Alligator Warrior Festival


18th Century Florida

In the early 1700's the peoples of the Creek Confederacy had their villages and farms and ceremonial grounds in French Alabama and the British Province of Georgia and they had a long standing tradition of travelling to Spanish Florida on annual hunting expeditions. Back then, these 3 colonies had different boundaries than the American states with the same names.

Many communities of the Creek Confederancy in the Province of Georgia were on relatively good terms with the British government in the early 1700's but some of the communities of the Creek Confederacy decided to leave their towns, villages and long-cultivated fields and relocate to the uncrowded wilderness of Spanish Florida where they cleared some of the untamed land to make new fields for their crops and where they built new towns and villages. The leader of these Florida communities was a man named Cowkeeper.

While slavery was legal in the British Province of Georgia, it was illegal in Spanish Florida. This made Spanish Florida a refuge for persons escaping slavery in the British colonies. In 1738 the Spanish Governor Manual de Montiano established the first legally recognized free community of ex-slaves as the northern defense of St. Augustine, known as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose. Otherwise ex-slaves lived in Florida's Spanish communities or integrated into Florida's Indian comunities.

In 1740 the Spanish Florida town of St. Augustine was attacked multiple times by British forces based in the Georgia and Carolina colonies. Although none of the attacks were won by the British forces, the largest and most successful attack was organized by Governor and General James Oglethorpe of Georgia who got Cowkeeper to turn on the Spanish and support the British forces instead.

At the end of the French and Indian War, under the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Spain turned Florida over to Great Britain. When 13 of the British colonies were fighting the American War of Independence (1775-1783), Florida continued to side with Great Britain. When the British lost the war, Great Britain was forced to return Florida to Spain, under the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Cowkeeper dies and is suceeded by King Payne. The people in the villages under King Payne become known as the Seminole. Over time, the last remanants of the other Florida tribes eventually unite with the Seminole.

The new county of the United States did not feel any obligation to follow the treaties that Great Britain had made with the Native American nations withing their boundaries. When relations between some of the communities of the Creek Confederacy and the United States broke down, Florida was once again the first choice for relocation when escaping from the Unitied States.

In 1812 the United States declared war on Great Britan who was already at War with France. The United States Congress was unhappy with trade restrictions brought about by Britain's ongoing war with France, the impressment of American merchant sailors into the British Royal Navy, and British support of American Indian tribes trying to form a confederacy in the mid-west to halt US expansion. Furthermore, the US government saw an opportunity to expand its boundaries by taking Canadian land. The Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, a member of the Creek Confederacy, lead the warriors allied with the British with the hope that a British backed country of confederated Indian nations could be formed. When the British realized that they would be unable to effectively support the Indian confederacy on the western border of the U.S. they withdrew their troops supporting Tecumseh's warriors and focused on defending the Canadian border. The British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 allowed them to capture and burn Washington, D.C. The U.S. and Great Britain formally ended the war of 1812 with the December 1814 Treaty of Ghent, although the fighting continued until news of the treaty reached the troops. The war of 1812 also brought about a civil war within the Creek Confederacy, pitting British and Spanish allied Red-Sticks against the communities of the Creek Confederacy that were friendly to the Unitied States. The Red-Sticks got the U.S. involved when the Red-Sticks attacked Fort Mims where U.S. friendly Creeks were taking refuge in the Battle of Burnt Corn. This war, known as the Red-Stick War, came to an end when William Weatherford (Red Eagle), one of the Red-Stick leaders, surrendered to Gen. Andrew Jackson. The resulting Treaty of Fort Jackson forced the Creek Nation to give up more than 21 million acres (half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia) to the United States. This treaty gave up the land of the Red-Sticks and the land of the Creek communities that were friendly to the United States and almost 2 million acres of additional land that belonged to the Cherokee.

Needing a new place to live, many communities of the Creek Confederacy moved to Spanish Florida. In addition to the tensions between the various communities of the Creek Confederacy, now there were new tensions between the Seminoles and the Creeks over the large influx of refugees.

France, under Napoleon's leadership, was at war with Spain from 1808 and 1814 and this made it difficult for Spain to defend its colonies such as Florida.

In 1817, General Andrew Jackson started his 2 year mission with a force of 3,000 troops to settle border conflicts and raids between Georgia settlers and the Indians in Spanish Florida. In the process, Jackson's forces captured and killed former U.S. slaves, many of whom had settled in or near the communities of Creek refugees. They destroyed villages, attacked Spanish settlements and captured the Spanish forts at St. Marks and Pensacola. When Spain found out they start diplomatic negotiations with the United States to resolve the situation.

The Adams-Onís Treaty was signed by the U.S. and Spain in 1819. In the treaty Spain turned Florida over to the United States as of 1821 in exchange for a debt forgiveness of 5 million dollars. So, Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821 and the U.S. Army was responsable for some of the early stages of integrating the new territory by doing such things as making maps and establishing relations with community leaders.

Alligator Village

In the vicinity of the lakes known today as Lake DeSota, Lake Isabella, Alligator Lake, Lake Hamburg, Gwen Lake, Lake Harper and Watertown Lake there was a Seminole community called "Alligator Village" (Hvlpvtv Tvlofv). U.S. Army Captain John H. Bell documented "Alligator Village" in one of his reports in February of 1821 when he mentioned that the Micco (chief) of Alligator Village did not attend a meeting that he had called with Tribal Leaders because the Micco had just recently died.

Now that Florida had become a territory of the United States, U.S. settlers and businesses started making their way into Florida too. Next to Alligator Village some of these pioneer and immigrant settlers formed their own settlement called Alligator Town, in close proximity to Alligator Village.

Federal government policy desired that the Indians in Florida be placed in a reservation that would limit their movement and end their ability to trade with the ships that came to the Florida coast. In 1823, although some communities stayed where they were, most of Florida's various Indian communities were relocated to the new reservation under the terms of the Treaty of Moultrie Creek where they became collectively known as the Seminole. The reservation extended from Fort King (Ocala) to 100 miles south of Fort Brooke (Tampa). So the people of Alligator Village left their neighbors in Alligator Town and relocated to the reservation where they settled on a site along the Peace River (Herkv Hvcce).

In 1832, Columbia County was formed and the town of Alligator, Florida, became the seat of government for the new county.

Alligator Warrior (Hvlpvtv Tvstvnvke)

The best known former resident of Alligator Village is Alligator Warrior (Hvlpvtv Tvstvnvke), he was a son of a daughter of Micanopy (King) Payne (d.1812), a cousin to Coacoochee and a speaker of multiple languages including English.

Attempts to get the Florida Indians to trade their land in Florida for land in the Arkansas Territory (Oklahoma), in accordance with the Indian Removal Act, were not working. One of the attempts involved tricking and bribing some Florida Indians into signing the Treaty of Paynes Landing, whether or not they had the authority to do so. Micanopy Sint-Chahkee (Pond Governor), Alligator Warrior, Ote Emathla (Jumper), Abiaka (Sam Jones), Black Dirt and others insisted that the U.S. honor their agreement in the Treaty of Moultrie Creek.

Alligator Warrior was with Ote Emathla (Jumper) and Micanopy Sint-Chahkee (Pond Governor or King Crazy Alligator) at the first battle of the 2nd Seminole War involving federal forces on 28 Dec. 1835, when they ambushed and eliminated Maj. Dade and his men. A few days later, on 31 Dec. 1835, Alligator Warrior was with Osceola in the Battle of Withlacoochee River, fought against Gen. Duncan L. Clinch. In early 1836 Osceola, Jumper, Abraham, Alligator Warrior and John Caesar were among the Seminoles leading the siege of Camp Izard, 20 miles from Cedar Key, where Gen. Gaines had a riffle ball graze and scar his upper lip. General Clinch and his 500 troops eventually broke the siege when they arrived from Fort Drane to rescue Gaines. On Christmas Day 1837, the bloodiest battle of the war, the Battle of Okeechobee, was fought between 800 men under Colonel Zachary Taylor and an estimated 400 Seminoles. Abiaka (Sam Jones) with the Prophet (Otulke Thlocco) commanded the right, Alligator Warrior the center, and Coacoochee, with 80 men, formed the left. When the Seminoles withdrew, they were not pursued. They had incurred 11 dead and 14 wounded, while Col. Taylor's forces suffered 26 killed and 112 wounded. Trying to keep his people safe from the fighting and capture, Abiaka (Sam Jones) moved his community to the banks of the Loxahatchee river.

When his fellow community members decided that it would be better to relocate than to continue fighting, Alligator Warrior surrendered to Gen. Thomas S. Jesup, not after a defeat but by strolling up to Gen. Jesup's encampment with his warriors on 24 March 1838. They were going to gather their belongings before making the journey to the Arkansas Territory but Gen. Jesup promised him that this would not be necessary because the U.S. Government would supply them with new tools, clothes, household items, seeds and other basic needs in the Arkansas Territory. A promise that the United States Government never kept despite protest from Gen. Jesup.

In 1845 Micanopy Sint-Chahkee, Alligator Warrior and other Seminoles negotiate a treaty to give the Seminoles a land in the Arkansas Territory separate from the Creek Nation in Indian Territory that they had been relocated to. Alligator Warrior died on Seminole land in the Arkansas Territory.

Alligator Florida Becomes Lake City Florida

In 1859, Alligator Florida was renamed Lake City Florida by the Florida Legislature in response to a bill introduced by Columbia County representative Col. Robert Brown because Mrs. Elex Young, the wife of Alligator Town's mayor, refused to hang her fancy curtains in a community named after a reptile.

The Alligator Festival

girlThe first Alligator Festival was held in 1995 at Olustee Park in downtown Lake City. Joe Blewette, former editor of the Lake City Reporter in the 70's, had proposed the idea of a festival to recognize the early history of Columbia County prior to the Civil War. Three distinguished members of our community, Dolly Barracca & Margaret Wuest and Mēkko Victor Vasco (all now deceased) teamed up to make it happen. They formed the Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator Warrior) Society in 1995 to highlight this legacy of Columbia County and Lake City. Mrs. Barracca subsequently became the festival's official mascot and was given the title of “Miss Alligator“, a title which she held until her death. The event was held every year until the renovation of Olustee Park from 2000 to 2001. The renovated Olustee Park was no longer suitable for the event so it was held at Wilson Park from 2002 to 2003. Attendance fluctuated from 2000 to 7000 people. Needing a larger space, the festival was held at Gateway College from 2003 to 2007. The organizational committee reorganized into a non-profit corporation in 2007 and began the process of reinventing the festival to give it new life. For the 150th anniversary of Alligator Town's name change to Lake City, in 2009, the festival was held at the old memorial stadium because use of the college grounds had become unaffordable. As of 2010 the annual festival was renamed the "Alligator Warrior Festival" and is being held at O'Leno State Park, in Columbia County, where the appropriate facilities exist for a full scale battle reenactment, historic camping and large crowds under the shade of trees.

The Alligator Warrior Festival is normally held on the 3-day weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) of the third Saturday in October

Founders of the Alligator Festival

Dolly BarraccaMargaret WuestVictor Vasco

Some relevant dates and events

1826 - A post office was constructed along the new Bellamy Road near Fort Gilleland. 2 years later, the town of Newnansville Florida is established near the fort.

1830 - Andrew Jackson signs into law the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that he had requested congress pass for him, authorizing the president of the United States to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders.

1832 - In an attempt to get the Florida Indian to move onto the Creek reservation in the Arkansas territory the U.S. proposed the deceptively worded Treaty of Payne's Landing and forced signatures from the Florida Indians who had gone to Fort Gibson in the Arkansas Territory to inspect the relocation site. The Florida Indians refused to accept the treaty on the grounds that the persons who signed them were not authorized to do so.

1834 - Isaiah Hart, founder of Jacksonville, and other businessmen attempted to build a railroad from Jacksonville to Alligator Town and from Alligator Town to the Florida's Gulf Coast. The railroad was to be called the Florida Peninsular and Jacksonville Railroad but the railroad investors lost over a million dollars from having to abandon their project because conflicts with Seminole warriors became common in the area.

1835 - Attempts to get the Florida Indians to trade their land in Florida for land in the Arkansas Territory (Oklahoma) in accordance with the Indian Removal Act are not working. Alligator Warrior, Micanopy Sint-Chahkee, Ote Emathla (Jumper), Abiaka (Sam Jones), and Black Dirt insist that the U.S. honor their agreement in the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. Battles are fought between the Seminole warriors and militia units.

1835 - Tensions rise and the Micanopy, Sint-Chahkee, who had become Mianopy with the help of the U.S., gave his reluctant support to the Seminoles warriors lead by Ote Emathla (Jumper) and Alligator Warrior to ambush the 103 US troops and 3 teamsters under Major Francis Dade marching from Fort Brooke to Fort King on December 28th. Meanwhile after being released from captivity at Fort King to coerce him to sign the Treaty of Paynes Landing, Osceola and other warriors attacked Fort King and killed the Indian Agent Wiley Thompson and six others outside of the fort. Fort King would later be burned down and abandoned for about a year until it was rebuilt.

1835 - Oseola (Powell) and his warriors left Fort King and met up with Ote Emathla (Jumper) Alligator Warrior and their warriors making a force of about 250. On December 31st they came upon the forces of Generals Gaines and Call having a hard time getting across the Withlacoochee River. The Seminoles fought for a while and then withdrew when the soldiers were able to hold their ground in the fight known as the Battle of the Withlacoochee River. The soldiers picked up a soldier's backpack that one of the Seminoles dropped during the battle. They didn't know where it came from and were beginning to fear the worst since nobody had heard from any of Dade's troops which were overdue to arrive at Fort King.

1836 - Osceola, Jumper, Abraham, Alligator Warrior and John Caesar were among the Seminoles leading the siege of Camp Izard, 20 miles from Cedar Key, where Gen. Gaines had a riffle ball graze and scar his upper lip. General Clinch and his 500 troops broke the siege when they arrived from Fort Drane to rescue Gaines.

1836 - The Battle of San Felasco Hammock was fought on Sept 18th between an estimated 300 Seminole Warriors and 25 US Army Regulars and 100 horse-mounted militia from Fort Gilleland, with 25 armed residents of Newnansville.

1836 - The Battle of Wahoo Swamp - General Call took army regualrs, FL militia, TN militia, and a Creek Indian Regiment totaling 2500 men from Fort Drane to the Cove of the Withlacoochee. They burned three empty Seminole villages and set up camp at the Dade Battlefield. A few days later they found a large Indian camp but they got stuck in the typical deep Florida swamp mud when charged it. The next day, members of the Creek Regiment located approximately 600 Seminoles that retreated when Call's forces engaged them. On November 21st the Seminoles including Yaholoochee (Cloud), Osuchee (Cooper) an unnamed Black Seminole war leader and an estimated 600 red and black Seminole warriors made their stand in a dense hammock next to an open field with a stream running between them. General Call troops took the bait and occupied the open field. Gen. Call's forces did not cross this stream because they did not know it was only 3 feet deep. This lead to the defeat of General Call's forces. The Creek regiment was comprised of Creek warriors that helped U.S. forces on the condition that they could remain in Florida but the U.S. government would later relocate them to the Arkansas Territory anyway. U.S. army officer David Moniac, the first Native American graduate of West Point, died in this battle. He was related to Creeks that fought on both sides of the Fort Mims battle, and his wife is said to have been a cousin of Osceola. Black Seminole Warriors fought bravely to defend their freedom. The US government believed that somewhere between 900-1800 blacks were allied with the Seminoles by the height of the war. The 2nd Seminole War was not only an Indian War but the largest slave rebellion that the U.S. had so far experienced. Black Seminoles were often interpreters between the U.S. forces and the Indians of Florida.

1837 - With Coacoochee (Wild Cat), his father Emathla King Philip and Blue Snake already imprisoned at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, U.S. General Thomas Sidney Jesup ordered General Hernandez to capture Osceola (Powell), Coa Hadjo and 71 warriors and six women when they arrive at Fort Payton under a white flag on an invitation to negotiate a truce on Oct. 21st. They are also imprisoned at Fort Marion. On the night of November 28, Coacoochee, Cowaya, sixteen warriors and two women escaped from Fort Marion. In December of 1837 Micanopy Sint-Chahkee, Yaholoochee, Tuskegee, Nocose Yahola and seventy-eight other Seminoles were captured under a flag of truce.

1837 - The Battle of Okeechobee was fought on Christmas Day between 800 men under Colonel Zachary Taylor and an estimated 400 Seminoles. Abiaca (Sam Jones) with the Prophet (Otulke Thlocco) commanded the right, Alligator Warrior the center, and Coacoochee, with 80 men, formed the left. When the Seminoles withdrew, they were not pursued. They had incurred 11 dead and 14 wounded, while Col. Taylor's forces suffered 26 killed and 112 wounded. Trying to keep his people safe from the fighting and capture, Arpeika (Sam Jones) moved his community to the banks of the Loxahatchee river.

1838 - Osceola died a prisoner on January 31st at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina.

1838 - A few weeks later, near present day Jupiter FL, Navy Lt. Levin Powell and 80 sailors and soldiers were on a mission on the Loxahatchee river when they were defeated by the warriors with Tuskegee and Halleck Hadjo. 9 days after Powell's retreat, General Jessup took 1,500 troops back to the same spot where they enaged an estimated 300 Seminoles in the last standing battle of the Second Seminole War. General Alexander Macomb negotiated a cease-fire in which the Seminoles were to stop fighting in exchange for a reservation in southern Florida but this agreement did not hold.

1838 - Alligator Warrior and those with him decide to accept the offer of land in the Arkansas Territory so they stroll up to the encampment of Gen. Thomas S. Jesup and his troops on March 24th. After negotiations they intended to pack their possessions for the trip but General Jesup convinced them not to bother because the U.S. would provide them with rations, new farming supplies, hunting supplies and household items, however, U.S. officials involved in their relocation did not follow through with these commitments despite a confirmation letter from General Jesup.

1839 - Emathla King Philip, elderly father of Coacoochee (Wild Cat), dies on the journey to the Arkansas Territory after his imprisonment at Fort Marion after being captured while camped at Dunlawton plantation.

1841 - Colonel Worth sent Coacoochee to the Arkansas Territory. Alligator Warrior visits Florida to help with negotiations between U.S. forces and the Florida Indians resisting removal from their land. Waxey-Hadjo, the bother of Alligator Warrior, is killed in battle.

1842 - Battle of Peliklakaha Hammock near Lake Ahapopka on April 19th

1842 - Some of Florida's persons of African heritage had relocated to Mexico or to one of the Caribbean islands that did not have slavery.

1842 - Although many Florida's Indians had been captured or bribed to be relocated to the Arkansas Territory some still remained. Some even walked back to Florida and kept to remote rural parts of the state. The focus of U.S. attention was on those Indians that had retreated to the Everglades but U.S. troops and militia were unable to effectively battle in the swamps so the fighting stopped without an official agreement or treaty and the Indian-inhabited regions of the Everglades became a "de facto" reservation.

1844 - Unhappy with deplorable living conditions, unmet expectations and commitments and with having been settled on lands inside the Cherokee Nation and Creek Nation Indian territories, Coacoochee and Alligator Warrior went to Washington to petition for recognition of a separate Seminole Nation.

1845 - Florida become the 27th state of the United States of America.

1845 - Micanopy Sint-Chahkee, Alligator Warrior and other Seminoles negotiate a treaty to give the Seminoles a land in the Arkansas Territory separate from the Creek Nation in Indian Territory that they had been relocated to.

1849 - Micanopy Sint-Chahkee (also known as Halputta Hadijo / Crazy Alligator) died at Fort Gibson on January 2nd.

1851 - The Florida Militia under Benjamin Hopkins began a 2 year campaign to pursue any Indians found outside of the informal reservation region.

1856 - General William S. Harney returned to Florida as commander of the federal troops and set up a system of forts in a line across Florida to confine the Seminoles to the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades and capture them whenever they tried to exit.

1857 - The Florida militia captured eighteen women and children from Billy Bowlegs' band and destroyed several villages and fields of crops. Seminole negotiators were brought from the Arkansas Territory reservation to negotiate relocation.

1858 - Seminole negotiators from the Arkansas Territory reached a relocation agreement and 163 members of Bowlegs' and Assinwar's communities were shipped to New Orleans on boats and transported to land in the Arkansas Territory.

1860 - Dr. A.S. Baldwin and other investors began construction of the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad that made a stop in Lake City, Florida.

1862 - Florida's government contacted Sam Jones in the Everglades with promises of aid in an attempt to keep the Seminoles neutral in the Civil War. It is not know if the Seminoles had any interest in any aid or if they just wanted to be left alone. In any case the Florida government was unable to delivered any aid because it was in a dire financial situation with a population of starving settlers.

1865 - The Civil War ends.

1884 - The Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad decided to pass Newnansville a mile and a half to the south, so the town declined and disappeared as the new town of Alachua FL was established along the railroad.


Some of the Indians in and around the Everglades signed a cease-fire agreement with the United States in 1957 and organized themselves as the Seminole Tribe of Florida and gained Federal Recognition and now have 6 reservations.

Some of the other Indians in and around the Evergaldes, wanting a separate government, formed the Miccosukee Tribe of Seminole Indians and were recognized by the U.S. government in 1958 and by the Cuban government in 1959. Beacuse neither the Seminole nor the Miccosukee of Florida ever signed a treaty ending the war, they both can claim to be as yet unconquered.

Other Florida Indians and their descendants have either not met or attempted to meet the current criteria set by the Federal Government for a government to government relationship. Because they lived outside of the Everglades, their families and institutions stayed hidden through the removal and Jim Crow eras. Today, many of them have organized as cultural communities, non-profit corporations and associations in order to maintain and pass on their identity and traditions.

Florida is currently home to a diversity of American Indian communities, groups and individuals from Floria and from other states, many of whom do not live on reservations. According to the 2010 census, Florida is the state with the 11th largest American Indian population in the USA.