John's Journal...


The Mystery of the Swamp Magician

Click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: Osceola - the very word rings with defiance. The man who bore this name and blazed it into the history of this nation was one of the greatest Indian chieftains who ever lived. He led his Seminole people into battle against one of America's finest generals, Andrew Jackson, and handed Jackson his only defeat in the great Indian wars of the 1800s. So powerful was the Seminole nation that they never signed a peace treaty with the American government but chose instead to retreat to the swamps of Georgia and Florida. Chief Osceola was a guerilla fighter who effectively used hit-and-run tactics to defeat Jackson's army. Because Osceola and his men would appear and just as quickly disappear, many soldiers under Jackson attributed supernatural powers to Osceola. Even today the turkey that bear his name, Meleagris gallopavo osceola, also known as the Florida turkey, the only place where it's found, is believed by many of the Seminole nation to be spirit-possessed.

Click to enlargeWhen we arrived at our tent camp on the reservation late in the afternoon, we met a couple of Jenkins' friends from Miami, Florida. Although these men had been scouting and had heard and seen a few turkeys, the elusive gobblers had failed to respond to calling and had vanished. I unrolled my sleeping bag and donned 100% Deet repellant, which would be my shield during the entire trip from the clouds of mosquitoes that inundated the area just at dark. That evening as supper was prepared over a Coleman stove, Marcelous Osceola and his wife, Etau, came into camp. We talked about the upcoming hunt.

Click to enlargeOsceola explained that the native religion of his people was the Green Corn Dance, a faith that attributed supernatural powers to the animal life of the swamp. "For instance, if an owl flies through the camp during the annual festival of the Green Corn Dance, many believe the owl will capture someone's spirit, and he or she will die," Marcelous Osceola explained. "Also some believe that the spirits of our ancestors are reincarnated in the wild turkey." When I asked Etau where this legend came from, she answered, "The wild turkey often appears and vanishes without ever making a sound. Sometimes a turkey will appear in a cemetery and then in the blinking of an eye be gone. The Osceola turkey is a ghost-like creature that moves silently through the swamp. You only hear him when he wants to be heard. You only see him when he wants to be seen. When he spots you, he vanishes. The Osceola turkey is part of our history and our heritage."

Click to enlargeI thought to myself that the reputation of the ghost gobbler of the swamps paralleled the reputation of Osceola, the war chief of the mighty Seminoles. Cunning, elusive and mystical - they each dodged their pursuers with an almost supernatural skill. I was interested in how Osceola felt about hunting the bird many thought might be one of his ancestors. Osceola said, "I eat plenty of wild turkeys. If one of them is dumb enough to get shot, he probably wasn't a very good ancestor anyway." After listening to the legend of the Osceola turkey, I experienced an uneasy feeling that night in my tent until the chirping of the crickets and the distant moaning of a bull alligator finally allowed my mind to slip off into sleep.



Check back each day this week for more about OSCEOLA - A BIRD OF SUPERSTITION

Day 1: How I Came to Hunt Osceolas
Day 2: The Mystery of the Swamp Magician
Day 3: The Hunt for the Osceola
Day 4: More of the Hunt for the Osceola
Day 5: The Hunt for the Osceola Ends



Entry 297, Day 2