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The "Dade Massacre" was a 1835 defeat for the United States Army that started the Second Seminole War, which lasted until 1842.
On December 23, 1835, 110 U.S. troops under Major Francis L. Dade departed from Fort Brooke (present-day Tampa) and headed up the King Highway (military road) on a resupply and reinforce mission to Fort King (present-day Ocala). Dade knew his men might be attacked by Seminole Indians who were shadowing his men, but believed that if an attack were to occur, it would occur during one of the river crossings or in the thicker woods to the south. Having passed these, he felt safe and recalled his flanking scouts in order that the command could move faster.
Although the terrain he was now in, pines and palmettos, could not have concealed anyone who was standing or walking, it could and did conceal crouched or prone warriors waiting in ambush. The Seminoles did not refrain from attacking in the other places because they thought they could achieve better surprise later, but because they were waiting for Osceola to join them. They finally gave up waiting and attacked without him.
The troops marched for five quiet days until December 28, when they were just south of the present-day city of Bushnell, Florida. They were passing through a high hammock with oaks, pines, cabbage palms, and saw palmetto when a shot rang out.
An eyewitness account by Seminole leader Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator, as the white man called him) read as follows:
"We had been preparing for this more than a year... Just as the day was breaking, we moved out of the swamp into the pine-barren. I counted, by direction of Jumper, one hundred and eighty warriors.Upon approaching the road, each man chose his position on the west side... About nine o'clock in the morning the command approached... So soon as all the soldiers were opposite... Jumper gave the whoop, Micanopy fired the first rifle, the signal agreed upon, when every Indian arose and fired, which laid upon the ground, dead, more than half the white men. The cannon was discharged several times, but the men who loaded it were shot down as soon as the smoke cleared away... As we were returning to the swamp supposing all were dead, an Indian came up and said the white men were building a fort of logs. Jumper and myself, with ten warriors, returned. As we approached, we saw six men behind two logs placed one above another, with the cannon a short distance off... We soon came near, as the balls went over us.They had guns, but no powder, we looked in the boxes afterwards and found they were empty".
Only three U.S. soldiers purportedly survived the attack. One was killed the next day by a Seminole. Ransome Clarke, although badly wounded made it back to Fort Brooke, where he provided the only narrative from the Army's side of what had occurred. A third soldier also returned to Fort Brooke, but died a few months later without leaving a report of the battle. The dead soldiers were buried at the site.
- The ambush that the Seminoles prepared for the soldiers can be compared as a version of the ambush prepared for the Romans by Hannibal and his Carthaginians during the Second Punic Wa at the Battle of Lake Trasimene although in miniature. Both featured an army marching on a road attacked by surprise from the left while a body of water lay to the right.
The Seminole are a Native America people originally of Florida who now reside primarily in that state and Oklahoma. The Seminole nation was formed in the 18th century and was composed of Native Americans from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, most significantly the Creek Nation, as well as African Americans who escaped to Florida from slavery in South Carolina and Georgia. While roughly 3,000 Seminoles were forced west of the Mississippi River during Indian Removal, including the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, who picked up new members along their way, approximately 300 to 500 Seminoles stayed and fought in and around the Everglades of Florida. In a series of wars against the Seminoles in Florida, about 1,500 U.S. soldiers died. The Seminoles never surrendered to the United States government, hence, the Seminoles of Florida call themselves the "Unconquered People.
In the late 18th century, the members of the Lower Creek Nation began to migrate into Florida to remove themselves from the dominance of the Upper Creeks. They intermingled with the few remaining indigenous people there, some recently arrived as refugees after the Yamasee War such as the Yuchi, Yamasee, and others. They went on to be called "Seminole", a derivative of the Mvskoke' (a Creek language) word simano-li, an adaptation of the Spanish "cimarrón" which means "wild" (in their case, "wild men"), or "runaway" [men]. The Seminole were a heterogeneous tribe made up of mostly Lower Creeks from Georgia, Mikasuki-speaking Muskogees, and escaped African-American slaves, and to a lesser extent, Indians from other tribes and white Europeans.
The Seminole were on good terms with both the Spanish and the British. In 1784, the treaty ending the American Revolutionary War returned all of Florida to Spanish control. The Spanish Empire's decline allowed the Seminole to settle more deeply into Florida. The Seminole were led by a dynasty of chiefs founded in the 18th century by Cowkeeper. This dynasty lasted until 1842, when the majority of Seminoles were forced to move from Florida to the Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) after the Second Seminole War.