Florida to buy site of historic battlefield

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – State officials announced plans Tuesday to spend $3.2 million to buy and preserve the battlefield where Seminole and Miccosukee Indians and escaped slaves fought hand-to-hand with the U.S. Army in 1837.

The 145 acres where the Battle of Lake Okeechobee took place on Christmas Day will be turned into a state park, with living history events, such as re-enactments of the battle.

Preservationists have been afraid rapid growth in the city of Okeechobee would turn the site into a subdivision or shopping area. It is wedged between a commercial area and a 300-home development. Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet unanimously approved the purchase of the site from the Rowland Foundation, created to benefit orphanages and religious organizations.

W.S. Steele, historic preservation officer for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has a reservation nearby, said he has been fighting to protect the site for 21 years.

“It was the terminating and decisive battle of a 200-year conflict that began in the 1680s and did not really end until 1858,” Steele told the Cabinet.

“The significance of this battlefield cannot be overstated.”

The battle was part of a government effort to remove Indians from Florida, which was then just a U.S. territory.

About 1,100 soldiers and militia troops led by Col. Zachary Taylor fought with around 400 Indians and escaped slaves.

The Army suffered heavier casualties, 26 dead and 112 wounded versus 11 dead and 14 wounded on the Indian side, according to historians. But the battle was declared a victory in Washington because the Indians were driven from the battlefield. Taylor won a promotion and fame that helped catapult him to the presidency in 1848.

The Seminoles and their allies, however, avoided capture and removal from Florida, found sanctuary in the Everglades and never surrendered.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation joined the effort in 2000 by listing the battlefield as one of the country’s 11 most endangered historic sites.

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