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9 Forgotten Struggle The Second Creek War in West Florida, 1837–1854 Brian Rucker Residents of the Florida Panhandle thought they had escaped the ravages that befell the rest of the territory during the Second Seminole War. However, in the spring of 1837, West Florida’s fortunes changed when Creek refugees from Alabama descended into the thick woods and swamps of the region. The Second Creek War had come to Florida, a forgotten struggle that would convulse the Panhandle for the next year and lead to unrest that would stretch to 1854. In the decades prior to this conflict, only a small group of natives resided in the Panhandle. The Apalachicola Indians were the largest group, but smaller bands lived along the shores of St. Andrew’s, Choctawhatchee, Blackwater, and Escambia bays. Indians and half bloods often visited Pensacola, the major city of the region. They came into the area to hunt and fish, to find pasture for their cattle, and to obtain supplies in town.1 Many white residents of West Florida were suspicious of these Indians, regarding them as cattle and horse thieves, drunks, and “rascals.”2 Even George Catlin, the celebrated painter of Native Americans, saw them in a less than favorable light. While visiting Pensacola in 1835, he painted a family catching and drying redfish on Santa Rosa Island. He observed, “The sum total that can be learned or seen of them (like all others that are half civilized) is, that they are to be pitied.”3 Friction and mistrust grew between whites and remaining Indians throughout the 1820s and the early 1830s. The natives were considered a threat, especially by slaveholders who believed they helped slaves to escape and also harbored runaways. Such presumptions were reinforced when runaway slaves actually were found in local camps.4 Henry M. Brackenridge, caretaker of the government-owned Naval Live Oaks Plantation on Santa Rosa peninsula, was concerned merely because “a few poor Indian families” had made the peninsula their hunting ground. He felt such activities increased the chances of destructive fires among the live oak stands. “The straggling Indians must be driven off,” Brackenridge urged the secretary of the navy. “This has been their 238 / Brian Rucker hunting ground, and unless they be ordered away, the fires will be continually breaking out from their camps.”5 Roaming bands of Indians also inhibited development of the region’s resources . Pensacolian Juan de la Rua had problems building a water-powered sawmill on Pond Creek in present-day Santa Rosa County. Indians reportedly frightened away de la Rua’s laborers, and by 1828 he had sold the site and left others to worry about dependable labor.6 Cattlemen in the area were alarmed as well. Small bands of natives frequently raided American cattle holdings and made use of the beeves for their own purposes.7 In 1829 a number of irate settlers from the Pensacola area, concerned about the cattle raids, petitioned the government to take decisive action against the Indians.8 The increasing push to remove all of Florida’s Indians to the west reached a crisis point in November and December 1835. Sugar plantations throughout central and south Florida were destroyed by the natives, and Major Francis 9.1. Richard Keith Call (Florida State Library and Archives). Forgotten Struggle: The Second Creek War in West Florida, 1837–1854 / 239 Dade and more than 100 American troops were massacred in Sumter County. The Second Seminole War officially had begun.9 The outbreak of war prompted Pensacola-based troops to prepare for action. The navy organized a force for use against the Seminoles, composed chiefly of men from the Vandalia under the command of Lieutenant Louis M. Goldsborough.10 Governor Richard Keith Call also ordered the formation of militia regiments in Escambia and Walton counties, asking the counties to furnish sixty and twenty volunteers, respectively, for a term of six months’ service. The troops were to form as soon as possible at San Pedro, Madison County. These developments caught the inhabitants of northwest Florida by surprise, and the regiment was not organized for quite some time.11 In the spring of 1836, settlers living in the Florida Panhandle received additional incentives to organize militias. Alabama volunteer companies, stopping at Pensacola on their way to the “Indian Wars,” no doubt inspired many residents to join the crusade. Newspaper accounts detailed the violent Creek resistance that had erupted near Columbus, Georgia, and in south Alabama. The Second Creek War had begun in...


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