A Cold Front was pushing through Florida. By 9 AM it had passed Fort King but it was still raining 40 miles south along the Fort King Road to Tampa. General Clinch at Fort Drane (Irving) was in the final stages of his planed January 1, 1836 surprise attack on the Seminoles that had not obeyed the Evacuation Order. Clinch's plan was to commence his march south to the Withlachoochee River on December 29th and strike the Seminoles in their towns south of the river.
It was clear weather at Fort Drane, but the soldiers could hear what they thought was thunder coming from the distant cloud bank to the southeast. It wasn't thunder. It was cannon fire and soldiers were fighting for their lives. The Seminoles had struck first.
Following the murder of Charlie Emathla (Nov 26), Osceola attacked a military wagon train north of Micanopy (Dec 18). General Clinch having depleted two companies from Fort King to supplement his attack force, had sent an urgent dispatch to Captain Belton at Fort Brooke (Tampa) ordering him to reinforce Fort King. Belton hurriedly assembled a relief column of two companies of infantry (109 men) under the command of Major Francis Langhorne Dade and sent them up the Fort King Road. They didn't make it.
They were ambushed 60 miles up the road by 215 warriors under the command of Alligator and Jumper. The thunder that Clinch's men heard 50 miles north west of the battleground was cannon fire as the soldiers tried to repel the Seminole advances. One by one the soldiers were hit. After 6 hours of battle, Dade and all of his men were dead, except two who, shot and bloody, crawled back to Tampa in two days to report the 'Massacre'.
The soldiers at Fort King along with the Indian Agent Wiley Thompson and the Sutler Erastus Rogers must also have dismissed the distant cannon fire as thunder. They were only 37 miles from the battle, 13 miles closer than Clinch. They must have heard it.
None-the-less, the soldiers, the Agent, and the Sutler went about their business with an alarming casualness on that morning. At mid-day they 'took their dinner' in a relaxed state, Rogers in his house and Thompson in the officers mess inside the fort. After completing his 'dinner', Thompson began a stroll around the hill outside the Fort with Lt. Smith.
Now the distant sound of 'thunder' was masked by close-in musket fire and Seminole war screams. Thompson and Smith were shot multiple times. The same knife Osceola used to punctured Thompson's Evacuation Order earlier that summer, was now used to puncture his heart and to peel off his scalp. Rogers and his assistants were shot to pieces in his house, then scalped, and mutilated.
December 28, 1835 was a day of infamy for the United States. Like December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001, the Government had underestimated the will, determination, and tactical genius of its adversaries. It would prevail, but the lesson has to be learned and relearned.