Zachary Taylor and the "Trail of Tears"
By Dale Cox
During the summer of 1838, Zachary Taylor became the second future U.S. President to visit Jackson County (the first was Andrew Jackson). His reason for coming, however, remains controversial to this day.
Taylor was then a colonel in the United States Army, although he held the temporary or "brevet" rank of brigadier general. He had fought the Battle of Okeechobee, one of the largest of the Second Seminole War, earlier in the year and was the commander of U.S. forces in Florida.
Throughout the war, two large groups of Native Americans had continued to live in Jackson County. The first of these, headed by the chief Econchattimico ("Red Ground King"), lived on a reservation a few miles north of present-day Sneads. The other group, headed by the chief John Walker, lived on a similar reserve just east of Sneads near today’s Gulf Power plant.
The chiefs had signed a treaty in 1833 agreeing to surrender some of their lands to the United States and to either migrate to new lands in the west or stay on their remaining Jackson County lands but lose the protection of the U.S. Government. As the Seminole War dragged into its third year, however, the government forgot the specifics of the treaty and ordered the removal of all of the Native Americans from their reservations in Jackson County.
The action was, of course, a violation of the treaty that had been signed with the chiefs just five years earlier, but the U.S. Army was ordered to enforce the removal order and Col. Zachary Taylor started for Jackson County with a large body of soldiers.
Taylor reached the reservations in October of 1838 and, under the guns of the soldiers, Econchattimico and John Walker instructed their followers to begin packing what they could. On the 20th of that month, the two chiefs and 269 of their followers were placed aboard the steamboat Rodney and began their journey down the Apalachicola River. Behind they left their homes, fields, orchards and everything they had ever known. All were quickly claimed by white settlers that had gathered on the outskirts of the reservations waiting for the departure of the Indians.
The Rodney traveled down the river and into Lake Wimico, where the Native Americans were off-loaded at Depot Creek and carried the short distance overland to St. Joseph. From there they were placed aboard sea-going vessels for the trip west. Their descendents live today in a small community near Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Zachary Taylor and his men soon left Jackson County, returning to the battlefront against the Seminoles by way of Tallahassee.
The forced removal of Econchattimico and John Walker and their families remains one of the most tragic episodes in the history of Jackson County. Nearly 270 legal residents of the county were forced from their homes at gunpoint and sent away against their will to the western frontier. It was but one small incident in the mass removal of Native Americans from the eastern United States, a tragic event remembered today as the "Trail of Tears."
Editor’s Note: Writer and historian Dale Cox is a regular contributor. You can read more of his writings at www.jacksoncountytimes.net.