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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Florida Historical Quarterly
Vol. 41 No. 2 (Oct. 1962), pp127‑144

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p127 The Story of Captain John C. Casey

by Fred W. Wallace

One link in the chain of off-shore islands extending from Anclote Key southward along Florida's Gulf coast is Casey Key in Sarasota County. This little Key has more than its share of natural beauty and charm yet remains one of the least known islands. Although little is heard of Casey Key, except locally, for which the residents who value privacy are grateful, even more obscure is the origin of the name. One historian has written, "When and how Casey's Pass was named no one knows. According to waterfront legend an Irishman named Casey settled there for a number of years early in the 19th century and left during the War of 1812. But that is only legend."1 It seems fitting and proper that a closer acquaintance be had with Captain John Charles Casey and that he receive credit for the role he played in the early history of Florida. Recent attempts to glamorize this island paradise by changing its name to the insipid title of Treasure Island have, happily, failed and the euphonious and distinctive name it has had for more than a century remains.

The first mapping of the interior of southern Florida and its Gulf coast was done by the U. S. Army. This project was imperative for operations against the Seminoles and maintaining lines of communication with outlying depots and forts. This task was difficult and hazardous and involved much hardship. The terrain covered great expanses of swamp, sawgrass, and dense jungle and offered few places of elevation or reference points. Taking observations, bearings, and measurements and making detailed notes and sketches under these conditions was an exacting job. It was admirably done by a number of officers during the years 1839‑1855. Lieutenant John Christmas Ives, Topographical Engineers, compiled all this data and, by order of the Secretary of War, produced a most interesting and valuable map of Florida south of Tampa Bay and latitude 28° North which p128was published in April, 1856. This map is amazingly accurate in detail and is a superb work of cartography and engraving. Under "Notes" in the lower left corner, and in greater detail in his memoirs, Lieutenant Ives gives the sources of his data and credits the officers who derived it. Included prominently in this roster and given much credit for the entire map, particularly for the Gulf coast area, is Captain John C. Casey.

John Charles Casey was born in England in 1809 and emigrated to the United States a few years later with his parents who settled in Paterson, New Jersey. Young Casey attended local schools and soon decided he wanted to attend the U. S. Military Academy and make the Army his career. A letter dated at Paterson, August 11, 1823, to John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War, from their Congressman says, in part, "I take the liberty of recommending John Charles Casey of our town, a youth of about 15 years of age & of the most respectable connexions. . . . I feel the utmost confidence that, if appointed, he will reflect nothing but honor upon this excellent Institution. . . ." Several prominent persons sponsored Casey and no less a person than the Secretary of the Navy in a letter to the Secretary of War requested the appointment as a personal favor. On the margin of this letter in a bold forceful hand appears the somewhat ungrammatical notation "To be particularly attended to. J. C. C." The initials are those of Calhoun, not Casey. With backing of this calibre, the appointment was assured. April 24, 1824, prior to his fifteenth birthday, young Casey wrote to the Secretary of War accepting his appointment, "I accept with pleasure and gratitude the appointment with which I am honored by the President to a cadetship in the Service of the United States . . . and beg you to believe me with a deep sense of obligation. . . ."

Casey was enrolled at the Academy July 1, 1825, and graduated July 1, 1829. He ranked eleventh in a graduating class of forty-six. Several members of this class were destined to play important roles in military and civilian affairs, the most illustrious being Robert E. Lee who ranked second in the class. Casey was commissioned Brevet Second Lieutenant, Second Regiment Artillery. His permanent commission was accepted by letter with some interesting comments. August 18, 1829, he wrote the Secretary of War, "I acknowledge the receipt of an appointment in the Second Regiment of Artillery and in compliance with p129the order contained I inform you that . . . I was born in England but I left the country while a child and was raised and educated in New Jersey. I am to all intents and purposes an American. You will, however, place me on the roll as you think proper." The underlining is in ink different in appearance than that used by Casey, probably done at the War Department. He was "placed" as an American.

Casey's first assignment was garrison duty at Fort Pike, Louisiana, which offered protection against roving bands of Creeks and fugitive Negroes which often menaced the area. It later served as an important staging area in the forced migration of Indians by way of the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers to the Indian Territory. On January 21, 1831, Casey reported back to the Academy to serve as Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Geology until December, 1833, when he returned to Fort Pike. The Second Artillery was ordered to Florida because of increasing trouble with the Seminoles and arrived at Fort Brooke, Tampa Bay, on March 24, 1835. Casey received promotion to First Lieutenant April 30, 1835. He took part in several skirmishes and minor actions against the Indians and made several trips to the new Indian Territory after being appointed Acting Agent for transferring Seminoles there from Florida.

General Thomas S. Jesup, Commanding General, Army of the South, wrote the Secretary of War January 3, 1838, asking that Lieutenant Casey be assigned to the Department of Commissary General of Subsistence. This letter states that Casey is an officer ". . . who has high claims to the notice of the Government and among the most conspicuous, whether his services or his high attainments and talents for business be considered, and I recommend him for a Captaincy, at least in the Corps. By appointing him the Government would render a greater benefit to the Service than to him and, in addition to the advantage the nation would derive from it, I would esteem his appointment a personal favor of no ordinary value." The request was granted and Casey was assigned to the staff of the Commissary General with duties at Fort Brooke. His regimental commission as Captain, Second Artillery, was not received until January 4, 1842.

Commissary of Subsistence, under command of the Commissary General, was an important department of the Army and p130was charged with procurement, maintenance, and distribution of all supplies and equipment. The first Commissary General was General George Gibson who served until he resigned to join the Confederacy. Under date of February 21, 1839, General Gibson requested assignment of Casey ". . . to the depot at New York under my orders." Casey served as Purchasing Commissary at New York from March, 1839, until the latter part of 1841 when he was appointed Assistant to the Commissary General in Washington. In 1843 he was detached for a brief period for special duty at West Point.

Effective May 14, 1844, Casey's regimental commission was transferred to the 3rd Regiment Infantry and June 18, 1846, this was vacated and he was permanently assigned to the Department of Commissary of Subsistence. He served in Washington as Assistant to the Commissary General until August 15, 1847, when he was ordered to Mexico as Chief Commissariat of the Army commanded by Major General Zachary Taylor. Casey was in poor health at this time, suffering from a severe lung ailment, and at the end of the Mexican War, at his own request, he was ordered to Fort Brooke. He felt the climate at Tampa Bay would be more beneficial to his health than that of Washington or New York. At Fort Brooke he had charge of all Commissary duties handled at that post for the extensive area of southwest Florida. On September 1, 1849, Casey was assigned the additional duty of Commissioner for the Removal of the Seminole Indians from Florida.

Constant pressure and agitation for the removal of all Indians to beyond the Mississippi River resulted in passage by Congress in 1830 of the Removal Act. This act designated a large, ill defined area, later to become part of Oklahoma, for resettlement of the reluctant Indians by persuasion or force. The manner in which the removal of Indians was handled in Florida and the treatment afforded them followed the same sorry pattern as in other parts of the nation throughout the nineteenth century. It was a shameful record for the United States government, replete with broken promises, treaty violations, and sordid dishonesty on the part of many.

In 1823 a pact known as the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, which limited the territory allowed to the Seminoles, had been negotiated. After passage of the Removal Act there followed the p131ambiguous Treaty of Payne's Landing, and its sequel signed at Fort Gibson, which called for resettlement of the Indians in the Indian Territory. Major John Phagan, a civilian, was appointed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to handle removal of the Seminoles under the terms of the treaties. Within a few months irregularities in his financial accounts resulted in a Congressional investigation and he was fired. An able and competent successor, General Wiley Thompson, was appointed but he was destined to become one of the first casualties of the impending Seminole War. On the afternoon of December 28, 1835, while at Fort King he was ambushed, shot, and scalped just outside the compound. A few hours earlier and about thirty-five miles to the south the column of Major Francis Dade, moving to reinforce Fort King, was ambushed and virtually wiped out.

The only member of Major Dade's command to escape death or serious wounds was a Negro slave, concerning whom there has been some controversy and difference of opinion. Louis Pacheco, or Luis Fatio, who had been hired to guide Dade's column, is thought by some to have led the troops into ambush. He was captured and claimed as a slave by Jumper, a lesser Seminole chief. It was Captain Casey who had hired Pacheco as guide. A deposition dated April 15, 1839, gives the following account: ". . . personally appeared John C. Casey, Captain, United States Army, who, having been sworn upon his oath, . . . stated: 'I hired the said Negro man, Louis, on Dec. 23, 1835, at the rate of $25 per month and that date the Negro joined Major Dade and accompanied his command on the Federal Road toward Fort King. This deponent did not again see or hear anything of said Negro until April or May 1837 when he came in from the nation with Chief Jumper who represented, that after the battle of Dec. 28, 1835, between the Seminole Indians and the command of Major Dade, he (Jumper) had saved the life of said Negro man, . . . and was therefore entitled to him."2 When Chief Jumper and his slave were in New Orleans on their way to the Indian Territory Casey was called upon to establish rightful ownership of certain Seminole slaves, including Pacheco, who was claimed by a certain Mr. Love. In a letter to the Army legal officer in New Orleans Casey wrote: ". . . Pacheco, Louis, black, 40 years, good p132looking, intelligent, can read and write, speaks Spanish and Indian, etc. This man (Louis) belongs to the estate of the widow of Pacheco, now in Havana, formerly of Saragota [sic]a 40 miles south of here, Tampa. . . ."3

The Bureau of Indian Affairs was under the War Department until 1849 but the succession of agents appointed to handle removal of the Indians from Florida, with some temporary exceptions, were civilians, usually chosen for reasons of patronage rather than ability and honesty. Oddly enough in 1849 the situation was reversed. The Department of the Interior was created with jurisdiction over Indian affairs and an Army officer, Captain Casey, was appointed Commissioner for removal of the Seminoles. All orders and reports to and from Casey were handled through the Adjutant General's office of the War Department which caused some confusion as to which department most government had authority.

The Adjutant General ordered Capt. Casey to submit a general plan with specific recommendations for removal of the remaining Indians, citing that Casey was well qualified to do this because of his knowledge of the area and his friendly relations with Chief Billy Bowlegs. Casey complied with a very complete report containing definite recommendations. In brief, these were that new forts and depots be established at certain strategic points at Charlotte Harbor, along the Caloosahatchee River and on the west and south shore of Lake Okeechobee; that more effective measures be taken to prevent the Indians from obtaining arms and ammunition; and that scouting expeditions be increased to improve communications between Army posts and make the Seminoles constantly aware of soldiers in the vicinity of their villages. Casey hoped the Indians could be reasoned with to migrate by proper use of firmness and persuasion. One interesting proposal concerning new forts was that a military post be located on "Giuseppe Island" in Charlotte Harbor. Specific reasons given were its high elevation and protected location — Fort Dulany at nearby Punta Rassa had been destroyed by a hurricane October 19, 1841; the site was easily accessible by boat from the Gulf of Mexico; the mouths of the Myakka, "Pea" (Peace), and "Caloosa Hatchee" rivers were close at hand and many Indian towns and p133families could be kept under surveillance. On January 3, 1850, Fort Casey, named for the Captain, was established on the island, now known as Useppa and later to become an exclusive club. Post returns show a garrison of two companies under command of a Brevet Major. Casey stopped there often on his trips and on one occasion he was escorting Brigadier General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Thomas Childs who had assumed command of troops in Florida.

Casey sent the Adjutant General a lengthy report dated July 23, 1849, describing a trip he had made into Indian country in the hope of seeing Bowlegs. He left Tampa Bay June 30 in a small sloop and returned July 23, ". . . having visited Sarasota, Charlotte Harbor, the mouth of the Pea River and ascended the Caloosa Hatchee some 20 miles, or as high as navigable by sail vessels. . . . Near the mouth of the Pea River I found on July 6 a party of Marco Indians with their chief. . . . The Indians refused presents offered them saying it was against tribal law to accept anything, (except tobacco and whiskey, I believe)." Casey sailed on the Caloosahatchee and in San Carlos Bay from July 9 through 18, landing frequently, but saw no further signs of Indians. He failed to meet Bowlegs because, as he learned from the Chief later, the messenger he had sent earlier, "Simon, a negro belonging to Bowlegs," deliberately failed to notify the Chief until too late.

Another report to the Adjutant General tells of the finding by one Felipe Bermudez near his "rancho" on a high elevation at the extreme south end of Sarasota Bay of an Indian peace token, ". . . a white flag made of feathers with tobacco and white beads." Bermudez left a sign the token would be answered at the full moon and sent word to Casey at Tampa. Casey describes his arrival at the 'rancho' on the day before the full moon where he found waiting emissaries from his friend, Bowlegs, who greeted him in most friendly manner. Their message from the Chief was that Bowlegs and the tribal council deeply regretted and condemned the killing of three white settlers by five drunken Indians. It promised every effort would be made to catch the criminals and deliver them to General Twiggs at Fort Brooke. The messengers asked that a meeting be arranged between General Twiggs with Casey and Bowlegs and his chiefs. The council was appointed for September 18 at Charlotte Harbor. Casey pledged the safety of the Indians ". . . under the white flag and in no event would he [Gen. Twigs]º grab them."

p134 Twiggs and Casey arrived at Boca Grande Pass on the appointed date where they found "King Bowlegs" with thirty-seven of his subchiefs and warriors waiting. After warm and friendly greetings Bowlegs repeated his deep regret for the recent murders and again promised the criminals would be delivered before October 19. The following day "other chiefs arrived and all went on board the steamboat to see the General and all renewed their pledges. . . . They appeared to be sincere and trusted their Chief on board the armed steamer on my pledge and without hostages which I offered." On October 26 Casey wrote General Twiggs at Palatka saying the October 19 deadline had not been met but that he had confidence in the Indians and thought the guilty ones would stone be turned in. His faith was justified. On November 17 three of the criminals and one hand of a fourth, who had been killed resisting capture, were delivered to General Twiggs. The Indians expressed regret for the delay and for the escape of the fifth culprit.

A colorful account of the two meetings with the Indians in September, 1849, at Casey's Pass and Boca Grande Pass was published thirty-five years later in an issue of the Journal of the Military Service, contributed by Brevet Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Gibbon. The article is of interest because of the tribute paid to the character and ability of Captain Casey. Only those sections are quoted.

At the post [Fort Brooke] was stationed Capt. John C. Casey of the subsistence department. He had gone there two years before afflicted with tuberculosis and was supposed to be in dying condition. He was one of the most distinguished officers of his time and, a number of years before, had been stationed in Florida and had then made a close study of the Indians, their language, and habits and had become quite an authority in regard to them."

"He was known to have great influence with the Indians. . . . he gained this influence by a very simple, though unfortunately unusual, process; he never deceived them; never told them a lie; and never made a promise he did not fulfill if within his power. . . . By this simple means he gained the confidence of the whole nation and it was only necessary for Captain Casey to assert a thing for them to receive it with the most childlike faith. He never hesitated to trust himself in their hands with the utmost p135confidence and, when his friends protested against his rashness, would laughingly reply that he always carried his means of defense with him in the shape of a case knife. 'Besides' he would add philosophically, 'I have but a short time to live anyway and a few months, more or less, won't make much difference.' The knowledge and influence gained by Captain Casey were now about to bear remarkable fruit."4

At a meeting with Bowlegs on January 19, 1850, General Twiggs and Captain Casey, by order of the Adjutant General, offered the Indians $500 for each warrior and $100 for each woman and child who would leave Florida. A total of eighty-five accepted the terms and went west. Despite the fact that he was offered $10,000 Bowlegs disdainfully refused and returned to the Everglades. Casey reported "I regret to say that I now see no hope of inducing these people to go West in a body by any pecuniary temptation." Casey reported June 2, 1850, a trip he had made to Fort Myers during which he talked to many Indians. Most preferred to follow the example of Bowlegs in refusing to leave Florida. However, one subchief and his family, eight in all, returned to Fort Casey with him where they joined others gathered there and embarked for New Orleans.

Casey was confronted with another murder committed by Indians. In a letter to the governor of Florida, he wrote from Fort Myers April 2, 1851, that he had "demanded the surrender of all connected with the murder. I have allowed no trade in ammunition since the outbreak of 1849 and all trade has been suspended since I was notified of the murder of the boy Hubbard and will not be reopened until the guilty are surrendered." On May 13 Bowlegs delivered to Casey in Fort Myers three Indians who confessed to the murder. Casey transported them to Tampa where they were lodged in the county jail. Three days later they were found dead in the jail by hanging.

The tempting opportunities for profits for civilian agents in handling Indian affairs resulted in strong political pressure to have a civilian appointed as Commissioner for the Seminoles. This was finally agreed upon in high places and April 15, 1851, the Secretary of War in a letter to the Secretary of the Interior wrote, in part, "the request is acceded to and orders have been p136given Capt. John C. Casey, the special agent of this Department, to turn over to such agent as may be designated by you all property, funds, etc., belonging to the Indian Department which may be in his hands." The special agent appointed by the Interior Department was one Luther Blake, a native of Alabama, who had had experience in trying to remove the Creek Indians in 1849 and 1850 under a contract. He had only indifferent success but the operation had proved very profitable for Blake.

Blake, who used the self-bestowed title of "General," arrived in Fort Myers in the middle of May and within a few days sent to the Bureau several lengthy, self-laudatory, and optimistic reports. He actually spent little more than one week at Fort Myers and then left on a trip, at Government expense, to New Orleans and Indian Territory with the stated purpose of getting a delegation of resettled Seminoles to return to Florida to induce obstinate Bowlegs to leave. Blake was away on this junket more than eight months and returned to Fort Myers in February, 1852, with a small delegation. Bowlegs listened patiently to Blake's persuasive arguments and the uninspired comments of the delegates. Unimpressed by what he heard, and disliking Blake, the stubborn Chief retired again to his home in the Everglades. Blake's next effort to gain the goodwill of Bowlegs was to arrange a trip to Washington and New York for the Chief and his friend, Old Abraham, a subchief, interpreter, and freed Negro slave. Bowlegs and Abraham were outfitted with expensive clothes and lodged, fed, and wined at the best hotels on the trip. After ceremonial meetings with dignitaries in Washington, Blake continued on to New York with his prize exhibits, much to the delight of the newspapers which wrote colorful accounts of the unconquered Chief from the Everglades. Blake revelled in the fanfare and publicity and P. T. Barnum must have viewed this superb piece of showmanship with reluctant admiration and envy. Perhaps it provided the inspiration for the importation of Jenny Lind, General Tom Thumb, and Jumbo. When the junket returned to Florida wily Bowlegs performed his usual disappearing act into the Glades, as determined as ever not to leave Florida or listen further to Blake.

Bowlegs complained several times to his friend, Captain Casey, about the conduct of "General" Blake and his aid, "Colonel" S. H. Bowman, and their treatment of the Indians. Ill feeling p137arose between the contractor and Casey and, triggered by a trivial incident, this erupted into a furor which reached high places in Washington. This resulted in a severe reprimand for Casey which was, however, soon followed by his complete vindication and the dismissal of Blake. Casey had sent to the contractor in Fort Myers a shipment of supplies for the Indians and had included a small present for his old friend, Abraham. In a letter to "Colonel" Bowman, Casey explained he had promised the gift of a blanket, two pipes, and some tobacco and asked Bowman to see that Abraham received it. In Bowman's absence, the letter and gift went to Blake who considered this a flagrant interference in his affairs. He sent a lengthy report to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in which he greatly distorted and exaggerated the facts. Soon thereafter Casey received orders from the Adjutant General, dated November 1, 1852:

"Sir: I am instructed by the Secretary of War to say that you have been reported to the War Department for interfering with the arrangements in progress for emigrating the Indians of Florida and that your conduct in this matter meets with the decided disapprobation of the Department.

"The Secretary therefore directs that you leave Florida as soon as practicable and report to some point (which you may select with reference to your health) beyond the limits of that State, from which you will report for orders."

Casey was shocked but he immediately replied at length and with vigor. He asked that a Court of Inquiry be convened to determine the facts and that he be informed of the charges made against him. In reply the Secretary of War wrote December 7: "I consider Capt. Casey's own statement that he had not interfered with the arrangements made by the Department of the Interior as a sufficient disproof of the charge. I therefore consider a Court of Inquiry as unnecessary. . . . the order to leave Florida was not intended as a censure upon him but to remove all pretexts on the part of the Contractor by whom the complaint was preferred. . . ." On December 18 Casey answered at some length. "I must respectfully protest against an order banishing me from a particular State without trial or even suspicion or crime or intention to censure me but only to 'remove all pretexts on the part of the Contractor.' A pretext can never be wanting to calumny. . . . the order to leave Florida has already been made p138known to this community in which I live and will soon be known to the whole Army." He again requested a Court of Inquiry. Several months passed with no reply to this latest request and Casey must have undergone some mental anguish to aggravate his poor health. However, on April 13, 1853, the Adjutant General wrote: "By direction of the Secretary of War the instructions . . . sent to you from this office Nov. 1, 1852 (to leave Florida) are rescinded." About two weeks later Casey received orders which directed: "As soon as the state of your health will permit, report to Washington to the Commissary General of Subsistence."

The reasons for this change in attitude by the War Department appear quite clear. The request to have Casey removed from Florida, made by one Cabinet officer to another, was acceded to as a matter of courtesy. No specific charges against Casey were submitted to the War Department, only the vague allegation of "interfering." However, the War Department was aware of Blake's record and conduct and was anxious to hold the Court of Inquiry. Learning of this possibility, the Secretary of the Interior, who had acted solely on the advice of his subordinate in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, made a preliminary investigation of the charges which showed them to be wholly unwarranted and also disclosed enough evidence of misconduct and inefficiency on Blake's part to make a Court of Inquiry definitely undesirable for the Interior Department. A compromise was agreed upon whereby the order banishing Casey was rescinded, all censure of him removed, and he was ordered to Washington. It was hoped this settlement would satisfy all concerned. Casey, however, was far from satisfied. He was a man of honor whose integrity had been impugned. In a long letter to the Adjutant General dated June 20 he again asked for a copy of the charges made against him because he wanted to place in the record answers to these charges, ". . . not that one respectable man, knowing me, ever believed them for an instant, (to quote the Secretary's own words.) I pledge my honor to prove any such charge from whatever source (interfering with arrangements, etc.) is a wanton calumny circulated by the Contractor because I would not aid in what I deem a shameful attempt to defraud the Government and the Indians and to explain the consequent failure of a plan so inefficient and corrupt."

p139 It was due in large part to Casey's repeated demands for a Court of Inquiry that an investigation into Blake's activities was made. This probe turned up such a plethora of evidence of malfeasance and inefficiency that the contractor was fired. In February, 1854, Casey was reappointed as Commissioner. With perspective of more than a century the entire affair seems petty and trivial. However, it served a worthwhile purpose and brought into sharp focus the characters of the two principals involved, about whom there has been some difference of opinion.

This same trivial incident of modest gifts given by Casey to his old friend and interpreter, Abraham, touched off a rash of acrimonious correspondence with a fellow officer. Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Henry Winder was commanding officer of Fort Myers at the time, and a crony of Blake. Winder had had a brilliant record in the Mexican War and was to attain the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. When he died in February, 1865, he was in charge of all Yankee prisoners east of the Mississippi River with headquarters at the infamous prison at Andersonville, Georgia. After the war the superintendent of the prison, Colonel Henry Wirz, formerly Winder's assistant, was hanged. It seems reasonably certain Winder would have met the same fate had he lived a few months longer. Winder had spread reports around Fort Myers that Casey had tried to bribe Abraham to persuade the Indians not to deal with Blake. These stories soon reached Casey's ears and he wrote Winder demanding an explanation and authority for the story, "as it is false and slanderous." Winder's reply, written eleven days later, was evasive and Casey's prompt answer was a long, scathing indictment of Winder for spreading false rumors at the instigation of Blake. He wrote: "Your letter is herewith returned as it does not answer my inquiry and is not such a reply as I have a right to expect from either an officer or a gentleman. . . . Suggest you find some other topic of conversation than my gifts or messages to Old Abraham. . . . bear in mind that you have something to do with the truth or falsehood of stories and reports you may repeat about me." These letters, several in number, were exchanged directly between the two officers and it is interesting they are among official records.

Casey returned to Fort Brooke early in March, 1854, after his reinstatement as Commissioner, despite his failing health. p140An order from the Adjutant General dated September 21, 1854, directed to Colonel John Munroe, "Commanding Troops in Florida, Tampa Bay, E. F.," and with copies to "(1) General in Chief; (2) Capt. J. C. Casey; (3) Commanding Officer Department of the East;" states that the Secretary of War directs immediate steps to be taken to abandon certain forts and establish new ones at more advanced locations; that lines of communication be opened from Fort Myers and from Tampa Bay to new posts along the west and south shores of Lake Okeechobee and "into the Indian country south of the Caloosahatchee in the direction of the towns and homes of the Seminoles. The object of these arrangements is to circumscribe the Indians in their limits as much as possible, to cut off their supplies and to force upon them, if possible, a conviction of emigrating. In carrying out these arrangements you are advised to confer freely with Capt. Casey."

The "arrangements" contained in this order have a striking similarity to the recommendations made by Casey nearly five years earlier in the general plan he was asked to submit. The order was carried out efficiently by the Army and reconnoissance parties were soon probing southward into the Everglades, causing increasing tension and anxiety to Bowlegs. In December, 1854, provoked by wanton vandalism done by an Army detachment to his home, Bowlegs reacted violently by attacking and wounding several soldiers, thus launching hostilities into the final phase of the recurrent Seminole disturbances. The Indians withdrew into the swamps and sawgrass and sent out raiding parties to scalp, pillage, and burn. No engagements of importance took place and activities fell into a pattern of ambushes and hit-run raids on homes and villages of both Indians and settlers. After fighting had dragged on for several months, the Government decided to try again offering money rewards, but this time with some unusual stipulations.

The Florida Peninsular issue of March 29, 1856, proclaimed this latest proposal under bold headlines: "Important from Washington!! Reward for living Indians!!! Capt. Casey, the Agent for Indian Affairs in Florida, is authorized to offer per capita reward or premium for living Indians who may be captured or induced to come in emigration to the West." The rates to be paid were $250 to $500 for a warrior, $150 to $200 for women and $100 to $200 for boys over p141ten years. The highest rates were for specimens in good condition, the lower rates for "infirm, bed-ridden and helpless." This proposal was generally greeted with anger and derision. Floridians were demanding military action to exterminate the Indians by force, not bounties. The unusual stipulation that rewards would be paid only for live and whole Indians eliminated any great interest and results were negligible, except for those achieved by the colorful Captain Jacob Mickler. The area around Tampa Bay was thoroughly aroused by recent Indian raids and murders only a short distance to the south, culminating in the bold attack on the fortress home of Dr. Joseph Braden in Manatee, to which many settlers had fled for protection. The Florida Peninsular of April 5, 1856, in a sarcastic and scathing editorials aid: "Why did not the good citizens of Manatee capture those innocent, unoffending creatures for reward? We must assume that these citizens do not read the Peninsular or else they would not have been so rash as to shoot at Uncle Sam's pets! We would advise them to set steel traps with the teeth filed off, baited with negro blankets! Whiskey would be an excellent bait but many more white birds than red would be caught." The Florida Peninsular issue of the following week suggested editorially "that every man who kills an Indian be forced to receive from the Indian Agent $500. Beware how you shoot at Uncle Sam's pets!"

As stated previously, Casey was a victim of tuberculosis. This dread disease grew progressively worse and was to claim his life within a few months. He suffered severely from the affliction while in Mexico and was in very critical condition when he returned to Fort Brooke in 1848. A letter written by a prominent Alabama attorney, Clement Claiborne Clay, to his wife, dated March 19, 1851, at Tampa says: "The most interesting and agreeable man I have met in Florida is Capt. John C. Casey U. S. A. and Indian Agent for this State, who, though looking quite well, told me he is breathing with but one lung; that, when he landed here three years ago he was carried in the arms of his servant, greatly emaciated from hectic fever and profuse hemorrhages and not expected to live a month. He says that many cases of as remarkable recuperation have been under his observation here and thinks all attributable to the sanatory influence of p142the climate. . . ."5 Despite the improvement indicated in the letter, Casey's health grew steadily worse and it is, indeed, remarkable that he was able to continue his duties during the latter part of the year 1856 when his physical condition deteriorated rapidly. Loss of weight, violent hemorrhaging, and confinement to bed ensued. He received the best medical care available but little could be done for him. Casey knew well that death was approaching and he took steps to put his official and modest personal affairs in order. An old and trusted friend, Captain C. S. Kibburn, with whom Casey shared bachelor officers' quarters, was carefully instructed and entrusted with carrying out last wishes.

Captain Casey died on Christmas Day, 1856. A formal dispatch to the Adjutant General from Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.W. W. Morris, 4th Artillery, Commanding Regiment and Post, Fort Brooke, gave a brief account giving cause of death as pulmonary consumption. A later, more detailed report said that Captain Casey died at "10 minutes past 6 o'clock of the 25th. His intellectual faculties were unimpaired until 24 hours of his death and he gave most minute instructions in reference to his burial, all of which were strictly complied with. He was buried with the honors of war on the 27th Inst. at 2½ P.M. In a few words, Capt. Casey died as he had lived, calmly and methodically, leaving none but friends to regret that so large a soul had not been encased in a stronger frame." Major Morris issued a General Order on the evening of Christmas Day. "The Commanding Officer has the melancholy duty of announcing the decease of Captain John C. Casey of the Subsistence Department, who died of pulmonary consumption at six o'clock this afternoon. His moral character was unimpeachable, his self denial and courage admired by all who knew him and, in every relation of life, whether official or private, he has proved himself an ornament to his race." The order designated officers of the General Staff as pall bearers and set forth complete details regarding the funeral procession and burial with full honors in the post cemetery. All military and naval units in the area were represented in the procession which included federal, state, county, and local officials and other dignitaries. Flags throughout the post and aboard all vessels in p143port were at half mast from sunrise to sunset. The Florida Peninsular issue of December 27 reported "Died on the 25th Inst. Captain J. C. Casey, Indian Agent for the Seminoles . . . . appointed in 1849, he performed the functions of that responsible position until his death. No man head a larger circle of devoted friends." The article continued with a lengthy and colorful description of the funeral cortege and listed the many prominent mourners.

Most early maps of Florida's Gulf Coast give the name Clam Island to what is now known as Casey Key. The earliest map or chart found showing Casey Key and Casey's Pass, named after the Captain, is a working drawing made by the United States Coast Survey, predecessor of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The annual report of the Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey for the year 1851 to the Senate includes an exhibit, "Sketch F, showing the Progress of the Survey in Section VI with a General Reconnoissance of the Western Coast of Florida." Notes on this sketch state the coast line south of Tampa Bay was "laid down" from reconnoissance, observations, and sketches from Captain J. C. Casey. The magnificent map compiled by Lieutenant Ives, previously referred to, which was published in April, 1856, only a few months before Casey's death, names Casey as the authority for the data used in mapping the coast south of Tampa Bay to the Caloosahatchee River. The concluding statement of the 'Notes' appearing on this map is: "Nearly all of the compiled maps and sketches above mentioned refer to Capt. J. C. Casey, Subsistence Dept., as the authority for a large portion of the information therein contained."

After Casey's death the Bureau of Indian Affairs felt that the relatively small number of Indians remaining in Florida, estimated to number but a few hundred, did not warrant appointing a successor to Casey. The matter of removing the remaining Seminoles from Florida would be handled by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Arkansas, Colonel Elias Rector. In March, 1858, after weeks of negotiations and offers of substantial sums of money, Chief Bowlegs finally came to terms and agreed to leave his beloved homeland and move to the Indian Territory with a group of his followers. On May 4, 1858, the vessel Grey Cloud embarked Bowlegs and 124 other Seminoles at Fort Myers and three days later put in at Fort Dade on Egmont Key. Here forty additional p144Indians were taken aboard and at 11:00 A.M. on May 7 the Grey Cloud departed for New Orleans with her passenger list of thirty-nine warriors, including the Chief, and 126 women and children.

The account of the departure from Egmont Key which appeared in the issue of the Florida Peninsular of the following day contains some provocative information. "Went to Egmont Key to meet the incoming Grey Cloud. May 7th at 11:00 A.M. the Grey Cloud departed from us bearing Billy Bowlegs with all the principal Chiefs and war spirits of the nation amid the booming of Artillery and shouts from those aboard. . . . One remarkable coincidence we will mention, that the boat conveying Billy and his party carried also the remains of his friend, the late lamented Capt. Casey, to the last meeting place among his friends. Billy ever expressed that Capt. Casey was an honest and good man, — a truthful tribute."

All efforts to locate the final burial place of Captain Casey have, so far, been unsuccessful. It is hoped that some reader may be able to offer a clue as to the whereabouts of his grave. Billy Bowlegs, by best authority, died some time in the latter part of 1860 and was buried near his home in the vicinity of Fort Holmes, Oklahoma. He did not die a despondent suicide by poisoning within a few days after his arrival in Indian Territory, as has often been stated. His remains, too, were later exhumed and now rest in the National Cemetery at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. There is no record or information concerning Casey at either place of burial. The removal of a body, especially from a military cemetery, even back in 1858, must surely have required some authority, permission, or legal procedure. A search of records in Tampa, Tallahassee, and Washington has proved unsuccessful in learning by whom and why his remains were disinterred or their place of reburial.

Wherever the final resting place of John Charles Casey may be, may he rest in peace. He deserved a more kindly fate than that his bones lie in an unknown grave. Casey Key may well be proud of its name and heritage.


The Author's Notes:

1 Karl H. Grismer, The Story of Sarasota (Tampa, 1946), 55. Except where otherwise stated in the text or in the footnotes, the materials and data for this article were obtained from various sections of the National Archives, Washington, D. C.

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2 D. B. McKay, Pioneer Florida (Tampa, 1959), II, 479‑480.

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3 Contribution by Father Jerome, St. Leo Abbey, in "Pioneer Florida," Tampa Tribune, May 8, 1960.

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4 McKay, Pioneer Florida, II, 560.

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5 Olin Norwood (ed.), "Letters From Florida in 1851," Florida Historical Quarterly, XXIX (April, 1951), 271.


Thayer's Note:

a I haven't seen the original item, but it's very hard to believe he could have written Saragota for the name of a place he knew well — and in 19c handwriting a ligatured long S looks very much like a form of G. He seems to have written Sarasota correctly enough in his report to the Adjutant-General quoted on p133.


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