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Fort Pierce (1838-1842) was a significant Second Seminole War U.S. military post built during General Thomas S. Jesup's winter campaign of 1837-38. Strategically located on a high bluff along the Indian River's western shore, the fort was constructed by artillerymen from readily available palmetto logs. Named for Brevet Lt. Col. Benjamin K. Pierce, Fort Pierce briefly served as the Army of the South headquarters when General Jesup arrived with his staff and troops on January 14, 1838. Jesup's large mounted force included more than 1,000 troops. A nearby fresh water spring supplied water, and the bounty of the river helped feed the fort's occupants. Fort Pierce bustled with activity as troops engaged in the unsuccessful campaign to force Florida's Seminole Indians to relocate west of the Mississippi River. During the first battle with the Seminoles on the Loxahatchee on January 15, 1838, Lt. Levin Powell and his Navy force suffered four casualties, including their doctor, and retreated north to Fort Pierce, where the wounded were treated by the fort's doctor. Never engaged in battle, the fort was deactivated in February 1842 at the end of the Second Seminole War. The fort was destroyed by fire in December 1843.
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The mound at Old Fort Park contains human remains and was the centerpiece of an Ais Indian culture dating back 500 to 1,000 years. Once one of Florida's largest indigenous groups, the Ais contained several thousand people who lived in east central Florida before first contact with Ponce de Leon and the Spanish in 1513. The Ais territory ranged along the coast, north to Cape Canaveral and south to Jupiter. The Ais thrived by hunting, gathering, fishing and collecting. They were largely dependent on the Rio de Ais (Indian River) and the Atlantic Ocean to provide subsistence. They collected oysters, set up fish traps, and fished with hooks made from deer toe bones. They gathered sea grapes, coco plums, sea oats, and palm berries, hunted deer and other small game. The Ais built thatched huts of wood and palm fronds. Their primary means of transportation were dugout canoes made from pine trees. The Ais did not have a written language. Written accounts and drawings of the Ais come from early Spanish explorers and the journal of Pennsylvanian, Jonathan Dickinson. They were all but wiped out by 1740, having suffered invasions and enslavement by the Spanish and other European nations like other early Florida tribes.