This historic and archaeological site park is named for Major Mark Anthony Cooper, commander of 380 First Georgia Battalion Volunteers during the Second Seminole War. It is a 710-acre historic site in Inverness, Florida, which was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places on June 13, 1972.
After Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821, the slow influx of settlers created increasing friction between between pioneers and Seminole Indians who had long called Florida their home. The Seminole practice of giving refuge to fugitive slaves added to the tension. By the 1830s, this conflict had risen to the boiling point. With the signing of the Treaty of Payne's Landing in 1832, several chiefs agreed to relocation of the Seminole people west of the Mississippi, to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. But many Seminoles refused to go. Faced with the prospect of being forced by the federal government to move, Seminoles opposed to the treaty decided to fight for their homes, this initiated the Seminole Wars. The Second Seminole War, fought from 1835 to 1842, included several battles in the area surrounding the Withlacoochee between the Seminoles and the United States Military.
After the Dade massacre in December 1835, many farms and homesteads were burned around the state. It took time for the military to raise the necessary troops. There were only around 550 soldiers in Florida at the time of the Dade event. General Gaines led a force of 1100 US Soldiers who sailed from New Orleans and arrived in Tampa on February 10, 1836. They went to recover the bodies from the massacre reaching Dade Battlefield on February 20. After burying the soldiers, General Gaines’ force continued on to Fort King for supplies, but Fort King was low on supplies, so the force headed to Fort Drane near Williston where they received seven days worth of rations. They decided to return to Fort Brooke via a different trail, so they could engage the Seminoles in their stronghold: the Cove of the Withlacoochee.
Gaines was unable to cross the Withlacoochee due to the Seminoles rifle fire, and he requested reinforcements while his forces battled with the Seminoles for over a week. They ran out of provisions and were forced to eat their horses, mules and dogs. The reinforcements arrived on March 6, and together they were able to drive off the Seminoles. After the ability of the Seminoles to hold off a force of a thousand soldiers, General Scott came up with grand plan. Five thousand troops in three columns would attack the Seminoles from three directions. The columns were all delayed, so they arrived at different times. Two of the columns arrived on March 28 and the third arrived on March 30. On March 29 the soldiers had crossed the Withlacoochee and found the villages in the Cove of the Withlacoochee deserted.
It was decided that they could move quicker without the sick and wounded. In April 1836, they left Major Mark Anthony Cooper with five companies and a small artillery company along with the sick and wounded on the west shore of Lake Holathlikaha on the western edge of the Cove. All together Major Cooper had almost 400 soldiers. The soldiers under Major Cooper built a stockade fort on a rise overlooking the lake as protection against Indian attack. It was quickly tested as they were attacked by Osceola and a large group of warriors (more than 500 warriors). There were several battles between the Seminoles and the soldiers at this location, but soldiers were able to fight off the attacks.
Just as supplies were running out at Fort Cooper, General Scott returned on April 18 with more soldiers and supplies. Major Cooper, the five companies, the sick and wounded were evacuated. Due to Major Cooper’s vigilant leadership during the two week siege, the Georgia Battalion sustained about 20 men wounded, but lost only one man. It is unknown how many casualties were taken by the Seminole warriors. The knowledge of a manned Fort Cooper and the ability of the soldiers to enter the Cove of the Withlacoochee convinced Osceola and other Seminole leaders that the cove was no long a safe haven. The large population of Seminoles living in the Cove of the Withlacoochee moved south during the Second Seminole War.
From 1836 to 1842, the United States Army used the fort as a horse depot, a scouting post and a watering hole, after which time it was abandoned. In December of 1970, landowner John H. Eden Jr., sold land to the state and began working with archaeologists to excavate the Fort Cooper site. Fort Cooper was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 12, 1972. In 1977, the site opened to the public as a state park. An annual reenactment event, known as "Fort Cooper Days", is held each March on the third weekend. "Fort Cooper Days" is a two-day event, complete with two battle reenactments daily, Living History demonstrations, Period Arts and Crafts, live music, food and refreshments.
INTERPRETIVE HISTORY TRAIL
INTERPRETIVE HISTORY TRAIL
The Fort Cooper Seminole Heritage Trail is a project of The Friends of Fort Cooper, with the financial assistance from the Friends of Florida Parks, Inc. The goal of the Trail is to significantly increase the educational component of the Seminole Indian history related to the local area by establishing a series of interpretive stations located throughout Fort Cooper State Park.
The Fort Cooper Seminole Heritage Trail outlines Florida Seminole lifestyle and culture in the Cove of the Withlacoochee Region. It consists of a series of environmentally friendly and durable interpretive stations that include multiple kiosks and signs strategically located throughout the Park along currently maintained pathways. Visitors are able to study a single panel to learn a segment of Seminole history or upon completing the entire trail will gain an extensive overview of Seminole life. As the trail nears the Fort Site it includes information about Treaties, Indian warriors, chiefs and leaders of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
The park’s diverse natural areas provide a refuge for many plants and animals. The inland woods feature hammocks of hickory, oak, magnolia and sweet gum. Beyond is the sandhill community — a dry, open forest of longleaf pines and turkey oaks. Sightings of deer, turkey, opossum and bobcat are common. Owls, herons and cardinals are frequently seen.
VISIT THE PARK
3100 South Old Floral City Road
Inverness, FL 34450
PHONE: (352) 726-0315
HOURS: Open 8:00am until sunset, 365 days a year.
page information credit: Florida State Parks, Friends of Fort Cooper, Hernando Sun, JacksonWalkerStudio.com
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors