Tiger Tail's Old Fields

by: Roger Landers

Used with permission.

Our settlers arrived one hundred sixty-six years ago in the territory that will become Hernando County. Not a long time by some standards, but so begins our recent history.

The Second Seminole War raged from 1835 and many in government, tired of a never-ending conflict believed that the only to end hostilities is armed occupation. The conflict began because of the Seminole refusal to relocate from west central Florida to "lands west of the Mississippi" as agreed in the Agreement of Payne's Landing [1832]. The treaty[Moultrie Creek, 1823] ending the First Seminole War and while signed by only seven chiefs, the Seminoles had agreed to reside in the four million acre territory south and west of the Withlacoochee and north of Peace Rivers [west central Florida].

Following five years of war, the issue of Indian removal remained unsettled. Many in Congress considered the war as a "negro war" - a war intended to reclaim the former slaves of the south who had escaped and integrated into the Seminole culture. Add to this a national depression in 1837 made the cost of this war almost impossible to continue.

In January of 1839, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of SC, proposed "A Bill for the armed occupation and settlement" of the part of the Florida Territory inhabited by the Seminoles. The bill passed the Senate but failed in the House of Representatives. Benton gave notice that he intended to reintroduce the bill in the next session of Congress only to fail again. The bill finally passed both houses in August 1842. President John Tyler signed into law the Armed Occupation Act.

Meanwhile, Col. William Jenkins Worth, commander of military affairs of Florida began to push for the resettlement of those "unfortunate settlers" who lost their plantations to the Seminole during the early years of the war. Worth, through liberal interpretation of his authority to resettle lands lost, offered military protection, free land and subsistence for one year to new settlements. Settlements near Fanning Springs, Fort White and Natural Bridge are reestablished. Soon new groups of settlers offered to move into the land previously controlled by the Seminoles south of the Withlacoochee.

The March 26, 1842, St Augustine News reported the February 21 1842 event saying "they come with a plow in one hand and a rifle in the other" and are the first settlers south of the Withlacoochee River since the outbreak of hostilities with the Seminoles in 1835.

The party of 159 settlers, led by John Curey, consists of 101 men, women, children and 58 slaves. There are thirty-one families including two headed by women Delia B. Gibbons and Elisabeth Stanley.

Curey in his first report to the Office of the US Adjutant General stated that the party selected the old fields of Seminole leader Tiger Tail at Chocochattee Town. The old fields selected for the ease of "cultivation this season". The US troops who accompanied the settlers built a blockhouse near by for protection.

Most of the women and children did not come with the men to Chocochattee immediately but remained near the river while houses can be "thrown up". Food and supplies are from Fort Cross six miles west, however in the future supplies are from Fort Brooke at Tampa.

Seven years earlier - 1835] Seminole Chief Sinaha, leader of the band at Chocochattee agreed to relocate and moved to Fort Brooke. This ended the Seminole occupation of the hammock and savannah lands at Chocochattee. According to Horatio S. Dexter who visited the area in 1823, Chocochattee is the seat of the Seminole Nation for over seventy years. At the time of his report, Chocochattee Town consisted of about twenty homes. The chief owns three slaves, 160 head of cattle, 90 horses and a "gang of hogs".

The town had been much larger before the Cowetas [another Creek band from Georgia] raided the town in 1821 dispersing many of the families and carried off sixty Negro slaves and a large number of cattle.

Dexter described the Chocochattee area as a 180-acre savannah with a surrounding hammock of about 380 acres containing two cleared fields. The width of the hammock is from 1/2 mile to five miles. The rich soil that year had produced a surplus of corn, "unusual for Indians".

He further notes that three miles west of Chocochattee is the beginning of the "big hammock" [Annuttaliga] of about 30 miles on circumference and seven miles deep. This hammock is of such rich soil that it could support a population of 50,000 settlers.

After Sinaha's band departed, the old fields of Chocochattee become the farm plots of Tiger Tail. His band uses the area until the military made the area of little use to the Seminole. The bands of Tiger Tail, Wild Cat, and other Seminoles who chose to remain in the hammock lands did not accept the move to the "and west of the Mississippi".

The only Seminole associated with Chocochattee when the white settlers arrived was Tiger-Tail, hence the name "Tiger-tail old fields". There are four such fields identified on the surveys of 1843-47.

The white settlers found these fields of great help as they established their settlement. Within a year, the number of families increased to sixty-nine. John Corey reported that the settlers established their principal settlement near Chocochattee and the settlement at Annuttaliga. The settlement named Desoto is located on the high ground northeast of the intersection of US 41 North and Croom Road. Later the grassy savannah surrounding the area is known as the Desoto Prairie.

In a March 1, 1842 letter to the Military District Commander at Tampa Bay, Lt. Col. Garland states that the two blockhouses and about forty men able to carry arms is preferable to the need for two companies of US troops at Fort Cross, six miles west of the Chocochattee settlement.

Although, arms, ammunition and some supplies are provided to the settlers life was not easy in the new settlements. Indian attacks did continue. One such outrage was the killing of Charlotte Crum in September 1842.

In December 1842, the settlers in Chocochattee, Annuttaliga and Homosassa not knowing of the passage of the Armed Occupation Act sent a petition to the President and Congress asking for the assistance promised by Worth. The matter was soon resolved and formal permits to settle the lands issued.

The Act required the settler to occupy a portion of land, build a house, and cultivate five acres for five years in exchange for the title of one-quarter section of land [160 acres]

The settlers found the Chocochattee lands to their liking with the high ground , great stands of oak, hickory, magnolia trees and good water sources. Some of the settlers including Robert Bradley and J.S. Taylor claimed land a few miles southwest of Chocochattee.

One year and three days after the first settlers arrived at "Tiger-tails old fields", the Territorial Legislature creates the new County of Hernando.