Okeechobee Battlefield was acquired on Nov. 30, 2006, with funds from the Florida Forever program. At the park, public outdoor recreation and conservation is the single use of the property. This portion of the designated historic battlefield is managed to preserve lands of state and national significance, interpret the battle and provide living history events for Florida residents and visitors.
The original Battle of Okeechobee marker that stands in the park was erected in 1939 by the Florida Society of Daughters of the American Revolution and descendants of Col. Richard Gentry.
The Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park is located on a portion of the Okeechobee Battlefield, the site of the largest and bloodiest battle of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). The Second Seminole War, the second in a series of three wars fought between white settlers and Native American tribes, was the longest and costliest of the wars in terms of both monetary expense and human casualties.
The Battle of Okeechobee occurred on Christmas Day 1837. Eight hundred troops of the 1st, 4th and 6th Infantry Regiments were under the command of Col. Zachary Taylor, including 70 Delaware Native Americans and 132 Missouri Volunteers (under the command of Gentry). The troops attacked between 380 and 480 Seminole and Miccosukee Indians led by Holata Micco (aka Billy Bowlegs), Arpiucki (Sam Jones), Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator) and Coacoochee (Wildcat), who were encamped on the northeast shore of Lake Okeechobee. The two colonels were leading their troops down the Kissimmee River when they received word from their Delaware scouts of the Seminole and Miccosukee encampment.
Around 12:30 p.m., the 70 Army scouts from the Delaware tribe sensed the danger as they neared a hammock of trees. They quickly left the area without a shot being fired and warned the approaching soldiers of the danger. Realizing the Seminoles had been located, Gentry suggested to Taylor that they encircle the hammock of dense trees. Taylor rejected the idea and ordered a frontal assault just as the Seminoles had prepared for.
The Seminoles and Miccosukees in all likelihood had been awaiting the arrival of the troops and held a superbly defensible position upon a high hammock overlooking a dense sawgrass swamp which the U.S. troops had to traverse to engage them, making themselves perfect targets. The Seminoles cut the grass short in this area to allow for an unobstructed and open firing line. They also notched trees to steady their rifles as they fired. Scouts were placed high in trees to keep track of the approaching soldiers. The muck was so thick that the soldiers would often sink up to their thighs while trudging through it. The area was impassable for horses.
Taylor ordered a full frontal assault against their foe with 120 of the 1st Regiment of the Missouri Volunteers led by Gentry in the center of the advancing line flanked by the 4th Infantry and 6th Infantry. Taylor’s 1st Infantry was held in reserve, which accounted for nearly half his force.
The initial Seminole fire sent the Delaware fleeing, and after suffering heavy casualties, the volunteers fell back due to withering fire that brought down most of their commissioned officers and then their noncommissioned officers. They were then replaced by regular troops of the 6th Infantry. This unit also suffered severely, losing almost every officer. Taylor then ordered the 4th Infantry to attack. Instead of marching in orderly ranks, the men rushed the hammock with bayonets fixed, finally driving the Seminole and Miccosukee from the field of battle.
After the Seminoles and Miccosukees fled the hammock, Taylor called in his reserve 1st Infantry to secure the area, thereby claiming victory.
Twenty-eight soldiers were killed and 112 wounded, and many of the wounded died of injuries soon after. The highest number lost were from the Missouri Volunteers. Gentry was mortally wounded early in the battle and passed away shortly after its conclusion.
The American press hailed it as a great victory, and Taylor became a national hero, was made a general and took his first steps toward the presidency. Taylor was able to drive the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians from the field of battle and he did round up 100 horses and 600 head of cattle the warriors left behind, but modern historians question how great a victory it was.
Taylor’s men had killed few of their enemy. In contrast, approximately one-third of the soldiers who had attacked the hammock before the reserves were sent in were dead or wounded. With half of Taylor's force out of action, including the majority of Taylor's officers and noncommissioned officers killed, the Seminole and Miccosukee had gained time to make their escape to the safety of the Everglades.
It’s unknown if the warriors dragged bodies off when they escaped but there were only 12 Seminole bodies found in the hammock. From interviews and stories many years later, some of the native participants of the battle stated that another 11 warriors were wounded. The Seminoles and Miccosukees drove their families and meager belongings deeper into the Everglades, where an estimated 300 of the original 3,000 would hide on remote islands for the next decade or longer.
Years after the battle, Holata Micco (Billy Bowlegs) visited Washington and on being escorted through the buildings of the Capitol and viewing many statues and paintings, he suddenly halted before a portrait of Zachary Taylor, grinned and exclaimed, "Me whip!"