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Seminole Removal

The Indian Removal Act (1830) provided for the removal of all Native Americans from locations east of the Mississippi River to locations west of the river. The federal policy of removal of Native Americans in Florida was aimed at the Seminole in the aftermath of the Seminole Wars and in response to southern expansion. After the removal process, significant numbers of Seminole remained in Florida even after years of concentrated efforts to move the population to the West.

The Treaty of Moultrie Creek (1823) called for the removal of the Seminole from north to central Florida, from the areas of the Apalachicola and Suwannee rivers south, below Tampa Bay. It also required the return of runaway slaves. In the aftermath of the Moultrie Creek Treaty, the subject of removal to places west of the Mississippi River was broached. The Seminole were immediately suspicious, and some, especially the freed and assimilated blacks, feared enslavement by the Creek upon their own removal. The wedge between the two nations had been driven deeply and was used to best advantage by the federal government. The focus of federal policy shifted from removal southward to removal westward.

Pursuant to the Indian Removal Act, in 1832, Col. James Gadsden began negotiation with the Seminole for removal west, and it was agreed that a party of Seminole would go to the proposed site to inspect the new land. The Seminole were told that they would be required to reaffiliate with the Creek and that annuity payments for them would be made to the Creek to then be distributed to them. An uneasy accord was formalized by the Treaty of Payne's Landing (1832).

The exploratory delegates found the western site suitable, and at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, they signed a document to that effect. The government held that the delegates spoke for the entire Seminole leadership and that their approval satisfied the requirements of the Payne's Landing Treaty (1832), subsequently binding the Seminole to remove. The Seminole in Florida disagreed, denying the delegation authority to act on behalf of the group. This disagreement was a primary cause of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).

January 1, 1836, was set for the Seminole to report to Tampa to be shipped west. A few days prior to the appointed date for compliance, on the same day that 200 troops gathered to force the removal if it was not undertaken voluntarily, the Seminole attacked Fort King, near present-day Dade City. From then until 1842, hostilities continued between those who refused to be removed and government troops in what became known as the Second Seminole War.

Seminole removal, which continued throughout and after the Second Seminole War, differed from all other removals because the Florida Natives, with a few exceptions, made their entire journey from Florida to Indian Territory by water. They traveled by steamboat or schooner, primarily from Tampa Bay. Sailing ships were towed by steamboats from the mouth of the Mississippi to New Orleans, stopping at Jackson Barracks. There, they boarded steamboats and, quite frequently, flatboats or keelboats towed by the side-wheelers up the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers to a landing near Fort Gibson. From there, the trip was overland into the western part of the Creek Nation. At times, low water levels on the Arkansas River forced parties to disembark and travel overland during the remainder of their journey. These were usually the most difficult parts of the journey for both the Seminole and their conductors. The former were not prepared for overland travel, and the conductors at times had difficulty making on-the-spot arrangements.

Seminole removal began in April of 1836, when a party of 407 Seminole under Holata Emathla left Tampa Bay en route west. They traveled by schooner to New Orleans and then up the Mississippi in a steamboat towing a keelboat. Because of low water, they were forced to disembark at McLean's Landing between Dardanelle and Fort Smith, Arkansas, and continue their journey overland. Of the party, 87, including Emathla, died. Because they were the only band that had chosen not to resist removal in the Second Seminole War, they were estranged from the other Seminole and settled among the Creek.

Subsequent removals were a result of the hostilities that continued between those who refused to be moved and government troops. Removal parties were assembled as leaders and their bands were captured or surrendered. The government attempted to keep bands and families together, sometimes delaying embarkation until families could be sorted out.

In 1838, six major parties went west. In May and June, the bands of Miconopy, Emathla (Philip), and Jumper, numbering 878 Seminole and 257 "negro Indians," traveled on one boat. Some 453, including about 150 Spanish Indians, were on board a second. The third carried 674. In addition, 33 "negroes" who belonged to the last group were detained in New Orleans because of a slave claim dating back for several years in Florida. Fifty-four died, including Jumper, who died in New Orleans, and Emathla.

In May 1838, Coe Holata's band also removed, and Talmas Neah's party of 349 removed in June. They finally joined a steamboat load of removing Cherokee but were stopped by low water at Lewisburg. There, the Seminole party hired two wagons and continued overland. In July, a group of 67 led by Hulbutta Tustenuggee (Alligator) removed. The Seminole were grounded again below Fort Coffee and completed their journey overland. Finally, a group of Apalachicola and Dog Island Creek, numbering 250, also ran aground above Little Rock and had to complete their journey overland.

In 1839, as the Florida war activity waned, only two groups went west. In March, 205 members of Coe Hadjo's band removed. Coe Hadjo had been seized with Osceola in one of Gen. Thomas S. Jesup's infamous violations of the flag of truce and was imprisoned at St. Augustine. In late 1838, he had been permitted to take a delegation of Cherokee led by John Ross, who hoped to mediate a peace, to meet with Miconopy and other leaders. Much to the Cherokee's chagrin, they were held as hostages to try to force others to surrender. Hadjo's removal party numbered 204, primarily women and children, but also including 48 slaves and 13 free blacks. Among the blacks were Abraham, Cudjo, and Tony Barnett, who had served as interpreters and scouts for the U.S. Army. The second removal party of 1839 was a group of St. Augustine prisoners, who in November left St. Augustine by schooner for New Orleans, where they boarded a steamboat for the remainder of their journey.

Because the army was having little luck in forcing or persuading more Seminole to remove, in the fall of 1840 the government sent a delegation of Seminole who had removed to Indian Territory back to Florida. Led by Capt. John Page, the delegation of Holatachee, Nocose Yohola, and 12 other Seminole with Toney and Primus, their black interpreters, arrived at Tampa Bay in early November. Page was given authority to negotiate and also to offer Seminole monetary incentives to remove.

It was without question the monetary incentives and not persuasion that made 1841 another significant year in Seminole removal. Perhaps the most important group to remove in 1841 was a party of about 200 who left Florida in October, primarily the band of Hospitakee, who had been persuaded by Coacoochee (Wildcat) to surrender. Coacoochee and part of his band were also among the group. Next to Osceola, he had been the most charismatic leader of the war of resistance. In the fall of 1841, another delegation, headed by Alligator, returned to Florida to try to persuade others to remove.

Partly as a result of the delegation's work, two significant removals occurred in 1842. The first involved a party of nearly 300, consisting of Coacoochee's band and others, who removed in April, including Coacoochee's family, his aunt and her family, and a sister of Alligator. Coacoochee's band settled next to Alligator's in the Cherokee Nation not far from Fort Gibson, refusing to go on to the Creek Nation. The second group to remove in 1842 consisted of bands belonging to Halleck Tustenuggee and John Cowaya, or Gopher John, both well-known leaders in the Second Seminole War. Their steamboat was grounded a few miles below Little Rock, forcing them to hire wagons to complete their journey overland to the Creek Nation by way of the Choctaw Agency.

In 1842, the United States unilaterally decreed an end to the fighting and resorted to other tactics to encourage voluntary removal: sending delegations of Seminole from the Indian Territory to negotiate and paying monetary incentives to leaders and agents to encourage removal.

Only one removal occurred in 1843. It consisted of Octiarche and his band and Thlocco Tustenuggee (Tiger Tail) and 26 followers for a total of 99, Pascofa's band, and Passochee's band of 62. These parties arrived at different times at New Orleans, where Thlocco Tustenuggee died. From Jackson Barracks, the combined parties traveled to their final destination, oddly enough aboard a steamboat owned by "Rich" Joe Vann, a prominent Cherokee from Webbers Falls, Cherokee Nation.

After this removal, a number of years passed before another took place. In 1844, the United States began to develop a new policy in Seminole removal. Because of the decrease in the number of removals, the War Department contemplated turning removal over to military officers in Florida rather than maintaining a removal agent there. Although such lines of authority became policy in 1845, no other removal occurred until 1849, when 85 Indians, primarily from Capichuchi's and Cotcha Fixico's bands, left in March. A small party removed in late 1850. In 1851, the government sent Luther Blake to Florida to attempt to bribe or otherwise persuade other Seminole to remove. Blake worked hard because he was to receive a bounty for every Seminole he brought in, but after a year, he had persuaded only 36 to remove. Another delegation was sent from the Indian Territory in 1854, but these delegates persuaded only seven to return to the West with them.

No more removals occurred until 1858. By 1855, the Seminole remaining in Florida had retreated for the most part into the Everglades, primarily north of Lake Okeechobee. Hulbutta Micco, better known to Americans as Billy Bowlegs, was recognized as the leader of the Miccosukee, although he may not have had full authority. That year, a crew of American surveyors wantonly destroyed his banana plantation, setting off what became known as the Third Seminole War (1855–1858). In 1858, another delegation of 40 Seminole from Indian Territory, led by John Jumper, returned to Florida and, by offering Bowlegs money, persuaded him to remove. In May, he and his band of 125 Miccosukee traveled west. Late that year, he returned to Florida and convinced 75 others to remove in early 1859.

Micco's return to Indian Territory brought Seminole removal unofficially to an end. It is estimated that some 2,968 Seminole were removed from 1836 to March 1841, when the United States had unilaterally called off the war, and 934 from April 1841 to April 1842, a total of 3,903. Adding the earlier parties, an estimated 4,200 Seminole were sent to the West.

Seminole removal was remarkable in several ways. First, it was the only tribal removal that involved an extended war of resistance. Second, it was the first removal in which the government made it policy to offer bounties for each person who removed. Third, it is unknown how many perished in the long war of attrition, but during the journey west, the Seminole had the lowest mortality rates of any of the southeastern tribes except the Chickasaw. That fact was due, in part, to the inoculation of the Seminole against smallpox before they reached Indian Territory. Fourth, Seminole removal was the longest removal, spanning 23 years. The United States finally and officially ceased efforts to remove those who remained in Florida in 1881.

Fred E. Knowles Jr.


Further Reading
Covington, James W. The Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993; Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989; Wright, J. Leitch, Jr. Creeks and Seminoles. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
 

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