Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Forgotten Indians of Jackson County, Florida
by Dale Cox
It is an often overlooked fact that even after the tragedy of the Trail of Tears, several small groups of Native Americans continued to live in Jackson County. Some had hidden in the woods as the U.S. Army and state militia rounded up most of the Indians in the area, while others either married into or had white families as guardians.
The photo seen here, for example, is of Ola Avery Cox, a Jackson County resident descended from William Brown (Efau Emathla), a noted chief of the Yuchi Creeks.
When Chief Pascofa and his band of Creeks were loaded aboard the steamboat William Gaston and shipped west in January of 1843, newspapers across the region proclaimed that the last Indian had been removed from Northwest Florida. The claim was a bit premature and in less than one year the U.S. Army was once again combing the woods and swamps south of Jackson County for bands of refugee Creeks. Some corn fields were burned and a few people captured, but for the most part the Native Americans once again slipped into the swamps and disappeared.
The situation soon quieted and the presence of hidden bands of Indians in the area was forgotten by the people of Jackson County. That all changed on an October morning in 1851 when three warriors boldly appeared on the main street of Marianna. “Three Indians made their appearance in town on Tuesday last,” reported the Marianna Whig newspaper, “and for the time being created quite a stir.”
“Though apparently friendly,” it was reported, “their belligerent aspects and terrible accoutrements of long knives, tomahawks and battle axes, seem to breathe forth anything but a spirit of peace and amity.”
What happened to these bold warriors was not recorded, although a mysterious note at the end of the newspaper article that the Indians apparently had been “seeking the spirit land” by appearing in Marianna suggests they could have been killed.
The three brave warriors were not alone. One family of Native Americans lived among the slaves on the plantation of Adam McNealy, a member of the Jackson County Commission, during the years leading up to the Civil War. Their family traditions preserve memories not only of the years on the McNealy plantation, but also of how their ancestors hid in the caves at today’s Florida Caverns State Park when Andrew Jackson’s army passed through in 1818.
Other small families, most of Creek ancestry, also continued to live in Jackson County, for the most part in isolated piney woods locations away from the prime areas taken by white settlers. Their exact numbers are impossible to determine as most attempted to assimilate with their white neighbors as other settlers moved into their neighborhoods. A number of families around the Parramore area of eastern Jackson County and along the Calhoun County border area south of Marianna can trace their family trees back to verifiable Native Americans.
It is also worth noting that the 1860 census of Jackson County lists 36 people as “mulatto.” Although the term was generally used in the years after the Civil War to identify individuals of mixed white and black ancestry, during the years before the war it usually referred to those of mixed white and Indian ancestry.
Although many Jackson County residents with Native American ancestry have no knowledge of their Indian heritage, others still preserve legends, traditions and relics of their Indian ancestors. Even though more than 160 years have passed since the end of the Trail of Tears, the descendents of those who escaped the great tragedy of Indian Removal can still be found in Jackson County.
Note: To learn more about the history of the area, please consider my books: The History of Jackson County Florida: The Early Years, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, Two Egg, Florida and The Early History of Gadsden County. They are available online at www.amazon.com or locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna.