Wildcat, The Seminole, X: It’s not over, until it is over.

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The war was over.  Seminoles and blacks in shabby, hungry groups of ten and twenty—in bands of fifty and eighty—arrived in Tampa Bay, on the Gulf of Mexico.  They brought in droves of skinny cattle, and sold them to the government.  With the money from these sales, they went to the government trading post and bought new blankets and new clothes.  Some of them also bought ammunition for hunting in the new land to which they were going.  The army gave them food.
They were not happy with their surrender.  They hated to leave Florida.  But they seemed to be resigned to their hard exile.
Two large settlements were established near the beach.  Most families built themselves the kind of houses they were used to:  chickees, thatch-roofed shelters with split-log floors built well above the ground.  Some planted fields of corn near their houses, hoping to have time to harvest a crop before they were sent to Arkansas.
Other families felt so crushed by defeat in war that they did not even have the heart to build houses; they accepted army tents and lived in them.  They ate the food issued by the army and seemed unable to plan for the future.
Indians and blacks occupied the two encampments together.  Day and night, soldiers stood on guard to keep slaveowners from entering, to seize blacks from the settlements.
One day Wildcat came for a visit.  His face did not have the devil-may-care look of earlier days, but he still walked with his defiant swagger.  With his long-barrelled gun in one hand, he strode down the street of huts and tents to the biggest lodge, which was Micanopy’s.  He seated himself on the floor beside the head chief.  Following custom, the two men said nothing until they had eaten.  Then Micanopy asked, “When are the other bands coming in?  Don’t they know we must all sail within two weeks?”
Wildcat glanced over his shoulder, toward the bay.  He counted twenty-six boats at anchor.  They were the vessels that were to take the exiles across the treacherous gulf and up the great river to their new homes.
“The rest of the nation is waiting,” said Wildcat.  “They send scouts to watch your camps, and then the scouts go home to report.  They are waiting to see how you are treated here.  They want to be sure that the blacks are not seized.”
“We are treated fairly,” Micanopy grunted.  “The soldiers give us food.  They let us buy powder and shot.  Everyone may come and go as he pleases—except me.  I, Micanopy, the head chief, am a prisoner of the white man.”  His voice was bitter.
Wildcat looked at him coolly.  “You could escape any night,” he said.
Micanopy shook his head.  “Jumper and Hola-too-chee signed the paper.” he said.  “They promised that I stay.  They promised not to fight any more.  I will not break the promise so long as the white men keep their word.”
Wildcat asked curiously, “Why do they let me come to visit, and then let me go away when I please?”
“General Jesup told me why,” Micanopy replied.  “He wants all the Indians to know how we are treated.  When our people who are still hiding in the woods know they will be safe here, he thinks that all will come in and surrender.  He is giving them plenty of time.”
“Osceola will not surrender,” said Wildcat.  “Arpeika, the old man of the Everglades, will never surrender. I will not surrender.”
Micanopy shrugged his shoulders.  “Jesup waits,” he said.  “Jesup hopes.”
*    *    *
At this moment, General Jesup was in front of his tent at Camp Dade.  He was surrounded by a group of settlers in long-tailed coats and stovepipe hats.  Some of them were slave-owners; others were men whose profession was slave hunting—their business was to find and seize runaway slaves, and return them to slavery.
“It’s no good,” the general was saying firmly.  “No!  You may not go into the Seminole encampments to look for slaves.  No!”
"But, sir,” argued one of the plantation owners, “we don’t want the blacks who are legally owned by Indians.  We only want our own property.  We demand our rights as citizens!”
“I have signed a treaty with these Indians,” answered Jesup.  “If I let you gentlemen seize slaves from among them, don’t you know what will happen?  The Indians will know that I have broken my word, and they won’t keep their part  of the treaty.  The whole war will start again.  I tell you, gentlemen, no!”
“But, General,” the slaveowners protested, “I’ve lost seven slaves since the war began.  I’m not a rich man.  I can’t afford to lose all that valuable property.  I’ve got to rebuild my plantation—“
“If the war breaks out again, you won’t rebuild your plantation with or without slaves!” snapped the general.  “You’ll leave it in ruins and go back to the life of a refugee in some town.  You Florida people, you’ve got what you were after: you’ve got Florida for yourselves now.  You’ve got the Indians out of here— or they will be out, as soon as I can get the whole pack of them aboard those vessels in the harbor.”
“Do you mean that you’re willing to upset my treaty,  and start this bloody war all over again, just for a few runaway slaves?”
“Now, General, keep calm,” said another slaveowner, soothingly.  “This is the situation, sir.  We have a right to our slaves.  And when they’re here, hiding under our very noses—“
“No!” repeated General Jesup.  “There is no use in further talk.  My answer is no!”
A week or so later, he had a talk with Abraham.  The black was not held as a prisoner of war.  He could visit Camp Dade, or the encampments at Tampa Bay, or go into the woods, just as he chose.  Jesup trusted him completely and kept sending him out to persuade the chiefs and subchiefs to surrender.  But the anger of the slaveowners troubled him.  He wanted to get the Seminoles and the blacks out of Florida at once.
“Abraham,” barked the general, “when are the rest of the Seminoles coming in to give themselves up?  There are only seven hundred people altogether, in those camps.  There must be hundreds more in the woods.”
“There are, General,” replied Abraham, nodding his head slowly.  “Most every day I find some spying out the camps.  I talk to them.  I try to persuade them to come in.  Sometimes they listen to me.  Sometimes they say, ‘Osceola, he won’t give up.  Unless Osceola goes in, we won’t go in.’ ”
“But don’t they know that April tenth is only a few days off?  That’s the day the ships sail.”
“Give them two more weeks, General,” said Abraham.  “They’ll be in.  Give them two more weeks.”
The general could only agree to the delay.  After the two weeks were gone, he had to agree to further delay.
The Indians in the camps kept begging, “Wait until more of our friends come.  Wait till we can harvest our crops.  Wait until we round up more of our cattle from the woods.  Wait for Osceola and Wildcat.  Wait, General.  .  .  . Wait.”
And General Jesup, though he paced up and down in impatience, felt that he had to allow more time.
“If you use force to get them aboard ship,” Abraham warned gently,  “the Indians still hiding out will never surrender peaceably.”
But Jesup was pressed on two sides.  The Indians wouldn’t say they were ready to sail; and the slaveowners wouldn’t give him any rest.  Every day they were at his tent insisting that they be allowed to hunt for their slaves in the Seminole encampments.
At last, a day came when General Jesup could stand the pressure no longer.
“All right, all right,” he said wearily.  You may go look for your slaves.  No stealing of free men, you understand.  No seizing of Seminole slaves.  Just take the people that legally belong to you—and let me have some peace.”
It was in a moment of weakness that the general gave this permission.  And very soon he was wretchedly sorry.
A dozen of the blacks living in the camps at Tampa Bay were seized by the slave hunters and led away in chains.  The other blacks took fright.  No more slavery for them!  Under cover of night, nearly all the blacks slipped away from the camps.  They left so quietly that the soldiers on guard never heard a sound.
Seminoles began to filter back into the woods, too.  Family after family disappeared at night.
Wildcat saw the slaves seized and he was angry.  He began to form a plan.  On foot, he traveled across the breadth of Florida, from Tampa Bay on the west coast to Lake Monroe (Sanford) on the east.  He knew that Osceola was camped near Lake Monroe, and he had to talk to Osceola.
He sped across the barrens, around lakes, through swamps.  Much of the country was new to him, but he had a sense of direction as keen as a deer’s, as keen as an eagle’s.  He moved across the wild country straight as an arrow from a bow.  Sometimes he came near danger, in the form of a hungry panther crouching in a tree, or a rattlesnake in his path.  He skirted these dangers and sped on his way, sleeping only briefly.
He ate dried deer meat, or he stopped just long enough to catch and broil a few fish.  On the third day, he finished a trip that no white man could have made in less than a month—if at all.
Even before he reached the camp, he caught sight of Osceola, sitting cross-legged on a flat rock, gazing bleakly over the lake.  Wildcat stepped up behind him and touched his shoulder.
“Brother,” he said, “I came from Tampa Bay, where Micanopy is a prisoner.    He is keeping his part of the treaty; but General Jesup is allowing the blacks to be taken back to slavery.  Jesup has not kept his word.  Our people are not resisting; they are broken in spirit  The war is lost unless you act quickly.”
Osceola looked into Wildcat’s face.  His eyes were sad.  For a while he said nothing.  Wildcat sat down quietly beside him, waiting.  
At last Osceola said, “I have talked  with the Great Spirit.  He tells me to go on resisting the white man.  But he does not tell me how to go about it.”
Wildcat said in an urgent voice, “I have made a plan.  But you are the one to lead us in carrying it out.  Alligator and Jumper are weak in spirit; they have given up.  My father is an old man; he cannot lead the nation.  Arpeika, the old warrior of the Everglades, will not come here to lead the war; he sits in his jungle and waits for the white man to attack him there.  Me—I am only Wildcat.  Only you, Osceola, can save us now.”
As Wildcat outlined his plan, Osceola’s eyes lost their bleak look.  He sat erect.
“It is not too late!" he said.  “Even yet, we will triumph over the enemy!”
He sprang to his feet, threw back his head and clenched his fists.  There was still hope!
“I will send runners to all the Seminole camps today,” he said.  “We will gather all the warriors and have a great festival and ball-play here, at Lake Monroe. (Sanford)  We will dance and feast on venison.  I will talk to my people.  Their fighting spirit will come back.  Then we will travel quickly to Tampa Bay and carry out your plan.”
Osceola folded his arms and stared out, across the blue lake, as if he saw a magnificent army.
“The war,” he said exultantly, “will begin over again.  And this time we will win it!”


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