The Bradley Massacre (1856)


The Bradley Massacre

The events described on this page occurred in 1856 near the intersection of Bellamy Brothers Boulevard and St. Joe Road in what is now Pasco County.

The historic marker reads as follows:















An image of the historical marker is here.

An image of an older marker, no longer standing, is here.

Palatka Democrat Article (1856)

This article appeared in the Palatka Democrat on May 22, 1856.

We learn from Big. Gen. Churchill, of the U. S. Army, that while on his way from Tampa here, he took lodgings for the night on Wednesday, the 14th inst., at the house of Whitfield, thirty six miles from Tampa. Before he left Whitfield’s, he learned that the Indians approached Capt. Bradley’s house, a few miles distant. Bradley’s family had returned from supper, and the children were in an open passage of the house, when Indians fired a volley which killed a little girl and mortally wounded a boy fifteen years old; he ran into the house, got a gun and returned to the passage to return the fire when he fell dead. The mother, Mrs. Bradley, ran out and carried her children into the house. The Indians shot at her without hurting her or any more of the children.

Capt. Bradley, who was prostrated on his bed with sickness, arose and returned a fire on the Indians with two or three guns which he had in his house, which caused them to withdraw. Capt. Bradley had a married daughter living at a distance, but within hearing of the firing. She sent a negro boy to ascertain the cause—he went to Bradley’s house and returned without molestation—he did not see the Indians. Bradley thinks there were not less than fifteen Indians, although at first discharge his daughter did not hear more than six or seven reports. He was also of the opinion that the Indians were about his house all night.

Capt. Bradley sent a statement of the facts to Gen. Churchill; and besides this information, Gen. Churchill saw persons who had visited Bradley’s house.

A Brave Little Fellow (1856)

This article appeared in the Macon Weekly Telegraph on June 24, 1856.

We have a private letter from Wacahoota, East Florida, dated the 12th instant and detailing incidentally the recent assault upon Capt. Bradley’s House. It was just after dusk in the evening of 14th May, and Bradley lying abed sick. Two of his children—a little boy and girl—were sitting before the open door in the entry of the House, when a band of some twenty Indians stole up and fired upon them. The little girl was killed outright and the boy mortally wounded; but he nevertheless rose—went in to the family, gave the alarm—took down his gun and fired at the enemy. He then handed it to his brother, saying he had no further use for it, and died immediately. His body had been pierced by two balls. Bradley and the other son kept up a fire and the cowardly Indians dare not make an assault. The neighbors finally gathered and drove them off.

Bradley Massacre at Darby in 1856 (1922)

A Daughter and a Son of Major Bradley, Pioneer, Killed by the Indians

This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Aug. 4, 1922.


With the close of the first Seminole war in 1837, most of the Indians were moved to the reservation set aside for them by the government in the Indian Territory, now the great state of Oklahoma. The remnant were confined to the Everglade country in the southern part of the peninsula. All of the territory north of the Everglades was thrown open to settlement. It was not long before many of the men who had served in the war as volunteers began to move into the territory which they had seen and admired while engaged in conquering its former savage owners.

The first settler to cross the Withlacoochee was Major R. D. Bradley of the regular army. He had served throughout the war, being stationed at Tallahassee first, where he gained a great reputation as an Indian fighter. In fact, so active was he against them that he gained their undying hatred, and it was in an attempt to revenge themselves for the losses they had sustained at his hands that the events here recorded took place.

Among the incidents of the great war in which the doughty major figured, the following were told me by Mrs. O. A. Darby of Tampa, who was a daughter of the major. While in the fort at Tallahassee, the Indians made an attack and captured a boy whom they carried off and, it is said, intended to adopt into their tribe. At any rate, they did not torture him, as was their custom with prisoners. Major Bradley immediately went in pursuit, and after several days came up on the redskins, who were sitting in a circle around a fire, the prisoner being in the center. Carefully creeping up on the savages with his command, he surrounded them, and gave the order to fire. As the volley rang out, the boy sprang to his feet, leaped between the surprised Indians and safely gained the soldiers. According to the tale as given me, not an Indian was hurt by the shots, but this does not seem probable.

Among the officers who served under Major Bradley was a First Lieutenant Whittaker, who was killed by the Indians while on a scout, and his body hacked to pieces. The Lieutenant was a particular friend of the major and it is said that he swore in revenge to kill an Indian for every piece in which the body was cut. Another officer, Capt. McNeil, was killed in the battle of Olustee during the Civil war.

Major Bradley’s health being much broken by the fatigues and exposure of the Indian campaign, he resigned his commission and moved south, being, as before stated, the first white settler to cross the Withlacoochee river. He first took up a homestead at Chuckichatte, near Brooksville, where he lived for some time, but as he was in danger of roving bands of Indians, he afterwards moved to Fort Taylor, just north of the present northern boundary of Pasco county. His health failed him and he became stricken with severe hemorrhages of the lungs so moved to Tampa Bay where he could receive treatment from the army surgeon stationed at Fort Brook. Some time later he moved again and settled at what was then known as the 26 mile house on the Brooksville and Tampa stage road, where Ehren is now, later moving into what is known as the Darby settlement.

With the breaking out of Indian Troubles which resulted n the Seminole War of 1856, moccasin tracks were frequently noticed in the settlement and especially in the vicinity of Major Bradley’s farm. At first there was considerable alarm and the neighbors all gathered around living in little log huts about the place. As no outbreaks occurred, the conclusion was finally reached that the tracks were caused by runaway slaves, and that Major Bradley’s negroes were harboring them, and the neighbors all went back to their homes.

In May, 1856, life was moving along with its usual regularity on the Bradley farm. Major Bradley was in bed sick and the farm was being run by the overseer, a man named Bowen, and the negro slaves. A cousin from the Carolinas was visiting and enjoying the delights of frontier life, and incidentally making life miserable for the son of a neighbor, one Mack Johnson, who suddenly discovered that it was his bounden duty to help the sick major rather than stay home and ten his own farm.

As the sun set one evening, two of the Bradley girls, accompanied by the visiting cousin and Mack Johnson, went to the cow pen to oversee the negroes as they attended to the cattle. Bowen, the overseer, was busy in the smoke house some twenty-five yards away from the double penned log building that was the home of the owner. On the porch of the house one son, William B. Bradley, was sitting in a chair, a candle in another [illegible] by the light of which he was [illegible] a saddle. The other children [illegible] playing about the hall.

Suddenly, a file of Indians crept out of the woods and, giving their war whoop, fired into the house. One of the girls, Mary Jane, was shot through the shoulder and heart; she managed to walk into the bed room where her father lay helpless and fell dead. William was shot through the chest and bowels. Mrs. Bradley rushed out on the porch, picked up the wounded boy, and carried him into the room and laid him on the bed. He got up, grabbed a rifle, and fired through a crack between the logs, handed the gun to one of his brothers, saying, “fight till you die” and fell to the floor dead.

While this was going on, Mrs. Bradley was rushing about seeing that the children were safe. She ran across the hall into another room where one of the boys was looking for a gun and as they hurried back to where the others were, bullets were shot through the boy’s shirt and one burned his upper lip; not a shot touched the mother.

The Indians advanced, firing as they came, until they reached the steps. Mrs. Bradley called to the major “They are coming in,” and he managed to get a crack in the logs and shot, killing the leader as he put his foot on the steps, who fell exclaiming “Waugh.” The Indians fell back and kept up an irregular fire for some time at the house but did no damage. One of the boys shot at two Indians who were trying to hide behind a tree and afterwards more blood was found there than anywhere else.

While all this was going on at the house, there was considerable excitement at the cow pen where two of the children, the visiting cousin, and Mack Johnson were. As the first shots and the war whoop rang out the young lady from the Carolinas promptly fainted; Mack grabbed her in his arms and ran with her to his home about a mile distant. The other children and the negroes scattered like quail and hid in the woods near by. Bowen, the overseer, made a break for the house but was cut off by the savages and ran to the cow pen, afterwards slipping back to the house where he arrived too late to take part n the fighting.

The firing aroused the entire neighborhood and a married daughter, Mrs. Colding, sent a negro boy over to find out what was the matter. He was immediately sent to Fort Taylor to get help from the soldiers stationed there. On the way he stopped at the McNatt homestead and gave the alarm and it was from William McNatt, then a small boy, now a farmer living at Loyce, that I first heard the story of this battle. Mr. McNatt’s account differs in some minor points from the accounts given by Mrs. Darby and her sister, Mrs. Susan Hays, and as these ladies were both eyewitnesses of the event I presume that their stories are more likely to be correct.

With the arrival of the soldiers from the fort next morning, the pursuit of the Indians was taken up. All of the men of the neighborhood went with the party, the women and children again taking refuge at “Fort Bradley.” The camp of the redskins was found in the big cypress swamp and nearby the grave of the Indian killed by Major Bradley. Lying on the grave was a book, evidently stolen from some settler’s home, entitled “The Story of the Spoiled Child.” The Indians were followed for some time retreating south and a battle was fought near the old Tillis place on Old Tampa Bay. The pursuit continued according to some accounts till Fort Meade was reached where a second battle was fought and the entire band either killed or captured.

During the First Seminole War Major Bradley killed the brother of Tiger Tail, one of their chiefs, and revenge for this act is said to have been the cause of this attack on his home some twenty years later. Mrs. Bradley always declared that the Indians were led by a white man and insisted that she heard him talking to the savages during the battle directing their movement. Major Bradley only survived this massacre two years, dying in 1858, and was buried in the cemetery at Brooksville. Of the eyewitnesses of the event, I believe only two are now living, Mrs. Darby and Mrs. Hays, of Tampa. A younger brother of theirs, whom I understand was born just afterwards, also is living.

Mrs. Darby married shortly after the event I have just told and lived in the Darby neighborhood during the civil war period. She says that they had a good deal of trouble with the negroes during that time but no other especial hardships. Her husband was in the Confederate home guards and while on a scout was captured by Union sympathizers (“deserters” she called them), and was confined on Ship Island and guarded by negro troops till the close of the war.

Note: The reference to the First Seminole War should be the Second Seminole War. The discovery of the Indian camp and an Indian killed by Major Bradley are not confirmed in contemporary newspaper accounts, nor is any contact with or help from Fort Taylor. This article indicates that a third child was wounded by the Indians; this is also not mentioned in contemporary newspaper accounts. The contemporary accounts do claim that son William fired on the Indians, but do not confirm related details. According to Jeff Cannon, the brother of Tiger Tail was killed by Tiger Tail himself. He writes, “According to military records Tiger Tail killed his own brother, a result of his brother wanting to surrender to the white man at Fort Brooke. Records indicate Tiger Tail killed his brother and took over his band to prevent them from surrendering. I believe the citation of Bradley killing Tiger Tail’s brother can only be attributed to one source, J. A. Hendley’s writings. Prior to Hendley I don’t believe it appears anywhere and after Hendley appears in frequency.”

The Bradley Massacre (1943)

This paragraph was written by J. A. Hendley and appears in his History of Pasco County.

It was late in the evening in the fall of 1855, Captain Robert Bradley lay sick in a room in his double log house. There was a large hallway between the two cabins where the children were romping and playing; and the larger children and negroes were out gathering the herd of cattle for the night. The sun was low, its last lingering gleam had flashed its spears of light on the tips of the lofty pines and hid behind the great waters of the Gulf. Out in the gloaming over the distant hills and swamps the long drawn, weird notes of the Florida cow whoop rolled along the low atmosphere, then gradually increased in volume as it rose higher and higher into endless space, and the echo took up the notes and passed them along the hills and dales until they died away on the waves of sound. Gun shots were heard, the Bradley home was attacked by the Indians. Billy Munday, leading a bunch of Seminole Indians, had steadily approached the house and fired on the children playing in the hall; Billie and his little sister, Mary, were wounded; Captain Bradley returned the fire, and little Billie, although wounded unto death, went into the battle and killed one of the Indians before he fell; after the battle little Billie and his sister lay dead in the hall. The savages took sheets hanging on the line in the yard, wrapped them around their dead and carried him away. The negroes and other children at the cow pen heard the shots and ran to Charles Johnston’s home for protection. Mr. Johnson went to Fort Taylor, got some soldiers who came and guarded the Bradley home. Later on George W. Adkins, the father of Mrs. J. W. Douglas now living in Darby, Charles Johnston, Captain John McNeal and others with some soldiers drove the Indians out of the country into the Everglades. A short time before the attack on the Bradley home Captain Bradley had killed an Indian Chief in a skirmish which was the probable cause of the Indian raid on his home.

The Last Indian Fight … The Bradley Massacre

This article appeared in Old Brooksville In Photos & Stories.

It was a time when you lived in fear of seeing an Indian looking through your bedroom window. On the evening of May 14, 1856, that fear came true, as Hernando County was raided for the last time by Seminoles.

Their target was Capt. Robert Bradley, a veteran of the Second Seminole War. The Seminoles were on a rampage, having killed inhabitants of Sarasota, Bradenton, and Tampa, including a ferry boat operator, John Carney, and continued burning homes along the Alafia River. People in Tampa and all neighboring areas carried guns during their daily rounds. In May, the Seminoles struck again at various settlements, then travelled north of Tampa toward Hernando County.

By 1856, the Seminoles were on the ropes. During the 1830’s and 1840’s, thousands had been captured and sent westward or to military forts or had just died of disease or poverty. Many escaped and hid out in the Everglades, by working their way down the Gulf Coast. An uncaptured remnant took up arms against the white settlers during the mid 1850’s in what is now called the Third Seminole War under the influence of chief Billy Bowlegs II.

At the end of the war, there were only about a hundred Indians left. They would be captured or escape into the darkness of the vast Everglades. Gone were the heroes of the tribes who fought so nobly against overwhelming odds. Chiefs and warriors like Osceola, Micanopy, Jumper, Alligator, Tiger Tail, Coacoochee and Billy Bowlegs II.

In 1856, Hernando County extended south to what is now Pasco County. The last raid in 1856 was at the outpost of Darby, about 15 miles south of Brooksville. It is interesting to note that the Seminoles bypassed other likely targets, saving their hostility and wrath toward the Bradley household. Captain Bradley, a known Indian fighter and one of the settlers under the Armed Occupation Act, was hated by the Seminoles, for he was held responsible for the death of the brother of Tiger Tail, a noted Seminole leader.

Life was shattered for the Bradleys on that evening in 1856 as the younger children were playing in the passageway between the two sections of their log cabin home. A band of fifteen Seminoles rode up and opened fire on them. The frantic mother who tried to save her screaming children became a target herself. Before it was over, the two children had died along with five other members of the household, very likely slaves.

Bradley, who was ill at the time, rose from his bed and managed to kill the leader of the band. Even after the leader’s death, the Indians continued fighting for several more hours before retreating.

In 1915, Frank Saxon recalled that a group of settlers led by Captain T. C. Ellis took off after the Indians. Despite expert tracking by “Uncle Joshua” Mizell, they failed to catch them. All that was found was a bloody sheet, which they believed was used to by the Indians to carry off one of their wounded.

The attack produced even greater fear among Hernando County residents, especially those living in rural areas. Virginia Hope, daughter of William Hope was taken out of the Lykes School and brought home until the scare was over. Church services were interrupted everywhere. Concern was so great that a committee of local citizens sent a note to General Carter of Tampa on May 31, 1856, asking for a detachment of soldiers for the county.

The Seminoles were now very few in numbers and when the Third Seminole War ended in 1858, 38 warriors and 85 women and children including Chief Billy Bowlegs were deported off Egmont Key and sent to the Oklahoma Indian Reservation.

Note: Contemporary newspaper accounts do not mention any deaths other than the two children.

Letter to Gen. Carter from a Committee of Citizens (1856)

This letter appeared in a Tampa Tribune article published on June 3, 1956, one hundred years after it was written. According to the newspaper article, this letter led to the establishment of Fort Broome.

Spring Hill,

Hernando County,

May 31st, 1856

Gen. J. Carter, Tampa, Fla.:

Dear Sir: Permit us to give you a brief outline of the state of things that exist here.

You are doubtless aware that soon after the murder of Captain Bradley’s children by the Indians on the night of the 14th inst., most of the inhabitants of this county, deeming it unwise and inhuman to have their families longer exposed to similar barbarities, left their homes and hastily collected into small parties at the most suitable points in different neighborhoods for the purpose of mutual defense, and for the further purpose of trying, by their united efforts to finish, even partially, the cultivation of their growing crops, and to keep on the lookout from time to time such force as their inadequate means of defense would enable them to spare, to scout and hunt for the Indians.

For two weeks past there has been every evidence of the presence of the Indians in our neighborhood, but for the last few days the signs increase with so much rapidity as to excite in our minds well-founded apprehension for the safety of the community, even for a short period of time.

About three evenings ago, the same yellow dog which was seen with the Indians at the house of Captain Bradley on the night of the sad tragedy there, came into his yard again and, after scouting around for some time, skulked off into a hammock near by. On the next morning the trail of four Indians was discovered, where they had been around his premises the previous night.

Two days ago, a Negro belonging to Mr. Bauknight or Mr. Johnston reported having seen some Indians near the plantation of Mrs. Essellman, where said Negro and others were working, and in which vicinity there are quite a number of Indian old fields and settlements.

A party of men went immediately to the place, and, on examination, found fresh signs of seven Indians, which they trailed for some distance, and near a place where they had apparently hated to get water they found a piece of an Indian belt, recently dropped, and plenty of fresh signs about all the Indian old fields above mentioned; and, on the same day, the same or some other party of Indians was trailed into Chocochattee Hammock near the plantation of Wm. Hope.

On the same day a fresh trail of five Indians was discovered in the plantation of Dr. W. T. Mayo, in the Annutaliga Hammock, about two miles N. E. from here, and about eight or ten miles N. W. from where they were seen near Mrs. Esselman’s plantation, had evidence which satisfied him that there were Indians in the hammock near his premises, and on the same day, and perhaps near the same hour Thos. B. Dawwhite, passing through a portion of Chocochattee Hammock south of William Hope’s, heard distinctly four signals given in different directions and within a few seconds of each other; and on the same day, while Mr. Sutton’s hands were working in his field, they heard a noise in the hammock, which they immediately reported, when Mr. Sutton and Mr. Frierson went to examine and found a fresh moccasin track, which they trailed for some distance in the direction of Chocochattee; and again, on the same day, Mayberry Whitehurst saw an Indian within about a mile from the residence of Captain Ellis; and this morning, as a small party were going out scouting, they found the tracks of five Indians that had been prowling about Sutton’s house last night, and, as the scout returned this evening, they found where six others had been around the same houses during the day. (Sutton’s house, with many others, is for the present abandoned.)

These are some of the evidences which we have of the presence of the enemy in our midst, and we will here add, that such of these reports as have not come under our personal observation are made by gentlemen of high standing and undoubted veracity, and may therefore be relied upon as being substantially correct.

From the fact of so much sign having been seen almost simultaneously in so many different directions and within so short a time, we conceive that we need not be considered “alarmists” if we apprehend that the Indians are concentrating their forces for a murderous attack, and, although no outrage has been committed among us since the sad tragedy at Captain Bradley’s, yet the short respite may only be the ominous calm which forebodes a fearful storm.

We, therefore, having been appointed a Committee of Citizens of this neighborhood, to report, we therefore most respectfully ask that you will, at the earliest practicable moment, send to our relief a force sufficient to protect us form the cruel barbarities of this insidious foe, or, at least, to aid us in protecting our lives and property, provided you have the direction or control of such force, and, if not, that you exert your influence to obtain it from the officer commanding the troops in Florida; for we are fully persuaded, from the indications here and the reports from other places, that there are now more Indians on this side of the Hillsborough River than there are beyond it.

Very respectfully,








front page