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Collier County and the Seminole Wars Part 7 Belknap Expedition

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Belknap's Expedition in Big Cypress/Collier

Several other expeditions of Army soldiers, Marines, and Navy sailors continued to scout out the Everglades, searching for the elusive Seminoles without success. Caxambas and Cape Romano were frequent stopping points when entering and exiting the Everglades, Big Cypress, and the Ten Thousand Islands.

[Below: William Belknap]

In December 1841, an attempt to flush out the Seminoles from their hidden abode in the Big Cypress and the Everglades was attempted by now Commanding General of Forces in Florida, Col. William J. Worth. (Lake Worth, Florida, and Fort Worth, Texas, are named after him.) This was the first large infantry maneuver in southwest Florida, covering much of this area and ending at Marco Island. 11 companies under the command of Maj. William Belknap went up the Caloosahatchee to penetrate the Big Cypress from Fort Keais, which was located where Ava Maria is now. Capt. George McCall tells how they were traveling most days in areas where the water was from three inches to three feet deep, and often finding it difficult to reach a dry place to camp each night.

At first, mules were used to help carry supplies, but it was soon found even that was impossible, and the men carried supplies on their back, as much as 60 cartridge rounds each and two weeks rations.

Trails of the elusive Seminoles were found, but in many cases they would follow dwindling signs to a dead end. The Seminoles were masterful at eluding the soldiers. Several small villages were found empty, along with cultivated fields of corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash.
The Army had recruited Seminoles from out west and returned them to Florida to be used as guides, including war leader Alligator. There were several times where the Seminole guides refused to go any further, because they knew that they would be recognized and targeted as traitors by their former tribesmen.

Capt. McCall said that they were finally closing in upon the Seminoles at “Prophet's town.” One of the soldiers, “the Irishman,” became separated from the main column, got lost and started to panic. He fired his musket so his fellow soldiers could locate him, but alerted the nearby Seminoles of the soldier's approach. The Seminoles evacuated their village and fired at the soldiers to slow them down, killing a sergeant and a private. After the quick skirmish, the other soldiers could only carry the bodies of their comrades a short way, and then buried them in a pond in the middle of a cypress swamp. When they returned to the area later, they found the bodies disinterred and mutilated, but guessed that this was done by alligators which will sometimes feed on carrion.

A musket shot from one panicked soldier had caused the Big Cypress campaign to end in failure with the capture of no Indians. This failed skirmish was near what is now Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, and the worn out soldiers came out to the coastline on the Marco River, and boarded ships that took them back to Tampa Bay.

Reading the various reports of this campaign over two months, are endless descriptions of the soldiers going through nondescript cypress domes, sawgrass prairies, and occasional pine islands. Many villages and cultivated areas were found, but often the only signs of Indians were tracks that led to dead trails.

Major Belknap said, “Though unsuccessful in capturing Indians, I have driven them from one of their scout hiding places to another where they supposed white men could never come, until they have finally fled to the Mangrove Islands.”

End of the 2nd Seminole War

The 2nd Seminole War came to an end with no agreement with the Seminoles. Commander of forces in Florida, Colonel William J. Worth, declared southwest Florida as Seminole territory. South of the Caloosahatchee River and a line from the center of Lake Okeechobee to the south of the peninsula would be reserved for the Seminoles to remain; unless they had a change of heart and decided that that would rather join their fellow tribesmen in Indian territory (Oklahoma.)

The two largest battles of the war had been fought on the fringes of here in southwest Florida. The Battle of Okeechobee on Christmas Day 1837 with 1,200 soldiers and volunteer state militia soldiers under the command of Colonel Zachary Taylor had routed a large Seminole force from a hammock on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee. Although this battle promoted Taylor's career and they called it a victory, the only spoils were an uninhabited hammock and sawgrass that were not good for farming. Taylor's casualties were about 122 total wounded and killed, the highest number of any battle in the war. One month later, a similar questionable result was gained by General Thomas S. Jesup, when he led 1,600 soldiers and volunteers at the Battle of Loxahatchee near Jupiter Inlet, and gained a similar patch of mangrove and palmetto.
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Royal Palm Hammock
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Kate Ryan
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