Fort Meade, Florida, is historically Polk County's oldest settlement. During the Second Seminole War, in 1849, Lt. George Meade crossed the Peace River in close proximity of where the U.S. Hwy. 98 East bridge is now located. Lt. Meade found a burned-out Native American village located to the north and ordered his troops to build a fort. Another well-known officer served during this time: Lt. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Meade and Jackson would serve again on different sides in the War Between the States.
On the "Peas" River, named by the Native Americans for the pea-pod type plants growing along the banks, tribes had rendezvoused for thousands of years as they migrated back and forth across the state.
Early on, "Florida Crackers" came from nearby states to settle and protect the land from Seminole Indian attacks. These independent pioneers bravely farmed the land and raised cattle, which was the first mainstay economic venture in the area. It would prove to be a contributing force in Polk County's only Civil War participation. Known as the Cow Battle, the Battle of Bowlegs Creek was over the sale of cattle to southern troops as their main meat source. Of course, highest bidder - North or South - got the meat, but during April and May 1864, Fort Meade leaned toward the South. Former Fort Meade residents who sympathized with the North had been run out of town and joined forces with the Union troops stationed in Fort Myers. The battle ended with Fort Meade being burned.
Read more about the Battle of Bowlegs Creek at