The Seminole Indians of 1877
Edited by Spessard Stone from the article by Chas. B. Pendleton originally printed in the Savannah Morning News of November 30, 1877.
Used with permission of Spessard Stone
Ogden, Manatee County, Fla., November 16, 1877.
Editor, Morning News:
Several Indians coming into our town a few days since, I was particularly attracted by them, more so since one claimed relationship to the renowned but mistreated chieftain Osceola.(1)
The associations this incident recalled set me thinking of many bloody deeds enacted during the Indian warfare of the Florida peninsula.
The frontiersmen dwell on these scenes, and delight to picture to the inquiring one many daring escapades and wonderful exploits of the peninsula wars. Many of them, no doubt are founded on facts, but the major portions are fancy sketches.
It was not long since that one victim of their cruelty died, a Mrs. Mathis, who was scalped and left for dead. At the same time her husband was shot and killed, his own house serving as his funeral pyre. Her escape was truly miraculous. When the Indians first came up, they saw and shot her husband, only wounding him. He ran into the house and closed the door, and, in attempting to take his gun down, weakened by loss of blood, he fell and broke the hammer. The Indians coming up, he told them to take all. They laughed at him and shot his brains out.
They told his distracted wife to leave. She started off, and as she went, they shot her. She fell on her face and remained in that position until they scalped her, set fire to the house and left.
Some one heard the firing of the guns and came to the house. It was nearly burnt when they arrived. Few people would suppose this happened where the station house at Baldwin now stands, but such is the case.(2)
Numbers are here who lost relatives in those dark days. Time, it is true, has dimmed the sorrow, but the sight of the red man causes wounds to bleed afresh.
I stated in the commencement that a party of Seminoles were in here a few days since.
More are here today: six warriors and three boys. Four of the men are very old, and told me they had fought under Osceola and Billy Bowlegs.(3)
One was Tuskenuggee, old chief of the Tallahassee tribe, and another Old Tiger, formerly a chief among the Seminoles. They were very familiar and talkative.(4)
I asked them questions bearing on the geography of the country. I desired to know the Indian names of Pease creek and Charlotte Harbor, which were Tchelarsupcho Hatchee and Weva-Ochampa.
I think it almost sacrilege to anglicise such names, for instance, Pease creek, a stream 400 miles long, and having on its banks some of the finest lands of the State to be robbed of its original name of Tchelarsupcho Hatchee and made to bear the insignificant title of Pease creek.(5)
An old warrior, Micko(6), met here the man who wounded him in the battle of Pease creek, when Oxian(7) was killed. Lieut. Boggess was the person, the leader of the whites in that engagement.
They had quite a talk over the old days, and pledged each other, rather too many times, I fear, for mutual advantage, in fire water. "Enemies we were then, but friends now," was about all I could hear from them, when I sought quieter quarters.
I happened to be showing a picture of some patent medicine advertisement, with a ship's likeness upon it, to one they called Doctor Billy, and the thought struck me to tell them it was Billy Bowlegs.
He examined it more closely and told me no; and then said Bowlegs was his uncle, a fact he became very fond of telling after I made inquiries of his family.
Though the majority of these Indians under this chief were removed to the Indian Territory, still a larger number was left in the fatness(?) of the Everglades, probably more than was first supposed. These Indians, unlike their brothers of the far West, have increased in population, and I have no doubt that today they will number three hundred warriors, quite a dangerous number, one might say, considering their close proximity to the scattering settlements and the isolated character of them.
There has been no material progress among them; all still retain most of their original characteristics. It is true that some have advanced a little, and there are two or three families that vie with the cracker specimen bordering the far off settlements.
The young chief Tiger Tail has learned by some means to read and write the English language, of which accomplishment he seems justly proud. Some of them speak our tongue if they are a little acquainted with you, if not they are morose and sullen until they get a drink ahead.
The old chief, now in his ninetieth year has turned the reigns of government over to his son. The name of Tiger, common to both, is with the old man very applicable and deserved, since no Indian had more of that savage nature in him in his younger days than this same decrepit old chieftain.
Many of the most damning cruelties and well concocted ambuscades were the offspring of his fertile brain.(8)
He still urges war, and if it not was for the check the younger chief holds over him the tribe would once more strike the whites. He knows his race is run, and sees that on the dim, unwritten page of the future, his destiny is death, and, though he is safe from the encroachment of the tireless and every pushing white man in the dim, mysterious regions bordering the Everglades and the thousand inlets(?), his race must(?) eventually be lost.
Though I think a remnant will still be here when the westward march of civilization has filled every nook and corner of the prairie wild, and his shout of defiance can no longer be heard in the gloomy canyons and the silent valleys of the Rocky Mountains.
The Indians are still doing well, have plenty of horses, cattle and hogs, raise corn, potatoes, pumpkins, etc. They generally have their houses on the islands in the Everglades, safe from the eyes of the white man.
Occasionally the cow hunters, falling short of rations, are forced to apply to them. In every instance the Indians supply them when it is possible to do. so. Capt. Hendry one time purchased a good supply of corn from the medicine man.(9)
The cow hunters and the Indians are always on the best of terms, though the former sometimes have good reasons to believe that they eat fat beeves when they want them.
In religion they follow the custom of their fathers. By the way, there is an inconsistency in the churches that I will mention in regard foreign missions.
Our country is rapidly settling, and numerous churches have followed in the wake of the immigrant. Each of these take up a regular collection for missions in Africa and other heathen countries, and forget the Indians sometimes within a mile of their homes. Would it not be well for them to look at home?
These Indians still retain their negroes and treat them, i in some instances, cruelly. Mrs. Stowe (10) is in Florida. Let her come further south, and use her facile pen once more. Shade of Horace Greeley, will this never end? Where is Wendell Phillips(11)? Is his voice no longer heard?
I will stop for the present, but as I think of visiting the Ocheeechobee this winter, I will write you more of this remnant tribe."