The Last Battle of the Third Seminole War
By Chris Kimball
We are familiar with the shots that started the Seminole Wars.The dates and locations are easily found by flipping through a Florida history book or tour book of sites in Florida.
Although the beginning shots are well remembered, the final battles are soon forgotten.Parks, monuments, and historical markers usually mark the opening shots.But we are hard pressed to find any information on the final shots and last battles.
The last campaign against the Seminoles of the Third Seminole war was in 1857, and the last skirmish was held six months before the war was finally declared over.But now, not only do we know the area where it happened, we also know of a monument at the state capitol to the final skirmish.
In November of 1857, the state of Florida and the U.S. Army conducted a failed campaign to round up the last of the Seminole and Miccosukee people in Florida.Most all of this campaign was conducted in what is now Collier county in southwest Florida, covering what is today state and national park and preservation land.
Interesting are some similarities between this final skirmish of the Third Seminole War, and Dade’s Battle that started the Second Seminole War 22 years earlier.Both campaigns involved 110 soldiers on the march.Both resulted in the death of the commanding officer, and defeat for the soldiers.Both involved an ambush with an over-confident Army commander that did not have enough men to successfully win the battle.One of the supply forts during the 1857 campaign was Camp Keais, named after one of the officers killed with Major Dade.
On November 22nd, 1857, a command of Florida Volunteers numbering 110 men landed on the island of Chokoloskee.The commanding officer, Colonel S. St. George-Rogers, became ill, so Captain John Parkhill took up the command.(Another parallel to Dade’s Battle, where Major Dade took command when Captain Gardiner’s wife became ill.)Parkhill’s command traveled up what is now the Turner River, and entered the area of what is now Big Cypress National Preserve.After the campaign was over, it was left up to Col. St. George-Rogers of the Florida Volunteers to report what happened.
The military maps of the area had much to be desired.There was much confusion on where they actually were.(What was later named the Turner River, after the Army guide on the expedition who eventually settled there.)
“The maps in my possession are reported so inaccurate as to render it doubtful as to the name of the stream.Capt. Turner calls it the Fakkahatchee, which river is laid down as entering considerable to the Southward.Mr. Harris thinks Chokoliska laid down to the far to the North on the map and I agree with him.”
“Captain Turner though a most excellent and fearless guide & though he can go anywhere into the country & come out again has not a correct idea of the geography of the country.The course of the scout for three days was generally N.W.The large cypress swamps heretofore reported impracticable were penetrated.The route lay through a section never before examined.“
Landing about nine miles up river, Parkhill’s command traveled to the northwest and followed several trails that connected Seminole villages.Typical of several campaigns conducted at the same time by the Army and Florida Volunteers, they would find several villages and fields of crops, but no Seminoles.Many trails of Seminole and Miccosukee footprints were found, sometimes showing a great number of people had passed that way.But when the trails were followed, they would soon disappear in the middle of the Big Cypress with only a dead end in the swamp.
Scouting several trails, Captain Parkhill’s command located a village known as Royal Palm Hammock. The village was of course empty, like all others found.The soldiers razed the village and crops.
“After following the first large trail mentioned a large Indian settlement was discovered in a Palm Hammock.There were about thirty lodges and about 40 acres of land cleared and in cultivation.Large quantities of Pumpkins, Potatoes, Peas, Corn and rice were found, the Corn, Peas, & Rice hid away carefully in houses built off in the Swamp.The trails leading to which were carefully concealed.The Pumpkins were housed in the fields and the ground was literally covered with them of all ages and sizes.Even the trees were full, the vines having run over them.The ground was full of Potatoes.Everything was destroyed that could be.”
On November 28th, in the same area of Royal Palm Hammock, the soldiers set up camp for rest of the sick and wounded.Captain Parkhill scouted other trails and located smaller villages in the area, which were also empty but full of cultivated crops.In the afternoon after supper, Captain Parkhill took several men to continue following trails, while the rest stayed behind in camp.He found a recent trail with signs of tracks, and kept up the pursuit without calling for his other men in camp.He followed about three miles until he came to a stream about 20 yards wide.The area is described as thick cypress swamp.
“After dinner Capt Parkhill took twenty five or thirty men and started to destroy some fields and houses some two or three hundred yards from where the command had bivouacked.On his way he fell into a large trail, upon he discovered fresh Indian tracks.Instead of sending back for a portion of his force behind, he pressed on upon it for about three miles, until it came to a deep stream of water about 20 yards in width with Cypress & thick undergrowth on both sides.Captain Parkhill with five or six of his men had just entered the edge of the water, but had not emerged from the bushes when they were fired upon by a party of 30 or 40 Indians from the opposite bank or rather side of the stream as it had no banks.At the first fire Capt Parkhill was mortally wounded and lived but a few minutes.
Five of his men were severely wounded at the same time.The fire of the Indians was immediately and briskly returned by Lt. John Canova, and it is supposed with some effect, but the Indians fled almost immediately after the first discharge doubtless thinking the force stronger than it was.”
The Seminoles soon disappeared, and firing stopped.The whole skirmish was short and probably only had a couple volleys of shot on either side, but was the last shots fired in the war.
It was night before the men made it back to camp with the wounded and body of Captain Parkhill.No attempt was made after this to pursue the Seminoles.The command fell back and did not resume the campaign, so this is considered a Seminole victory since the Seminole held the ground and the Army fell back.Captain Parkhill’s body was buried on the shore of a lake, and from the description of the report, is probably Deep Lake off highway 29 south of Immokalee.
Parkhill was a well respected officer by both his men and his home town of Tallahassee.He was the highest ranking officer killed in the Third Seminole War.
“I cannot close this Report without paying a just tribute to the merits of the lamented Captain Parkhill.In him the service has lost one of its best officers, and the State of its best citizens.Though a strict disciplinarian for a Volunteer Officer he was beloved by his men.He was a man of elevated & chivalric feelings, and by nature a Soldier.His untimely death throws a gloom over the command and is most deeply lamented by both officers and men.”
Royal Palm Village could be at two locations.The first is the area known as Royal Palm Hammock, which is today Collier-Seminole State Park.An Army Scout looking for the location of the skirmish a couple weeks later visited a site that fits the description of the Royal Palm Hammock at Collier-Seminole State Park, but quickly determines that this was not the location, but it was several miles further inland.
The second location of a Royal Palm Hammock in the area is what is now Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.Fakahatchee, several miles to the northeast of Collier-Seminole State Park, has the largest number of native Royal Palms in the state of Florida.Our guess from the military report of the skirmish seems to indicate that the battle took place in the area of what is now Big Cypress Bend, which has a boardwalk that meanders through an area of large, native bald cypress trees.
Although we do not know for certain, it appears that the location for the Royal Palm Hammock village was in what is today Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, off Janes Scenic Drive, and the battle occurred in the area of Big Cypress Bend, off highway 41.It would be interesting if the remains of Captain Parkhill, buried on the shore of a large lake, were found on the shore of Deep Lake.
By the end of December 1857, the campaigns to find and capture the Seminoles in southwest Florida had reached a total failure.Although several villages and cultivated fields were located and destroyed, the Seminoles remained elusive.The soldiers following the trails came back exhausted, with much of the company weak from sickness.There were not enough soldiers left who were healthy enough to volunteer for a further scout of the area.The soldier’s terms of enlistment had expired, and none were willing to continue in the harsh conditions they had to endure with no successful result.
“I was totally unable to raise another scouting party of sufficient strength to enter the Indian Country and on the 15th I embarked with my whole command for Ft. Myers.”
“I was extremely anxious to continue my operations on the Coast being assured that in the next attempt I would be able to penetrate this country in which Captain Parkhill discovered Indians.But the Boat Companies were determined not to obey the orders which they had received, but to return to Fort Myers upon the expiration of their Term of service, One on the 20th and the other on the 25th of Dec.I had not the force to compel obedience, and indeed deemed it inexpedient to enter an Indian Country with a body of men under compulsion.I could not get off upon a scout until the 19th and on the following day the term of service of Captain Thompsons Co. expired.“
Col. St. George-Rogers was able to compel one company on a last scout.The company’s term of service was expiring, but they would head to Fort Myers by way of the Big Cypress for one last scout to end their service.The conclusion was the same as in November, with abandon fields & villages, and elusive Seminoles.Evidence was found of Seminoles, but the trails would quickly run cold.
“Great numbers of women and children had passed over it in both directions.It gradually became smaller and smaller, until it went into another Cypress six miles to the Eastward.Here it assumed the appearance of an old but little traveled trail.The Indians that had traveled over the western portion of it had evidently scattered as they crossed the prairie.”
As the year came to a close in 1857, the Army has scouted south of Fort Myers, along the coast from Marco Island to the east and well inland, and nearly all of what is today Collier County.They had found and destroyed many villages and fields of crops, but not removed the Indians.Continuing the war would be no easy task, and further stated by Col. St. George-Rogers:
“It has been satisfactorily demonstrated that mounted men can not reach their (Seminole’s) retreats.The consequence is that horses become an encumbrance.Mounted men can only be supplied by wagons.Footmen might be supplied by means of pack mules.The equipments of mounted men are unfit for foot service.Camp Rogers the present post, from which the troops must enter the Indian Country, has proven most unhealthy, and yet it is as good as any other that can be had so near the Indians accessible to wagons.“
The Seminoles and Miccosukees enjoyed the upper hand of any further attempt that would have been made to remove them.Besides the terrain that offered concealment, they had ample sources of food, besides numerous crops hidden away in hammocks across the swamp and wet grasslands.The Army recognized that it would be impossible to remove every Seminole, if they were ever able to locate them.The swamp created a barrier that prevented mounted troops from entering, so any movement by the Army would be slow and exhaustive.The officers recognized that it would be not only futile to continue the war, but also logistically impossible.Climate, terrain, and disease, had conquered the soldiers.
“The troops that have been stationed there are in a wretched condition.Out of five whole companies and detachments from three others, I could raise but one hundred and fifteen men, able to do foot services or reported able by their company officers and by the Surgeon of the Post, and of these, had I desired to select able bodied healthy men, I should unquestionably have rejected nearly one half.This constitutes the whole effective force of my Regiment stationed on the Cypress.And when the present scout returns, I much doubt if more than sixty or seventy men can be raised for foot service from the whole command.This disability for service is not confined to the privates.Their officers are prostrated by sickness and are unable to lead their men.”
Further comments by Col. St. George-Rogers details the utter hopelessness that it would be for him to continue the war:
“Under existing circumstances, I know not what to do for the short period left of Term of Service of my Regiment.In the present condition of the troops, I can do nothing.Service cannot be obtained from men scarcely able to walk, much less carry heavy packs upon their backs.The service required here cannot be performed by men who under ordinary circumstances might be able to do foot service.I have tried it and I know that it required men of more than ordinary power of endurance.One single scout of seven days will disable men of any other character, (even if able to accomplish one) for a long time.I may therefore safely say that so far as my Regiment is concerned, this campaign is at an end.The Colonel commanding must be assured of my willingness and rendered great anxiety to bring this war to a close.I have up to this time left no stone unturned for the furtherance of this end.I have not hesitated when I thought it necessary to take the field myself, and on foot.Encounter the hardship attendant upon such service in the Big Cypress.”
Royal Palm Hammock Monument
On the State Capitol Lawn
Known only to a few, is the monument to the last skirmish the United States and State of Florida had against the Seminoles and Miccosukee.Much forgotten is the monument to the battle of Royal Palm Hammock on the state capitol lawn.This monument is in front of the old capitol building in Tallahassee on Monroe Street, overlooking the Apalachee parkway.
The monument is dedicated to Captain John Parkhill, killed near Royal Palm Hammock.Parkhill was head of a company of Florida Volunteer soldiers from Leon County, Tallahassee area.
The inscription at the base says,
Capt. John Parkhill
Of Leon Volunteers.
This monument is erected by his fellow citizens of Leon County, Florida.
As a testimonial of their high esteem for his character and public services.
He was born July 10, 1823 and was killed at Palm Hammock in South Florida while leading his company in a charge against the Seminole Indians, November 28 A.D. 1857.
This was the last battle of the Seminole Wars, and the event that is reenacted each February at Collier-Seminole State Park, during the annual Native American and Pioneer Festival.The outcome of the battle was a loss to the state of Florida and the U.S. Army, who failed to remove or capture any Indians during this campaign.The results were that the Seminole and Miccosukee people still remain in this area today.Six months later the war was declared over.
The age of this monument in front of the capitol is unknown, but probably dates to after the Civil War, because the other similar monument on the capitol lawn is to Florida Confederate Civil War casualties.So for the two monuments on the capitol lawn, the only one specific to a person and place is the monument to Capt. Parkhill and the battle at Royal Palm Hammock during the Third Seminole War.