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Sunday Favorites: The Battle at Dade

Part 1


The Battle at Dade, a pivotal event in the Second Seminole War, is typically known as the Dade Massacre. However, Frank Laumer, after dedicating 10 to 12 years of research to the subject, challenges this characterization. In his 1976 interview with the Manatee County Historical Society, Laumer argued that the term "massacre" doesn't accurately depict the nature of the conflict.

He pointed out that a massacre typically involves armed soldiers attacking unarmed and untrained individuals. Instead, the Dade Massacre involved armed Seminole soldiers attacking similarly armed U.S. Militia. Despite this distinction, history has remembered this bloody battle as a massacre simply because it was the white soldiers who were defeated. This alternative perspective challenges conventional narratives and encourages us to reevaluate what we think we know about history.

“Truth, death, and the puzzle of existence can all be found in Major Dade's march and his battle,” Laumer said.

It all started on a chilly morning on December 23, 1835. Two U.S. troops at Fort Brook were enlisted to travel down Fort King Road, a 20-foot-wide clearing, more trail than highway, that led through the wilderness into the heart of Seminole territory. Their destination was Fort King, located near present-day Ocala. There was unrest among the villagers there, as many of their homes had been burned by Seminoles. With nowhere else to go but Fort King, they nervously awaited a Seminole attack and prayed that reinforcements,  by way of additional troops, would reach them before it was too late.

That morning, Major Francis Langhorne Dade, assumed command. His predecessor’s wife was sick and he felt if he left her, she’d die. Dade was 42 years old and volunteered for the march to help his friend. He probably never imagined he and 100 others were marching 100 miles to certain death.

They’d gone only four short miles when the 6-pounder cannon they were hauling became stuck in the sand, forcing them to abandon it. Undeterred, they continued their march, dispatching a message back to Fort Brooke, requesting additional manpower to retrieve the cannon with horses, as the oxen had exhausted their strength.

That night, they stopped at the Little Hillsborough River. With the bridge in ruins, they made camp under the sprawling oak trees. Working quickly, they felled pine trees and erected a barricade spanning several hundred feet, sheltering their entire command. Within this makeshift fortification, they settled in for the night.

However, no one got much sleep. Outside the protective barrier, the Seminole Indians lurked. Throughout the night, their eerie cries echoed through the darkness, with menacing threats of ambush and death permeating the air as the Seminoles vowed to pick off each man one by one. All this unfolded a mere seven miles from the safety of Fort Brooke.

Back at Fort Brooke, an interpreter named Louie Pacheco, was rented out from his owner Anthony Pacheco, and enlisted to to join the soldiers. Pacheco, a black man around 40 years old, was highly educated and spoke four languages including Seminole. A letter was sent to the other soldiers to announce he was en route.

It’s here that Laumer points out another historical prejudice. Many texts claim that Louis may have betrayed the expedition by informing the Seminoles of their movements and possibly leading them into an ambush. However, this portrayal seems unjust. Louis, one of the only survivors of the battle, was merely an interpreter, not a guide. Because of this inaccuracy, Louie spent 50 years trying to clear his name. This distortion of truth in historical accounts highlights the injustice faced by individuals like Louie Pacheco, whose reputations were tarnished by false narratives.

Tune in next week, for the finale of one of the bloodiest battles in Florida’s history.


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