During the 1980's one of the most significant archaeology finds of the decade was found here in Citrus County. Not only were these important finds, but it was surprising to find an undisturbed site in Florida considering how much over-development the state had experienced over the past decade.
In the early 1980's, a family from New Jersey visited the Dade Battlefield Museum and carried with them a copy of their ancestor's journal that had served as an officer in the army during the Second Seminole War. Lieutenant Henry Prince traveled much in the area of the Cove of the Withlacoochee and gave detailed descriptions of the places he visited during the military campaigns. Using the Prince diaries, the search was on for the location of Osceola's former town.
With the help of Paul Anderson, a local amateur archaeologist and camp ranger of the McGregor-Smith Scout Reservation, the hunt was on for Osceola's former hideout, known as Powell's Town. (Osceola was often referred to as Powell.) Not only did they find Powell's Town, but also it was also on the scout property under Ranger Anderson's care. The area had been lost for 150 years, and was so far back in the swamp that it had remained undisturbed. At the same time the town site was located, a major mound was found nearby, the Tatum Mound.
We have learned several things from the excavation of these sites. It is also important because Seminole archaeological sites are finally being considered important in the native history of Florida. The Tatum Mound also contained a remarkable discovery.
The excavation of Powell's Town tells us much of the Seminoles during the Second Seminole War. One important observation that can clearly be seen is that the Seminoles were going through a religious revival, and they returned to the old ways and resisted the manufactured trade goods. There are very few artifacts left behind, but they are definitely Seminole. The most interesting item found was a cast iron kettle of British manufacture, made in the late 1700's. The Seminoles left behind little, and it is believed that this town was a hideout for only about a year. The Seminoles also seemed to respect the ancient sites, and built their villages on the former sites of pre-Seminole Indian villages. We also believe that Osceola may have intended this site to be a central point of activity during the war, deep in the Cove of the Withlacoochee.
Right near the site of Powell's Town was found the Tatum Mound. This mound was a town of the early Floridians until the first Spanish contact. At first the burial layers are slow and organized. Then near the top, the mound became a mass grave.
What turned the Tatum Mound into a mass grave? Several bodies examined had died of disease, and a few had breaks and fractures that could only be caused by swords and sharp metal edged weapons. Also many of those buried had died of horrible plagues. The best answer that we can determine is that DeSoto passed nearby, bringing sickness, slavery, and death to the village. The bodies were buried quickly and in great numbers, unable to have much of any funeral. The important thing about this site is that it is one of the few places that we can find where Desoto passed by and had a direct influence upon. The mass destruction caused by the Spanish is an important find.
Both Powell's Town and the Tatum Mound are not open to the public. They are very inaccessible and deep in the swamp. Now that the final archaeological survey is complete, maybe we finally have an Indian site that can be left alone and remain undisturbed from looters and thieves. We owe it to the people buried here to leave them alone in peace.
Battle of the Withlacoochee:
During the Second Seminole War, Lake Tsala Ahapopka and the Cove of the Withlacoochee was a Seminole stronghold that the U.S. Army engaged with fierce battles and failures against the Seminoles. The Indians were not defeated or removed, and looking at what happened shows just how unprepared the United States was to fight a long guerrilla war against the Indians.
At the beginning of the Second Seminole War, General Winfield Scott's idea to defeat the Seminoles was to have three armies attack at once. One army would come from Tampa Bay, one from St. Augustine, and one from the north. This plan did not take into consideration the vast expanse of unexplored Florida territory that made such a plan impossible. Of course the three armies never met up with each other, and when they finally fought the Seminoles, the Indians held the advantage.
On December 31, 1835, three days after Dade's Battle, the U.S. Army under General Duncan L. Clinch and General Richard K. Call's Florida Militia engaged the Seminoles in the biggest and fiercest battle along the Withlacoochee River. (The army command was still unaware of Major Dade's command being totally wiped out only 30 miles away.)General Duncan L. Clinch
General Clinch & Call's combined force of about 1000 regular and militia soldiers had trouble from the beginning. After they left Fort Drane, it took three days to reach the Withlacoochee River instead of the expected one day. Then the command got lost and missed their river crossing. Getting lost probably saved the command from a fate similar to Dade, because the Seminoles had an ambush set up at the planned crossing.
When the army decided to cross the river about two miles from where the Seminoles were, it took the Indians time to find out what had happened and search for the lost army. The place that the army crossed had a swift, deep current, and the only means they had to cross was by an old, leaky, abandoned canoe. When the regular army troops had crossed onto the southern bank, and with the militia soldiers still on the north bank, the Seminoles attacked.
It was a fierce fight, and the Seminoles held their position against a heavy defense by the army. The militia soldiers refused to cross and help out the regulars, and General Clinch considered them cowards for this action. The enlistment of the militia was due to expire the next day, and they probably did not want to be killed on their last day of service. Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Fanning begged General Clinch to lead a bayonet charge, which scattered the Seminole forces and prevented further defeat of the army.
Seminole commanders at the battle were Chief Alligator, who was as tough and unmovable as the reptile he was named after, and the charismatic and fiery Osceola. Osceola was seen wearing a blue soldier's coat and bravely commanding the warriors. It is also believed that he was injured in the hand or arm during this battle.
General Clinch's report numbers the casualties as 4 killed and 52 wounded. He also claims that the Seminoles lost 104 warriors, but that is very difficult to verify.
General Edmund P. Gaines tried again to attack the Seminoles on February 26, 1836, near the same area that General Clinch fought two months earlier. The Indians attacked before Gaines was able to cross the river and killed Lieutenant James Izard. Gaines' force was forced to retreat and build themselves a fort to protect themselves, named Fort Izard after their fallen officer. The soldiers in the fort were defended themselves against 1100 Seminoles for over a week without food rations. Gaines himself was injured from a bullet that split his cheek and knocked out a tooth.General Edmund P. Gaines
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, Alligator, and Black Seminole leader 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.
In March and April 1836 when General Winfield Scott took command of the forces in Florida, he also led an unsuccessful attempt against the Seminoles in the Cove of the Withlacoochee. His idea was to have three armies go across the state and converge on the Seminole stronghold; one army from the north, one from the east, and one from the south. This plan ended in failure with none of the armies able to meet or strike any significant blow against the Indians. This showed Scott's total lack of understanding of the Seminoles and the Florida territory. Much of where the armies went was not mapped, especially in the center of the state. General Eustis' command coming from the east and crossing at Volusia was the worst off, being lost in unmapped territory much of the journey.General Winfield Scott
Another reason for Scott's failure is seen by the way he conducted his campaign. Whenever Scott went into the field, he brought with him a full military band. At night he would have the band play to entertain the troops. Not only would this give away their location, but made tempting targets for Seminole snipers.Richard Keith Call
On October 12, 1836 General Call led another unsuccessful attempt to attack the Indians at the Cove of the Withlacoochee. His force also failed to cross the river, was shot at by Seminoles waiting on the other side, and was forced to retreat to Fort Drane. Fort Drane had little to resupply them with, so the starved army was forced to go to Black Creek, where the men were forced to eat their dead horses to keep alive. Call's defeat meant that all the major Army commanders in Florida had failed to defeat the Seminoles in the Cove of the Withlacoochee.
Places To Visit:Crystal River State Archaeological Site:
Along the beautiful Crystal River in west Citrus County near the Gulf of Mexico sits a spectacular Indian mound complex. The Crystal River Mounds were inhabited without a break from 200 B.C. to 1400 A.D. Few sites have people living there the entire time during this long a period. Even the Seminoles have stories of the site in their oral histories.
This site includes two temple mounds, three burial mounds, and a couple middens. There was much more to this mound city, but several mounds were destroyed when the area was developed several years ago. At least some of the mounds were saved and studied.
Two interesting objects found here are two large stone ceremony objects. They are believed to have been erected in their present position around 440 A.D. One of the stones was found to have ceremony remains buried at the base. On the top of this stone is carved a face of an ancient native from the area. Who was he? Chief, priest, or a figure from religious beliefs? Unfortunately we may never know.
From material excavated at the site, it is believed that this place was a regional capital. Cooper and mica items were found, proving that this site was part of the vast Mississippi culture trading empire. Ornaments, pendants, pottery, and shell tools were found in abundance.
There is the usual state park admission fee to this site & adjoining museum. It is north of the town of Crystal River. Follow the signs from Highway 19-98.Fort Cooper State Park:
During General Scott's failed campaign to force the Seminoles from their stronghold in the Cove of the Withlacoochee in March and April 1836, Fort Cooper was established during the Army's retreat. It was named after Major Mark Anthony Cooper, whose Georgia Volunteer Battalion erected the fort in early April 1836. The force was put here to observe the Seminoles in the Cove of the Withlacoochee and possibly cut off any Seminole access to the gulf coast from the cove.
The soldiers stayed over two weeks with almost no supplies and in a dismal state. They were reduced to eating candles, and could not leave the area around the fort because of constant harassment by hundreds of Seminoles in the surrounding woods. There were several skirmishes with the Indians, but only one soldier was killed. The soldiers were finally saved when a relief force came from Fort Brooke in Tampa Bay, and Fort Cooper was abandoned.
Today the park is on beautiful Lake Holathikaha. There is a nature trail to the fort site as well as around the lake, but nothing remains of the post. There are interpretive signs at the fort site.
To get to here, look for the state park signs that direct you off Highway 41, south of Inverness. Usual state park admission fee.