Distant Drums (1951)





Director:    Raoul Walsh.

Starring:    Gary Cooper (Captain Quincy Wyatt),  Mari Aldon (Judy Beckett, a prisoner of the Seminoles),  Richard Webb (Lt. Richard Tufts),  Ray Teal (Pvt. Mohair),  Arthur Hunnicutt (Monk),  Robert Barrat (Gen. Zachary Taylor).

Fighting the Seminoles in the early 19th century. 



The year is 1840 during the Second Seminole War in Florida.  The site is the Lake Okeechobee area.  Gary Cooper and his 40 veterans pushed a "small boat" to Lake Okeechobee to launch an attack on a fort on the other side of the Lake.  (The fort used in the show is actually Fort San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida.) Things don't go as well as Quincy (Gary Cooper) hoped and they have to take a perilous journey through the Everglades constantly pursued by the Seminoles. 

It's not a great movie, but not a bad one either.  It's an o.k. movie.  At least they shot some of the scenes in the Everglades area.  Cooper is his usual strong and silent type.  And Mari Aldon is nice to look at as the love interest. 

There was a Battle of Lake Okeechobee, but that was on Christmas Eve, 1837, not in 1840 (see below).  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



Creek Campaign, 1813-1814

On August 29, 1813, William Weatherford, the Red Eagle of his own people, took 1,000 warriors up to Fort Mims, Alabama and hid in the tall grass overnight. No one was spared from the knife and the hatchet.

A wave of indignation ran through the U.S. when the news of this massacre reached the outside world. It rolled on to the Nashville sickbed of Jackson, still ailing from the wound sustained in a duel with Col Thomas Hart Benton.

He sent 500 dragoons on ahead into Alabama, under Col John Coffee, and a little later, on Oct 7, he was able to set out from Fayetteville with 3,000 men, infantry and cavalry.

He traveled to Fayetteville, Huntsville, Fort Deposit, Fort Strother at Tallushatchee, Fort Williams at Talladega, Emuckfaw at Enotachopco, and Horseshoe Bend, then to Fort Jackson on the Coosa River.

1815-1816 Juan de Estrada (governor of Florida)

After his victory at New Orleans in 1815, Andrew Jackson moved into the Creek country against a great Indian religious uprising called the "Red Stick War," led by Prophet Francis. After Jackson's terrible victory at Horseshoe Bend, the broken tribes of Georgia and Alabama were forced to move to the forbidding lands west of the Mississippi, which the whitemen thought they would never want.

Down the Alabama River to Fort Stoddert and Fort Mims. Went from Fort Stoddert on to seize Pensacola.

First Seminole War, 1818

At the insistence of the slave states Florida was purchased from Spain in 1818.

In 1818 Major General Andrew Jackson entered Spanish Florida and marched as far east as the Suwanee River to punish Indians and eliminate British spies. Invasion called the First Seminole War.

Jackson went to Fort Scott on the Flint River near Fowltown, Georgia.  Jackson then marched down the Appalachicola River to the Negro Fort (Fort Gadsden).

On April 6, Jackson reached St. Marks and informed the Spanish commandant that he had come to garrison the fortress in order to "chastise" the Indians and the black brigands who were warring against the United States. His action, he said, was totally justifiable on the grounds of self-defense and he anticipated no argument to the contrary from the commandant.

Jackson found St. Marks empty of hostiles, which disappointed him, but he did capture that "noted Scotch villain Arbuthnot who has not only excited but fomented a continuance of the war." At the same time Captain Isaac McKeever, a naval commander cooperating with Jackson's expedition, captured Francis the Prophet (sometimes called Josiah Francis or Hillis Hadjo) and Himollemico, two Creek chieftains. McKeever lured them aboard his ship by flying the English flag. The unlucky Indians thought they had discovered allies and expected to find ammunition and powder.

He hung Francis the prophet and Hoemallee Mecko.

Marched to Bowleg's Town on the Suwannee River.

Two days after the seizure of St. Marks, Jackson resumed his march. He swung his army toward the town of Chief Billy Bowlegs, on the Suwannee River, a hundred miles to the east. The town was a refuge for runaway slaves, and Jackson believed it also sheltered a strong contingent of Indians. Bowlegs headed the Alachua branch of the Seminoles, one of the more powerful families of the main Seminole tribe. The capture of this town and its inhabitants would speed Jackson's determination to crush all Indian resistance to the American presence in the south.

The route to Bowlegs's town lay through a flat and swampy wilderness, and in many places the army waded through extensive sheets of water. Horses nearly starved for want of forage. On April 16, after two brief skirmishes with some hostiles, Jackson reached the vicinity of Bowlegs's town. Without pausing to catch his breath he formed his lines of attack and sent his men into the Indian town. But the Seminoles had been warned of his approach and had escaped across the Suwanee River. The hostiles suffered the loss of nine blacks and two Indians killed and nine Indians and seven blacks captured.

The Indians had somehow learned of his presence and disappeared into the wilderness.

A few nights later the swaggering former marine, Robert Ambrister, along with a white attendant, Peter B. Cook, blundered into Bowlegs's town unaware that their Indian friends had decamped and that Jackson and his army now occupied the village. They discovered their mistake soon enough. But something worse followed. On the person of one of the black prisoners a letter was found from Alexander Arbuthnot to his son, John, warning him of Jackson's approach. Now Jackson understood how the Indians had managed to escape him, how they had even contrived to slip away with their families and much of their supplies.

After putting more than 300 houses to the torch, Jackson turned around and headed for St. Marks, completing the march in five days. As far as he could tell the war against the Seminoles was over.

This First Seminole War mauled the Indians rather badly. In addition to everything else, Jackson had destroyed Miccosukee, the largest Seminole town (near Tallahassee), and killed KInache, its chief; he routed the Negroes on the Suwannee River, and he executed Francis the Prophet and a number of other Red Stick chiefs. He had chastised the Indians severely enough that they no longer resisted him. So Jackson declared the war at an end. With St. Marks in his hands -- "the hot bed of war," he called it -- and "foreign" influence on the Indians effectively diminished, he could now address himself to the "great interest" to which Monroe had ordered him to attend: the seizure of Spanish Florida.

In 1819 the Spanish king refused to sign the Florida treaty of cession drawn in Washington by American and Spanish diplomats.

In 1821 the treaty of cession was signed on March 23. Florida became an American possession.

Second Seminole War

In May 1832 a group of chiefs were gathered together, by threats and promises, at Payne's Landing on the Ocklawaha River to sign a newer treaty. This promised them an equal amount of land in Arkansas. They were to hand over their Negroes, whom they refused to give up. Only fifteen of the chiefs were induced to sign the Payne's Landing Treaty, including old Billy Bowlegs, or Bolek, Alligator from Tampa Bay, Jumper, and Charley Emathla. A young man, named Osceola whose grandfather was a Scotsman, was present.

The Treaty of Payne's Landing in 1832 was still another fraudulent affair. The treaty was bad enough in itself, but the government added a verbal codicil which was worst of all. No Seminole who had Negro blood would be allowed to go to Oklahoma, but must stay and be sold into slavery. For hundreds of Seminole families, that meant dissolution and a living death.

1834-1836 John H. Easton (governor of Florida)

The whites decided they wanted the removal of every last Indian in Florida in three lots, in 1834, 1835, and 1836. General Thompson called a meeting for April 1835 to get assent from the Indians. It was at this meeting that Osceola took out a knife and stabbed it into the table through the agreement, proclaiming "That is the way I sing."

The Indians did not total even 4,000 people. General Clinch was sent with 700 regulars to enforce the removal of the Indians. So began the Second Seminole War. General Thompson himself was the first man to die. He and another officer were shot and scalped by Seminoles under the leadership of Osceola, while they were walking about a mile beyond Fort King, in December 1835.

Battle of Black Point was fought on the south rim of Paynes Prairie. Dec 18, 1835 -- first skirmish of the Second Seminole War.

Troops under Major Francis L. Dade on their way to the reinforcement of Fort King were ambushed. Major Dade was killed along with half of his 110 men.

The Dade Massacre ignited the whole wrath of the American nation.

Sixteen plantations in east Florida were destroyed in January.

In September 1837 General Joseph M. Hernandez captured a band of 21 Indians. They imprisoned at St. Augustine King Philip and his son Coacoochee. General Jesup let Coacoochee out to take a message to Osceola, to come in with captive Negroes to arrange for King Philip's release. Under a flag of truce Osceola came with 74 Negro prisoners, and they were all seized. Osceola was sent to prison in Fort Marion (aka Castillo de San Marcos), St. Augustine. He was later transferred to prison at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. Osceola died there and was buried under a stone on which was carved "Patriot and Warrior."

1837 (December 24)  --  the Battle of Lake Okeechobee. U.S. victory. Colonel Zachary Taylor promoted to brigadier general.

1841-1844 Richard Keith Call (governor of Florida)

The Secretary of War appointed, in the spring of 1841, an officer who had been on the scene in Florida since 1838. He was General William J. Worth, the son of Quaker parents, who had served with distinction in the War of 1812, acted as Commandant at West Point and won his general's commission in an earlier victorious skirmish against the Seminoles.

Worth invented a new strategy and developed the war by attrition. During the summer of 1841 he began such a campaign, systematically destroying crops, shelter and every source of supply on which they might depend.

In the fall, as winter drew on, Worth's policy of attrition bore its bitter fruit. Slowly the Seminoles began to drift in from the swamps, hungry and homeless, proud but driven to the outer limits of their endurance and bravery.

Upon this defiant tribe the government had spent $20,000,000 and employed more than 30,000 troops, including nearly all the regular Army, more than half the Marines and a quantity of Navy ships and transports. The American casualties had been 1,466 killed, including 215 officers.


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