A flyer for Alligator Fest came to my emailbox. I am sure it is a great festival, but it is too far for me to drive to participate. The festival is also the 150th anniversary of the founding of Lake City. Lake City was originally the town of Alligator, which was formerly the site of the village of Chief Alligator, who moved away in the 1820s or 30s, either by the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, or problems with his new neighbors.
But the flyer identifies Chief Alligator as a “Muskogee Creek Chief,” who “teamed up with the Seminoles.”
This just didn’t seem right to me. So I decided to research who exactly was Halpatter-Tustenuggee, or Chief Alligator. I’ve come to the conclusion that there was more than one Halpatter-Tustenuggee!
We don’t have much on Chief Alligator, or Halpatter-Tuskenuggee. We don’t even have a picture or image of him. He was a major chief in both Florida and out west in Indian Territory, so not having a portrait is unusual. But what we do know from historic sources, tells us all we need to know to determine Alligator’s background and tribal affiliation.
Charles Coe in his book “Red Patriots, the Story of the Seminoles” (1898) has the following image of several Seminole leaders. He identifies #5 as Alligator, painted by George Catlin. There is just one problem. Catlin identifies his painting as “Co-ee-he-jo,” also known as Coa-Hadjo. Sorry Mr. Coe, but that is not Alligator.
The late J. Leitch Wright, Jr. wrote “Creeks and Seminoles.” Wright is a good source and very thorough. He identifies Alligator as migrating to Florida when a child, and that he was Eufaula Creek. But Wright is also the only source I could find that identifies Alligator as Eufaula.
Swanton identifies the Eufaula as a distinct tribal town among the Creeks. And Swanton is not too clear if they spoke Hitchiti or Muskogee. Maybe they had their own dialect. There are upper and lower Eufaulas, and they remained separate from the Muskogee Creeks for a long time out in Oklahoma, much like the Hitchiti did.
Dr. Mahon identifies Alligator as about 40 years old when the war starts. That would put his birth around 1795. But to be a prominent chief by the 1830s, I would think that he would be older. Was Alligator Town; Halpatter Talofa, named after him, or was he named after Alligator town? I think the latter.
The famous Halpatter-Tustenuggee that we all know about; Chief Alligator, is always identified as Seminole. He is never called anything else during his lifetime and by the contemporaries who wrote about him. He was involved with the Treaty of Paynes Landing in 1832, and went west with the Seminole delegation that resulted in the Treaty of Fort Gibson. But by looking at Sprague, we don’t see his mark on any of the treaties. I think he may have been subordinate to John Hicks or Sam Jones (Abiaka.)
With the delegation that Alligator was with to review the western territory in Oklahoma, Sprague said of them:
“These men, before starting, expressed their aversion to leaving Florida, under any circumstances, and their deep and lasting dislike to the Creeks, with whom, for years past, they had been in open hostility.”
The western trip was a travesty that was fraught with hardship and governmental corruption.
Alligator was one of the five major Seminole chiefs whom Indian Agent Wiley Thompson tried to have removed as a chief of their people when they refused to agree to removal in April 1835. Among the others who opposed removal were Micanopy, Jumper, Abiaka (Sam Jones), and Black Dirt.
Alligator was participant in some of the most famous battles in the 2nd Seminole War. He had a major part in Dade’s battle, the battle of Withlacoochee on December 31st, 1835, and again at the Camp Izard siege two months later. He was one of the main leaders at the battle of Okeechobee on December 25, 1837, along with Coacoochee, Abiaka (Sam Jones), Halleck-Tustenuggee, and the Prophet.
At Okeechobee, Alligator was the main warrior leading Sam Jones’ band after Abiaka fired the opening shot. I think this gives a big clue towards Alligator’s tribal affiliation. Abiaka was Mikasuki/Hitchiti speaker, and still revered by both the modern Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes here in Florida.
Sprague said, “Alligator had been the most daring and resolute chief in instigating the first blows struck at the whites, at the commencement of the contest. He led the attack, and fired the first rifle after Micanopy, upon the command of Major Dade. At Okeechobee he was the most prominent chief, and the cause of the Indians making a stand to meet the troops.”
Apparently the war had taken its toll, and Alligator was tired of all the killing. Soon after Okeechobee he surrendered and went to Indian Territory. He would be there for a couple years, until he was brought back to Florida in late 1841 to help negotiate a surrender of the Seminoles still in Florida. At this he was very persuasive and successful, but not for his brother Waxey-Hadjo down in Big Cypress, who was killed.
Late in the war Sprague mentions depredations committed by a “war party of Creeks under Halpatter Tustenuggee” in 1842. Two Creeks from Oklahoma who were negotiating surrender with Creeks near the Suwannee were shot and killed near Fort Fanning by Halpatter-Tustenuggee, a Creek, and Cotzar-fixico-chopco, a “Mickasukie.” This is obviously a different Halpatter-Tustenuggee than the one who had arrived from the west to negotiate for his brethren to join him in Oklahoma. This second Halpatter-Tustenuggee is called both alternately a Creek and Mickasukie.
Life in Indian Territory was very difficult for the Seminoles. The Creeks had occupied the land that was set aside for the Seminoles, so the later arriving Seminoles were accepted on Cherokee land by Chief John Ross, who became a strong advocate for the Seminoles. In 1844, Coacoochee and Alligator went to Washington to try and receive title to the Cherokee land that they were occupying. The Seminoles refused to be identified as Creek and to submit to Creek law and authority. They insisted on being identified separate, as Seminole. Unfortunately it would be another 12 years before they were recognized as such.
The last we hear of Alligator was in January 1857, when he was in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and at a very advanced age. He was sending his children to the mission school and learning the alphabet. I would guess that he didn’t live much longer after that, because I can find no further mention of him.
But another source I found has a statement that Halpatter-Tustenuggee fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. I view this as unlikely, because Alligator would have been in his 70s by that time. Since the Creeks were more allied with the Confederacy, could this have been Halpatter-Tustenuggee II that was in Florida in 1842 when he killed the Creeks negotiating removal?