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Florida’s Splendid Little Wars

The Indian Wars created the pontoon, corrugated military trails, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Fort Pierce – and statehood for Florida in 1845. That same year, a federal commission reported that the Sunshine State was “utterly worthless” to civilized man.

Newcomers who feel betrayed at our cold snaps also seem to believe that Florida began with coconuts carved into pirate heads and “Wish You Were Here” postcards of palm trees and sandy beaches. The likelihood is that in Florida’s earlier times, when naturalist Billy Barton reported alligators so thick you could walk across their backs, “Wish you were not here, wish you would stay away and leave us alone,” was the more likely sentiment, particularly among the Indians. The sentiment was justified.

Andrew Jackson first cast a baleful eye on Florida during the War of 1812, which had nothing to do with Tchaikovsky’s overture. Seeing the specter of the Duke of Wellington behind each palmetto, like the ubiquitous skull in every Durer painting, Jackson was determined to secure Florida before the British gained a toehold aimed at the real prize, New Orleans, with its control of the Mississippi.

Living on gin and calomel for his chronic dysentery, with the boost of an opium-laced patent medicine called Matchless Sanative, Jackson attacked Spanish-held Pensacola. When Spain protested, President Madison defended Jackson before a Congress as irate as Spain, explaining that Florida, overrun with pirates, smugglers, runaway slaves and Indians had become “the theater of every lawless adventure.”

Read the entire article in the December 2009 issue