“The case of the Seminoles constitutes at present the only exception to the successful efforts of the government to remove the Indians to the homes assigned them west of the Mississippi.” President Martin Van Buren
I rarely think about names of places, but Lake Seminole’s name is familiar, yet seems out of place. So, I took an interest this time. I recognize the name Seminole for a couple reasons, neither of which have anything to do with the origination of Lake Seminole (yet another reservoir created from the damming of a river or two). The first reason is that the Seminole Tribe of Florida reside in south Florida near my home. But mostly, the word Seminole reminds me of the Everglades and how it has altered the course of Florida’s history in profound ways.
Lake Seminole is located so far north that it is dissected by the Florida-Georgia state line. Despite being over 500 miles north, Lake Seminole is connected to the southern end of Florida’s Everglades in some ways. Perhaps one thing in common is Lake Seminole’s claim to fame of a duck hunter who died mysteriously several years ago; his body lost to its waters. Speculators believed it to be eaten by alligators. This story reminds me of another, yet more recent missing person incident down in the most southern reaches of the Everglades. While RV-camping with his family at Everglades National Park’s Flamingo campground, a man went missing after going out for a hike. Like what happened in Lake Seminole, the missing body was attributed to the eating behaviors of alligators.
But what really connects Lake Seminole to the Everglades is its name. Back in the early 1800s, a land-grabbing U.S. government coveted the rich land that later became the state of Florida. At that time, Spain occupied the area, so the U.S. wanted to remove both the Spaniards and the Indians. Meanwhile, the Creek wars waged by General Andrew Jackson in Alabama forced thousands of Indians to migrate to Florida. There, they existed among the indigenous tribes who referred to themselves as “yat’siminoli”or “Free People” because they successfully resisted the Spaniards and English attempts to conquer them. Over time, American settlers began referring to all Florida territory Indians as “Seminoles”. The Creek’s migration to Florida really got under Jackson’s skin, so, the first Seminole War (1816-1819) was fought which resulted in the ousting of Spain (who by that time wanted to leave Florida anyway) and the displacement of Indians from northern Florida to central Florida.
Not having succeeded in removing the Seminole Indians completely, the U.S. government under Jackson’s presidency began another war (1835-1842) and was met with a fiercer opposition, let by the infamous warrior chief, Osceola. This war became the second Seminole war which cost the U.S. government almost $40,000,000 in its attempt to remove about 3000 men, women and children from Florida. The U.S. government fought many Indian wars, but this one differed in that it involved all arms of the military; army, navy and marines. Eventually, survivors of the war fled into the deep dark Everglades, an area completely unchartered by American settlers.
A third time, the U.S. military followed the orders of its government to exterminate the remaining few Indians. The third Seminole War (1855-1858) was far from traditional, it was the U.S. military’s first guerrilla war. American soldiers were up against the hit-and-run tactic of the Indians whose primary weapon was the territory in which they lived. It was here that one white soldier wrote home, “If the devil owned both Hell and Florida, he would rent out Florida and live in Hell!”
At the end of it all, the U.S. government could not force the Florida Seminoles to surrender, leaving a few hundred men, women and children to the swamps of south Florida Everglades. I think about those survivors every time I go into the Everglades and I think about them as I stand on the edge of Lake Seminole on the second morning of our stay. So lovely it was as the sun rose over the horizon and lit the sky a brilliant orange. The lake glistened from the sky’s reflection as a lone kayak fisherman threw his line, gently interrupting the water’s calmness. The attempt to rid Florida of its native people began here and ended further south in the Everglades. Behold Florida’s unconquered natural beauty, legacy of the Seminoles.
And by the way, 17 years after the duck hunter went missing, there was a breakthrough in the case; the body of the murdered man, Mike Williams was found. His wife, having collected $1.75 million in life insurance and married Williams’s best friend, was convicted of murder. They never did find the missing man down in Flamingo.