Dade Battle acting is focus of New Year


Published: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2009 at 6:54 p.m.

BUSHNELL - "Have a good heart, our difficulties and dangers are over now," Major Francis L. Dade told the 107 soldiers and officers marching from outside Tampa to Ocala.

Within eight hours, Dade's Battle was part of Florida history, with only three soldiers surviving the first encounter of the Second Seminole War on Dec. 28, 1835, near Bushnell.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park will resound with the sounds of warfare through re-enactments of the terrible battle, sometimes called Dade's Massacre.

Frank Laumer, 81, has pursued an interest in the history surrounding the Dade Battle between U.S. Army soldiers and Seminole Indians for almost 40 years. He is the author of three books on the subject.

"The (attack) by the Indians was a symbolic blow," Laumer said, "similar to the civil rights movements of the 1960s."

The Indians were tired of double-dealing, being forced off their land and losing their possessions, Laumer said. The Indian agent at Fort King in Ocala had been killed and Seminole Chief Osceola was headed to join fellow Indian leaders Alligator, Jumper and Micanopy at the battle site, but did not arrive.

"I wanted awareness of a forgotten battle in America, and how Indians were treated," Laumer said of his research. "When the Indians win, it's a 'massacre.' When the soldiers win, it's a 'great victory.' "

Since 1980, Laumer has portrayed through narration and re-enactments the wounded soldier Ransom Clark, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the pitched battle and was left to die in a wet and hostile land.

"Ransom Clark was shot in the pelvis, shoulder and lung," Laumer said, adding that some soldiers must have succumbed to their wounds after "giving up" to the situation, whereas Clark hobbled 50 miles back to Fort Brooke.

"He was in a boatful of soldiers that capsized in February 1835. He was the only survivor. Then he survived the Dade Battle in December of 1835," Laumer said of the soldier from New York state who died at age 28, according to an article in the St. Petersburg Times.

During his research, Laumer had Clark's body exhumed by court order and examined "bone by bone" by a pathologist.

"The sharp edge of the shoulder wounds," and signs of infection indicate that this was the injury that caused Clark's death about five years after the battle. The other historically documented wounds also were found, Laumer said.

Laumer will portray "the spirit of Ransom Clark" as a narrator in Sunday's re-enactment.

Dade Battlefield Society literature states that the Dec. 28, 1835, skirmish marked the start of the seven-year Second Seminole War and introduced the U.S. Army to jungle warfare.

Of the annual re-enactments, Laumer said, "The soldiers portrayed were soldiers like our men and women in Iraq today, doing their duty."

During the weekend events, more than 150 re-enactors are expected to participate, along with a variety of vendors, including those with goods from the period.

Park ranger Chuck Wicks of Dade Battlefield Historic State Park said he expects "nice weather, in the low 70s" and a good turnout for this year's event, in which - as per history - the Indians will prevail.

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