I need to write this before I totally miss it. I have a project to work on that will keep me busy the next week, so if I don't do this now, I won't do it at all.
On August 7th, 1840, Spanish Indians attacked Indian Key. I have mentioned it before here on this blog. They pretty much destroyed the town that used to be the county seat.
The attack was led by Chekika. But who were the Spanish Indians? A lot of people have speculated that they were remnant Calusa, but it doesn't seem like it was.
Dr. John Worth formerly of the Randell Research Center on Pine Island actually went to Cuba and found where they settled near Havana, after they left with the Spanish in 1763. He found records of where they were baptized and took Catholic names. He also found records of their names, and they were Muskogee names. He says that they were originally Muskogees from Coweta town.
Dr. Joe Knetsch wrote the book that I reviewed a couple months ago, "Fear and Anxiety on the Florida Frontier." He does a good job of explaining who the Spanish Indians and what the fishing rancheros were.
The United States blamed the rancheros for supporting hostile Indians and supplying them with arms and powder. From what the Army records say, it seems like they were the worst den of pirates you could imagine. But there is almost no evidence that this was true. Maybe this was the excuse given to shut them down.
The Spanish fishing rancheros in southern Florida were a huge industry, sending a lot of fish and fish products to market at Havana. And the workers there were also of multi-ethnic backgrounds. You had Spaniards, blacks and Indians all working and living together, earning a wage, and even making babies with each other. When the United States gained Florida, this was just going against the flow of what should be a slave territory and future slave state. For the United States in the south at that time, you couldn't mix races. You also had what was probably the biggest industry in the state, all going to Cuba.
So the United States broke up the industry. It forced the rancheros to close down. And it sure looks like it was for economic reasons. It was something the U.S. couldn't control, so it was not to be around.
What about the people who worked there? They were expert fisherman and boat captains. They were even hired by the Army to be boat captains and guides, but they lived on the coast for so long, that they did not know the interior of the state. They were a maritime people. They were really peaceful and assimilated to the Spanish society, so you would think they would have no problem adapting to the new American society, like St. Augustine.
Not only that, but they didn't get along with the Seminoles that well in the beginning. The Seminoles even burned one of their villages on Pine Island in 1836, during the war. Maybe because they were from Coweta town, the town of William MacIntosh who sided with Andrew Jackson and sold out his own people. Or maybe the Seminoles burned the village because the Spanish Indians acted as guides for the Army.
But some didn't. Chekika and this band of Spanish Indians started raiding the Americans. And they were responsible for some of the most brutal raids during the war. The burning of the Cape Florida lighthouse, the destruction of the trading post and killing of many of Harney's dragoon soldiers there, and the destruction of Indian Key town.
Why did the go on such a rampage? We will probably never know for sure. They obviously felt strongly about it to conduct such brutal raids. Maybe they felt betrayed by the Americans who broke up the fishing rancheros and their jobs and income. Maybe there was some grievous wrong committed against Chekika and his people. They were certainly effective in what they did, and it took an equally effective and brutal officer like William Harney to stop them.
This was one of the worst parts of the war, and the bloodiest.