War with the Seminoles of Florida
By far the most costly, protracted, and troublesome of all our Indian wars, was that with the Seminoles of Florida. That it was so was owing to their warlike character, as well as to the fact that they were contending for their homes and all that was dear to them. It was also largely owing to the unhealthiness of the climate, and especially to the inaccessible nature of the country, with its dense and almost impenetrable swamps, hommocks, and everglades, which provided the Indians with hiding-places and fastnesses innumerable. Probably no region better adapted than this to the peculiar warfare of the Indian can be found on the face of the globe.
It was an unjust and unwise war: unjust, because the rights and the wishes of the Indians were disregarded; and unwise, because the territory they occupied, some of which they still continue to occupy, was not required for settlement. It afforded, however, a shelter for runaway negroes, and this must, at all events, be put a stop to. The Government of the United States was at that time controlled by the slave-holding minority at the South. The people of Georgia thought that the first duty of the Federal Government was to catch their runaway negroes. The Florida War was in reality nothing more than a slave-hunt on a large scale, at the national expense.
The Seminoles and Micasaukies at this time occupied all the extensive range of country lying between the Cape of Florida on the south, the St. Mary's River on the north, and the Perdido on the west—a territory some eight hundred miles in extent. The estimated number of these Indians, five or six hundred of whom were fighting men, was four thousand, including women, children, and negroes—an underestimate, as events proved. It was subsequently ascertained that the number of warriors brought into the field was one thousand six hundred and sixty, besides two hundred and fifty negroes capable of bearing arms.
The Micasaukies were the original occupants of the country, and the Seminoles were, as their name indicates, runaways from the Creek tribe. They had little land under cultivation, their main dependence being upon hunting and fishing.
From the time of its cession by Spain, in 1821, the white settlers in Florida had constantly urged upon the Government the removal of these Indians. A large number of negroes, mostly fugitives from slavery whom their masters wished to reclaim, were living with the Seminoles. Some of them had been for a long time among them, and by intermarriage with there had acquired a powerful influence over them. Their number was, in 1836, estimated at one thousand four hundred. The demands of the settlers were consequently resisted by the Indians, and were an additional source of trouble. The removal of the Southern and Eastern Indians to the west of the Mississippi was now the settled policy of the Government.
Soon after the cession of Florida to the United States, a treaty was made by which the Seminoles agreed to relinquish the better part of their lands and retire to the centre of the peninsula. But Nea-Mathla, the head chief, thinking that this treaty savored too much of the cunning and the whiskey of the white man, commanded his warriors to resist it. Duval, the governor of the territory, broke in upon his council, dispersed the war leaders, and put the advocates of peace in their places. Nea-Mathla then withdrew and joined the Creeks, who made him a chief of their nation.
A treaty was at length effected by which some of the chiefs were brought to acquiesce in the removal, but so strenuous still was the opposition of the tribe that the idea was abandoned. The fugitives from slavery saw clearly that they were to be returned to their old masters, and they preferred death to such a fate. The Seminoles having decreed in council that the first Indian who made preparations to remove should be put to death, Charley-E-Mathla, an influential chief who was about to emigrate, was waylaid and murdered by Osceola. It was now evident that the removal must be effected by force, if at all, the allotted time for the Indians to prepare for it having expired, and troops were sent to General Clinch, who commanded in Florida, to enable him to carry out the policy of the Government.
Hostilities soon began. On the afternoon of December 28, General Thompson, the Indian agent, while walking with Lieutenant Smith near Fort King, was, with his companion, shot and instantly killed by a band of Indians led by Osceola. The sutler's store was then attacked, and the inmates killed and scalped.
On the afternoon of the same day a detachment of one hundred United States troops, on the march to Fort King, were way laid near the Big Wahoo Swamp by one hundred and eighty Indians under Micanopy, Jumper, and Alligator, and the entire force was annihilated, three men only escaping.
The troops were marching in open order along a path skirted by the low palmetto, which afforded a cover for the Indians, who were stationed on the west side of the road. A moment before the soldiers were attacked, Major Dade, the commanding officer, said to his men, "We are now out of danger; keep up a good heart, men, and when we get to Fort King I'll give you three days for Christmas." When they had approached within thirty yards, the Indians, at a given signal from Micanopy, their head chief, poured a destructive volley into their ranks. The troops received at least fifteen rounds before an Indian was seen.
Major Dade and nearly half the command had now fallen; those who survived took shelter behind trees. Lieutenant Basinger with a six-pounder checked the Indians for a time, and they retired behind a small ridge. Captain Gardiner then began the erection of a breastwork of pine-trees, but it proved wholly ineffectual to protect the men.
Very soon the Indians returned, and opened a cross-fire on the defenders of the breastwork with deadly execution. Lieutenant Basinger continued to discharge the six-pounder until every man who served the piece was shot. About two o'clock, the conflict having lasted five hours, the last man fell, and the Indians rushed into the undefended barricade. Every man who exhibited signs of life was butchered by the negroes after the Indians, who had secured the arms and accoutrements of the soldiers, had left. Many watches and other valuables belonging to the officers remained untouched.
That such an overwhelming defeat could befall a body of trained soldiers, well officered, in broad day, and with a field-piece at their command, by a not very numerous body of half-naked savages, caused throughout the country a painful shock of surprise. And yet similar occurrences had been frequent in former Indian wars, and were certain to happen when, as in the present instance, the rules of forest warfare were disregarded.
Three days later, General Clinch, while crossing the Withlacoochee River, was attacked by a superior force of Indians and negroes, led by Osceola and Alligator. The Indians, who were protected by a heavy hommock and scrub, poured a galling fire upon the troops, who, after being twice repulsed, in a final charge succeeded in routing them. In this engagement the Indians, urged on by the shrill voice and frantic gestures of Osceola, fought with great pertinacity and impetuosity.
By this time the settlements in the interior had been broken up, and the inhabitants had gathered in stockades or fled to the coasts. In the following January, sixteen sugar plantations near New Smyrna, with all their buildings and improvements, were destroyed, the country was devastated in every direction, and many of the inhabitants massacred.
Undeniably, the master-spirit of this war was As-se-se-ha-ho-lar, commonly called Osceola. He was a half-breed, the son of a trader named Powell, and, when a child, was taken by his mother, who was a Creek, to Florida, and lived near Fort King. He was now thirty-two years of age, with a slender figure, of medium size, manly and resolute in his bearing, and had a clear, frank, and engaging countenance. From boyhood he was noted for his independence and self-possession, and for his hatred of the whites, whom he treated with a dignity amounting almost to insolence. He was distinguished for his skill in dances, ball-plays, and other games. By his boldness and audacity he forced the nation into the war which a large majority of them were averse to engaging in, and either broke up every attempt at negotiation or prevented its fulfilment. He was to have been one of the leaders at Dade's massacre, but was delayed by his desire to avenge himself upon General Thompson at Fort King. At a council previously held to determine the question of removal, Osceola drew his knife and drove it into the table, saying,
"The only treaty I will execute is this!"
Osceola's hatred for Thompson is said to have been caused by that officer's seizure of his wife, whose mother was a slave, while he was on a trading visit to Fort King. Osceola, made frantic by this terrible outrage, was seized for using violent language to Agent Thompson, and was kept in irons for six days. If this story be true, Osceola's vindictiveness towards that officer is sufficiently accounted for.
He was in the battle of the Withlacoochee, and led the attack upon Micanopy, where, in an open field within sight of the fort, he attacked upward of one hundred regular troops, supported by a field-piece. His subsequent capture gave rise to the imputation of bad faith upon the part of General Jesup, Osceola having come in under a white flag to negotiate; but that officer contended that Osceola had broken faith in reference to the Fort Dade capitulation, and was to be treated as an escaped prisoner. In fact, Osceola, in accordance with Indian rules of warfare, had improved every opportunity to mislead the commander of the army, and had disregarded the most solemn promises to abstain from hostile acts and prepare for emigration. His professions of friendship and assurances of peace were only made to give his warriors time to plant and gather crops, and to harass and break down the troops by exposure to the climate and fatiguing marches.
Dignified and courteous in his manners, Osceola showed himself a brave and cautious leader in the field, and possessed nobler traits of character than are commonly found in his race. He instructed his warriors, in their predatory incursions, to spare the women and children. "It is not upon them," said he, "that we make war and draw the scalping-knife, it is upon men; let us act like men." Upon his removal to the prison at Charleston, South Carolina, he became dejected, refused sustenance, pined away, and in a few weeks died of a broken heart. He was buried just outside the principal gate-way of Fort Moultrie, where a monument has been erected to his memory.
Of the other Indian leaders, Micanopy, head chief of the Seminoles, was fifty years of age, very fat, given to drink, excessively lazy, and consequently an advocate of peace. It was necessary to force him into hostile acts, and in two instances he had to be carried to the scene of action.
Otee-Emathla, or Jumper, his lawyer and "sense-bearer," was cunning, intelligent, and deceitful, but active and brave. His fluent speech and attractive voice made him the most important man in council.
Halpatter-Tustenuggee, or Alligator, was the most shrewd, crafty, polite, and intelligent of the Seminole chiefs. He spoke English, and was an active and successful hunter, but was artful and treacherous. He was a skilful warrior and a dangerous foe.
Holartoochee was in all respects superior to his associates. Good judgment, prudence, and integrity marked all the acts of this brave warrior and great hunter. After three years of resistance he surrendered for emigration, and became useful in influencing others to follow his example.
Coacoochee, or Wild-cat, the son of King Philip, was by far the most dangerous of the Seminole warriors in the field. War to him was pastime. When pursued through deep swamps he would stand at a distance and laugh at and ridicule the soldiers, as they floundered about through mud and water with their arms and accoutrements. With a few followers he ranged throughout the country with a fleetness defying pursuit. He disregarded councils, and acted upon his own judgment wholly. His age was twenty-eight; he was slight and active as a deer, and had a bright, playful, and attractive countenance.
Arpeika, or Sam Jones, chief of the Micasaukies, was upward of seventy years of age. He declared himself a prophet and a great medicine-man, his age giving him an ascendency far above his merits. With him, and of the same tribe, was Halleck-Tustenuggee, who afterwards became the master-spirit of the war.
Thlocklo-Tustenuggee, or Tiger-tail, was the chief of the Tallahassees. For many years he was a common lounger about the streets of Tallahassee, begging for whiskey and food. Plausible and attractive in his manners, and professing great wisdom and sagacity, he deluded his own people as well as the whites, and was always ready to accept the proffer of peace. After enjoying for weeks the hospitality of a military camp or post, with the promise of emigrating, he would return to the woods well supplied with ammunition, provisions, and clothing.
The Creeks in Florida numbered about seventy warriors, under Octiarche, a young sub-chief, who contended with skill and resolution, and was among the last of the leaders captured. Large numbers of the Creeks from Georgia joined the Seminoles from time to time in small parties, and were active in committing depredations on the frontier.
Abraham, the principal slave of Micanopy, was the most noted and influential of the negroes. He dictated to those of his own color, who, to a great degree, controlled their masters. They were a most cruel and malignant enemy.
Successive commanders—Generals Clinch, Gaines, Scott, and Call— having failed to subdue the Indians, the task was, early in January, 1837, assigned to General Thomas S. Jesup, who, with eight thousand men, began a most vigorous campaign. He moved with rapidity, with mounted troops, both officers and men carrying their rations in their haversacks. The Indians were soon driven from their fastnesses in the Withlacoochee region, and moved south-west in the direction of the Everglades. As soon as this fact was ascertained, several detachments were organized to make a vigorous pursuit.
A succession of defeats soon convinced the Indians that they could not withstand the power of the Government, and a conference between the general and some of their chiefs at Fort Dade, resulted in the agreement to cease hostilities and at once prepare to emigrate to the West. On the strength of this agreement the troops were withdrawn, and the settlers prepared to reoccupy their abandoned homes.
When the troops were leaving Fort Mellon, Colonel Harney said to Coacoochee that unless the Indians complied with the treaty, the United States Government would exterminate them.
"The Great Spirit may exterminate us," replied the young chief, "but the pale-faces cannot, else why have they not done it before?"
By the 23rd of June, upward of seven hundred Indians, including Micanopy, their head chief, had come in prepared to emigrate, and had encamped near Tampa, where twenty-five transports had been stationed to take them to New Orleans. Everything was in readiness for their embarkation, when suddenly Osceola and Coacoochee, at the head of two hundred Micasaukies, appeared upon the scene, and either forced or persuaded the entire number to leave the camp and take refuge in the Everglades. Various causes contributed to bring about this result. The fugitive negroes had good reason to fear that they would be returned to their owners. Osceola and the younger chiefs were anxious to defeat the emigration project, and the influence and address of that chief caused the Indians to credit such absurd stories as, that once they were embarked their throats would all be cut.
Volunteers from the neighboring States were now called out, and active hostilities were resumed. Osceola and Coa Hajo, who had come to Fort Peyton for an interview with General Hernandez, were seized by order of General Jesup, upon the ground of their having capitulated at Fort Dade in March, and were imprisoned at St. Augustine.
Many prisoners were now daily brought in, owing to the great activity of the army in breaking up the haunts of the Indians. Again negotiations were set on foot, a council was held, the chief's once more promised to collect their people and bring them to the camp, when the escape of Wild-cat, with seventeen of his followers, front their prison at St. Augustine, put an immediate stop to what appeared to be a gratifying prospect of ending the war.
This chief, with a considerable number of other Indians, had been confined in the old Spanish fort for security. A narrow embrasure gave light and air to the room they occupied. This embrasure was some fifty feet above the ditch, or moat, which was dry at all times. Coacoochee conceived the idea of squeezing himself through this narrow aperture and dropping into the moat.
In order to reach the opening, which was eighteen feet above the floor, he and his companion cut up the forage bags allowed them to sleep on, and made them into ropes. Standing upon the shoulders of his companion, Coacoochee worked a knife into a crevice of the stonework, as high up as he could reach, and raising himself upon this, found that by a reduction of his flesh he could get through the embrasure. To effect this object they took medicine for five days.
One dark night, at the end of that time, Coacoochee took the rope, which they had secreted under the bed, and climbing up as before to the embrasure, made it fast that his friend aught follow, passing enough of it through the opening to extend to the ditch below.
Putting his head through first, the sharp stones taking the skin off his breast and back, he was obliged to go down head-foremost until his feet were through, each moment fearing that the rope would break. Two men passed near him after he reached the ground, but owing to the darkness did not see him. His companion found great difficulty in getting through the hole, but finally came tumbling the whole distance into the ditch. As he was lamed by the fall, Coacoochee took him upon his shoulder, and after carrying him some distance, caught a mule, upon which he mounted him. They then started for the St. John's River, making good their escape. Exasperated at the treatment he had received, the chief used all his influence against submission, and put a stop to the movements of Arpeika and others, who were on the way to the American camp.
The next important military event of the war was the severe battle of the Okechobee. The troops—about one thousand in number—were led by Colonel Zachary Taylor, against about four hundred Indians under Alligator, Arpeika, Halleck-Tustenuggee, and Coacoochee. The latter were protected by a dense hommock, with a miry saw-grass pond in front. Through these obstacles the troops charged the enemy with great gallantry, and after a hard-fought battle routed them, but at a heavy cost. One hundred and thirty-nine were killed or wounded, among whom were many valuable officers. The loss of the Indians was slight.
In this fight Arpeika fled at the first fire, when Halleck-Tustenuggee rallied those who were inclined to follow his example. The prophet Otolke-Thlocko was engaged in preparing his medicines, and singing and dancing to inspire the combatants. The trees were notched, behind which the most expert marksmen were posted, and in which they rested their rifles, and thus obtained a steady aim.
Coacoochee says the Indians stood firm until the soldiers rushed upon them, whooping and yelling, when they retreated in small parties. He, together with Alligator, finding the troops pursuing them so closely as to prevent their loading, and that large numbers had retired, thought it prudent to do the same, and they scattered in small bodies throughout the country.
Jesup was succeeded in the command by Taylor, who, after two years of harassing service, was relieved by Colonel Armistead. This officer was in turn relieved by Colonel William J. Worth, making the eighth commander sent out to close the war. General Jesup is entitled to great credit for his energy and perseverance. Within a year and a half two thousand four hundred Indians and negroes, seven hundred of whom were warriors, had surrendered or been killed, and most of their villages and stock had been destroyed or captured. But the end of this troublesome war seemed as distant as ever.
Before tendering his resignation, General Jesup recommended to the War Department the assignment of the southern part of Florida to the Indians, instead of removing them to the West. His salutary advice was not heeded, and five years more of harassing and destructive warfare ensued. During General Taylor's term of service, blood-hounds were imported for the purpose of hunting down the Indians. These savage brutes—more humane than their masters—refused to follow an Indian's trail, so that this proved a useless barbarity.
The Everglades, situated in the southern part of Florida, constituted the principal stronghold of the Indians. They were expanses of shoal water, varying in depth from one to five feet, dotted with innumerable low and flat islands, generally covered with trees and shrubs. Much of this area is covered with almost impenetrable saw-grass as high as a man's head, but the little channels in every direction are free from it. Colonel Harney, with one hundred men in canoes, penetrated this region in December, 1840, killed Chai-ki-ka, a Spanish Indian chief, and executed six of his followers on the spot.
Okechobee was the last general fight in which the Indians were engaged. Thenceforth their policy was to avoid a battle, but, moving rapidly by night, to seize every opportunity to wreak their vengeance on the unarmed inhabitants of the country. Murders were committed by them within a few miles of Tallahassee and St. Augustine. This state of things continued with brief intervals until the spring of 1841, when General Worth took command. No officer ever entered upon a more unpromising field in which to acquire distinction. All the best officers of the army, many of them experienced in Indian warfare, had signally failed to conquer the Indians, who were effectually concealed in the Everglades and swamps, where their families and crops were secure, and whence they could sally forth upon long expeditions for murder and rapine.
At this time the Indians were enjoying the cool shades of their dense hommocks, luxuriating in an abundant supply of green corn, melons, pumpkins, pease, beans, sweet-potatoes, and other vegetables. They were too cautious to subject themselves to a hot sun or to the liability of pursuit. Desirous of remaining undisturbed, they molested no one, postponing their hostile excursions until after harvest.
Fully comprehending the task before him, the new commander, instead of going into summer quarters as was, usual at this period of the year, at once organized his force in the most effective manner, and prepared for a continuous campaign, irrespective of the season, establishing his head-quarters at Fort King. Simultaneous movements against the Indians took place during the months of June and July in every district, breaking up their camps and destroying their crops and stores. Every swamp and hommock between the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts was visited, and the band of Halleck-Tustenuggee routed out of the Wahoo Swamp. The detachments continued scouting the country for twenty-five days. Six hundred men were engaged, about twenty-five per cent of whom were sent to the hospitals. The mercury averaged 86°.
An officer describes one of these scouting parties of thirty or forty men as "resembling banditti rather than a body of regular troops. Its commander, without shoes or stockings, his pantaloons sustained by a belt, in which were thrust a brace of pistols, without vest or coat, his cap with a leathern flap behind to divert the rain from coursing down his back, in this costume led his detachment through bog and water day after day, dependent for food upon the contents of his haversack strapped to his back. The pride and satisfaction of the soldier in doing his duty could alone sustain him through this arduous and health-destroying service."
Coacoochee was again a prisoner, and Worth resolved to make use of him to induce his followers to submit. An interview took place at Tampa, on board the transport in which the chief was confined. The impressiveness of the scene was enhanced by the fine martial figure of the general—he was six feet high and finely proportioned—and by the presence of his brilliant staff in full uniform. Coacoochee received them with a dignity and calmness in marked contrast with his usual hold and dashing demeanor. Taking the young chief, who was heavily ironed, by the hand, the general said:
"Coacoochee, I take you by the hand as a warrior, a brave man. You have fought long, and with a true and strong heart, for your country. You are a great warrior; the Indians look upon you as a leader. This war has lasted five years, it must now end. . . . You are the man to do it. I wish you to state how many days it will require to effect an interview with the Indians in the woods. You can select three or five of these men to carry your talk. Name the time, it shall be granted; but I tell you, as I wish your relatives and friends told, that unless they fulfil your demands, yourself and these warriors now seated before us shall be hung to the yards of this vessel when the sun sets on the day appointed, with the irons on your hands and feet. I tell you this that we may well understand each other; I do not wish to frighten you—you are too brave a man for that—but I say what I mean, and I will do it. This war must end, and you must end it."
After a brief silence, the chief, with repressed feeling and in a subdued voice, replied:
"I was once a boy. I hunted in these woods. I saw the white man, and was told he was my enemy. I could not shoot him as I would a wolf or bear, yet like these he came upon me. Horses, cattle, and fields he took from me. He said he was my friend; he abused our women and children, and told us to go from the land; still he gave his hand in friendship. We took it; while taking it he had a snake in the other, his tongue was forked, he lied and stung us. I asked but for a small piece of these lands—enough to plant and live upon, far South—a spot where I could place the ashes of my kindred—a spot only sufficient upon which I could lay my wife and child. This was not granted me. I was put in prison; I escaped. I have been taken again; I feel the irons in my heart.
"I have listened to your talk. You and your officers have taken us by the hand in friendship. The heart of the poor Indian thanks you. We know but little, we have no books which tell all things, but we have the Great Spirit., moon, and stars. These told me last night you would be our friend. I give you my word—the word of Coacoochee. It is true I have fought like a man, so have my warriors, but the whites are too strong for us. I wish now to have my band around me and go to Arkansas.
"You say 'I must end the war!' Look at these irons! Can I go to my warriors? Coacoochee chained! No, do not ask me to see them. I never wish to tread upon my land unless I am free. If I can go to them unchained they will follow me in, but I fear they will not obey me when I talk to them in irons. They will say my heart is weak, I am afraid. Could I go free they will surrender and emigrate."
General Worth, in reply, told him that he could not go, and the chief selected five of his companions to bear his message.
"Take these sticks," said he. "Here are thirty-nine—one for each day; 'this, much larger than the rest, with blood upon it, is the fortieth. When the others are thrown away, and this only remains, say to my people that with the setting sun Coacoochee hangs like a dog, with none but white men to hear his last words. Collie, then; come by the stars, as I have led you to battle; come, for the voice of Coacoochee speaks to you."
The chosen messengers were relieved of their irons and departed, and by the last of the month all had come in—one hundred and eighty-nine, men, women, and children. General Worth had succeeded in this plan by working upon the weak point of Coacoochee—his vanity. He was vain, bold, and cunning, but was by no means the great warrior he supposed himself. Worth made still further use of him, employing his services in bringing in other bands, succeeding better by negotiation than by hostile pursuit.
In November and December a combined land and naval expedition was made through the Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp, the Indian stronghold, where Arpeika and the Prophet held supreme command. The troops marched through swamps deep in mud and water, their boats penetrated every creek and landed upon every island. The country in every direction was explored, but not an Indian was seen. Their huts were burned, their fields devastated, and they fled in every direction.
It was a peculiar service upon which these various corps were employed. There was to be seen, at the same time, in the Everglades, the dragoon in water from three to four feet deep, the sailor and marine wading in the mud in the midst of cypress stumps, and the soldiers, infantry and artillery, alternately on the land, in the water, and in boats.
Comforts and conveniences were wholly absent, even subsistence was reduced to the lowest point. Night after night officers and men were compelled to sleep in their canoes, others in damp bogs, and in the morning to cook their breakfasts over a fire built on a pile of sand in the prow of their boat, or kindled around a cypress stump. Officers carried their own provision and packs upon their backs. Before the expedition was ended, many of the men were compelled to resort to the cabbage-tree for subsistence.
An officer who took part in this expedition, at the close of his journal says: "Thus ended the Big Cypress campaign like all others; drove the Indians out, broke them up, taught them we could go where they could; men and officers worn down; two months in water, packs on our backs; hard times; trust they are soon to end. The only reward we ask is the ending of the Florida War."
Worth's sagacity enabled him to see that fighting these Indians under every disadvantage was not the best way, nor the only way to effect their removal. He therefore used every means in his power to influence them by conciliatory "talks," sent to them by leading chiefs who were prisoners or who had voluntarily surrendered. This course was effectual. He declared to a brother officer "that there was more true patriotism, sense, and decency in ridding our country of this incubus in a quiet way, than in cutting down a solitary Indian who may have been guilty of the crime of defending his own country in his own way." While not inferior to Jackson as a soldier, Worth was far superior to him in comprehension and statesmanship. Of him it can be truly said, "He deserved well of his country."
Finding that no hiding-place was secure, and that with a vigilant and energetic commander like Worth to deal with they had no further hope, parties of the Indians sued for peace, came in, and were from time to time forwarded to Arkansas.
Early in 1842 General Worth made a final effort to capture Halleck-Tustenuggee and his band. This cunning and vindictive chief had hitherto baffled every detachment sent after him. By birth a Micasaukie, and at this time about thirty-five years of age, this savage, apart from his intense love of country, seems not to have possessed a single redeeming trait. Adroit in his movements, bold and intrepid in action, he had made the pioneer as well as the army feel that he was no ordinary foe. He was six feet two inches in height, with a slight, sinewy frame, well formed, and erect. He was at length brought to bay and surrounded in the Pilaklikaha Swamp, and the last considerable action of the war was here fought.
At daybreak the column was in motion. The negro interpreters, among whom the tall figure of Gopher John was conspicuous, and the friendly Indians quietly rode in advance of the troops. They reloaded their rifles, carefully examined their priming, and gazed intently around, inspecting every twig and blade of grass and soft spot in the soil to discover traces of a footstep. From time to time they dismounted to run over the high grass, in the hope of finding a track to guide them to the camp of the enemy.
"An Indian has just passed here," said the old chief Holartoochee, much excited.
"How do you know?" was the eager inquiry.
"This blade of grass," he replied, holding it up, "was trod upon this morning. You see it is crushed. The sun nor the light of day has not shone upon it; had either, it would have wilted. You see it is green, but crushed. Here are more; there is the print of a foot!"
The column halted, when tracks were found at a considerable distance from each other.
"He is running," said the chief, "to make known the approach of the troops."
This footprint was followed three miles, when the hommock in which it was thought the enemy had made a stand was seen in the distance. A trail led to it direct, through mud and water from one to three feet deep. The hommock in full view, surrounded by laud and water, looked like a mass of dark green foliage almost impenetrable.
The troops, in extended order, charged the hommock with great gallantry and received the fire of the Indians, who, with shrill whoops and yell after yell, discharged their rifles rapidly. For a while they stood firmly, relying upon a partial breastwork of fallen timber and the thick undergrowth; but the troops steadily advancing, they broke into small parties and escaped. The band was soon after captured by Colonel Garland, while attending a feast to which that officer had invited them, and the chief was subsequently secured by General Worth.
This was one of the most important steps yet taken towards bringing the war to a close. The surrender of Tiger-tail, Octiarche, and Tustenuggee, with their bands, had removed nearly all the Indians from the central and northern parts of East Florida, when the capture of Pascoffer, with his entire band, on the Ocklockonnee, by Colonel Hitchcock, entirely relieved middle and western Florida.
No Indians now remained in the territory except those under Arpeika, an aged sub-chief, and O-lac-to-ni-co (Billy Bowlegs), who were within the limits assigned them south of Pease Creek, and the credit of finally closing the Florida War was fairly earned by the gallant Worth. In a little more than a year, and with a great saving of life and treasure, he had solved a problem which had baffled the ablest of his predecessors.
The war which had lasted seven years closed by official proclamation August 14, 1842. It had cost the United States upward of forty million dollars and an unknown number of lives. Of the regular troops, one thousand four hundred and sixty-six, of whom the very large number of two hundred and fifteen were officers, had died during the contest. A monument has been erected in their memory at St. Francis's barracks, St. Augustine. As a compensation for this terrible expenditure of life and property, over five hundred persons of color had been reduced from freedom to bondage, and Florida was no longer an asylum for fugitive slaves.
A small number of Indians yet remain in the southerly portion of the State, supporting themselves by hunting and fishing. Those who emigrated form one of the Five Civilized Tribes in the Indian Territory, and are in a prosperous and progressive condition.
Note. —The History of Florida, by Fairbanks, and Sprague's History of the Florida War, are the best sources of information relative to the subject of this chapter.