Manatee County

There used to be several mounds along the coast and Manatee River. Unfortunately many have been destroyed by modern developers or taken away as landfill. Many of the mounds are Weeden Island culture, dating 300-800 A.D. It is ashamed that many of the mounds were destroyed, because this was a time when some fancy pottery was made. There are some mounds that remain, but I will only mention a few worthy of note here.

There used to be a few large mounds at Shaw's Point, but they were destroyed to become landfill. One mound here was said to be 450 feet long and 20 feet high. Many glass European trade beads were found there, and many people say that this was proof that DeSoto landed there. (The exact site of DeSoto's landing in 1539 is still a big debate, with possible locations all along the West Coast.) In this area is the DeSoto National Memorial, which has a museum remembering DeSoto and the Spanish of 1539. There is ancient Floridian artifacts on display here that were found in the area. Artifacts recovered show that the former mounds were occupied from about 500 B.C. until European contact.

Ancient Floridians had a big village at Anna Maria Island when Ponce de Leon visited in 1513. Remains of the people in this area show influence from the Weeden Island culture from the north, and Glades culture towards Lake Okeechobee. Maybe even a transition zone between Calusa and Timucuans.

The Snead Island Mounds were once part of an ancient mound city. Hopefully they will be protected in the future before they are destroyed also.

By the early 1850's one of the few important Seminole War Chiefs left in Florida was Billy Bowlegs. Historical sources also mention names of Oh-lach-ta Miko or Assinna Othulkee-thloko, but the most quoted is Holatta Micco, which means "Blue Chief." His clan was of mixed Muskogee and Miccosukee Indians. He is not to be confused with King Payne's brother Bowlegs, who ruled the Alachua Seminoles during the First Seminole War. Billy Bowlegs was nephew of Micanopy, so he was the hereditary leader of the Cowkeeper dynasty or Alachua Seminoles.

Billy Bowlegs would frequently visit the settlers in the Manatee River area, and became a good friend to many of them. The settlers believed that he did as much as he could to keep the peace, and that the only reason why the Third Seminole War started was because of dishonest and thieving white men, and not because of Billy and his people. Billy went so far to keep the peace, that he turned over three Seminoles to the civil authorities who had been burning settlements in 1849.

Billy would delight in giving people a surprise. White women and children told stories about working in the garden when they were suddenly startled to find Billy standing nearby. All would have a good laugh, and the Indians would often show up to visit or dinner unannounced; usually donating some spoil from a recent hunt to the family in gratitude.

Billy was always well dressed. All paintings and photos we have of him show him wearing very fine Seminole attire. He wore two peace medals: One with the portrait of Millard Fillmore, which he received on a trip to Washington around 1852, and another with Martin Van Buren, which probably came from talks with the Seminoles in 1838 and 1839.

During the Third Seminole War, this once peaceful area became very dangerous from raids or attacks. Many of the homesteads in the area came under the torch. The settlers fled to nearby forts for protection and lived there for most parts of 1856 and 1857. The Braden plantation became full of white refugees when the forts were too full. The Seminoles carried off most of the slaves, but many escaped or were recaptured by the militia. The slaves seemed to prefer plantation life instead of life with the Indians. (Much different from the time of the Second Seminole War; probably because the poor and very uncertain living conditions of the Florida Indians.)

Ruins of Braden Castle. During the 3rd Seminole War, the Braden home became a refuge for the settlers because of the strongly built stone walls. The house burned in 1903, and the walls remained an empty shell for a few years. It looks like that by the 1930's, the building was restored and turned into a condominium.

Branch Fort was at Manatee Mineral Springs, and many of the homesteaders fled here for protection from roaming bands of Seminole or Miccosukee warriors. The springs were also popular among the local Indians years before. Another fort overflowing with settlers was Fort Hamer on the Manatee River.

Other Seminole War Forts: Fort Starke & Crawford.

Madira Bickel Mounds State Archaeological Site:

These mounds are in the northwest of the county on Bayshore Drive, not far from Highway 19. There is one large temple mound at this site. There are also two burial mounds and a shell midden in the area. This was the first mound site in the state to become a state archaeological site. In 1948 Mrs. Madira Bickel from Sarasota purchased this area and donated it to the state. She and her husband did much to help preserve mounds on the West Coast of the state. Too bad they weren't around 50 years earlier when many mounds in the state were destroyed for profit. It was believed that this mound was part of the village of Ucita, visited by DeSoto in 1539. Before the coming of the Spaniards, it was estimated that Native Floridians lived here for at least 1000 years.


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