Understanding the Seminole Wars

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13154

The Seminole tribe fought three wars to remain on their Florida homeland. Find out who they fought and why, who their great heroes were, and why they call themselves the Unconquered People.


United States

learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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The Unconquered Seminoles of Florida State

The image above shows a statue called the Unconquered.

It stands on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. The Florida State teams are called the Seminoles, and the statue reflects the spirit of the Seminole people.

  • Are you wondering why they're known as the Unconquered?

Read on to find out!

The Seminoles resisted being moved from their Florida lands and fought three wars with the U.S. government. Although many died and some went to reservations, a small group remained unconquered in Florida.

In this lesson, you'll learn where they came from, where and how they lived, and why they fought. You'll also gather facts about the three wars.

As always, when you watch the videos, have some paper handy to answer questions and take notes!

First Seminole War (1817-1818)

The First Seminole War was a series of skirmishes, or random small battles, between 1817 and 1818.

Watch the video below and answer the following questions.

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  • Where did the Seminoles come from?
  • How did they live in Florida? What did they do to survive?
  • What other ethnic group joined them?
  • Why did the U.S. government declare war on the Seminoles?
  • In what way did Andrew Jackson act wrongly and risk the peace between America, Spain, and Britain?
  • How did the Treaty of Moultrie Creek affect the Seminoles? Why did the government put their reservation in the center of the state? (See map below.)

land given to the Seminoles

Second Seminole War (1835-1842)

  • Did you know that the Second Seminole War was the costliest and longest of all the wars the U.S. government fought against Native tribes?

Life was extremely hard for the Seminoles on the reservation, and many refused to stay. Their struggles, along with their friendly relationship with escaped slaves, led to another war.

Led by their great chief, Osceola, and his comrade, Wildcat, they fought desperately to keep their land.

Chief Osceola and Wildcate

The following video clip explains what life was like for the Seminoles on the reservation, how they developed an alliance with escaped enslaved people, how their struggles led to another war, and how Osceola became one of their brave leaders.

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Osceola took revenge on Indian Agent Wylie Thompson and a fellow Seminole, Charley Emathla, who had taken money to leave his home and go to a reservation. They were both killed.

Then, Osceola led an ambush against a group of 110 U.S. soldiers en route from one Florida fort to another and killed all but two of them in what is now known as Dade's Massacre.

In this second clip from the same video, learn how Army General Thomas Jesup finally decided that the only way to defeat the Seminoles was to deceive them. Learn of the death of Osceola, sadly tricked by a fake flag of truce.

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Wildcat and some of his men were imprisoned but managed to escape by fasting (not eating) until they got so skinny that they could remove one bar of the window and wiggle through! They went south and met up with other Seminole warriors.

Colonel Zachary Taylor chased the Seminoles into the Okeechobee swamp and led 800 troops in battle against the 300 to 400 Seminoles encamped there.

The Battle of Okeechobee was the last big battle of the war. The Seminoles fought bravely but were pushed further south into the Everglades at the southern tip of Florida.

The Everglades is a 1.5 million-acre wilderness of wetlands, forests, and prairies. The Seminoles hid on remote islands there for many years.

map of Florida

Many decided to go to the reservation in Oklahoma. Wildcat was captured and agreed to go.

However, the U.S. government never actually won the war. In 1842, the government decided to stop pursuing the Seminoles, realizing that the war could not be won.

At the end of the war, around 2,000 US soldiers and hundreds of Seminoles had died. Around 3,000 Seminoles were removed to the Oklahoma reservation.

The government had spent 40 million dollars trying to remove the Seminoles--that's 7 billion in today's money!

Third Seminole War (1855-1858)

Like the First Seminole War, the Third was a series of skirmishes rather than large battles.

In 1855, a U.S. Army surveying party found a Seminole farm west of the Everglades and destroyed it. Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs retaliated (to repay an injury with a similar one).

Chief Billy Bowlegs

Bowlegs led a raid against white settlers, bringing more raids and skirmishes.

The Army tried to block the Seminoles' food supplies, and by 1858 they were tired of fighting and faced starvation. Many agreed to go to Oklahoma, but several hundred Seminoles remained in Big Cypress Swamp, a remote part of the Everglades.

Over 3,000 of their descendants live in the state today.

That's why they're called the Unconquered People!

Now that you've learned about the Unconquered head over to the Got It? section, where you'll summarize all you've learned about the wars and make a map of the important locations!

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