“Tuko-see-mathla is one of nature’s noblemen. He is nearly six feet two inches in height; finely formed; his figure combining strength with gracefulness; or, I might say, perfect ease in all his attitudes and gestures. The expression of his fine open countenance is habitually mild; but as he grows earnest in conversation, you see arise within him that glow of fervid feeling warming into the determined energy which characterizes the man.” This is the Story of Chief John Hicks.
“In the morning, Tuko-see-mathla came to the Agent’s quarters dressed in the most sumptuous habiliments you can imagine. His frock, or coat, was of the finest quality, and adorned with a quantity of silver ornaments around his neck, arms, and wrists, with a gorgeous headdress of colored shawls. His bearing was that of a chief indeed.”
(Quotes by George A. McCall, 1826, from his book Letters from the Frontiers)
Before the 1820’s it is believed that Hicks’ town was at Hixtown Swamp in Madison County. In 1823 he had a town listed at Alachua Prairie by Nea-Mathla at the Treaty of Moultrie Creek.
In 1825 we find his town on what is now Indian Prairie northeast of Ocala, as shown in a letter by surveyor LeRoy May. May was hired to survey the Indian Reservation Boundary; he came down the Oklawaha River and found Hicks’ village. May complained that Hicks was north of the reservation line. Hicks replied that he knew of no line and would not permit May to pass on to the Indian Agency because he could not guarantee a safe trip.
Hicks also complained that whites had taken some of his livestock and that his people had been poorly treated. They had not received any food as promised in the treaty. May was taken on a tour of the village and shown the starving people.
In 1826, Hicks was among a Seminole delegation sent to Washington D.C. to talk with President John Quincy Adams and to be impressed with the American military. The Americans liked Hicks, so in August 1826 the government and the Indian Agent persuaded the Florida Indians to choose him as the elected supreme Chief of the Florida Indians.
Although the government recognized him as the supreme chief, the Florida Seminoles still recognized hereditary leaders like Micanopy. Hicks did what he could to keep the peace and even participated in the treaty talks at Paynes Landing in 1832, and at Fort Gibson in Indian Territory in 1833. This put him at odds with his own people, who believed him to be too conciliatory.
But Hicks was not totally conciliatory towards the United States. He complained many times about the treatment of the Florida Indians. He complained about John Bellamy, a local plantation owner, receiving $1600 from the government in damages taken out of the Seminole annuity funds. Hicks said that Bellamy had stolen 100 hogs from him, when his people had not done anything to Bellamy.
The mystery of Hicks’ death:
Hicks died in November 1833. His sons stated a few years later that if he had lived, the [Second Seminole] war would have never started. Colonel McKenney incorrectly stated that Osceola killed him. Indian Agent Wiley Thompson just says that he died; if Osceola killed Hicks, Thompson would have said so. Most likely McKenney is confusing Tuko-see Mathla with Charlie Emathla, who was killed by Osceola in November 1835. If Osceola killed Hicks, it would have most likely started the war two years earlier as a blood feud among the Seminoles and Miccosukee. See also: Osceola, the Man and the Myths.
Hicks had two sons who were captured in 1837 with Osceola. If Osceola had killed their father, they certainly would not have been with him. Another author said that Chief Jumper’s people poisoned Hicks. That is also unlikely, because Jumper talked in favor of emigration and peace, just as Hicks did, at the beginning of treaty talks at Fort King in October 1834, after Hicks’ death. Killings and clan feuds were serious things, and would not have happened without revenge taken, especially when involving someone from the Wind Clan.
Hicks’ family is believed to have settled around the Fort Pierce area, where the Seminoles say, “The whole settlement was slaughtered by a Negro that they had befriended. Only two survived and are said to be the ones that the Wind Clan comes from today.”
It is believed that Indian Prairie northeast of Ocala is Hicks’ burial site. The village was abandoned at the same time as his death, which is the custom. On the other side of the prairie from Hicks’ villages was Coa Hadjo’s village, which is identified as a Negro/Black Seminole town. On Indian Prairie was a ceremonial dance ground and stickball field that can accommodate thousands of people, and was still visible by air even into the 1960s. With a field so large, it must have been the national stomp ground at the time of John Hicks and Coa Hadjo.
I have also been told by my Seminole friends that Hicks was Panther Clan, and married into Wind Clan. And that there is some confusion on the translation of the name. One of the real origins of his name is not “Ant Chief,” like most people believe, but from a much older word. There was once a people who spoke an unknown language, who joined the future Seminoles, then assimilated and disappeared. These mysterious people were called Tu-Go-See, which is the only surviving word from their language that anyone remembered. Hicks was descended from these people.