Visiting the Seminole Heritage Trail at Fort Cooper State Park
Morning mist rose from the still waters of the 160-acre Lake Holathlikaha in the City of Inverness, located in Citrus County, Florida. The early calm broke with a whooshing sound overhead as two large grey birds swooped across the sky, landing in unison like well-trained pilots, on the swath of sandy beach that wrapped around the lake’s edge. The Sandhill cranes were unperturbed at my presence as they picked through the sand with their needle-nose plier beaks in search of bugs for breakfast.
I remained motionless as the twin birds pecked their way past me cleaning the sand of pests. The birds rounded up their breakfast meal at the north end of the beach and then took off again to soar majestically into the sky.
Early morning found me the sole visitor to Fort Cooper State Park in Inverness. I had just dropped my daughter off for an SAT test at the high school and had time to spare. I could have headed to the coffee shop, but the lure of the morning trails was too great. After all, everyone knows the best wildlife sightings are early in the morning and late in the day.
I hung out at the lake longer to photograph ducks and a curious little blue heron. Lake Holathlikaha ran high during my visit, flooding all the way up to the lakeside picnic tables. There was a trail around the lake’s edge I had once walked with my sister, but today it was underwater, driving me away from the water’s edge and onto the paved park trails.
Seminole Heritage Trail at Fort Cooper State Park
The 1.5-mile round trip Seminole Heritage Trail leads from the parking areas and through the woods to what was the site of Fort Cooper. It’s a paved trail. Stroller and cycling friendly. And this morning I had it all to myself.
The path leads through a hammock of oaks and sweet gum, past magnolias and tree trunks covered in moss. It was an easy hike, but through an area steeped with a turbulent past. Four information kiosks located along the trail whisk visitors back to the 1800’s and a history filled with betrayals and bloodshed.
Seminoles in Florida
The Seminoles descend from the Eastern Muskogean line of Native Americans, made up of smaller tribes, such as the Calusa, Timucua and Apalachee, among others. They lived, farmed and fished throughout the coastal regions of what is now Alabama, Georgia and Northern Florida.
They also aided in providing refuge for escaped slaves from the United States Colonies. The US Army would send troops over the border in attempts to recapture escaped slaves, engaging in skirmishes with the Seminoles.
Worst Deal Ever
After acquiring Florida from Spain, the United States government introduced the Treaty of Moultrie Creek in 1823 to the Seminole tribes, which basically stated the Seminoles would forfeit their lands and claims to 32-million acres of lands in Florida to the U.S. government and be relocated to a 4-million acre preserve in the Cove of the Withlacoochee.
In the treaty, the United States was to provide transportation, cattle, hogs, and farm tools for land cultivation for the Seminoles in the Cove.
The Cove of the Withlacoochee is a 100 square mile region of wild swamps, marshy wetlands and upland hammocks along the Withlacoochee River and Lake Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes in what is now Citrus County.
Broken Treaty and the Second Seminole War
The 6-year, 7-month Second Seminole War began as a result of the (U.S.) breaking the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act to relocate the Seminoles from Florida to Oklahoma.
History of Fort Cooper
A dirt road from the hard trail leads up to a grassy hill beneath a canopy of shade trees, with a view of Lake Holathlikaha. A single wooden wall stands where Fort Cooper had once been erected. Today it serves as a reminder of the past.
In 1836, General Winfield Scott was dispatched with 5,000 men with plans to surround the Seminoles in the Cove of the Withlacoochee. While passing through what is now Inverness, they stopped at the hill alongside a lake on their way to Fort Brooke in Tampa to rest.
It was decided then that Major Mark Anthony Cooper would be left there, in charge of the wounded and ill men recuperating from their last skirmish. After Scott and his men left, Cooper quickly had the able-bodied men construct a pine walled fortification for safety.
16-Day Siege on Fort Copper
Days later, the Seminole Chief Osceola led an attack against Cooper’s men in the fort. The walls held, but the siege last 16 days. Provisions inside the fort were running out. There was fresh water available from a spring in the lake nearby, but that meant having to leave the safety of the fort.
Cooper and his men were rescued by the arrival of a relief of U.S. troops, who drove the Seminoles back into the wilds of the Cove. After that, Fort Cooper was used mainly to house supplies throughout the Second Seminole War.
There was no treaty to end the Second Seminole War. A Third Seminole War broke out and, in the end, an estimated 3,000 Seminoles were removed to the reservations in the West. About 500 escaped to the Everglades wilderness region in southwest Florida. Today there are an estimated 4,500 Seminoles in Florida.
The information kiosks along the Seminole Heritage Trail are an eye-opening and horrifying look at what happened in Florida’s past. You can visit the Seminole Nation Museum online to learn more about Seminole history and culture at https://www.seminolenationmuseum.org/
As the park began to fill with morning cyclists and families, I returned to my car, humbler and wiser after a hike through history at Fort Cooper State Park.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Fort Cooper State Park is located at 3100 S Old Floral City Rd, Inverness, FL 34450
- Contact number: 352-726-0315
- Entrance fee is $3 per vehicle
- Primitive camping is $5+ tax per person, per night. Reservations required. Reserve a spot at 352-726-0315
- Personal paddle crafts are prohibited
- Other hiking trails within Fort Cooper State Park include the unpaved Old Military Road Trail, the Dogwood Trail and Coot Marsh Trail. The marsh trail can get flooded. Be sure to check for ticks after hiking in this area.