One of the prominent figures in the story of the Spanish fishing ranchos was William Bunce. He had a checkered past but with many Florida political connections. From Key West, he moved up to the Manatee River and became friends with Hillsborough County Judge Augustus Steele. Bunce was appointed Justice of the Peace by Governor Duval in 1834.
Bunce operated a fishing rancho from the Manatee, and employed ten Spaniards and twenty Indians of Seminole descent. The Spaniards were married to Seminole wives. The Indians considered themselves Spanish, were baptized in Cuba and spoke Spanish. They did not consider themselves part of the Seminole Tribe in Florida.
Before Major Dade started on his last trip up the Fort King road, he hired the services of Louis Pacheco from Bunce’s rancho.
In April 1836 the 2nd Seminole War reached the fishing ranchos in Charlotte Harbor. The inhabitants fled, and the customs agent was killed along with an Indian guide and Spaniard while out hunting. Probably about the same time, one of the ranchos on Pine Island at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee was burned by the Seminoles. There is some speculation if the Seminoles were trying to pressure the Spanish Indians to join in the fight against the United States, but that would not come for another three years.
The inhabitants from the ranchos around Charlotte Harbor fled to Bunce’s rancho on Mullet Key at the opening of Tampa Bay. Both Governor Call and General Jesup mistrusted Bunce, and suspected that he was aiding the enemy by providing Spanish arms and ammunition to the Seminoles. (Yet a previous governor had appointed Bunce Justice of the Peace.) A captured Indian confirmed suspected arms dealings, and that was all Jesup needed to shut down Bunce’s operation. The Spanish Indians were rounded up for deportation in 1837 and shipped out to New Orleans in 1838, under protest of the local people who had hired their workers from the ranchos. But Jesup supposedly had proof that they were aiding the Seminoles, and Micanopy and other Seminoles said that they refused to remove unless the Spanish Indians were shipped out as well.
When the Indians arrived in New Orleans, the Spanish Indians protested and said they were Spaniards, and would go no further. They were allowed to remain in New Orleans, but were told not to return to Florida until after the war was over.
The only Spanish Indian who we know by name is Chakaika, who I will tell more about next time. He became involved in the war around 1839 when he burned Harney’s trading post on the Caloosahatchee River. After Chekika was killed in 1840, we hear about a remnant of the Spanish Indians who attended the Green Corn Dance in 1841 when Sam Jones (Abiaka) developed tribal stradegy for the rest of the war. It is said that these Spanish Indians sought refuge among, and were accepted by the Miccosukee Tribe.
Thus the fishing ranchos were no more. In the late 1800s, the fishing communities were revived in Charlotte Harbor by a Spaniard who moved to Boca Grande. But by this time the Spanish Indians had disappeared from history.
Who Were the Spanish Indians? Part VI: Chakaika and the Spanish Indian Join the Fight