'He would not give up as long he had a single charge of powder...'
'He would not give up as long he had a single chargeof powder...'
In this episode, we dive into the story of Abiaka, the Seminole warrior and chieftain who refused to be conquered.
With Osceola gone, Abiakaand Billy Bowlegs fought tirelessly against the US government's attempts to remove the Seminole people from their land, and their resistance inspired countless others to join the cause.
Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, these two Chieftains refused to surrender, and fought with all their might to maintain their tribe's freedom.
From the brutal Battle of Lake Okeechobee to the forced relocation of thousands of Seminole people to Indian Territory, join us for the gripping conclusion of The Seminole Wars and The Unconquered People.
A big thanks to my generous Patrons!
Listener discretion is advised for the introduction of this episode, which mentions sexual violence.
Please skip ahead if you don't wish to hear this.
It's a sticky summer's day in Florida. The year is 1839. On the banks of the Loxahatchee River,
the snake clan of the Seminole tribe go about their day. Young women weave baskets,
old women sweep the camp, and children play tag running in and out of the houses.
The men were off hunting, expected to return soon with meat. For some time,
the Seminole's had been at peace with the US government, and no trouble was expected.
All of a sudden, the whinny of horses filled the air. From every direction, soldiers stormed into
camp. Their stark blue uniforms are striking contrast to the earthen colours of the wigwams
and longhouses. The snake clan already knew. Americans. With barely a word,
the soldiers burst into their homes and dragged them out. Every single person was herded into
the town square and told to sit. When all were accounted for, a translator was ushered out
in front of them, and he told them, quote, The soldiers are going to put you in big boats and
sent you across a big, big water where you will never come back. The women broke into yells and
confused protest. What did he mean? Their tribe was at peace with the Americans. This must be
some kind of mistake. But the soldiers shattered them down, forced them back onto the ground.
A few tried to run to go and find their warriors, but the Americans beat them until they lay still.
The next thing they knew, they were being told to stand up and march,
denied even the opportunity to pack a few supplies. Within minutes, the snake clan was
being marched away from their home. Their journey to the coast took several days,
and the soldiers beat anyone who stepped out of line or fell behind. The women did all they could
to avoid the stairs, the jeers, and the groping hands of their jailers. When the clan finally
reached the coast, they were forced into cages, like cattle, as they awaited the arrival of the boat.
As the days dragged on, the soldiers grew bored and restless. The more attractive women in the
tribe were singled out and raped. One of those women was Mary Tustinouji Tiger. Mary was there
with her three children, determined to save at least some of her family. Mary moved to the
edge of her cage and, with her bare hands, dug. She dug and dug. The ground was hard,
but she kept going, and soon a hold had formed. When the soldiers won patrol, she sat on top of
it to cover it up. After a few days, it was finally big enough, but only for the two youngest of her
children. Mary told them they needed to be brave. They needed to get out and find their way back
home and tell anyone left what had happened to them. They were just kids and begged their mother
not to be forced to leave. Their older sister, who had now been raped so many times now, she
struggled to walk, told her younger sister's quote. Go like mother says and don't stop.
See me. The soldiers will start on you two next. They have no pity on anyone, young or old. They
are like wild beasts. They laugh and kick you around while raping you and make a big joke of it
in front of the others. They drive us like cows. You have seen when older people get too sick or
too tired to walk, they fall. They get whipped and are made to get back up. If they are too helpless
to get up and walk, the soldiers shoot them. If the babies cry too much, the soldiers throw them
into a creek or hit them against a rock to kill them. Every Indian that lives through this sorrowful
march can never live in peace again. Leave. Run for your lives. You'll be free. With a final hug
goodbye, the two youngest girls tearfully squeezed themselves through the dirt hole onto the other
side of the cage. They looked back one last time at their mother, who reassured them quote.
Just look ahead and don't look back or turn back. Keep running towards the sun until you see your
brothers and father. As they disappeared into the night, their mother, sister and other members
of the snake clan began singing to draw the attention of the lookouts. They would never see
them again. And their experience wasn't unique. It was shared by thousands of Native Americans.
Hurried west to Oklahoma after being forced off their ancestral lands in what's remembered today
as the Trail of Tears. The story above comes to us from Betty Mae Tigerjumper in her book,
A Seminole Legend. Betty Mae was the first female chieftain of the Seminoles and granddaughter of
Mary Tustinuji Tiger. The story is a reminder of what the Seminoles fought for and why they fought
as hard as they did. Though Osceola was gone, the war would go on.
Welcome back to Anthology of Heroes. The podcast sharing stories of heroism and defiance from
across the ages. Anthology of Heroes is a part of the Evergreen podcast network. As usual,
I'm your host, Elliot Gates, and this is Part 3, the conclusion to the story of the Seminole
people of Florida and their courageous wars against the United States of America in the mid-19th century.
In Part 1, we walked through some of the most important history of the tribe.
We covered their beginnings as an offshoot from another tribe. We talked about
some of their most important ceremonies, and we saw the rise of Andrew Jackson,
a no-nonsense, no-compromised Senator and soon-to-be President.
Nicknamed Old Hickory by his own men and Sharpknife by his Indian foes, Jackson had little regard for
Indian sovereignty and even less for Black rights. We explored Jackson's wars with the Creek people
and how the resistance of one Creek leader inspired a young boy named Osceola. And we
finished up the episode with a first-hand account from a tribal chief, who was forced to leave
his ancestral homeland due to Andrew Jackson's infamous Indian Removal Act. In Part 2, we saw
the rise and fall of Osceola, who, for 18 months, was the figurehead of the Seminole resistance
against Andrew Jackson. Charismatic brave and headstrong, Osceola was a source of fascination
for the American public. He held the line against three veteran US generals with his
unorthodox battle tactics, catching their troops unprepared over and over again.
As his fame rose, he was in every newspaper and artists flocked to Florida, desperate to
capture his likeness and learn about the man who had caused such trouble for the US Army.
But, as they say, the flame that burns brightest burns half as long.
Osceola, tired and sick, had died in US custody after being betrayed under the flag of negotiation.
Following his death, President Andrew Jackson remained as inflexible as ever.
The death of one Seminole meant nothing when all the others still remained at large.
Key amongst them were two chiefs, Billy Bowlegs and Abiyaka, experienced chieftains with no
plans on giving in any time soon. We've mentioned these two in passing before,
but with Osceola gone, these guys would be thrust into the spotlight. So this episode
will focus on their resistance and the desperate measures they would resort to in order to cling
on to their freedom for another week, another day, another hour. So let's get into it,
the conclusion to the story of the unconquered Seminoles.
While Osceola was gone, very little changed on the ground for the Seminoles.
Osceola had always been a source of fascination for the US public,
and sure, he could certainly get a crowd ride up, but he had not been a chief.
Over in the White House, old Hickory, President Jackson, still refused negotiation of any kind.
The Seminoles must leave Florida and migrate to Oklahoma. All black or mixed blood tribal
members who resided with them must remain behind and return to enslavement on plantations.
The Seminoles were in bad shape. 2,000 of them have been rounded up and shipped west,
about 400 have been killed in combat, which left somewhere around about a thousand still living
free in Florida. Communication was scattered between the distant swamp villages, which made
large-scale warfare very difficult, but not impossible. The mantle of responsibility rested
on Billy Bowlegs in central Florida and Arbiaca in the deep south, the Everglades.
General Jezup, the main man driving the war against them, was getting tired. Out of all the generals
that had come and gone from Florida, he had been the most successful by far, but now he kind of
felt like he'd done all he could. He'd fulfilled his promise to the President, he'd captured a
good majority of Seminoles and sent them west. Hell, he'd even got Osceola. But he didn't want
to spend the best years of his military career chasing ghosts through the jungle. So he was
in the process of handing things over to an up-and-coming colonel named Zachary Taylor.
Better known by his nickname, Old Rough and Ready, Taylor was always ready to roll up his
sleeves and get down in the mud with his soldiers. A major campaign deep into the uncharted heart
of Florida was coming. Colonel Taylor had spent a stack of money mapping out northern and central
Florida, but the south was still a bit of a no-man's land. Taylor was hoping that if he
beat the Seminoles here, in their heartland, it would show them that they had nowhere to hide and
they were better off surrendering. So, with the largest army the USA had put together since their
1812 war with Great Britain, came Old Rough and Ready. Taylor's spy has told of a huge Seminole
city somewhere around the banks of Lake Okeechobee, near modern-day Palm Beach. So this was his first
point of call. As Colonel Taylor approached the outskirts of the lake, it was clear that his
troops would not have the element of surprise. It was eerily quiet. Not even a single fisherman
was visible on the banks. The cavalrymen soon realized that the ground was far too marshy for
their horses. The hooves were sinking in over and over and they decided to continue on foot.
The vegetation became an enemy of itself. The five-foot tall sawgrass cut the men's faces
and hands as they waded through the quagmire in up to their ankles. Troops took turn leading
the columns, cutting through the vegetation with a machete, in the stifling heat each man
could only last a few minutes before having to rotate. Then, all of a sudden, they cut their way
into a corridor. A place where the sawgrass had been stamped down to create a path. Had they
stumbled across a secret route that the Indians themselves used? But no, Abiaka had ordered
this path cut. As he suspected, the US troopers would come across it and follow the path of
least resistance right into his killing field. From the treeline, he and 400 warriors lay in
wait. Arrows knocked and rifles primed. Billy Bowleg's wild cat alligator and many other
chieftains had all assembled under one banner. Perched up in the twisting branches of the cypress
trees, they watched as the troopers walked right into their trap. There were two men per tree,
one standing and the other prone, so they could cover each other as they reloaded.
The plan was weeks in the making. What precious gunpowder they owned had been rationed out meticulously
to each warrior, and their rifle barrels had been recut to accept the crude bullets they'd made
themselves. All waited in silence, waiting for the first shot from the old war chief,
old Abiyaka, to signal the start of the ambush. Many of the young warriors began to grow restless,
but Abiaka was patient. He had learnt which clothing denoted a higher rank in the US
military, and he wanted to ensure he could line up as many officers as possible. He'd seen that if
these men were killed first, the whites broke into disorder. The first volley had to kill as many as
possible. The signal given, the swamp rang out with noise. Abiyaka's patience was rewarded as
officers, captains and even colonels fell by the dozen. The troopers' vision was completely obscured
by the sawgrass. They heard the gunfire and the sounds of dead and dying men, but none knew where
they were being attacked from. Men ran in all directions, looking desperately for the rest
of their column and the commanding officer for guidance. The volunteer troops particularly
were panicked without their officers, and many ran back straight to the prairie. Colonel Taylor,
who was at the back, rushed forward with a fresh column of men to find out what was going on.
Cool-headed as usual, he honed in on the biggest pockets of gunfire and directed fire back at them.
A few of the younger braves broke off and began to run, but one of the chiefs,
Alligator, raced over to them and blocked their path. To war, to the death, he told them grimly
as he motioned them back. The two sides exchanged gunfire, but with Taylor's guidance, the soldiers
rallied. With the element of surprise lost, the Seminole gunners began to pull back, keeping up
fire so the U.S. troopers couldn't follow them. It was a masterfully planned ambush,
one Osceola himself couldn't have topped. Historian John Mahon noted of the battle quote,
Never had Indians prepared a battlefield with greater care.
While another historian, Thomas Tucker, stated quote,
The ranking Indian leader Chief Arpiaka had organised a brilliant defence.
Both sides claimed victory, and while it's true that the Americans held the field by the end of
the day, Arpiaka's daring plan had decimated the officer corps. All while fighting a force that
doubled, well, nearly tripled his own in size, with better weapons and equipment. For every
Seminole killed, about seven U.S. troops fell. It would be one of the most costly battles of
any Indian war in the history of the United States. The Battle of Lake Okeechobee saw the
cooperation of many different chiefs and their warriors a serious rarity for the independently
minded Seminoles. But victories like this didn't just happen, it was the seniority of Arpiaka that
kept everyone sticking to one plan. But who was Arpiaka? Where did this guy actually come from?
He's not an easy man to research, but let me try and pull back the shroud on this elusive
medicine man. Arpiaka or Sam Jones was born sometime around 1781. His name, which means
wise warrior, gives us a clue as how he rose to the top. Warfare was really the only way up
in Seminole society and Arpiaka lived through a ton of big events in the tribe's history.
When the Seminoles had to pick a European power to side with, he had helped cozy up to the British
and may have been part of a delegation sent to the Caribbean to try and convince them to
rejoin the fight against the United States. At somewhere around 80 years old with a life of
experiences, he was the closest thing the Seminoles had to a king, especially now with so few chiefs
left in Florida. The most intriguing thing about him is how he wore his age as a kind of cloak,
like a disguise. To your average soldier, he was just this feeble old Indian. In fact, many that
met him actually went out of their way to mention how he was always hunched over and stooped so low
he was almost a mobile. Others said he was sickly and well on the way to going Seminole, but if we
dig a little deeper, well, take a listen to this American doctor who examined him a few years earlier,
quote. It is true that he was sparse and thin in his habit of body, but nothing more than was
natural and healthy. The hair on his temples was white, and apparently he bore the age of 55 or
60 years, but otherwise he maintained a nervous and energetic disposition in both his physical
frame and his air, gesture and force of speech. He was in a perfect state of health. The doctor
finishes his examination noting, quote, he was entirely destitute of the infirmities of old age.
Friend or foe, everyone that made him always remarked on his most defining trait,
stubbornness. As an American soldier said of him, quote, I've known Abiaka for many years as a
proud independent self-willed man who, once having made up his mind, is not likely soon to be diverted
from his purpose. During one of the earlier negotiations, Abiaka was one of the many chiefs
summoned by General Clinch. As Clinch tried to turn the screws on the chieftains and threaten them,
Abiaka lent backwards rocking on the legs of his chair. Clinch stared in bewilderment as the old
Indian then proceeded to put his feet up on the table. As Clinch continued on his tirade,
Abiaka decided he'd hurt enough and started stamping his feet. Clinch, infuriated, spoke
louder and Abiaka stamped harder. The stomping became so intense that the wooden platform where
the chiefs were seated on collapsed, sending them all tumbling to the ground. No doubt concluding
negotiations for the day. Abiaka's outright refusal to negotiate meant his bands were excluded
from trading. They had much less contact with white settlers in comparison to bowlegs or some
of the other chiefs. And so the living conditions for he and his band were miserable. They wore rags
and sacks that they'd sewn together. They stole supplies from old chipwrecks and they picked spent
bullets out of trees to reuse. Surely life in Oklahoma would be easier than this, right?
But it wasn't about that anymore. It was about taking a stand. It was almost as if Abiaka was
living purely to spite President Jackson. But Abiaka's position in the South afforded him the
luxury of distance. For Billy Bowlegs, it wasn't as easy. His band was coming into closer and
closer contact with the whites with each passing day. He had to make concessions.
Bowlegs was wily. Captain John Spray, a contemporary who met Bowlegs, said of him,
quote, In all respects, he is qualified for Supreme Command, which he exercises with skill
and judgment. He is about 35 years of age, speaks English fluently, active, intelligent and brave.
Billy Bowlegs was a smart guy. He knew that he was fighting a war he couldn't win.
With the pace President Jackson was pushing South, the whites were nibbling at the edges
of his territory more and more with each passing day. The swamps had always been his greatest
ally, but recently Colonel Taylor, who had been promoted to Brigadier General Taylor
after his battle with Abiaka, well, Brigadier Taylor had sent in teams of cartographers to
map Florida, and Bowlegs' swampy hideaways were being cleared out one by one. He was getting harder
and harder for Bowlegs and his band to hide. But it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for
Andrew Jackson either. In the Senate, he was encountering more opposition than ever before
as he tried to justify his war. Again and again, Congress had approved scores of funding,
men, munition and horses, all of which were in great demand across the United States.
There were precious few Indians left in Florida, and the ones who were still there lived in
squalor, confined to the darkest corners of the peninsula. So what were these huge armies and
mappers still doing there? The perspective of the American public had shifted too. I mean,
everyone loves an underdog story, don't they? The fact that a handful of poorly armed and isolated
tribesmen were defying the power of a modern nation state. Well, it's admirable, it's impressive,
isn't it? It's what we as humans like to read about, don't we? Senators began grilling the
President further on why this war was so important. By 1837, President Jackson's two terms were up,
and one of the most controversial Presidents of all time stepped down. But if the Seminoles hoped
that sharp-knifes exodus would give them some breathing room, no such luck. His new successor was
Martin Van Buren, an old friend of his. The new Secretary of War, likewise, was another one of
his old buddies. And despite stepping down, his shadow loomed large, and he still held sway.
In one of his letters he wrote to them, he pressures them to finish off the Seminoles at
all costs. Quote, put an end to this punic war or die in the attempt. Following it up with, quote,
find where their women are and capture them. This done, they will at once surrender.
It's easy to see why he wanted this thing done and dusted. By now, Jackson's baby,
the Indian Removal Act, was in full swing. This wasn't just about the Seminoles anymore,
many other tribes were being forced off their land. Powerful and organised tribes like the
Cherokees had even begun to challenge the legality of their removal. Some had even taken their case
all the way to the US Supreme Court. Opposition was building, and the ex-President knew that if
he faltered, if he gave one concession, word would spread that government policy could be
negotiated. And that was dangerous. Billy Bowlegs and his followers were in the crosshairs,
and Andrew Jackson's cronies were about to come at them with everything they had.
As Bloodhounds began prowling through Bowleg's swamp, he hit back wherever he could.
His attacks were now all small-scale. There were no more 400-man ambushes waiting in the
sawgrass. All Bowlegs could do was rely on surprise. Once troopers began to fire back,
he disappeared. A particularly costly exchange took place when Bowlegs ambushed a newly built
trading post. The building had a strong guard of soldiers, and when the Indian sited them,
the men immediately went for their recently supplied Colt Rifles. Unfortunately, at that
moment they realised that they had not been supplied with ammunition to go with the Colts.
Throwing their useless guns aside, the troops ran for it. All while Bowlegs and his men gunned
them all down, 16 dead. In retaliation, an expedition was organised. The Seminoles that
apparently had committed the massacre were caught and hung, and their bodies were left on the gallows
to rot as a warning. Arbiaka was sickened to hear about how the bodies of these warriors were being
disrespected, and remarked, quote, We have given them, meaning soldiers from the USA,
here to fall when prisoners a decent death and shot them instead of hanging them, like a dog.
This shows us how the Seminoles viewed warfare compared to the Americans. An attack on a trading
post of men who couldn't fire back was seen as perfectly legitimate. After all, the odds were
against them. They felt they had to take victories wherever they could find them.
Bowlegs and his men's saving grace were their cornfields. Florida is well known for having
these raised tracks of fertile land in the middle of its swamps. They call them hammocks.
Hidden deep in the marshes were these secret little food stores, where enough food was
grown to keep the warriors and their families going. These were a nightmare to find, but each
time the whites destroyed one, it was a serious hit to the Seminole war chest. Once a hammock was
located, Bowlegs had no choice but to abandon it. There simply weren't enough men to defend them
anymore. As Brigadier Thompson planned his next expedition, rumors came to him that the Wahoo
swamp still had many little hammocks hidden away. The Wahoo had been raided many times already.
U.S. troopers had confiscated scores of corn, pigs, chickens, and weapons.
Heavily depopulated and desolate, most believed it was pacified and the Seminoles had abandoned it.
But some were insistent that the Wahoo still held more secrets. And so 50 men crammed into
a canoe and followed through a tiny winding waterway. Thick with willows and almost overgrown,
the troops must have thought the venture a complete waste of their time. There were no signs of
habitation. The forest here was so dense, surely no one could live there. Sloshing through the mud,
they pushed through the scrub and found an entire Seminole city. Three villages with 28 structures
and endless fields overflowing with pumpkin and corn. Sweat lodges, halls, food stores,
weapon manufacturers, all of it had been sitting there under their noses. This was one of the
biggest scores they'd ever come across and the Seminoles had kept it hidden all this time.
The lodges, the halls, the houses, and the fields were soon put to the torch. And any
unlucky Seminole's lingering were captured and sent away for transportation. The capture of
this city put the bands in dire straits. Food now became a luxury and many Seminole bands began to
mull over the possibility of surrender. Two chiefs were offered $5,000 each if they bought
their bands in for relocation. I mean, these are huge sums of money. OfficialData.org says
this is the equivalent to $170,000 in 2023, enough to give these guys a very good head start in
Oklahoma. The government also began reaching directly into the tribe, offering set amounts of
cash for each warrior, woman, and child that surrendered. And slowly, sadly, bands started
to trickle out of the swamp and assemble for deportation. Abiaka had to do something. He
needed something to bring the Seminoles together, regardless of band chief or location. So he came
up with a solution. It's a strategy we see sometimes throughout history when a doomed
people are faced with an unwinnable situation. Impossible odds outnumbered, outgunned, starving,
and sick. What could possibly inspire these people to fight on? Spiritual salvation. In this case,
a prophet. In his youth, Abiaka had been involved in another war where someone had declared himself
a prophet. And the announcement gave the people something to rally behind. If, in your heart,
you believed someone had a connection to the Great Spirit, and that person told you that
victory was around the corner, would you keep fighting? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn't,
but here many did. Abiaka didn't declare himself a prophet. Instead, he highlighted the powers of
a 38-year-old man named Atolki Thloko, or Big Wind. We don't know how Big Wind came to be the Messiah,
but the start of his powers seemed to have come from when he escaped from a jail in Georgia,
declaring that the Great Spirit had opened the door, struck off his chains,
and told him that the war against the whites must continue. His followers believed he had a
direct line of communication to their creator, who had bestowed special powers on him. He could
hear troops approaching before others, he always knew where wild animals were hiding,
and he could cause death on those who displeased him. But at the core of his message was something
that resonated most with Abiyaka, that the Seminole must never surrender. It's impossible
to quantify the exact impact of the prophet's influence, but people took his powers seriously.
When a group of Seminole surrendered, there were records of a cleansing ritual being performed
at the deportation sites. The ritual was supposed to counter the strong magic that the prophet would
use to kill them for betraying the cause. With all their hammocks now gone, food became such a
scarcity that some bands of Seminole's would attend negotiation ceremonies just to get a meal.
They'd sit down politely, listen to some city official lecture them about Oklahoma for a few
hours, gorge themselves at the snack table, and then disappear back into the swamps.
The location of the remaining Seminole camps now became a guarded secret. The different bands
stayed tight-lipped about where they ate and where they slept. Both legs in his man adjusted
their sleep schedule. Becoming almost nocturnal, they did most of their travelling and work by
the moonlight. They jumped from log to log as to not leave footprints, and when there were no logs,
they crawled or walked backwards over their tracks to confuse trackers. In some areas,
he banned the shooting of rifles due to the noise it made. In 1841, Chief Wildcat, the son-in-law of
Abiaka surrendered. If you remember our last episode, Wildcat was the guy that Abiaka shouted
down at the Tribal Council when he spoke of surrender. Though he hadn't covered his life,
he was a very influential chief, and his surrender paints a rich picture of how
emotional these ceremonies must have been. The end of the line for those that had resisted for
so long. This description comes to us again from Captain John Sprague, who uses Wildcat's Seminole
name, Coacoochee. Quote, Coacoochee and his warriors came up slowly to the quarter-deck of the transport.
Their feed irons hardly enabled them to step four inches and arrange themselves according to rank.
As they laid their manacled hands upon their knees before them,
in the presence of so many whom they had so long hunted as foes,
they hung their heads in silence. Not a cheering voice or expression could be seen or heard among
the group. He then gives us a very poignant, very sad speech from Wildcat. In a subdued tone in front
of all those who looked upon him as their leader, and the many he'd fought against, he relayed
this sad story, which I think is worth reading in full. Quote, I was once a boy when I saw the
white man afar off. I hunted in these woods, first with a bow and arrow, then with a rifle.
I saw the white man and was told he was my enemy. I could not shoot him as I would a wolf or bear,
yet like these he came upon me. Horses, cattle and fields, he took from me.
He said he was my friend. He abused our women and children and told us to go from the land.
Still, he gave me his hand in friendship. We took it. Whilst taking it, he had a snake in the other.
His tongue was fogged. He lied and he stung us. I asked but for a small piece of these lands,
enough to plant and live upon, far south, a spot where I could place the ashes of my kindred,
a spot only sufficient upon which I could lay my wife and child.
This was not granted to me. I was put in a prison. I escaped. I have been again taken.
You have brought me back. I am here. I feel the irons in my heart. I have listened to your talk.
You and your officers have taken us by the hand in friendship. I thank you for bringing me back.
I can now see my warriors, my women and children. The great spirit thanks you. The heart of this
poor Indian thanks you. We know but little. We have no books which tell all things, but we have
the great spirit, the moon and the stars. These told me last night that you would be our friend.
I give you my word. It is the word of a warrior, a chief, a brave. It is the word of Kohakuchi.
It is true I have fought like a man, so have my warriors, but the whites are too strong for us.
I wish now to have my band around me and go to our Kansas.
As Kohakuchi's ship pushed off from the harbour, there were now about $600
seminars left in Florida.
By 1842, the pendulum of Congress had finally swung back against Andrew Jackson's cronies.
John Tyler, who had always been fiercely anti-Jackson, was elected as the 10th President of the
United States. The inauguration of President Tyler was the best thing that had happened to the
seminars in years. The new president refused to waste any more money chasing around a handful
of impoverished Indians through the hardest terrain in the country. US policy towards the
seminars had finally shifted. It was now pretty much whatever. As long as you don't attack us
and you stay in your area, you can stay, but don't expect any money from us to help you live there.
There would still be incentives to migrate, but no longer would there be patrols actively
looking for Seminole hideouts. This led to an improved relationship between Billy Bowleg's
band and the whites living on his doorstep. Seminole men were a frequent site around Tampa,
Florida, where they would trade supplies, throw back a few whiskies, and, if their English was
good enough, swap war stories with their old enemies. They were there so regularly that
the governor built them their own section where they could perform their ceremonies.
The Seminole lifestyle was a source of curiosity for the whites, particularly one of the team
sports they would play, where players armed with a stick would hit a ball between two goalposts.
This game would eventually develop into the modern sport of La Crosse.
While intermingling with the whites was okay with Billy Bowleg's, it wasn't with Albiaca.
As suspicious as ever, the old chief banned most contact with whites under pain of death.
He couldn't completely cut off trading. Western vices like tobacco and whiskey were too popular,
but apart from these, his ban kept to himself. From time to time, there was the odd murder, raid,
or robbery. Though it's hard to pin down these on specific bans, the crimes seem to have usually
been perpetrated by outsiders, roving bans of Seminole's who were either exiled or had never
been part of Albiaca or Bowleg's band. Even though according to tribal law, these people
were outside their society, the two chieftains made it their top priority to apprehend the
troublemakers and hand them over to the whites to administer justice. They knew by now that
American society lumped all Seminole's together. Whenever one of them caused trouble, it impacted
them all. Soon, the bounty for migration had shot up to an incredible $800 per male and $450
per woman and child. Bowlegs and Albiaca were personally offered $10,000 if they agreed to
leave. A tool was arranged for Seminole's that had already migrated to Florida to return and
spruced the benefits of how good life was in Oklahoma. Wildcat, who was now settled down
out west, managed to smuggle a message out to his old friends. Don't leave. Or, if you do,
wait as long as possible and make them pay. Billy Bowlegs himself, as such a high-profile
chieftain, even managed to score a tour of Washington and New York. The Seminole chieftain,
dressed in a shirt made of old ship sails and pants crafted from hessian bags, got the whole
VIP experience. As he walked down the bustling streets of New York, a reporter for a local
paper jostled to get a statement from him. Asking the famous chief what he thought of their society,
Bowlegs responded through a translator, quote,
"'Steamboat travel was good. Trains go very fast. The great white father,' meaning the president,
looked young, "'and New York has many people.'" But the most memorable part of his trip was no
doubt his walk through one of the Senate halls. Passing frame after frame of stern-looking white
man, the chief stopped at one he recognized. It was old, rough and ready tailor, the man he'd
fought and, in his mind, defeated at Lake Okeechobee. Grinning and nodding, Bowlegs tapped on the
portrait and told his attendants, "'Me whip.'" One can imagine the guards clearing their throat
uncomfortably before rushing him along. The tour was meant to impress upon Bowlegs the
enormity of the resources that his enemy could draw upon, but he couldn't have cared less.
The expedition changed nothing, and whatever vague promises or agreements Bowlegs made,
he reneged on them as soon as he got home. By 1841, a new commander wished to make his mark on Florida.
Like the other six men that had preceded him, he was sure that it would be he who would force
these stubborn Indians to migrate. Zachary Taylor, old, rough and ready, had apathetically shifted
into a policy of defense and bribery, but Colonel William Worth wanted to go on the offensive again.
The rapid expansion of white settlements had reignited conflict all over Southern Florida.
Forts were built en masse throughout the land, even deep within the swamps.
When a rogue band of Seminole's murdered a frontier family, the governor of Florida
decided he'd had enough. He marched his men to Bowlegs' village and just began
trashing the place. He burned all his supplies, destroyed all his houses,
and even stole his signature black turban, a gift he'd received from the President
on his trip to Washington. The time of good relations was over, and for the next two years,
Bowlegs and his dwindling group of veterans lived in the shadows. They smeltered breast
plates from old coins, they picked spent ammunition from trees and recast them.
They did everything they could to hold back the tide. Magic songs were sung, medicine bundles
were kept on their person, and the Prophet worked overtime casting spells. But finally,
in March 1858, with quite literally no food, no ammunition, and no clothing,
Chief Billy Bowlegs emerged from the swamps and agreed to leave Florida.
Sadly, we've got no record of any speech he gave or any descriptions of the meeting.
Perhaps after so much time, there was little to say.
As the exhausted chief and his 150 followers looked back on their homeland as their ships
sailed out to sea, it's impossible to know how they felt. For a proud old warrior like Bowlegs,
he had a lifetime of stories to tell and a stack of money to live off. He arrived in Indian
Territory as a wealthy landowner, but apart from that, I couldn't find anything concrete on what
became of him. I saw a few stories that said he fought for the Union in the American Civil War,
but the rest of his life is anyone's guess. Years drifted by, and cities sprung up rapidly all
through Florida. Indian sightings became increasingly rare. The Indian quarters at Tampa,
where Bowlegs and his band traded war stories and played sports, lay barren and overgrown.
It had now been 41 years since Andrew Jackson had led his troops into Spanish-controlled Florida.
Nine presidents had come and gone. Seven generals had entered and exited Florida.
The United States had spent somewhere between $20 and $60 million, but finally now it was done.
Wasn't it? At the very bottom tip of Florida lay a place that American soldiers still feared to
tread. They called it the Devil's Garden, owned by an ancient Indian chief that time
had almost forgotten. A handful of Seminole's lived in the deepest, darkest swamps of the land.
Living on whatever vegetables would grow in this dark grotto was the Devil. The almost 100-year-old
Abiaka still remained. With him were somewhere between 50 and 150 Seminole's who still stubbornly
refused to leave. What did Abiaka say all those years ago? He'd live off an island and cut up
old pans to make hooks? Well, for a while that's exactly what he did. A bunch of tiny sandbars
off the southern tip of Florida, today known as the Indian Quay, became the temporary home of
Abiaka and his band. In between these bars of sand was a hidden reef that caused a ton of shipwrecks
for any captain who ventured too close. When a ship ran aground, his Seminole's would scour the wreck
for survivors and supplies. Spanish, French or British sailors would treat it well. The chief
would tend to their wounds and send them on their way, but if the ship was American, any survivors
found were killed on the spot. Living off the salvage they took from these sunken ships,
Abiyaka's band had kept themselves alive, just barely. When the authorities learned that an
old Indian had set himself up in the Keys, they scrambled a fleet to retake the islands. Finally
they'd get him, the last flicker of resistance left in Florida. But before they got there,
Abiaka and his band slipped back into the swamps again. Disembarking, they followed his tracks
deep into the Everglades, determined to catch him once and for all. Captain Abner Doubleday,
the man who was incorrectly credited with inventing baseball, tells us of the absolute mess
they had trying to chase this 100-year-old man through the swamps, quote. The men sank up to
the middle in slimy mud and their progress became slow and laborious. The men were often obliged
to cross floating islands that could hardly bear their weight. In some cases they fell through
and would have drowned were it not for the prompt assistance of their comrades. Our labor became,
if possible, more severe, the water being deeper, floating islands being more frequent,
and the roots of trees embedded in slime. Abiaka and his followers did not want to be found.
With almost a century of knowledge saved up in his wrinkled head,
Abiaka navigated his band through the twisted waterways that only he knew. He enforced a strict
no-contact with White's policy. For collusion or even contact with White's, even just a trade,
he was known to order executions. Seminole children were taught to turn their backs on any
White's they came across and ignore any attempts at friendship. Women were forbidden to look a White
person in the eye. The man understood that their culture and their lifestyle was a hair's breath
away from being scrubbed from history. The last record of contact with Abiaka was during the
American Civil War, when Confederate soldiers tracked him down to ensure his band was not aiding
Union soldiers. We don't know when Abiaka died or how old he was when he did, but it was the
framework that he put in place that kept Seminole culture alive over the decades it followed. Their
traditional way of life continued. The Green Corn Ceremony, the Black Drick Ritual, their language,
somewhere deep in the dark Everglades, it all continued like it had since time immemorial.
As the years passed and the Union won the Civil War, Florida became more industrialized.
Rails of the newly invented locomotive train began to spread across the now well-mapped state.
By the year 1900, Florida was getting smaller, getting safer. And the murky swamps, which had
always been the greatest ally to the Seminole's, were drained to create farmland. The timid Seminole's,
who, for generations, had lived as quietly as possible, were confronted with a new reality.
The White people that had once chased them into the woods were not the same ones that now met
their gaze over the drained swamps. Times had changed. Andrew Jackson was long dead,
and his Indian Rural Act was already considered a stain on the country's consciousness by many in
power. The Seminole's were forced to open up, at least partially, to Western society. Trading posts
were slowly established, English literacy became more common, and Christianity became the predominant
religion. But Abiyaka's legacy loomed large. In the 1920s, a group of Seminole's were invited to
an event in Madison Square Gardens, New York. Midway through the performance, a speaker made a
pretty tasteless joke about how, after the show finishes, the Seminole's in attendance would
then be deported to Oklahoma. A riot almost broke out as the Seminole tribesmen clambered over seats,
sprinting to the exit. Even as late as 1933, a bunch of Seminole's were attending a festival
south of Tampa when they noticed a fleet of boats heading for the shores. They, too, panicked to
and tried to escape, fearing that even now, a hundred years later since the end of the wars,
the government was still trying to force them out of their lands. With their traditional
hunting grounds being reduced by industrialization, the Seminole's again entered a period of poverty
before cashing in on a new industry – tourism. Gawpers from other states had taken to holidaying
in Florida, and they took an interest in watching the Seminole's go about their daily chores,
still living the traditional way. So they began to arrange tours. Souvenirs were created,
and the now-famous Seminole cloth, with its colourful checkered patches,
was sewed into dresses for housewives all across states to show off to their neighbours.
The men realised that their alligator hunts drew big crowds and began to wrestle the reptiles for
the entertainment. Slowly, many Seminole bands began to move into reservations, but these were
no longer in Oklahoma. Instead, they were based upon the lands that they'd always lived on.
Five reservations were created in Florida. The largest one, called Big Cyprus, lies just south
of Lake Okeechobee, the site of Billy Bowleg's and Arbiaka's greatest victory. Like many other
Native American tribes, the Seminole's have made good use of their land to skirt around the tight
regulations around casinos and gaming laws. And this, along with other well-thought-out business
ventures, has enabled them to thrive in the modern day. In 2006, the Seminole tribe purchased Hard
Rock Cafe, a well-known international burger franchise for US$965 million. Dressed in their
now-iconic Seminole patchwork, Max Osceola Jr., the chairman of the tribe, announced to reporters,
quote, You're here for a special day in Seminole history. Our ancestors sold Manhattan for trinkets.
We're now going to buy Manhattan back, one burger at a time. Today, there are around 4500
Floridian Seminole's, most of which are descendants from those few who stayed behind with Arbiaka.
They no longer live in chickies or wigwams, and while a few hundreds speak the Seminole language,
English is now predominant. They look and act like every other American. But for all of them,
they have a history that most of us are completely ignorant to, a history so unique and special.
As a known resident of the United States, I would say the Seminole's are not a well-known tribe.
The names of Billy Bowlegs, Arbiaka, or even Osceola are virtually unknown against the crowd
favourites of sitting bull, crazy horse, red cloud, or geronimo. A few statues around Florida are some
of the only reminders that hint to this incredible legacy. In all the episodes I've researched,
I've never come across people with such determination to really, and I mean really,
stick it out until they had nothing left to give. So it's my hope that next time you're sitting at
Hard Rock Cafe, chowing down on a burger while you look at a framed white jumpsuit supposedly
worn by Elvis Presley, perhaps you'll think back to this fascinating group of people and what they
endured to be here today. This has been Anthology of Heroes. If you've made it this far, maybe you'll
consider being a patron. The show's patrons, Phil, Angus, Claudia, Malcolm, Alex, Seth, Lisa, and Tom,
all throw me a few bucks a month which allows me to invest in the show.
Either way, thanks for listening, and see you on the next one.
“Hell was a more beautiful sight to behold.”
Khalid was a member of the aristocracy in the Arabian trading city of Mecca. When a local named Muhammad began claiming he was the Prophet of God, Khalid and his family fought tooth and nail to stamp out his movement. …
We tell the story of George Kastrioti, better known as Scanderbeg. Scanderbeg was a 15th century Albanian nobleman who played a pivotal role in resistance against the Ottoman Empire. He was a skilled military leader, but he also had the …