Black Seminoles Original

By Christopher D. Kimball Special to the Huachuca Scout (Author's note: This month during Black History Month, we have seen several reminders of the Buffalo Soldiers and their triumph in difficult situations. Here is a little-known story about one group of men who went from fighting against the United States to becoming Buffalo Soldiers in one generation. Little is said about the black Seminoles, so I feel it is important that their story be told.) In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Florida was spanish territory. Many slaves from plantations in the Southeast escaped to Florida because it was the nearest international border. Once there, the former slaves were adopted by the Seminole Indians, who themselves had escaped from slavery and political unrest among the Creek Indians. The former slaves organized towns and fully adopted the Creek-Seminole customs and languages, and soon many blacks were born as free men. The black Seminoles had a voice in the head Seminole councils. They made political decisions and participated in seminole battles and raiding parties. The plantations could not tolerate the fact that their slaves were escaping to Florida in alarming numbers. Since the plantation owners ran the government in the south and made political decisions, the federal government became involved. From 1780 to 1818, border raids were constant between all sides. Plantation owners in Georgia and Mississippi territories wanted the Florida land and accused the Seminoles of taking their slaves. The Seminoles accused the slave owners of raiding them and taking their black Seminole allies. On top of that, the Creek Indians declared that the Seminoles were under their authority and demanded them back as slaves. The United States wanted Florida and thought it should be part of America. The Spanish government did not do anything to control the Indians raiding southern Georgia, and the United States did not do anything to control the plantation owners from raiding the Indians. The worst incident in the border skirmishes happened July 27, 1816. A group of black Seminoles had moved into a fort that the British had abandoned on the Appalachicola River in Florida, which became known as Negro Fort. An American supply ship travelling up river to Fort Scott, Ga., came upon the fort and both sides started firing. A lucky shot from the ship hit the fort's powder magazine and blew the fort sky-high. Most of the black Seminoles who were inside the fort were killed instantly. In 1818, Gen. Andrew Jackson took a force of 3500 Creek Indians, regular army troops and Tennessee volunteers, and attacked and destroyed several black Seminole towns in northern Florida. The black Seminoles put up the hardest resistance and held back Jackson's army while the villagers in northern Florida were evacuated. When the blacks retreated, they left only empty villages for Jackson, who burned and looted them. When the Spanish asked Jackson to explain why he attacked Spanish Florida, he said, "to chastise a savage foe, who, combined with a lawless band of Negro brigands, have for some time past been carrying on a cruel and unprovoked war against the citizens of the United States, and has compelled the president to direct me to march my army into Florida." Spain realized that it couldn't keep Florida and sold in to the United States for $5 million. As soon as Florida became United States territory, James Gadsden was authorized by Congress to negotiate a treaty with the Seminoles. He took the view that the whites in Florida were not safe as long as the Indians remained and as long as slaves could run and join the Seminoles. The Treaty of Moultrie Creek was signed in 1823, and one of the provisions was that escaped slaves be returned by the Seminoles to their former masters. By 1825, it was obvious that the Seminoles would not freely give up their black allies to the whites. Governor DuVal tried to persuade them, saying the blacks were no help to them and only caused trouble. Seminole Chief John Hicks responded that the whites had not treated them well since the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. After the Indian Removal Act of 1830, all the Seminoles and their allies were told to leave Florida by Jan. 1, 1836. By December 1835, it was clear that the Seminoles didn't intend to leave. It was decided to send two infantry companies, totaling 110 men under the command of Maj. Francis Dade from Fort Brooke at Tampa Bay, to the Indian agency at Fort King 100 miles away. Two-thirds of the way there, Dec. 28, 1835, the command was ambushed and completely destroyed by the Seminoles. Only a few miles away was a black Seminole village and their warriors came as soon as they heard ches in Texas, but the survivors of Coacoochee's party made it to Mexico and settled there. There are many descendents of the black Seminoles who live in Mexico today and also many along the Rio Grande in Texas. (Lake Seminole on the Rio Grande takes its name from them.) Horse was captured and wounded by a slave raiding party in 1852 and Coacoochee died of small pox in 1857. During the Civil War, many black Seminoles joined the First Kansas Colored Infantry in May 1863 and won a decisive battle against Confederate forces. When they had captured the Confederates, they noticed that they had brought back several hundred sets of handcuffs with them. The handcuffs intended for the black Seminoles were used against the Confederate soldiers instead. After slavery was abolished at the end of the Civil War, the Army sought help against Indian raiding parties along the Rio Grande. The Seminoles spoke the language and knew the land, making them valuable trackers. Many who had settled in Mexico crossed back over the Rio Grande and settled in Texas. From 1873 to 1881, the black Seminoles served as Buffalo Soldiers and scouts for the Army without a single man killed in 25 actions. They fought Comanche and Apache war parties and pursued them for months in the desert and cold without supplies or back-up forces. In July 1875, several black Seminoles were formed into a company of Buffalo Soldier scouts to pursue raiding Comanches in Texas and southeast New Mexico. The Comanches fled and scattered and no major battle took place. One thing the black Seminoles did accomplish during that campaign was to clear the whole area of Plains Indian raiding parties. In 1876, American forts along the border at the Rio Grande were constantly harassed by Indians in Mexico. Gen. E.O.C. Ord organized a large party of Buffalo Soldiers, including several companies of the 10th Cavalry and black Seminoles, to get into Mexico and attack the raiding Indians. They burned a Kickapoo village on the other side of the Rio Grande and scattered the raiders. Only one soldier was lost when he drowned in the Rio Grande. The black Seminoles continued into the next year fighting Indian raiding parties an Mexican revolutionaries around the Rio Grande area. The largest battle that the Seminole Buffalo Soldiers participated in took place in Mexico, near the Big Bend area of the Rio Grande. The Seminoles chased after a group of Kickapoos that were known to be hiding in Mexico, and found the location of the hostile camp high in the Santa Rosa Mountains. The battle took place around Nov.29, 1876, in the snow and the mountains. The Buffalo Soldiers continued without adequate clothing and supplies until they had defeated the Indians who had been raiding in the area. On Dec. 3, the Buffalo Soldiers received a warm welcome back at Fort Clark, Texas, and a rare commendation from the past commander. These days the families related to the former Buffalo Soldiers still get together and talk about the past. Few outsiders know about the amazing and heroic exploits of the black Seminole Buffalo Soldiers. A grave of one of the former scouts seems to sum up a lot, when it simply says, "Born in Florida."

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