Lower Florida And The Seminoles
( Originally Published 1900 )
South of the mouth of the Ocklawaha the St. John's River broadens into Lake George, the largest of its many lakes, a pretty sheet of water six to nine miles wide and twelve miles long. Volusia, the site of an ancient Spanish mission, is at the head of this lake, and the discharge from the swift but narrow stream above has made sand bars, so that jetties are constructed to deepen the channel. For a long dis-tance the upper river is narrow and tortuous, with numerous islands and swamps, the dark coffee-colored water disclosing its origin ; but the Blue Spring in one place is unique, sending out an ample and rich blue current to mix with the amber. Then Lake Monroe is reached, ten miles long and five miles wide, the head of navigation, y the regular lines of steamers, one hundred and seventy miles above Jacksonville. Here are two flourishing towns, Enterprise on the northern shore and Sanford on the southern, both popular winter resorts, and the latter having two thousand people. The St. John's extends above Lake Monroe, a crooked, narrow, shallow stream, two hundred and fourteen miles farther south-eastward to its source. The region through which it there passes is mostly a prairie with herds of cattle and much game, and is only sparsely settled. The upper river approaches the seacoast, being in one place but three miles from the lagoons bordering the Atlantic. To the southward of Lake Monroe are the winter resorts of Winter Park and Orlando, the latter a town of three thousand population. There are numerous lakes in this district, and then leaving the St. John's valley and crossing the watershed south-ward through the pine forests, the Okeechobee waters are reached, which flow down to that lake. This region was the home of a part of the Seminole Indians, and Tohopekaliga was their chief, whom they revered so highly that they named their largest lake in his honor. The Kissimmee River flows southward through this lake, and then traverses a succession of lakes and swamps to Lake Okeechobee, about two hundred miles southward by the water-line. Kissimmee City is on Lake Tohopekaliga, and extensive drainage operations have been conducted here and to the southward, reclaiming a large extent of valuable lands, and lowering the water-level in all these lakes and attendant swamps.
From Lake Tohopegalika through the tortuous water route to Lake Okeechobee, and thence by the Caloosahatchie westward to the Gulf of Mexico, is a winding channel of four hundred and sixty miles, though in a direct line the distance is but one hundred and fifty miles. Okeechobee, the word meaning the "large water," covers about twelve hundred and fifty square miles, and almost all about it are the everglades or " grass water," the shores being generally a swampy jungle. This district for many miles is a mass of waving sedge grass eight to ten feet high above the water, and inaccessible excepting through narrow, winding and generally hidden channels. In one locality a few tall lone pines stand like sentinels upon Arpeika Island, formerly the home of the bravest and most dreaded of the Seminoles, and still occupied by some of their descendants. The name of the Seminole means the "separatist" or "runaway " Indians, they having centuries ago separated from the Creeks in Georgia and gone south-ward into Florida. From the days of De Soto to the time of their deportation in the nineteenth century the Spanish, British, French and Americans made war with these Seminole Indians. Gradually they were pressed southward through Florida. Their final refuge was the green islands and hummocks of the everglades, and they then clung to their last homes with the tenacity of despair. The greater part of this region is an unexplored mystery ; the deep silence that can be actually felt, everywhere pervades; and once lost within the labyrinth, the ad-venturer is doomed unless rescued. Only the Indians knew its concealed and devious paths. On Arpeika Island the Cacique of the Caribs is said to have ruled centuries ago, until forced south out of Florida by the Seminoles. It was at times a refuge for the buccaneer with his plunder and a shrine for the missionary martyr who planted the Cross and was murdered beside it. This island was the last retreat of the Seminoles in the desultory war from 1835 to 1843, when they defied the Government, which, during eight years, spent $50,000,000 upon expeditions sent against them. Then the attempt to remove all of them was abandoned, and the remnant have since rested in peace, living by hunting and a little trading with the coast settlements. The names of the noted chiefs of this great race—Osceola, Tallahassee, Tohopekaliga, Coa-coo-chee and others —are preserved in the lakes, streams and towns of Florida. Most of the deported tribe were sent to the Indian Territory. There may be three or four hundred of them still in the everglades, peaceful, it is true, yet haughty and suspicious, and sturdily rejecting all efforts to educate or civilize them. They celebrate their great feast, the " Green Corn Dance," in late June ; and they have unwavering faith in the belief that the time will yet come when all their prized everglade land will be theirs again, and the glory of the past redeemed, if not in this world, then in the next one, beyond the " Big Sleep."