Miami History - How Dade County, FL Got Its Name
A lot of locals like to use the words “Miami” and “Dade” interchangeably when they reference our particular corner of South Florida. Granted, Ft. Lauderdale and Broward County are considered part of the greater Miami area, but as anyone from Miami knows Broward may as well be in an entirely different universe given its vast differences. And ask any local street rapper where they reside, and nearly all will answer with a defiantly proud, “Dade County.” Usually followed by some sort of oscenity.
While the county name was officially changed in “Miami-Dade” in 1997, most still simply refer to it as “Dade.” There is a certain connotation that goes along with this particular four-letter word. A connotation of decrepit jails, ruthless ghettos and corrupt government, of hard living and hard drugs and even harder people. What Dade means to most locals is what this city really is, as opposed to what the Travel Channel makes it out to be. “Miami” is the fantasy. Dade is the reality.
Major Francis L Dade: The Namesake of Dade County, FL
But who exactly is “Dade?” Who is this person whose name we invoke every time we show our civic pride? Was he a great explorer like DeSoto or Leon? Was he a great military leader like Lee or Washington or Jackson? Or maybe just a furry aquatic mammal like Manatee? No, no, it seems that whoever named our fair county had some sort of Nostradamus-esque ability to see what kind of place Dade County would become. Because, as it turns out, we are named after a guy who was one colossal screw-up.
Major Francis L Dade, of Virginia was put in charge of a small force of 107 men and instructed to march them a short distance from what is now Tampa to Fort King near Ocala on December 28, 1835. It seems that Major Dade, while certainly an effective military leader, was not so much a fan of strategic planning. Dade received informaiton about the location of some Seminole Indians in the area, but somehow he misunderstood it and went the wrong way. And got lost. And not unlike so many German tourists trying to find their way from the airport to South Beach who end up in Opa-Locka, he paid for it with his life.
Why Men Dont Ask for Directions
Apparently Dade received the 1835 equivalent of a bad rental car map and began wandering aimlessly along what is now I-4 in search of Fort King. And since someone had told him, most likely in broken English, that the Seminoles had already been evacuated from this area and were well along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma, he continued through the shrubs and palmettos on his way to Ocala. Unfortunately for Major Dade and his 107 men, he was not so fluent in Seminole. Somehow he misunderstood “Taken out of this land” for “Lying in wait to massacre your entire platoon.” Kind of like misunderstanding “Turn left and get on 826 West” for “Turn Right and go to Carol City.”
It was a frigid 62 degrees that winter day, so the Floridians were understandably on the verge of frostbite. Or were just excited that they had an excuse to bust out their “cold-weather” clothes for a couple of days. As such, their inability to adapt to the cold and decision to promote form over function left them with their muskets tucked inside their seldom used “winter” coats. This would later prove mortally costly.
As Major Dade proceeded to get horrifically lost, his platoon was, predictably, jacked by a bunch of vicious, angry locals with guns. Dade was the first to go, and as soon as he was hit most of his men feverishly attempted to retrieve their weapons from under their winter cots. Never having worn a jacket in their lives, the Floridians were slow on the draw and unable to unsheathe their muskets before they too fell victim to Florida’s first recorded car jacking. By the end of the battle only three men remained and one poor guy had to crawl all the way back to Tampa after his leg had been blown off. On a summer weekend he would typically have beaten most modern-day drivers.
Reenacting the Dade Massacre
This event is historically known as the “Dade Massacre,” much to the chagrin of many cocaine kingpins who years later would try to use the phrase only to find that it had been taken 150 years earlier. For those interested, a reenactment of the battle takes place every year on the weekend closest to the actual date of the event. The Massacre was the catalyst to the second Seminole Indian war, which still persists today as the Seminoles routinely massacre unsuspecting palefaces traveling Florida’s Turnpike, luring them in with Hard Rock music memorabilia, and then taking their money with mysterious “games of chance.”
Today you can go and visit the first colossal planning error in Dade history at the historic Dade Battlefield located nowhere near Dade County. It is somewhere up in Canada, or as some call it North Florida, near the more-geographically-appropriately named Dade City. There are also Dade counties in Georgia and Missouri, neither of which feature beaches, cocaine or massive confusion around every corner\. Which makes one wonder why they have such an irrelevant namesake. No matter, Miamians know that there is only one true Dade County, the one that Major Francis envisioned when he got bad directions, failed to plan, and got killed by unscrupulous natives. Yes, no doubt up there, somewhere, Francis Langhorne Dade is looking down and smiling and his namesake. I’ll bet you he even speaks Spanish in heaven.
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