SEEKING THE SEMINOLES IN FLORIDA (1835)
WITH THE REGULARS OF MAJOR DADE
 AMONG the doctrines taught by the Shawnee Prophet and carried into the South by his brother Tecumseh, was
the theory that no Indian lands might be sold to the white men without the consent of all the
This was perhaps a good doctrine for the protection of the tribes, but it brought many disputes; it
split the tribes, for some Indians agreed to sell, and then the other Indians refused to let them
sell. It ruined the Shawnees; it divided the Creeks and ruined them also; and it ruined the
Seminoles of Florida.
Now, the Seminoles were a branch of the Creeks. In an early day they had separated from the Creeks
and had withdrawn into Florida. The Creeks called them Seminoles, or Runaways.
Pretty nearly all the wars with the Indians have been occasioned by land disputes. Sometimes the
Indians did not understand, sometimes they broke their promises, and frequently the United States
broke its promises or enforced harsh contracts.
When in 1821 the United States bought Florida from Spain the Seminoles were living there. They
occupied the best lands; they had been friendly with the
 Spaniards, who did not try to open the country and farm it; they had their cabins of palmetto
leaves, and their patches of tilled ground, and traded furs and meat for powder and lead.
The American settler and land speculator entered Florida. To them the Seminoles were only
savages—lazy, ignorant savages, at that. They demanded that the Florida lands be thrown upon
the market for settlement.
This looked like an easy matter. The Seminoles had no written titles to the land; they were
accustomed to doing business by word of mouth with the careless Spaniards. Soon the Seminoles found
themselves being gradually pushed into smaller and smaller. territory; they signed papers that they
could not read, and constantly sold more land than they thought that they had sold; they were
punished by fines and whippings when they trespassed, and they were accused of stealing slaves from
the white planters. There long had been bad feeling, on this score, between the planters of Georgia
and the Seminoles. It was true that run-away slaves sought refuge among the Seminoles of Florida.
The Seminoles evidently had to get out. Then in 1824 their head men were induced to sign a treaty,
which bound the nation to remove to a reservation, somewhere else, when such a reservation should be
found. In 1832 the reservation was found by the United States in Arkansas.
The Seminoles sent a committee to look at it. The committee did not like Arkansas; but by touching
 goosequill they signed a paper which said that they did like it, and that the nation would go there
within three years.
When they had returned to Florida, and learned that they had signed away their homes, they and all
the other Seminoles, and their negro slaves vowed that they would never go.
In April, 1834, Brevet Brigadier General Duncan L. Clinch, colonel of the Fourth United States
Infantry, was ordered to Florida, to prepare the Seminoles for leaving. The treaty was laid out upon
the council table at the house of General Wiley Thompson, the Indian agent.
"It is a white man's treaty," the chiefs declared. "We did not understand it. The agents lied to us.
None of us had a right to sign such a paper, and some of us never touched the quill."
A young head-warrior, Osceola or Black-drink Halloer, stepped forward. He drove his knife half-way
to the hilt through the paper and into the table.
"The only treaty I will sign is with this," he said.
The Seminoles went back into their swamps, and General Clinch could do nothing; nor could Wiley
Thompson, the Government Indian agent with the Seminoles, who, they said, had lied to them with his
smooth tongue and long speeches.
In February of the next year, 1835, the Government sent ten companies of Regulars, as reinforcements
to General Clinch; made ready with steamboats to take the Seminoles to New Orleans and up the
Mississippi; had wagons assembling to carry them from the mouth
 of the Arkansas River across country into Arkansas.
The result was seven and one-half years of war, with forty battles, which cost the United States
fifteen hundred soldiers and $20,000,000.
The white planters of Georgia and Florida had looked upon the Seminoles as an easy-going, shiftless
people, good only as swamp hunters, and without the nerve to fight. But these stoutly built natives
were as fierce in fighting as their brothers the Creeks, although they mustered less than three
thousand warriors. Like the Creeks they were of mixed bloods—red, black and white. They had
their towns and their farms; they owned slaves. The negroes preferred the red masters to the white,
and the half-wild life of the palmetto groves and the bayous to the plantation life.
The Seminoles were helped by the country in which they lived and which they so well knew. They had
snug retreats upon dry ground in the midst of the great swamps, reached by blind trails for paddle
or moccasin through the tall grasses and the palmettos. There were bear and deer and turkey in
plenty; there also were alligators, poisonous snakes, and mosquitoes; a single step aside would
plunge man or horse out of sight. By canoe and by foot the Seminoles ranged as they pleased.
Micanopy was their head chief, as Menewa had been the head chief of the warring Creeks, back in
1813. Osceola, aged thirty-two, was another Red Eagle, who spoke as a chief. He was one quarter
white, light colored, finely formed, smart, eloquent and fiery, and led the councils.
 It was he who enforced the law against selling to the whites without the permission of all the
tribe, under penalty of death. Nothing was to be sold; nothing, whether land or goods.
An old chief, Charley-E-Mathlar, accepted American money; he pretended that it was paid to him for
some cattle. Osceola and party met him returning home by the trail; killed him. Taking the money
from the handkerchief Osceola scattered it.
"It is blood money, made of red man's blood," he said. "It will bring evil upon all who touch it."
The time limit given the Seminoles by the Government expired January 1, 1836. Agent Thompson
declared that Micanopy, Jumper, Alligator, Sam Jones and Black Dirt were no longer chiefs. He
himself had put them down. Osceola was seized and imprisoned by Agent Thompson—put in irons
for six days until he promised to be peaceful. The traders were forbidden to sell ammunition of any
kind to the Seminoles. Powder and lead was to be withheld from the tribe.
Seeing that the United States was determined to remove them from their country, in December, this
1836, the Seminoles struck their American enemy.
When the first of January neared, General Clinch made plans to round up the Seminoles. December 16
Major F. S. Belton of the Second Artillery, commanding officer at Fort Brooke not far from present
Tampa of Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico side, received the order:
"The general commanding the Florida district directs that upon receipt of this you immediately
de-  tach two companies of the troops at your post, outfitted for the field, with instructions to unite
near the forks of the Ouithlacoochee (Withlacoochee) River with a detachment from Fort King, or
else, failing of such meeting, to proceed on and await further instructions at that post."
There were only three companies of the Regulars at Fort Brooke. So Major Belton delayed obeying the
order until the arrival of reinforcements from Key West. The first were forty men of Company B,
Fourth Infantry, under Captain and Brevet Major Francis L. Dade.
From the Fourth Infantry men, and the men of Companies B, C and H, Second Artillery, and of Company
B, Third Artillery, a column of one hundred rank and file was made up, in two companies.
Captain George Washington Gardiner of the Second Artillery was to command the column. He had
graduated as Number 1 from the Military Academy in 1816, and was an accomplished officer. But in the
night of December 23 his wife was taken quite ill. When at reveille in the morning, just before the
column started, Major Dade heard of this, he insisted:
"You stay and care for your wife, captain. I'll go out in your place."
Captain Gardiner thanked him warmly. Major Belton consented to the change. The offer by Major Dade
showed his good heart, for the march northward might not be pleasant; in fact it was likely to be
very dangerous. It trended through swamps, and right into the country of Osceola and Chief Micanopy.
prin-  cipal town of the Seminoles, known as Micanopy's Town, lay near the forks of the Withlacoochee.
By the road these forks were about sixty miles inland, northeast from Fort Brooke. Fort King was
fifty miles by road, on north from the forks. Without doubt an expedition was being planned against
At six o'clock in the morning of December 24 (the day before Christmas), the Fort Brooke detachment
started, under Major Dade. There were one hundred and two enlisted men, seven officers, one
six-pounder cannon drawn by oxen, the baggage wagons, and a guide and interpreter, Louis, who was
half Spanish and half negro.
Captain Gardiner remained behind, to spend Christmas with his sick wife.
Captain Upton S. Fraser of the Third Artillery served as field commander for Major Dade. He had
entered the army as ensign in 1814, and was about fifty years of age—the same as Major Dade,
who had entered the army in 1813.
The lieutenants all were young. The senior lieutenants in the column were Second Lieutenant William
E. Basinger (who had charge of the gun) of the Second Artillery, and Second Lieutenant Robert E.
Mudge of the Third Artillery. Lieutenant Basinger had graduated Number 2 at West Point in 1830;
Lieutenant Mudge had graduated in 1833. So neither of them had worn the blue uniform very long.
The junior lieutenants were still younger. They were Richard Henderson of the Second Artillery and
 John L. Keais of the Third; had graduated as classmates, Numbers 12 and 14, from West Point only
this June of 1835; had both been assigned as brevet or extra second lieutenants of artillery, and
were two "shave-tails" upon their first campaign.
The other officer was Assistant Surgeon John S. Gatlin, appointed in August of last year.
Today the column marched only a short distance, and halted early to camp until the oxen had been
traded for horses. The oxen would not haul the field piece. Major Dade sent a note back to the fort,
requesting horses. Then in the evening who should come galloping on but Captain Gardiner himself. He
had found a way to join, after all. How lucky that the column had waited! There was a transport
sailing at once for Key West where his wife's relatives were stationed—and where the change of
air would do her good. So he had stowed her aboard, and here he was.
That was true soldierly spirit. Major Dade of course had no notion of being relieved. Here he was,
too; and they agreed to go on together with the column, Major Dade in command.
Horses instead of the weak oxen were put to the gun. The Spanish negro led. The trail was soft with
sand and bogs; they did not arrive at the forks of the Withlacoochee until December 27, the fourth
day's march. During the last two days they had seen signs that the Seminoles were watching them. But
they did not know that the half-breed Louis was in the pay of the Seminoles and had told where the
Americans were going; and they did not know that Chief Micanopy and
 Osceola were only waiting, with all plans made to attack.
The detachment from Fort King was not at the forks. Major Dade continued up the trail, December 28.
Beyond the forks, at eight this morning, the trail emerged from the swampy grounds into a harder,
open stretch. On the left there were scattered pine trees and bunches of grass; on the right there
was a large pond grown about with grasses and palmetto palms.
Nobody except Indians could have lain concealed at such a place; yet two hundred Seminole warriors
commanded by Chief Micanopy were hidden like snakes in the grass and beneath the broad palmetto
It was a good spot for an ambush, because when the Americans were attacked from the right they would
be driven into the open of the scrub pines and have no other shelter.
To Major Dade and officers the place did not look like an ambush place. There had been so many
darker, thicker places. Captain Fraser and Lieutenant Mudge were in the advance, with a small party.
Major Dade and the main column followed, with Lieutenant Basinger's six-pounder and the baggage
Osceola had expected to join in the attack, but had decided to strike at Fort King, instead. And
while Micanopy's men were killing the column from Fort Brooke, the Osceola warriors were killing the
hated Agent Thompson and others just outside of Fort King.
Chief Micanopy had told his men to wait for him to fire the first shot. They waited. He permitted
 whole line to pass on until it all was within range from the palms and grasses. He made
certain—he picked out the commander and fired and killed Major Dade instantly. That was the
Major Dade's horse ran away into the midst of the Seminoles. They delivered a terrible volley; down
fell Captain Fraser, dead; down fell Lieutenant Mudge, mortally wounded. The left arm of young
Lieutenant Henderson was broken, both arms of boyish Lieutenant Keais dangled. Of the eight officers
only three, Captain Gardiner, Lieutenant Basinger and Doctor Gatlin, were untouched. At least fifty
of the rank and file were killed or wounded. The blow had been swift and sure.
Louis the guide was down, also—shamming.
Captain Gardiner took command at once. He found not a single coward in the detachment. No one ran;
every man who was able obeyed orders, sprang behind a tree, along the road, and began to fight. The
work was very hot. Surgeon Gatlin used a double-barreled shotgun that he had brought for hunting.
Lieutenant Basinger unlimbered the six-pounder and turned loose with canister.
"Don't fire unless you see your mark, men," Captain Gardiner shouted. Perhaps he regretted having
come when he might have stayed for Christmas with his wife; perhaps not. He was a soldier.
The Seminoles lay close; but now and then a head and shoulders were visible, in the grass and among
the palmettos and pine trunks. The flint-lock muskets scored.
 There was hard fighting for twenty minutes. The canister seemed to frighten the enemy; on a sudden
the Seminoles broke, and disappeared behind a little hill half a mile in the northwest.
"Now, my lads! Quick! Save those wounded, doctor. Set a detail at work gathering cartridges,
Henderson. Be prepared to move your gun, Basinger. We'll have to throw up breastworks, lads."
The words of Captain Gardiner were cheery. There still was no thought of retreat. While the wounded
were being attended to and the cartridge boxes collected, the rest of the men felled trees. They
hastened to pile the trunks into shape of a small triangle, near the road. But they had raised their
breastworks only knee high when an alarm shout sounded—the Seminoles were coming back, over
the hill and down!
"That will have to do, men. Deploy as light infantry," Captain Gardiner ordered. "Take what shelter
you can and we'll beat 'em off."
The soldiers extended in skirmish line behind the trees, once more. Lieutenant Basinger opened again
with his six-pounder. The battle was resumed. The Seminoles had come too soon.
The six-pounder, exposed outside the breastworks, boomed in vain. Scattered, the Seminoles stole
forward from tree to tree and grass clump to grass clump. They formed a circle enclosing the whole
little company. It was not long before all the men were forced inside the breastworks. Now they
numbered only thirty, and four officers. Two of these officers were wounded. Poor young Lieutenant
Keais could do
 nothing. His broken arms had been slung in handkerchiefs; he lay behind the breastworks, his head
and shoulders bolstered by the logs. Lieutenant Henderson, his left arm helpless, loaded and fired a
musket, resting it upon a stump, with his right arm—"kept up his spirits and cheered on the
men" until he, too, was killed.
Lieutenant Basinger and gun squad stayed outside with the field piece until he alone was left alive;
then, badly wounded, he crawled in.
Unluckily the. breastworks had been built upon a spot which happened to be lower than the ground
about it. Standing behind the trees the Seminoles could fire right into it. The brave Regulars were
being picked off. Lying there, in line behind the low ramparts, they fought back from nine in the
morning until two in the afternoon.
Lieutenant Keais had been killed at last, by a ball through the head. Lieutenant Henderson was gone.
Doctor Gatlin had knelt with two double-barreled shot-guns beside him.
"Well, I've got four barrels for them," he had said. Then a bullet silenced him.
Gallant Captain Gardiner had fallen.
"I can give you no more orders, my lads. Do your best," he had uttered.
The wounded Lieutenant Basinger and three privates were still active. The Seminoles ceased firing.
The four soldiers, peering between the logs, saw them approaching. Chief Micanopy, a heavy man
stripped and painted to the waist, was making a speech and
point-  ing. The Seminoles were about to charge and finish the business.
"Lie flat. Don't breathe. Let them think you're dead," Lieutenant Basinger gasped.
That was done. In came the Seminoles, at a run. But they acted rather better than might have been
expected of Indians. They did not mutilate the bodies, except to take a few scalps. They stepped
about carefully, gathering the guns and cartridges. They did not kill the wounded, and soon left,
for the north.
Then a worse thing occurred. A horde of swamp blacks who had been abused by their former white
masters rode up on mules and horses. They were like wild men. They plundered the fort, killed
Lieutenant Basinger and a number of other wounded. They, too, left.
The three privates who had been overlooked remained alive. One of them, Private Wilson of the Second
Artillery, could stand it no longer. He sprang up and made a dash. A Seminole who had stayed to
watch shot him as he leaped over the logs.
The two other men, Privates Ransom Clarke and D. Long, lay flat until after darkness. At nine
o'clock this night they decided to try for Fort Brooke. Private Clarke had been wounded in five
places, and Private Long also could scarcely walk; but they set out.
The next day an Indian on horseback chased Private Long, and killed him. Ransom Clarke was three
days in reaching Fort Brooke. He found that two comrades, who had escaped from outside the
 had been ahead of him; they both had died. Out of the one hundred and ten officers and men he was
the only survivor to tell the story of the great fight by the Major Francis Dade column, there in
Sumter County, west central Florida, December 28, 1835.
It was over a year later—for the Seminoles had kept the United States troops very
busy—when another column marched along the road past the battle field. The field was a
remarkable sight. The story told itself. No bodies had been moved. Even the bones of the ox teams
and the horses lay where they had first fallen. The skeletons of the advance squad could be counted;
so could those of the main column, in the road and among the trees, fronting the enemy; and inside
the breastworks there were the thirty, they likewise facing the enemy, in final lines, each
shriveled form at its battle post.
Four wounded men, it was known, had escaped after the battle; three of them had reached Fort Brooke,
two of these had not lived. All the others, one hundred and six out of the one hundred and
ten—eight officers and ninety-eight men—were here by actual count.
They were buried in two graves, near the road; the six-pounder was hauled out of the swamp into
which it had been thrown by the Seminoles, and was set up at the head of the trench, for a monument.
After the close of the Seminole War in 1842 the one hundred and six were removed to San Augustine.
Another monument was erected, with solemn ceremony. And that the record of the Major Dade command
 inspire the young soldiers of the Nation, a pedestal to Major Dade was placed at West Point Military
Academy, inscribed to commemorate that battle of the 28th of December, 1835, "in which (it says) all
the detachment save three fell without an attempt to retreat."
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics