Seminole Wars & Leaders

After the American Revolution (1776-1783), Spain regained control of Florida from Britain as part of the Treaty of Paris. When the British evacuated Florida, Spanish colonists as well as settlers from the newly formed United States came pouring in. Many of these new residents were lured by favorable Spanish terms for acquiring property, called land grants. Even Seminoles were encouraged to set up farms, because they provided a buffer between Spanish Florida and the United States. Escaped slaves also entered Florida, trying to reach a place where their U.S. masters had no authority over them.

Back when Britain controlled Florida, the British often incited Seminoles against American settlers who were migrating south into Seminole territory. These old conflicts, combined with the safe-haven Seminoles provided black slaves, caused the U.S. army to attack the tribe in the First Seminole War (1817-1818), which took place in Florida and southern Georgia. Forces under Gen. Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida, attacked several key locations, and pushed the Seminoles farther south into Florida. Finally, after several official and unofficial U.S. military expeditions into the territory, Spain formally ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, according to terms of the Adams-Onís Treaty.

The Seminole would not be an unconquered people without these, and other leaders, who resisted efforts to remove the tribe from its vast Florida homeland. 

Known also as "Wildcat" he was an important resistance leader during the Second Seminole War. In October 1837, Wild Cat appeared before American forces in a ceremonial peace headdress claiming to be an emissary of Osceola and, after negotiations with Colonel Thomas S. Jesup, American authorities agreed to peace talks. However, after the arrival of the Seminoles, Jesup ordered their arrest. While imprisoned at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Wild Cat would escape with nineteen other Seminoles, reportedly fasting for six days before they were able to slide through the bars of their jail cell and drop into the moat on the outside of the fort.

Wild Cat emerged as the leading commander of the war fighting with Alligator and Arpeika against Colonel Zachary Taylor at the inconclusive Battle of Lake Okeechobee on December 25, 1837 before retreating to the Everglades. After negotiating with Lieutenant William T. Sherman at the Indian River post of Fort Pierce, Wild Cat agreed to be transported to Fort Gibson in Oklahoma's Indian Territory along with his remaining 200 followers. In 1849, he and 100 Seminoles and escaped slaves escaped from the reservation and eventually settled in Mexico. Coacoochee died of smallpox in Alto, Mexico in 1857.

His name is an anglicized form of the Creek "Asi-yahola" the combination of "asi", the ceremonial black drink made from the yaupon holly, and "yahola", meaning "shout" or "shouter". 

Born in 1804 of mixed parentage (Creek/Scots-Irish/English), he was raised as a Creek by his mother, as the tribe had a matrilineal kinship system. They migrated to Florida when he was a child, with other refugees, after their defeat in 1814 in the Creek Wars.  Osceola masterminded successful battles against five baffled U.S. generals, murdered the United States Indian agent, took punitive action against any who cooperated with the white man and stood as a national manifestation of the Seminoles' strong reputation for non-surrender.

Osceola was not a chief with the heritage of a Micanopy or Jumper, but his skill as an orator and his bravado in conflict earned him great influence over Seminole war actions. Osceola's capture, under a controversial flag of truce offered by Gen. Thomas Jessup, remains today one of the blackest marks in American military history.

In 1832, a few Seminole chiefs signed the Treaty of Payne's Landing, by which they agreed to give up their Florida lands in exchange for lands west of the Mississippi River. According to legend, Osceola stabbed the treaty with his knife in defiance and disgust, although there are no contemporary reports of this. His 1838 death in a Charleston, S.C. prison was noted on front pages around the world, at the time, Osceola was the most famous American Indian. [from and Florida Memory Project]

Known as Billy Bowlegs, he was a Seminole leader from the Paynes Prairie and Micanopy region. In 1839, he was given that title Holata Micco, which means "chief governor".  Bowlegs spoke fluent English and Spanish and could sign his name.

On December 20, 1841, Major William G. Belknap engaged Billy Bowlegs in the Big Cypress in a campaign which, though initially indecisive, forced them to move into the Everglades and Alligator Swamp, west of Lake Okeechobee. As a Seminole leader he was able to keep his band from being removed for approximately 26 years. In late fall of 1857, the main village of Bowlegs was discovered by US forces seeking to remove the Seminoles from Florida. Their food, animals, and crops were either taken or destroyed by the military.  When surrounding villages were also destroyed, white truce flags were soon displayed. After negotiating a deal in May 1858, Bowlegs and his followers met at Fort Myers and boarded a steamer that left Florida.

Always a warrior, even in Indian Territory, he eventually played a prominent role in the Civil War, where he was appointed captain of an Indian regiment with the Union forces. Billy Bowlegs (Holata Micco), died during the fall or winter of 1863-1864 from smallpox.

Born near St. Augustine in 1870, his name was derived from the Hitchiti language "miko" (chief), and "naba" (above), and consequently meaning "high chief". Micanopy became principal Seminole chief in 1819, the same year America completed the acquisition of Florida from Spain. Soon after, he developed cattle ranches, and employed more than 100 fugitive enslaved peoples as workers.

He opposed the increasing presence of white settlers moving into Florida, and the Treaty of Moultrie Creek in 1823, with which the Americans seized 24 million acres of Seminole land in northern Florida. Micanopy refused to sign the Treaty of Payne's Landing in 1832 which called for all Indians in Florida to move to the Oklahoma or Arkansas territories.  Along with Osceola and other war leaders, he attacked forces under Major Francis Langhorne Dade in December 1835. Only three soldiers survived what the Americans called "Dade's Massacre", contributing to the beginning of the Second Seminole War.

In December 1838, Micanopy was captured by General Thomas S. Jesup's forces while under a flag of truce, when he had already agreed to sign a peace treaty. After spending time in a South Carolina prison, he was sent to Indian Territory where the Creek Nation resided. In 1845, he was one of the signatories of a treaty with the US, which gave the Seminole of western Florida semi-independence from the Creek Nation in Indian Territory, with full Seminole independence to be granted by 1855. He died at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma on January 2, 1849.

Though his exploits were not as well publicized, Seminole medicine man Abiaka, known as Sam Jones, may have been more important to the internal Seminole war machine than Osceola. Abiaka was a powerful spiritual leader who used his "medicine" to stir Seminole warriors into a frenzy. His genius directed Seminole gains in several battles, including the 1837 ambush now known as the Battle of Okeechobee.

Many years older than most of the Seminole leadership of that era, wise old Sam Jones was a staunch resistor of removal. He kept the resistance fueled before and after Osceola's period of prominence and, when the fighting had concluded, was the only major Seminole leader to remain in Florida. Starved, surrounded, sought after with a vengeance, Sam Jones would answer no flag of truce, no offer of compromise, no demand of surrender. His final camp was in the Big Cypress Swamp, not far from the Seminole Tribe's Big Cypress community of today. [from]

In the Battle of Pine Island Ridge, March 22, 1838, Abiaka led an unknown number of Seminoles against 223 Tennessee Volunteer Militia and 38 U.S. regular troops led by Major William Lauderdale. The battle in which soldiers were forced to attack the Pine Island Ridge hammock through waist deep water while being fired upon from the cover of the island, was a victory for the Seminoles. When you visit the Big Cypress Reservation, you will pass over the “Eight Clans Bridge” on the boardwalk, and you will find an outdoor exhibit of the eight clans: Panther, Bear, Deer, Wind, Bigtown, Bird, Snake, and Otter. While there are other clans of the Seminole, the eight clans of today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida are the followers of Sam "Abiaka" Jones.

Tustenuggee, translated as "Warrior" or "Grand Chief of War," was a common surname for Seminole war chiefs. Alligator was born in central Florida in the Miccosukee clan. He vehemently opposed the seizure of Indian lands by whites. He fought at the Battle of Lake Okeechobee on December 25, 1837, along with the aged war chief Abiaka (also known as "Sam Jones"). On April 22, 1839, Alligator and other Seminole leaders met with Maj. Gen. Alexander Macomb, the new military commander in Florida, and received written assurance that their people could indefinitely remain in Florida if they stayed near Lake Okeechobee. Both parties believed that the war was finally over, but attacks by other bands of Indians in south Florida continued and the ceasefire soon ended.

He was severely wounded by U.S. troops at a skirmish at Fort King (in present day Ocala) in April 1840. After he recovered, Alligator Tustenuggee went on a bloody rampage in north Florida for two years, leading a series of raids and skirmishes. In January 1842, the army sent the Second Infantry Regiment in pursuit of his warband. They located the camp near Lake George, but the Indians escaped capture. Alligator, with a band of seventy warriors, was finally defeated by Federal troops on April 19, 1842, near the settlement of Peliklakaha Hammock (in today's Lake County, Florida), the last battle of the Second Seminole War in Florida. He was held as a prisoner of war with his people on Cedar Key. On July 14, Tustenuggee and 66 of his followers were transported out of Florida for the west. They arrived at Fort Gibson in the Indian Territory on September 5, 1842.