Two key leaders of opposite sides edged closer to violent confrontation as the First Seminole War continued 200 years ago today.
This article is part of our continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to access the entire timeline of stories.
Andrew Jackson and Peter McQueen were old enemies. They first confronted each other at the Battles of Emuckfaw and Enitachopco in the heart of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Alabama. It was at these fights that the Tennessee general came the closest to defeat in his entire career. McQueen – along with the Prophet Francis, Menawa and other key Red Stick leaders – led warriors in fierce attacks against Jackson’s army.
So bitter was the fighting that Gen. Jackson gave up on his first attempt to reach the important Red Stick town of Tohopeka at the horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa River after arriving within sight of its fortifications. His army managed to hold off the attacking warriors at Emuckfaw and was withdrawing back to Fort Williams on the Coosa River when McQueen and the others struck again, sending the American army into panicked flight at Enotachopco Creek. It was only through sheer strength of will that Jackson was able to rally some of his men and save the army.
It was now four years later and McQueen no longer had thousands of Red Stick warriors. He was now trying to keep ahead of the oncoming American army with his band of perhaps 150 warriors and 500 or so women and children. His goal was to reach Boleck’s (Bowlegs’) town on the Suwannee River and to get his cattle herds, other livestock and people across the river to safety.
The large Red Stick party reached the Econfina River in Florida’s Big Bend region 200 years ago today. They avoided the main trail that had linked Miccosukee and Tallahassee Talofa with Boleck’s town and camped in the woods south of the pathway.
The Econfina River should not be confused with the similarly named Econfina Creek which is in the Panhandle of Florida near Panama City. The Econfina River is just west of Perry in the Big Bend region.
The army of Maj. Gen. Jackson, however, was closing in. Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, indicated on his campaign map that the soldiers made it across the Aucilla River 200 years ago today and camped just west of the Econfina:
…[T]o Assilla, seven miles through a flat low pine country with a number of small miry and thickety branches without current – and in spots a good deal of limestone on the surface. Assilla cr. has high banks open on the east but fenced in by a difficult thicket on the west – width fifty and depth five feet-sandy bottom… Low and flat for three miles with glades covered with water – and a mixture of cabbage palmetto among the swamp timber. At this point the path crosses a large but shallow branch with a thicket – thence two miles to another and similar branch with abundance of cypress and vines – thence through the same kind of country three miles and a quarter to the creek which has high open sandy banks, a width of thirty- five feet, depth of five feet and a sandy bottom. Its name is derived from a ledge of limestone rock which forms over the creek a dry and secure bridge of twenty-five feet width. [I]
The land between the Aucilla and the Econfina remains pine country for the most part today. Forest products are a major industry in this part of Florida. The ponds and swamps are still there as well, as are the branches surrounded by thickets.
The camp that night was was just west of the Econfina where the troops could use it as a source for fresh water. The soldiers had marched from today’s Jefferson County through a small corner of Madison County and into Taylor County. The original trail curved several miles south of modern U.S. 19/U.S. 27.
It was probably a miserable night for the soldiers. They had spent the day wading through swamps and flooded glades while also crossing the Aucilla and the two swampy branches between it and the Econfina. They were constantly wet to their waists or higher and the muck often sucked their shoes off their feet. It was unusually cold that spring and the men shivered around their campfires that night.
One of the most brutal and bloody battles of the First Seminole War would take place the next day.
This series will continue.
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly,Vol. 13, No. 3 (Jan., 1935): 146.