THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION
Slab of Wood Leads to Unveiling of Story of Kissimmee Boat Mission in Indian War
By Alma Hetherington
Saint Cloud, Sept 12
A slab of wood carved with lettering that was found when an old cypress tree was blown down in Moore Haven over a decade ago, brought to light the story of a special mission in the Everglades by a company of volunteers during the latter days of the Seminole Indian War.
Fred Flanders of the US Engineers saw the piece of wood when folks were splitting the tree into fence posts. The carving found thereon was"Captain A N Pacetti, Sept. 10, 1857 ".
Flanders related the find to Warren Wilkinson of Jacksonville Beach, who was in Moore Haven doing research work on the route of DeSoto, which has long been his hobby.
Wilkinson promised to unearth the story if possible. Going to St. Augustine, he contacted the wife and daughter of Capt. Pacetti, Mrs. Amelia Louise Munson Pacetti and Mrs. Minnie O'Dowd, respectively, who furnished the clue which led to unravelling the story behind the carving. They had a copy of one of the Captain's service reports in the US government, in which he gave a complete account of the special mission.
Event which led up to the special mission began in December, 1855, when Lt. George L Hartsuff led a party of 11 men on a surveying expedition near the border of Big Cypress Swamp. Several days later when ready to return, some of them raided Billy Bowlegs garden two miles away and tore down is highly prized banana plants. When Bowlegs found the depredations made by the party, he fell into a rage and led an attack on Hartsuff's camp early next morning. The result was that several men were killed and Lt. Hartsuff was wounded. Capt. Pacetti was was employed by Col. John Munro, commanding at Fort Brooke (Tampa), to go to the frontier on special service to notify the settlers that the Seminole Indians had broken out, and the settlers were to stockade themselves for protection.
Although the Battle of Okeechobee on Christmas Day 1837 was the last organized encounter with the Seminoles, guerrilla warfare had lasted for 20 years.
Six months after the Hartsuff massacre, Capt Pacetti was employed as expressman to carry the US dispatches from Fort Brooke to Fort King (Ocala) as the Indians had committed depredations and deterred the mail from being conveyed on that line, until the US had organized and sent troops to protect this part of the country.
Later Pacetti was wagon master in charge of all government teams until the latter part of June, 1857, when he received an order from Col Munro to organize a company boatmen to serve in Everglades and adjacent country.
In July, 1857, Pacetti left Fort Brooke for Fort King, Palatka, St. Augustine, Jacksonville and Fernandina to enlist men. When he and the man he had recruited arrived back at Tampa, they enlisted for six months as regulars.
Finally Pacetti received orders from Col Loomis, CO, to proceed with his company to Fort Kissimmee and there to take boats and go down the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and scout the west margin of the lake and cooperate with the cavalry in search of the Indians.
Scouting for 42 days, the company reached Fort Comb on Fisheating Creek. They found no Indians when they reach Lake Okeechobee, but found signs left by them—such as three burned villages, one containing 60 huts two more nearby of about 20 huts each. These huts were east of Taylor Creek, northeast of the lake, near where Gen. Taylor had fought the Indians in 1837.
Following the Indian trails, the men found they led toward the Big Cypress. Notifying Col. St. George Rogers, Pacetti took two or
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ing several Indians and two of Billy's wives. A short time later the Indian chief surrendered to the government with all his warriors, thus ending the Seminole War.
Pacetti's was one of the "boat companies"—of which there were eventually three—mustered into the volunteer service of the US Army. Its purpose was not fighting; on the contrary, it went to great lengths not to kill an Indian.
Even with all the hardships the boat companies encountered, they captured more Indians than troops trained along orthodox lines.
In January, 1858, Pacetti received orders from his commanding officer to move his company from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Myers by transferring his boats on wagons from Fort Center on Fisheating Creek to Fort Thompson on the Caloosahatchee River. Proceeding down the river to Fort Myers, he received orders to go to Fort Brooke, since Indian War was about over. When they arrived at Fort Brooke, his company was mustered out.
Speaking of hardships, Capt Pacetti wrote "can anyone imagine what these men suffered in the service without tents nearly all of the time, for it was impossible to carry anything more than your rations and a tin cup to cook a little coffee. For on these scouts in the Everglades swamps, most of the time we were wading in mud and water and nights we would have to cut sawgrass and pile it up so we could get out of the mud and water to get a little rest. We were wet nearly all the time, and the men suffered from fever from their exposure. At one time, I had to stop on Observation Island 10 or 12 days with 15 of my man down with pneumonia. I had no doctor in my company but I had medicines with me, which I administered to the men with great success."
Observation Island, actually a shoal, east of the present town of Moore Haven, was a stopover on the route from Fort Myers for Jupiter across Lake Okeechobee.
In a moment of possible perplexity and knowing that in all probability he would never pass this way again, Capt. Pacetti carved his name and the date on the old cypress tree—message it was to be found more than 80 years later.
Capt Pacetti, long prominent in Saint Augustine history, led a colorful life. Born in eighteen twenty nine, he lives to the age of 83. During a siege of yellow fever in New Orleans, he successfully treated many afflicted with the disease.
Capt Pacetti's wife died a few years ago at the age of 97. Another daughter, Mrs Harry Jones, died last year. Her four daughters are now living, three of them at the old Pacetti home, 56 Marine St, Saint Augustine.
As to the outcome of Billy Bowlegs' last fighting stand, he and many more Indians were at last rounded up and compelled to leave their native land with its congenial climate so well adapted to their peculiar tastes and pursuits, for one it's exact opposite in every important particular—Arkansas.