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Collier County and the Seminole Wars Part 8 The Third Seminole War

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The 3rd Seminole War

The Third Seminole War from 1855 to 1858 happened mostly in Collier County, and a lot of it right in this area. It started when a group of Army surveyors came into the area southwest of the Caloosahatchee River, what was agreed at the termination of the previous war as the boarder of the Seminole Reservation. The Seminoles viewed surveyors as an attempt to invade their land and force removal. Usually when surveyors show up, it represents the land being divided and given away to settlers. The Seminoles were well aware of the land fraud that happened to their cousins, the Creek Indians in Georgia and Alabama. The soldiers came upon Billy Bowlegs' village, and the folklore is that they destroyed his fine garden. It is unknown if that incident really happened or not, but what was certain was that the Seminole retaliated the next morning, wounding Lt. George Hartsuff and killing and wounding several other soldiers. This took place probably south of what is today Immokolee. Hartsuff was active in the Civil War and at the battle of Antietam, but eventually died in 1870 from wounds received from this battle.

This launched several expeditions into Big Cypress that found only deserted villages and tracks that lead to dead ends. Forts were established around Collier County to supply these expeditions. About 1940, David Graham Copeland mapped out Collier County and located where many of these places were. You can see his work on the wall of this room. (In the Rose Auditorium at the Marco Island Historical Museum.)

Almost 1500 federal and state troops spent the next two years in a failed attempt to round up what was estimated to be only 100 Seminole warriors and their families in south Florida.

The harsh conditions of running a military campaign in the Big Cypress and Everglades were well known from the experience 15 years earlier during the 2nd Seminole War. Capt. John Casey wrote several "suggestions" for conducting a campaign. One was that a gopher tortoise would provide enough meat for a man for 3 days. Water might be obtained from digging in the ground or drinking from air plants. And, "even a roasted snake is as good as an eel."

Reading the old adjutant reports can be a little confusing. What we call the Turner River today was the Fakahatchee River back then. (And it was explored by Capt. Turner--more of him later.) What we call the Fakahatchee River and East River was called the Wekiwa River. And what we call the Chatam River today was called Thlathlo-Apopka, which translates to Fisheating Creek; not to be confused with another creek of the same name that runs into Lake Okeechobee.
For two years the Army and Florida troops conducted unsuccessful scouts and expeditions in Big Cypress and around the coast. There were many attempts at trying to locate Seminole families and gardens in this area. Logistics always proved problematic for any campaign. The reports of the scouts are filled with accounts of either harsh conditions, elusive Seminoles, with the result of exhausted men and supplies.

On 29 March 1856, several soldiers with a boat company went up the Turner River from Chokoloskee to obtain water. They are fired upon by Seminoles, who kill two soldiers and wound another.

A report from an expedition from the Caloosahatchee reported that on 7 April 1856, that a command of 108 soldiers were attacked by 80-100 Indians. 300 shots exchanged. One soldier is killed and 6 wounded. Indians fell back into the cypress and disappeared. Soldiers encamped on the battleground for the night on account of the wounded.

Reports from expeditons in Big Cypress in April 1856. Major Arnold reports constantly scouting in Big Cypress. “No Indians seen--four of their hogs discovered and killed. Weather warm. Flies and mosquitoes troublesome!” And also, “two express riders were fired on by Indians. Their horses became frightened, ran off with them and saved their lives.”

In January and February 1857, several scouts are conducted from Camp Malco on Marco Island. (Marco is called Malco on the reports back then.) The area between Marco Island to Chokoloskee is explored with an attempt to enter Big Cypress from that direction. No Indians are found and the terrain is too difficult in the interior to continue a campaign from that direction.
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