From the beginning, living conditions were very primitive, and the only quarters were a few thatched huts. Military troops were kept in a constant state of drill and detail to keep them occupied. Indian attacks were a constant danger; once the cook was shot while gathering vegetables in the garden.
At the fort, mosquitoes and flies made living conditions almost intolerable, and sickness was rampant. At least six fires of pine logs were constantly burning inside the fort to keep the insects away. Wood cutting details had to constantly collect wood and were always in danger of being attacked by Seminoles. One ambush saw five soldiers killed.
Fort Thompson was on the south side of the Caloosahatchee, established on November 23, 1854. It was abandoned in January 1855 because of flooding from the river.
1917 photo from State of Florida Archives that identifies this building as barracks of Fort Thompson. It is most likely a ranch house at the location of the former fort.
Other Seminole War forts: Fort Simmons and Fort T.B. Adams
In December 1855 the Third Seminole War was started, probably near what is today Graham Marsh.
First Lieutenant George L. Hartsuff took 10 soldiers from Fort Myers on a survey exhibition into the Big Cypress Swamp in early December. On December 18, 1855, they found the village of Chief Billy Bowlegs, nephew of Chief Micanopy of the Wind Clan. The camp was empty, and the Seminoles did not want to confront the soldiers. Accounts are unclear what happened, but it is believed that the soldiers destroyed the chief's garden with some prize-winning vegetables. One story is that Bowlegs went to complain to Hartsuff, but was taunted and laughed out of camp.
Billy Bowlegs ready for war.
The next morning, about 40 warriors under Billy Bowleg's command attacked the soldier's camp. At least four soldiers were killed, and Hartsuff himself was wounded in three places and had to hide in the muddy swamp until the Seminoles were gone. Only three soldiers escaped unhurt, and the survivors were able to make it back to Fort Myers. George Hartsuff recovered and played a major part during the Civil War, but his death in 1874 was related to a chest wound he received during this battle. The Army and Florida Militia called up soldiers, and the Third Seminole War had begun.
After doing more research, I am not certain about this story any more. Other authorities give the location of Bowlegs camp south of Immokalee in Collier County.
Even the actual incident is in doubt, because I am having a hard time verifying the destruction of the garden in historical and contemporary sources.
One thing that is certain, is that the soldiers were surveying the land, which was a violation of any agreements with the Indians that no Indian land would be surveyed. This goes back at least to the late 1700s. Any surveying is a sign that the U.S. or state intends on developing or selling the land. Land that was considered Indian reservation land was not to be surveyed.
Another interesting note that has been overlooked was that every village that Hartsuff came across was empty. The only time that happened, was when war was about the break out, and the soldiers were about to be attacked. This happened in the Creek War of 1813, with the Seminoles in 1835 & 1836, and in Big Cypress at the end of the Third Seminole War. If the soldiers were surveying the land, the Seminoles / Miccosukees would consider this a provocation, abandon the villages for safety, and possibly retaliate. (Which seems to be the case here.) Remember that in 1849, Billy Bowlegs went to extreme measures to keep the peace when warriors attacked a trading post and community in south Florida. This time it was the soldiers invading the Indians, not the Indians attacking the settlers.
This museum contains the largest collection on display of Seminole clothing. For a long time in Florida, there were very few museums that had a large clothing collection from Florida Seminoles, much less a complete man or woman's outfit. It was not until the 1980's that there were very many museums that were even interested in Florida Seminoles. So it was with well deserved fanfare that this museum opened on the 40th Anniversary of the modern Florida Seminole Tribe in 1997.
Most of the clothing is based around what the Seminoles wore in the year 1900. This was a time of transition, when the Seminoles were still living their traditional life and kept to the old ways of living. Besides the clothing, there are many artifacts of everyday life. The display and tools for making bread from the cootie root are very interesting. There are also interactive multi-media presentations. It also includes a traditional Seminole village with a mile long boardwalk, and resource library. A new, state-of-the-art curator building was completed in 2003.
Throughout the year, the museum offers different programs including seminars for making traditional crafts.
A couple of the figures in the museum with great attention to detail.
Billie Swamp Safari (Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation):
A modern tourist resort in the Big Cypress Reservation. The "Swamp Water Cafe" features a wide variety of traditional or contemporary cooking for all meals. Guided tours in swamp buggies or airboats are offered. You can sleep in one of chickees that are screened in to keep the critters out at night. (Panthers have been known to walk the grounds at night--restrooms are in separate buildings.)
Crocodile pit at the Swamp Safari with St. Pete Times newspaper reporters.
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© 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 Chris Kimball
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