The Real Tale of the Devil’s Garden
Abiaka, also known as Sam Jones was a Miccosukee elder, spiritual leader, and one of the most significant leader of the Seminole War. From the beginning of the Seminole War, he was known as the most steadfast opponent of the 1832 Indian Removal Act. His words rallied warriors such as Coacoochee and Osceola to fight for the Independence of the Seminole people. Abiaka led his people deep into the wetlands, never surrendering. These are the ancestors of the modern Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Abiaka was a fierce opponent in war. He and his followers were known for guerilla tactics, seeming to appear out of nowhere, striking, and disappearing into the wetlands. While he could not fight on the front lines, he was known to fire the first shot, before guiding the battle and tending to the wounded. Within a short time the Americans had new names for the fisherman. He was called “Sam Jones-Be-Damned” and “The Great Rascal”, but most popularly he was simply known as “The Devil.” He continued to be a leading voice in the tribe after the end of the Seminole war. Abiaka lived until 1867, passing away in Florida at the age of at least 111 years old.
Devil’s Garden laid north of where the Big Cypress Reservation is today. The garden didn’t resemble a modern garden at all, and was mostly covered by water with dense tree island hammocks, since this was before drainage occurred in the wetlands. It was an impermeable barrier to the soldiers, who called it “Devil’s Garden”, the gardens were in the center of the tree islands where the soldiers couldn’t reach them. According to early stories from soldiers, and setters, Abiaka would appear, and a war cry would be heard from an unknown location. Then he would disappear and the warriors would strike. This led many soldiers and settlers to believe that he had the ability to summon the creatures of the land in battle. Later stories from tribal members described the lands as extremely fruitful with edible food growing everywhere.
By Gordon Wareham
This story was told to my mother, Nancy F. Wareham by her mother Lena Osceola Frank, when she was a young girl.
There was a being who was a devil…a demon. They would describe him as 4 feet tall, as an elongated head with eyes, nose, and a mouth. He was bright red. His arms came out from behind his ears, and stretch to the ground easily. He moved around, by using his long arms, and walking on his large hands.
There were gardens in the area. This being, or devil would go to people’s gardens, or farms, and ransacked them. He kept a stick tied to the back of his head. Strings attached to the ends of the sticks, and baskets would hang from the ends of the strings. When he wanted something from the gardens, he would balance his whole body on his chin, quickly collect things with his hands, and placed them in the baskets.
When he moved, it was like a red blur! If you shot at him, you would miss him. When he laughed, it sounded like a thousand animals being slaughtered. It caused people to freeze in terror. The more he moved around, the more he laughed, the brighter red he became. He could be seen as a bright light in the distance.
They would tell young children in caution: “If you see a bright light in the distance, or in the fields, don’t go out exploring the light. It could be a trap, not a campfire nor a torch.
Words from the storyteller, Gordon Wareham: When I was a child, my mother would say “If it looks like a car in distance, don’t investigate! Look in the morning!” The moral of the story: ‘When it is late at night, you do not go out wandering off, and stay close to the camp!’
34725 West Boundary Road,
Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation
The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum opened in 1997 and is owned and operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Situated in the Everglades on a 66-acre cypress dome on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, the museum offers more than 5,000 square feet of gallery space. Exhibits feature rare artifacts and lifelike dioramas that depict Seminole life at the turn of the century. In 2009, the Museum became the first tribally governed museum to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. For more information, visit www.ahtahthiki.com and follow the museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is located at 34725 W. Boundary Road, Clewiston, Florida.