Gilbert C. Din


Colorful William Augustus Bowles has presented problems to historians for as long as they have written about him. He purposely promoted confusion about himself to inflate his personality and achievements, and historians unacquainted with his devious machinations made them worse by repeating them. One egregious error mixed him up with Billy Bowlegs (Holata Micco), a nineteenth-century Seminole chief, and he sometimes was called Billy Bowles, a moniker absent in the multitude of contemporary documents written by and about him.1 The most common mistake describes him as the director general of the Creeks. Though Bowles gained military sway over a group of Indians enticed by promises of arms and goods, he neither ruled formally over the Creeks, Seminoles, and other Indians of the American Southeast, nor achieved his cherished ambition of becoming their director general. Despite his failures, his boastful claims wrongly manipulated later credulous investigators into believing that he had succeeded. In opposition to his assertions, however, the Spaniards generated a plethora of records that accurately detailed Bowles's escapades on the Florida Gulf Coast during his sojourns there between 1787-1792 and 1799-1803, when he attempted and failed to build the indigenous nation of Muskogee under his direction.2 The Spaniards became his most ardent adversaries because he trampled on their lands trying to achieve his ends. They stoutly denied his pretentions and disparagingly labeled him an adventurer. Of the primary sources that discuss Bowles's activities, theirs are the most reliable since they distinguished their reality from his fantasy. As long ago as 1954, R. S. Cotterill acknowledged the value of Spanish records when he wrote, "Any account of Bowles not based on the Spanish archives is of little value."3