Marion County

The remains of the early Floridians in this area are pretty spectacular. There have been village remains found along the springs, lakes, and rivers. Early Floridians built a shell wall on the south side of Lake George centuries before written history. This wall is three feet high, 75 feet wide, and hundreds of feet long. It was built to protect crops from waves and flooding from the lake. (Lake George is one of the largest lakes Florida.)

A party of Spaniards from the DeSoto exhibition named the area of Ocali after the people who lived in the area around 1539. Early Floridians enjoyed the many freshwater springs and built villages around them. Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest was the location of one of these ancient Florida villages.

Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest had the largest Indian mound found in the area. A complete bowl found here is 47 inches in circumference. Much of the mound was taken away for road fill, but there is some areas that obviously remain. Other Ocala Forest finds include a spectacular star pendent from a village site in the north of forest. In the 1820's and 30's, General Clinch had a plantation here at Silver Glen Springs.


In February 1836, General Edmund P. Gaines left Tampa Bay with a force of 1100 men to open up the road to Fort King. They were the first ones to see the remains of Major Dade and his command, eight weeks after the battle. They buried the remains and continued on to Fort King. When they reached Fort King, they found out that there was only enough food to supply them for a couple days. Gaines sent the horses up to Fort Drane for supplies, but they could not get much there either. Since they could not stay, Gaines decided to return to Tampa Bay, and this time travel west and strike the Indians in the Cove of the Withlacoochee along the way.


General Edmund P. Gaines photographed before his death in 1849.
If you can examine a clearer copy of this photo, you will notice a noticeable scar on his upper lip. This is from a Seminole bullet received at the siege of Camp Izard.

Gaines met the Seminoles while trying to cross the Withlacoochee River on February 27, 1836, not far from the same area that General Clinch fought two months earlier. Gaines decided that instead of attacking the Seminoles directly and in the open, that he would call for General Clinch's army at Fort Drane to surround the Indians from the other direction. Unfortunately Gaines ended up trapped and surrounded instead. General Scott had just taken command of the forces in Florida, and gave Clinch orders to remain where he was.

Gaines' army followed along the river and reached a peninsula on February 28th. The Indians attacked before Gaines was able to cross the river and mortally wounded Lieutenant James Izard. The army was forced to retreat and build a breastwork to protect themselves, named Camp Izard after their fallen officer. The soldiers defended themselves against constant attack by 1500 Seminoles under Micanopy and Osceola for over a week without food rations. One time the Indians even attempted to burn the soldiers out by setting fire to the brush outside the stockade.

According to the map and description by one of the soldiers present, Woodburne Potter, the stockade was on a peninsula about 700-800 yards wide, with a pond in the middle that provided water. The area was large enough that the Seminoles' rifle shots could reach the soldiers, but far enough away so the soldiers' musket shots could not reach the Seminoles. (Rifles that the Indians had could have twice the effective range compared to the soldier's muskets.)

Lieutenant James Izard died after much suffering and was buried at the stockade. The grave was obscured so the Indians would not find it after the soldiers had left. Five years later it was noticed to still be untouched, and it is not sure if Izard's remains were transported to St. Augustine at the end of the war in 1842. His bones may still be there.

General Gaines himself was injured from a bullet during the siege. While talking to Lieutenant George McCall, Gaines was hit by a ball in the mouth that had bounced off a nearby tree. The ball knocked out his lower two front teeth, but Gaines calmly removed it and handed it over to Lieutenant McCall as a souvenir.


Map of Camp Izard, from an original copy in this author's possession.

Gaines sent several messages for help to General Clinch at Fort Drane, but unfortunately Clinch could do little. Clinch was under orders from General Scott to stay at Fort Drane. General Scott also ignored any requests for help from Gaines. Scott and Gaines were long time rivals, and Scott considered any trouble that Gaines got himself into was his own fault. Gaines was commander of the Army in the West, which included the western side of the Florida peninsula. Scott was given command of the forces in Florida, and had his own idea on how things should be done. Scott would later blame Gaines for launching a major campaign and foiling Scott's plans for rounding up the Seminoles.

The men at Fort Drane claimed that they could hear the thunder of the cannon from Gaines' battle, but were helpless to do anything and were very worried. Finally Clinch disobeyed orders when he had enough of thinking about how Gaines' troops were surrounded with no food or powder left, so Clinch sent a relief of 500 soldiers from Fort Drane.

Finally the Seminoles decided that the siege was proving difficult for them as well, and arranged a peace talk with General Gaines on March 6, 1836. While Gaines was talking to Seminole leaders of Osceola, Jumper, Abraham, Alligator, and John Caesar, General Clinch's command arrived to rescue Gaines. Not knowing what was happening and seeing a large group of hostiles, Clinch's force fired on the Seminoles and scattered the Indians. Gaines claimed that they lost their only chance to get surrender from so many important Seminole chiefs at one time and end the war. The army had nothing left to do but return Gaines' starved and weary command to Fort Drane.

General Gaines took General Scott to court over the situation of Camp Izard. Although Gaines proved that Scott had refused to help a fellow officer needing help, Scott had too many friends to receive an unfavorable judgment.

There is evidence that the battle site of Fort Izard was occupied at times as a fort during the war, but probably only for a brief time. There was a settlement around the turn of the century known as Stokes Ferry, with several houses built on the peninsula.

The "Seminole Wars Historic Foundation, Inc." plans to turn the property into a park. Plans are for a museum and educational center with living history programs. But that would be far into the future. Access is very limited, and our vehicles had a problem of getting stuck in the mud whenever there would be a trace of water on the ground. This region is part of "The Greenway", a natural preserve along the major river and wetlands of Florida, so at least we won't lose the site to a shopping mall.


Other Seminole War Forts in Marion County: Fort Fowle on the Oklawaha River, which was probably a small structure and not a complete fortification. (Fort King was nearby, so Fort Fowle was only used to guard the river crossing.) Also Fort Hook near Cotton Plant, Fort Russell on Orange Creek, and Fort Wheelock on Orange Lake.

Fort Mackay was later renamed Fort McCoy, which is the small town of the same name today. MacKay and MacCoy were both settlers in the area that were killed by Indians during the war. (Yes, the town of Fort McCoy and the settler Jeb MacCoy's name are spelled different; people just didn't spell much back then.) When hostilities got really bad, Jeb McCoy was killed by Indians while bringing his family into Fort Russell. Captain Mackay was head of the local militia, and was killed while surveying Itonia Scrub on March 20, 1839.


PLACES TO VISIT:

Marion County History Museum:

This museum is located behind the McPherson government complex on the corner of SW Fort King Street and 25th Street in Ocala. Earl and Bette DeBary put together a full-size Seminole man and women's outfit of the early 19th century for display. They are put together by historical reenactors who know more about Seminole outfitting than most people.

Other artifacts on display: An ancient dugout canoe over a large and interesting arrowhead collection. Many ancient points found in the county are made from rock found elsewhere in the country, like North Carolina. A 12,000-year-old mammoth hip bond found in Silver Springs shows evidence that it was killed and butchered by ancient Floridians. When it was found several years ago, it pushed back the date of human habitation in Florida by 4,000 years. Also on displays are bottles recovered from Fort King.

The museum is open most Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., but since it is run by volunteers, the hours and days may vary.


Silver River Museum at Silver River State Park:

There are a few Seminole War artifacts on display, as well as some interesting items from Spanish and Pre-Columbian periods. Other exhibits on the local underground limestone geology and prehistoric animals. Very nicely done. The entrance is on State Road 35, about a mile south of the entrance to the Silver Springs attraction.

After the war ended in 1842, Sam Jones moved his village back to Silver Springs. He lived there for about three years until the white man who gained ownership of the land chased him off. The Seminoles returned again to become part of the tourist attraction at Silver Springs in the 20th century. This time they were able to live their traditional life, thanks to people like Ross Allen and Wilfred T. Neill. But ownership changed, times changed, and the Seminoles went back south around 1960.


Postcard of Seminole Village at Silver Springs, about 1940.


Read about Fort King, Osceola, and Fort Drane. (I divided this information into another page, because it was too much for one.)


Return to the Chapter IV contents page.

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(c) 1998, 2002, 2003 Chris Kimball
Note: None of this material can be reproduced without written permission from the author.