“The War in Florida” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, February 1842; pp. 56 and 58)
At the southeastern extremity of the United States, is a long Peninsula called Florida. This name was given to it by the Spaniards, because it seemed to them a land of flowers. It continued to belong to Spain till about twenty years ago, when it was ceded to the United States.
Florida was occupied by several tribes of Indians, when first discovered. Among them were the Seminoles, a branch of the Creek nation, who dwelt in the northern part of the territory. When the country was ceded to the United States, they held possession of the vast tract which stretches from the Atlantic ocean to the river Apalachicola, save only a space around the town of St. Augustine. It was a fair land, watered with many rivers, inhabited by millions of brilliant birds, and the dwelling-place of vast herds of deer; it was a land of almost perpetual summer, where the orange and the lemon, and the vine, flourished in the open air.
Notwithstanding the beauty of their country, the Seminoles consented to part with the best portion of it. They made an agreement with the white people, to give up all their vast territory, save only the central portion, consisting of pine barrens and deep swamps, covered with a wild vegetation, and the dwelling-place of alligators, serpents, lizards, tortoises, gallanippers, and a variety of similar inhabitants.
When the time came to carry this bargain into effect, Neha Matla, a chief of the tribe, told the Indians that they had been cheated, overreached and deceived by the cunning whites; and he therefore urged them to resist the treaty. But while the Indians were holding their war-council, to deliberate upon the matter, the armed soldiers broke in upon
them, deposed the war leaders, and compelled the poor Seminoles to retire from their land of fruits and flowers, to the pine barrens and the swamps. They did this, but they carried the memory of their wrongs written deep in their bosoms.
Not long after they had taken possession of their new territory, the Seminoles made another bargain, by which they engaged to retire from Florida, give up their lands there, and remove to another territory, upon the upper waters of the Arkansas, far to the west. When the time for removal came, the poor Indians still felt reluctant to leave the land of their fathers, and go away to unknown and distant regions! In order to compel them to remove, an officer of the United States called upon them to deliver up their horses and cattle, as they had promised to do, and go to their new home. Upon this, they prepared for resistance. They retired to the deep thickets in the swamps, called hammocks, and taking their wives and children and some of their horses and cattle, set their enemies at defiance.
After a time Osceola, or Powel, as he was sometimes called, was chosen as their chief. He was partly of Indian, and partly of white blood—but a man of great courage, skill and energy. When he became the leader, the war assumed a serious aspect.
I cannot now tell the whole story of the struggle that has been maintained by the Seminoles for nearly seven years. They have displayed a degree of courage, patience, perseverance, and patriotism, scarcely equalled in the annals of history—considering the smallness of their number, and the mighty force that has been brought against them.
Osceola was a vagabond child among the Indians, but he became their chief, and maintained the war with vigor for some time. At last he was taken, and being removed to a fort on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, S. C., he died in 1838.
The war has been continued since his death, and both the Indians and the American troops sent against them, have performed wondrous feats of valor. It is supposed that the Indians are now nearly destroyed or worn out, and that the few who remain must soon surrender to their more powerful enemies.
Such is the sad story of the Seminoles. They are savages, but they have shown many traits of character worthy of our respect. We shall soon possess their lands, but they have cost our country many millions of dollars, and far more than they are worth. This piece of history tells us that even an Indian tribe, small though it be, if it bears hatred in its bosom, founded upon acts of oppression, may become the instrument by which that oppression is punished.