« 24 - Fascinating Land Of Contrasts | Main | Distress in Blackpool »

After Work: The Long Bloody War

…“People say Florida has no history. They’re wrong. This place has been a site of human habitation for at least 5,000 years,''…

The speaker is Richard Procyk, a retired Miami detective who now writes, and lectures on the long and turbulent history of Florida.

Dona Gibbs introduces us to a man who can make a 5,000-year human drama come alive.

The war dragged on and on.

It was a clash between two cultures.

It was bloody.

Thousand of troops were deployed. Millions of dollars were spent.

The cause seemed to be one president’s obsession.

Sound familiar, doesn’t it. Yet most people know little about the Seminoles Wars, raged in three different time periods in Florida from 1817-1858.

Richard Procyk is waging a one-man campaign to change that.

“People say Florida has no history. They’re wrong. This place has been a site of human habitation for at least 5,000 years, “ Richard Procyk made a sweeping gesture around him at Riverbend Park in Jupiter, Florida.

If it weren’t for Procyk and others he rallied, this 700- acre piece of the county park would have been an RV campground.

Richard Procyk is a retired Miami detective, who after a career of investigating grim crime scenes, moved north to Jupiter. These days he’s known as an amateur archeologist and historian. Procyk gives lectures and tours of the park, which borders the Loxahatchee River, a river designated as a “wild and scenic” river by the federal government.

The park is bucolic, shaded by magnificent, centuries’ old live oaks. This part is rarely open to the public but Procyk seems to know every inch.

In “ Forgotten Florida”, a column that Procyk wrote for a local paper, he explained,” The county brought in archaeologists who were impressed with the density of prehistoric material. They also suggested that there was "evidence of a continual time line of use of the area by historic and prehistoric civilizations as far back as the Paleo-Indian period." (10,000 B.C. to 6500 B.C.) Their survey resulted in the assessment of 50 historic, archaeological and architectural sites which include: prehistoric villages and camps, two 19th century Seminole villages, evidence of the two battles fought in the Second Seminole War (January, l838), pioneer homesteads, farms, packing houses; In fact, almost every aspect of human history and inhabitation of Palm Beach County is represented in the park.

Today, he was lecturing on one of his specialties, the Second Seminole War. This setting was the site of a major battle. As Procyk describes it, that January 24, 1838 day was a messy, confused one.

The Seminoles, as he tells it, covered themselves in moss and hid in the branches of trees. Others lead mounted troops into the swamp where their horses sank up to their saddle girths in muck.

Some history books state that the U.S. emerged victorious. Others say it was indecisive. Still others state that the Seminoles caused more casualties than they sustained. The Seminoles asked to be left alone to live in peace. Major General Thomas Jesup considered their request and asked for instructions from Washington. In February he received orders: oust the Seminoles. At night under the flag of truce, Jesup captured the Seminoles who were in camp. They were marched to Tampa and then on westward to Oklahoma.

The Second Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842, cost the lives of 1,500 troops and $20 million dollars. No peace treaties were ever signed. While most of the Seminoles were moved west, Some 200 of them escaped into the Everglades, the ancestors of Florida’s present day Seminoles.

Before Procyk found musket balls, uniform button and gaming pieces at the site, most historians believed that the battle was fought farther north in Martin County.

You won’t find much discussion of the Seminole Wars in history books. Let’s put it this way, it was far from glorious. Little about it inspires warm feeling of pride and patriotism.

The Seminoles were not Florida’s indigenous tribe. The Tequestas, Calusas and Timucans had been decimated by battles and disease during the time Spain held sway. The Spanish needed people to work the land and offered a refuge to dissident tribes, such as the Creeks and Choctaws, who were pushed from their homes by white settlers. Black slaves who had escaped the southern plantations joined them. The two groups settled near one another and many intermarried. The former black slaves brought their knowledge of English to the Native Americans and quickly picked up the various dialects spoken, making them valuable as interpreters. The Native American brought their knowledge of the land. It created a formidable combination.

Long before smoke shops, long before high stakes bingo and long before the Hard Rock Casino, the Seminoles were rich. They had fertile land, and thanks to the Spanish, they had horses and cattle. Their prosperity didn’t seem to inspire imitation and aspiration from the hardscrabble white settlers moving in. It sparked greed.

Indian removal had been discussed from the time of Jefferson but Andrew Jackson was obsessed with it. IN 1830, the plans were put in place. The Seminoles put up armed resistance. The blacks that had intermarried especially feared being enslaved again. They, however, had several advantages. They knew their land. Much of it was sweeping prairies of saw grass, punctuated by swamps and hammocks; they used it to their strategic advantage.

“The Seminoles were crack shots,” Procyk pointed out. “They’d grown up with guns. The United States military had large numbers of recent immigrants from Ireland and Germany. They didn’t know how to shoot and their weapons were antiquated.

Procyk spins his tales in the way a garrulous old uncle would tell his “back when I was a boy” stories sitting in a rocking chair on some Southern front porch. He’s a tall, gentle man, which makes his former life as a hard-nosed detective a bit incongruous.

While the Battle of Loxahatchee had blood and gore aplenty, Procyk dwells on the foibles and vagaries – the humanness of it all.

While he shows off the grape shot and buttons that proved his case and saved the park, he lets us understand that the battle was only one day in a 5,000 year-old human drama of this special place.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.