Before Mao Zedong, before the Viet Cong, long before Iraq and Afghanistan, the Seminole Tribe of Florida showed the United States how frustrating and costly asymmetrical warfare can be.
The tribe, still known as the “Unconquered Seminole Tribe” for good reason, will host a re-enactment of the skirmishes of the Second Seminole War on Saturday, March 2, and Sunday, March 3, at Billie Swamp Safari in an event called the Big Cypress Shootout.
If you go
Big Cypress Shootout
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 2 and Sunday, March 3
Where: Billie Swamp Safari, 30290 Josie Billie Hwy, off Cypress Reservation just north of I-75 Exit 49. Approximately 50 miles east on I-75 to Exit 49, and north 20 miles on County Road 833, Snake Road
Tickets: $9 adults, $6 children 12 and younger
Information: 800-949-6101, ext. 12115
10 a.m. — Tim Charron
11 a.m. — Battle
12:30 p.m.— Alligator wrestling
1:15 p.m. — Ben Dehart
1:30 p.m. — Stomp dancing 2:15 p.m. — Snake show
3 p.m. — Battle
4:15 p.m. — Okeefenokee Joe
11 a.m. — Ben Dehart
12:30 p.m. — Okeefenokee Joe
1:15 p.m. — Snake Show
2 p.m. — Battle
2:45 p.m. — Tim Charron
3:30 p.m. — Alligator wrestling
4 p.m. — Stomp dancing
As a Neapolitan, you could be forgiven for assuming something called the Big Cypress Shootout is a golf tournament, but this shootout will feature rougher roughs, “shootin’ irons” instead of nine irons, and musket balls rather than golf balls. Actually, the muskets carried by the re-enactors, will be fired repeatedly but won’t be shotted, and if all goes according to plan, the battles over the weekend will end with Army and Indian participants shaking hands and perhaps sharing a cold one.
But from 1835 to 1842, the fighting was deadly, in what was the longest, costliest and bloodiest of the wars fought by the Army against the native peoples. The re-enactments will feature colorful costumes and uniforms, mounted soldiers, musket fire and booms of cannon detonations.
“We didn’t fight a lot of large-pitched battles,” said Pedro Zepeda of the Seminole Tribe, a descendant of the Indian fighters and leader of the tribal re-enactors. “Mostly, it was a lot of small fights and ambushes.”
The Seminole Wars saw a large imbalance of forces, with up to 55,000 Army troops, unencumbered by homes or families, fighting about 2,000 Seminoles.
Yet, in one of the first incidents of the Second Seminole War, 100 Army troops under Major Francis Dade, sent to reinforce Fort King, were ambushed, with only two soldiers surviving.
The government forces were never able to defeat or round up the Native Americans, who simply melted away into the scrub and swamps of the back country.
Small military engagements such as these are what will be portrayed in the Big Cypress Shootout, which has been held for 16 years on the reservation. They are ideal to show the type of warfare that formed this piece of Florida’s history.
In addition to the Seminole re-enactors, a group of Army soldiers, many of whom also participate in Civil War re-enactments, will form the opposition. Altogether, anywhere from 40 to 70 fighters are expected, many with their families. Many will camp out at the site, in primitive conditions approximating the actual living arrangements of the time.
When the soldiers are not holding their battles — which are set for 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3 — they will be in their encampments, available to demonstrate crafts, cooking, and the lifestyles of Native Americans and soldiers.
“It’s always interesting to see history rather than read it,” said Zepeda, “to have it play out in front of you instead of just being words on a page.”
And it’s not just Florida history. Many Army officers from the Second Seminole War went on to fight on both sides in the Civil War.
“A lot of the generals in the Civil War got their feet wet fighting us,” said Zepeda.
Pursuing the Seminoles through the swamps, they did indeed get their feet wet, repeatedly.
“Most places in Florida that have ‘Fort’ in front of their names came from the Seminole Wars,” Zepeda said.
While many thousands of Seminoles — who included escaped slaves and Indian refugees from other tribes in states to the north — were rounded up and relocated to empty areas west of the Mississippi, those deepest in the wilderness were never defeated, and take pride in being “unconquered.”
The Seminoles lived separate from mainstream American culture for the next century and more, until well into the 20th century. Some older Seminoles still speak no English, and have to rely on the younger members of the tribe, generally their children, to translate.
This weekend offers an opportunity to peek into this distinct culture, and even take home some of their handiwork. Vendors will sell baskets, handmade Seminole dolls, beaded jewelry and leather goods.
Additional attractions include alligator wrestling, stomp dancing, a snake show and performances by traditional and Native American musicians Tim Charron, Ben Dehart and Okeefenokee Joe.
Just down the road, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, (Seminole for a “place to learn” or “place to remember,”) will be open for more insight into the native culture and history.
Big Cypress Shootout at Billie Swamp Safari, located between Fort Lauderdale and Naples, on the Big Cypress Reservation just north of I-75 (Alligator Alley) Exit 49 — approximately 50 miles east on I-75 to Exit 49, and north 20 miles on Broward County Road 833, Snake Road. Tickets are $9, $6 for ages 12 and younger.