On December 23, 1835, Major Francis Dade, along with 109 soldiers, set out from Fort Brooke, Florida, in order to reinforce Fort King, more than 100 miles away. They knew that ambush by the Seminoles—upset by their imminent removal west of the Mississippi—was possible and even likely. Evidence of a Seminole presence was evident in the burned out bridges the army passed, but by the time Dade’s men had made it about two-thirds of the way, they relaxed their guard and Dade pulled his flanking scouts back in.
On the morning of the 28th, Dade and his men were ambushed by 180 Seminoles, in what would become known as the Dade Massacre—the first major conflict of the Second Seminole War. The Seminoles, who had been hiding in the long grass, took out Dade and half his men with the first round of shots. After firing some more, the Seminoles, thinking they had killed all the soldiers, started to return to the swamp, but then they got word that surviving soldiers were building a protective fortification. The Seminoles returned before the fortification had gotten more than knee high, and they fought until early afternoon, when the soldiers were defeated.
After the Seminoles left, a group of 40 or 50 blacks (at the time, slaves often escaped into Seminole territory) came and violently killed any wounded survivors with axes and knives. One of the only survivors of the massacre, Ransom Clarke, survived by playing dead, and since he had been wounded in five places, he could play dead pretty convincingly. Clarke and another survivor, Edward Decourcey, had set out back to Fort Brooke, when a Seminole on horseback found them. The two men split up, and Decourcey was killed. Clarke barely made it the 65 miles back to the fort, having to be helped the last bit by a Native American woman.
Only 3 of the 110 soldiers survived the massacre, while the Seminoles only had 3 of 180 die. The bodies of the soldiers remained where they had fallen for two months, until another group of soldiers came and buried them in mass graves. The Second Seminole War would drag on for another seven years, until the U.S. government had either killed the Seminoles, removed them to the West, or forced them into an informal reservation in southern Florida.