botanist and his frequent contact with many leading scientists, explorers, and naturalists of his time including Oakes Ames, Roland M. Harper, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Lord Nathaniel Britton, David G. Fairchild, William Chambers Coker, Harold St. John, and Thomas A. Edison.

Approximately 2,100 of Small’s photographs are available on the Florida Memory website.

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

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 United States 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 Southeast. Below is the eighth and final post in the series.

Thomas Sidney Jesup

Thomas Sidney Jesup left Florida in 1838. The mood of many Americans had turned against the General following the dubious capture of Osceola under a white flag of truce in October 1837. Northern politicians and abolitionists were especially critical of Jesup, particularly vocal opponents of Indian Removal. The time had long passed since Native Americans dominated the New England frontier, and northern politicians did not sympathize with their Southern counterparts.

Abolitionists, on the other hand, based their objections on the existence of slavery in the Southern states. They saw the Seminole Wars as more of a slave rebellion than anything else. Based on statements made early in the war, Jesup tended to agree. Abolitionists argued that if slavery did not exist there would be no runaway slaves, and hence, no Seminole Wars. Perhaps the best known abolitionist tract on the Seminole Wars is Joshua R. Giddings, The Exiles of Florida (1858).

Zachary Taylor assumed command of U.S. troops in Florida following Jesup’s departure. He was the next in line of a succession of officers that attempted to bring about a conclusion to the war, but it was not until 1842 that the conflict came to an end. Unlike other wars in U.S. history, there was neither a decisive battle, nor a detailed treaty that ended the Seminole Wars. The U.S. Army simply decided to stop pursuing the enemy. Most Seminoles had relocated to the deep recesses of the Everglades, and the troops lost the desire and the political backing to follow. By 1842, the government estimated that no more than 500 Seminoles remained in Florida.

Jesup would have welcomed the end of the war. Shortly after being relieved of his command in Florida, Jesup lobbied on behalf of the Seminoles to allow them to remain in South Florida. He concluded that the war did little good opening up new lands for settlement, as the area south of Lake Okeechobee was considered nothing more than an expansive, malarial swamp. The aftermath of the battles of Okeechobee and Loxahatchee had significantly reduced the number of Black Seminoles in Florida and thereafter escaped slaves ceased to be the primary concern of the U.S. Army.

However, tensions between the Americans and the Seminoles did not end in 1842. Another war nearly broke out in the late 1840s and, in 1855, a surveying team destroyed property at Billy Bowlegs’ camp in the Big Cypress Swamp. Bowlegs retaliated and thereafter began the Third Seminole War, which lasted until 1858. The war ended when Bowlegs agreed to surrender and emigrate with his people to the Indian Country west of the Mississippi River. When the steamboat Grey Cloud embarked from Tampa on May 8, 1858, it marked the last forced removal of Seminoles from Florida.

In the early 1880s, government officials attempted the first census of the Seminoles since the end of the third war. Two different enumerators found 208 and 296 Seminoles in Florida, respectively. It is likely that others, understandably suspicious of the government, hid from the census takers. In any case, the Seminole population in Florida had been reduced from approximately 5,000 to less than 300 as a result of forced removal and warfare.

The Seminole population recovered over the next several decades. They developed innovative means of adjusting to the new environmental realities of life in South Florida. The animal hide trade of the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought relative prosperity to Seminole families. For example, through the acquisition of sewing machines during the hide trade, Seminoles created the vivid patchwork clothing styles now synonymous with their culture. Patchwork designs are just one example of the new traditions invented by Florida Indians following the trauma of the Seminole Wars.

Life was certainly not easy for the Seminoles who remained in South Florida. The collapse of the hide trade impoverished Seminole communities from the 1920s until the emergence of income from casino gaming in the 1980s. The few bright spots for the Seminoles during their years of want were federally funded cattle, education, and health programs.

The present-day association of Seminoles with casino gaming has obscured the long and difficult history experienced by these people. The story told in this series on the Jesup’s field diary is certainly one of the darkest chapters in Seminole history. Nevertheless, the diary and the larger context in which it was produced have much to tell us about the changing nature of Anglo-American Indian-African relations, and the important place of the Seminole Wars in United States history.

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

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.

On March 18, 1837, Micanopy agreed to the articles of capitulation negotiated by Jumper, Holatoochee, and Cloud.

“Met Micanopy to day in council—Read and explained the articles of the Capitulation. He stated that he had authorized the chiefs, Jumper, Holahtoochee & Yaholoachee to sign that instrument for him, he…”

“Met Micanopy to day in council—Read and explained the articles of the Capitulation. He stated that he had authorized the chiefs, Jumper, Holahtoochee & Yaholoachee to sign that instrument for him, he…”

“…agreed to every article, and formally ratified it. He, Aligator, and John Hopony a friendly chief, dined with Gen[era]l J[esup]. Had a talk with Aligator after dinner in relation to the movement of his people to Tampa & thence west.”

“…agreed to every article, and formally ratified it. He, Aligator, and John Hopony a friendly chief, dined with Gen[era]l J[esup]. Had a talk with Aligator after dinner in relation to the movement of his people to Tampa & thence west.”

After the initial military successes by the Seminoles in December 1835 and early 1836, the United States Army responded with search and destroy-style tactics in order to undermine the Seminole resistance. As noted in a previous entry not all Florida Indians shared the same politics, nor did they all agree on the issue of removal.

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Osceola (ca. 1804-1838)

On January 30, 1838, the famed Seminole warrior Osceola died at Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina.

Painting of Osceola by R.J. Curtis (1838)

Painting of Osceola by R.J. Curtis (1838)

Osceola is an Anglicized version of Asi-Yaholo, meaning “black drink speaker” in the Muscogee language. Asi-Yaholo is not actually a name, but a title. In this case it refers to a function performed at the Green Corn Dance. The black drink was a caffeinated beverage made from the leaves of yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) consumed as part of the ritual process associated with the Green Corn Dance. Osceola may also have been known as Tallassee Tustenuggee, a war title attached to his home village. Therefore, we do not know his personal name; we only know titles he earned in connection with the black drink, the Green Corn Dance and the military-political structure of the Muscogee-Creeks.

Another layer of confusion surrounding Osceola’s name and identity is that he was often known as Billy Powell to Anglo-Americans. William Powell was an Indian trader sometimes identified as the father of Osceola, though it appears more likely that Powell married Osceola’s mother after his birth.

Osceola was probably born in Tallassee, a Creek Indian town in eastern Alabama, circa 1804. He came to Florida with his family during the Red Stick War (1813-1814). Osceola rose to prominence among the Florida Seminoles during the tense period leading up to the outbreak of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). He emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of Indian Removal among the Seminoles in Florida.

On December 28, 1835, Osceola led an attack on Fort King (near modern-day Ocala) which resulted in the assassination of the American Indian Agent Wiley Thompson. Simultaneously, Micanopy and a large band of Seminole warriors ambushed troops under the command of Major Francis Dade south of Fort King on the road to Fort Brooke (later Tampa). These two events, along with the Battle of Withlacoochee on December 31 and raids on sugar plantations in East Florida in early 1836, marked the beginning of the Second Seminole War.

Excerpt from “A Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” by Captain John Mackay and Lieutenant J. Black, U.S. Topographical Engineers (1840)

Excerpt from “A Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” by Captain John Mackay and Lieutenant J. Black, U.S. Topographical Engineers (1840)

In the below letter to Governor Hugh McVay of Alabama, a copy of which resides in the State Library of Florida’s Manuscript Collection, General Thomas Sidney Jesup reported: “One of my detachments under General Hernandez has seized Powell and fifteen other Chiefs and Sub-Chiefs, and ninety eight first rate warriors.”

Letter from General Thomas Sidney Jesup to Governor Hugh McVay (November 7, 1837)

Letter from General Thomas Sidney Jesup to Governor Hugh McVay (November 7, 1837)

Jesup failed to mention the tactics used to apprehend Osceola. In late October 1837, Osceola contacted General Joseph Hernandez, through a black interpreter named John Cavallo (also John Horse), to arrange negotiations about ceasing hostilities. Jesup responded by ordering Hernandez to seize Osceola and his party should he have the chance.

Osceola’s camp, located one mile south of Fort Peyton, raised a white flag of truce in order to signal their desire to negotiate. When Hernandez and his entourage reached the camp, they promptly seized Osceola and the warriors, women and children present. Osceola and his band were brought to St. Augustine and imprisoned at Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos).

Remarkably, on November 30, Coacoochee (Wildcat) and 19 other Seminoles escaped Fort Marion; Osceola was not among them. Coacoochee’s escape prompted Jesup to transfer the most important Seminole captives out of the area. In late December 1837, Osceola, Micanopy, Philip and about 200 Seminoles embarked from St. Augustine for Fort Moultrie in Charleston.

Osceola, who previously contracted malaria in Florida, became severely ill soon after arriving at Fort Moultrie. During his brief incarceration in South Carolina, Osceola sat for a portrait by George Catlin just days before his death on January 30.

Portrait of Osceola by George S. Catlin (1838)

Portrait of Osceola by George S. Catlin (1838)

Osceola was buried on the grounds of Fort Moultrie. The epitaph on his tombstone reads: “Oceola/ Patriot and Warrior/ Died at Fort Moultrie/ January 30, 1838.”

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

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 fifth post in the series.

“…several hundred head of cattle and a few ponies were taken to day.”

“…several hundred head of cattle and a few ponies were taken to day.”

Florida Indians herded cattle long before the outbreak of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Indian (and African) cowboys tended Spanish livestock as early as the 17th century. After the destruction of Spanish Missions in northern Florida by the Creeks and white settlers from Carolina (1702-1704), Muscogee-speaking Indians migrated south into the vacant lands.

By the late 18th century, these Muscogee-speaking migrants came to be known as Seminoles. The largest of the Seminole settlements was Cuscowilla, located on the Alachua Prairie near modern day Micanopy, Florida. The naturalist William Bartram, who came to Florida in the mid-1770s, wrote that the Seminoles worked thousands of cattle on the Alachua Prairie. They sold hundreds of animals yearly to the Spanish and the British. The leader of the Alachua Seminoles during Bartram’s time was appropriately known to the British as the “Cowkeeper.”

After Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, Seminoles increasingly came into conflict with white settlers over land, cattle and runaway slaves. The ill-defined boundaries between Seminole and American lands resulted in numerous instances of violence along the frontier. Whites stole Seminole cattle, and vice versa. The issue of slavery compounded the problem, as plantation owners often ventured into the Seminole Country in search of runaway slaves.

The Second Seminole War began after a series of coordinated attacks by Seminoles and their African allies in late 1835 and early 1836. The swiftness of these offensives caught the Americans off guard and required a significant change in strategy on the part of the U.S. Army. Jesup arrived in Florida to implement this plan, which included building a network of forts and supply depots and conducting raids into the heart of Seminole territory.

Seizing cattle and burning crops formed the basis of undercutting the Seminoles’ ability to sustain their war effort. In this entry, Jesup reports the capture of “several hundred” head of Seminole cattle near the Withlacoochee River. Jesup regularly reported that his men rounded up hundreds of animals (cattle and horses) at a time. Nearly every week of the diary includes references to the depletion of Seminole herds.

Excerpt from "A Map of the Seat of War in Florida," by Captain John Mackay and Lieutenant J. Blake, U.S. Topographical Engineers (1839)

Excerpt from “A Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” by Captain John Mackay and Lieutenant J. Blake, U.S. Topographical Engineers (1839)

During negotiations with Jesup, Seminole leaders insisted that they be allowed to drive their animals west as a condition of their agreement to emigrate. Jesup refused and instead offered compensation for livestock left behind in Florida (see Jesup diary, March 5-6, 1837). Through the efforts of the U.S. Army, Seminole cattle were reduced to near zero by the end of the Seminole Wars in 1858. Federal Indian agents in the early 20th century counted only a handful of oxen owned by Seminole camps.

It was not until federal programs in the 1930s and 1940s that cattle again became a mainstay of Seminole life. Today, the Seminole Tribe is one of the largest cattle owners in the state of Florida.