John's Journal...


The Hunt for the Osceola Ends

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 enlargeBoom! The sound echoed throughout the swamp as the gobbler dropped in his tracks. Because my legs had gone to sleep, I was slower getting to the bird than Jenkins and Osceola. But when I arrived at a small wash, Jenkins was holding up a magnificent turkey and congratulating Osceola. Deep hues of burnt bronze and black reflected a green tint when the sun danced off the downed tom's feathers. With an 8-inch-long beard, this Florida gobbler was a fine trophy for Marcelous Osceola. "Hunting like this must be the most exciting way in the world to take a turkey," Osceola said with a big smile as he experienced the sheer joy that comes from outsmarting a gobbler and bagging it the old way. "This is the first time I've ever shot a tom when he was looking at me. Usually I take them at 100 to 150 yards with my rifle. I've never had a turkey come that close to me. I really don't see how anyone can miss when a bird's that close. This is a great way to hunt."

Then Osceola asked Jenkins, "Do you think you can teach me to call like you do?" "Sure, I can," Jenkins told him. "Learning to call won't take Click to enlargelong, and you'll have a lot of fun with a caller." "Well, I want to learn to hunt like this, which is much more fun and more exciting than taking the bird with a rifle," Osceola commented.

As Jenkins, Osceola and I headed back to camp, we discussed the future of the reservation's turkeys. "Marcelous, if you and your friends want to have a plenty of turkeys to hunt," Jenkins mentioned, "then don't take any hens for a year or two. Don't shoot the young gobblers. Hunt only the longbeards. The reservation has plenty of food and habitat for the turkeys. If y'all begin to protect the turkeys and take only the longbeards in the spring, then in just a year or two, you'll have more gobblers to hunt than you've ever had. Every morning in the spring when you get up to go turkey hunting, you'll have a longbeard to call." "That's what I want," Osceola explained. "I'm going to learn to use this call and teach my brother how to use it. Then we'll start hunting the way you fellows do. Calling and hunting with a shotgun is a much-more-interesting way to take turkeys than shooting them at 100 yards with a high-powered rifle."

Click to enlargeThat night at camp, Osceola treated us to a Seminole feast. We ate fried alligator tail from an animal he'd just taken the day before. The meat was delicious, and the conversation around the campfire was even better. We talked about the ways of the Seminoles, their past, present and future. We discussed the Osceola turkey and its future on the reservation. We talked more about the legends, myths and religion of the Seminoles. The turkey the Seminoles hunt is shrouded in legend and history. The opportunity to hunt the spirit gobblers of the Florida Everglades with a descendant of the man they have been named for is a memory I'll treasure as long as I'm able to tell of the spirit gobbler of Big Cypress Swamp.


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 5