The second of a two-part series about the Native Americans who lived at the headwater of the Little Manatee River. Part 1 may be seen online at www.observernews.net (by searching Penny Fletcher, A Look Back) or in the March 3 paper edition. Visitors may see this land in full regalia on Saturday, April 2, at the Second Native American Arts Festival.
The first maps made by Anglo explorers show that the land that stretches between what are now Hillsborough and Manatee counties was populated by several Native American tribes. The area now called St. Petersburg, the area north of it — and for a long way east of it across Tampa Bay — was called the Great Swamp, and not without good reason.
South of that area was the Paracoxi Province, much of which is marked as “plains” in the middle of the “swamps.”
The plains were inhabited by the Timucan people, who grew what they called the “three sisters” — corn, beans that ran up the corn stalks, and squash that was shaded in the dirt below them. Other crops were also grown, and the Timucan people traded with the “people of the swamps” who fished.
The swamps existed on both sides of rivers and streams that led into Tampa Bay, and in these swamps lived the Calusa tribe — often referred to as the shell tribe — who fished with primitive tools and caught shellfish in palm-frond nets.
One early map made by Hernando DeSoto’s expedition shows that the area now known as the Redhawk Ranch Native American Retreat, located at 4110 C.R. 579 in Wimauma, was “20 Leagues to the Coast,” which is described on the map as being the area between the ranch and the Gulf, going straight through Tampa Bay.
In the first part of this series, many ancient items found in the area around the Ranch, in both southeast Hillsborough and northeast Manatee, were shown, along with stories about what they were used for.
The second part of the story, however, deals with what happened in the 1800s on that same area of land (and other nearby parts of Florida), which was then part of Paracoxi Province.
This was the hardest time for the Native Americans who had lived here for many generations, as most were forced from their homelands as more Anglos came.
Much of this story is told by Bud Hoshaw, of Mamaceqtaw/Menominee descent, whose Native American name is Red Feather; a strong name in the Native American way since it was the name of Chief Crazy Horse’s brother-in-law.
Over the years, Red Feather has made a continuing study of Native American tribes, wars, customs, tools, festivals and more.
He is co-owner of Redhawk Ranch with his wife Quahneah, whose great-grandmother was an escapee of the Trail of Tears. Her Anglo name is Brenda.
“In the 1800s,” he began, “after the Battle of New Orleans, where many Native Americans helped [President] Jackson’s troops fight against the French, he [Jackson] pushed [the Native Americans] south. By 1817, they had begun to join runaway black slaves. All Indians and Blacks in Florida were accepted as Seminoles if they were willing to work or fight.”
The Seminoles are the one tribe that has never signed a treaty with the United States government and, although they have been driven to the lower part of the Florida Everglades swamp, they remain loyal to their traditions and lifestyle.
Native Americans like Dr. Kristine Thomas, who works at various sites in the Hillsborough County School District, including Hillsborough Community College’s South Campus in Ruskin, try and learn all they can about their heritage. Thomas, a member of the Pokanoket tribe, and her husband, a Narragansett, go to the annual Rhode Island Pow Wow in August every year they can. This Pow Wow has existed for 300 years.
“It is so important for people to learn their background and understand their culture,” said Thomas. “It makes you who you are. But it is also as important for everyone to learn about other cultures, to get along and respect them.”
This is the same philosophy held by the owners of Redhawk Ranch in Wimauma. On the third Saturday of each month (except during the hottest summer months), people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are encouraged to join in the Native Circle that begins just before dusk with food and fellowship, prior to the performance of an ancient ceremony of gratitude around a fire.
Saturday, April 2, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Redhawk Ranch will hold its second Native American Arts Festival, giving everyone a chance to participate, to watch the dancers, see the artists, visit the Native shop on site and fellowship together.
The red ants that accompanied the first Redhawk Ranch festival in December are gone now, thanks to the free labor of Scott Coughlin, owner of Bee Green in Riverview.
“So many people are enjoying this land, I guess he figured it would be better without the annoyance of the ants, and he treated the whole 18 acres!” Brenda said.
If they’re fortunate, some visitors just might get to hear the tale of the land on which they are standing. (Or sitting, now that the ant problem is solved!)
“People don’t realize that some of the most-recognized Native American people were also part ‘something else.’ Like Osceola was part Scotch,” Hoshaw said, continuing the stories of the 1800s.
“During the Indian Wars, when Jackson’s troops attacked, they saw that the natives used guerilla tactics, hiding their families deep in the swamps where no one who did not know the way could get to them. Then they would fight. Often to the death. They were not afraid to die,” Hoshaw said.
According to documents located and studied by Hoshaw, Osceola and Cochachi were both captured and held in the Marion Prison during a supposed period of truce.
The two chiefs conspired to escape, but Osceola got sick. It is on record, however, that Cochachi starved himself until he could get through the bars and escaped. He later went to Mexico and fought with the Mexicans against the Spanish invaders.
In 1855, Jackson left Florida and all the Native Americans in the area who were still alive joined with the Seminole tribe.
It is rumored that a train full of detainees that included several strong-willed chiefs derailed right on the Redhawk property and many escaped to the southernmost parts of Florida, joining the Seminole stronghold.
“In Polk County, by Fort Meade, the famed Billy Bowlegs grew his bananas and pumpkins,” Hoshaw said. “When the government forces smashed them, Bowlegs is said to have gone clear to Fort Hamer in Manatee County and taken food from the government storehouses to give to the 140 people he was responsible for feeding.”
Rumor has it that after that episode, Bowlegs was the one who declared, “No more peace,” because the truce seemed to mean nothing.
Recently black powder 12-gauge “trap-door” shotguns used during the Indian Wars have been found in that area as well as along the Peace River. One of those guns, now at Redhawk Ranch, is dated to approximately 1850.
Many are now learning the true history — the good, the bad, and the ugly — of what happened to the Native peoples when the Spanish and later other cultures came to America.
Because of this, the U.S. Department of Education now has a Title VII program for Native American, Alaskan and Hawaiian children not only to ensure they have proper education, but also that they are taught their culturally relevant roots.
“We will have Title VII kids here,” Hoshaw said. “This is a real privilege for us.”
Rick Okimosh, a singer and drummer, has a son, Dakota, who is a dancer. Dakota is bringing a group of Native dancers (who fall under the Title VII designation) to perform and, after that, anyone who wishes may join in a Native American Round Dance.
“It’s a privilege to tell the stories of the ancestors and the Old Ones,” Hoshaw said. “This is why we are caretakers of this land.”
Readers who wish to find out more about the April 2 event may call 813-634-5352, visit www.thenativewayshop.com or just show up. It is approximately an 11-minute drive from Sun City Center, east on S.R. 674 to C.R. 579, go about seven miles south to 4110 C.R. 579. There is a sign on the gate to the property.