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There's No Place Like Home: the Seminole Wars in Florida


Seminole Indians lived in palm-thatched huts called chickees
What would you do if somebody came to your house and told you, your family and all your friends to pack up your stuff and move across the country? You would have to leave your house, your school and your town for somewhere you and your family have never been before, where you don't know anybody.

Would you do it?

Well, it happened to five Indian tribes from the state of Florida about 200 years ago. White men from the government of this country decided they wanted the land the Indians lived on, and told them to pack up their things and head west to "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma.

Chickees, chickees and more chickees
Now remember, before a white man ever set foot on this land, the Indians were here. They were the first people on this land, and to them it was sacred. Their hearts told them not to leave. Here's what they did.

Two of the tribes, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw, decided to leave. Scared of what might happen if they stayed, they signed treaties with the white men, packed their things and left.

Another tribe, the Creeks, stood their ground and said they wouldn't go. Almost half of them died in fighting with the white men. And the Cherokees were rounded up at gunpoint and sent away. At least 4,000 of them died on the way to Oklahoma.

The last tribe, though, the Seminoles, could not imagine leaving their own sacred land and decided to fight back. They fought three wars with the white men of the government.

The first started in 1814. The government found out that the Seminoles kept slaves, some of them stolen from white men. So soldiers came to the Seminole land looking for slaves, and ended up burning down Seminole towns and hanging Indian chiefs and medicine men. They took the Indians' land and made them move toward swampy Lake Okeechobee.

In 1835 the government tried to get the Seminoles to move to Oklahoma with all the other tribes. The Seminoles said no and fought against the white men who had taken their land. But the soldiers were too busy getting stuck in knee-deep mud and fighting off snakes, alligators and mosquitoes, and more than 100 of them deserted the army, which helped the Indians. While the Indians were used to the swamp, about 1,500 soldiers died in the Second Seminole War.

Hundreds of Indians were put in this jail in the 1800's
The Indians lost people too, though - about 3,000 had either been put in jail, killed or shipped out West. About 300 were able to fight long enough to stay on their homeland.

The Third Seminole War started when some Army guys stole melons from a Seminole Indian named Billy Bowleg. When he asked them to pay him back, they beat him up and started another war. All but about 100 Seminoles ended up going to Oklahoma.

The rest stayed on the land they loved so much, and still live there today -- running safaris, casinos, rides on air-boats and Bingo, and showing tourists how to wrestle alligators.

Do you think it was worth it for the Indians to try to stay on their land? What do you think you would have done?


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


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