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Your first awareness of the south Florida Indians will probably come during a trip along the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41, the cross-State highway just north of the park). You will notice clusters of Indian homes close to the road. Some are built on stilts, are thatched with palm fronds, and are open-sided so that no walls hamper the flow of cooling breezes. Many of the glades Indians prefer to live as their ancestors did some 150 years ago when they were newcomers to the everglades. Others have adopted the white man's dwellings (as well as his occupations).

The Indians of south Florida—Miccosukees, sometimes called "Trail Indians"; and Muskogees, the "Cow Creek Seminoles"—are separate tribes, not sharing a common language. Today no Indians live inside the park boundaries.

INDIANS IN SOUTH FLORIDA. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The Indians arrived in Spanish Florida after the American Revolution. Many Creeks of Georgia and Alabama, crowded by the aggressive white man, fled south to the peninsula. They first settled in north Florida; when Florida became a State in 1845 they had to retreat farther south. Driven into the interior during the Seminole War of 1835, they eventually settled in the everglades, where deer, fish, and fruit were available. Though their territory is now much more limited, they still retain much of their independent spirit, and have never signed a peace treaty with the U.S. Government.

Many earn their living operating air boats, as proprietors and employees of roadside businesses, and in a variety of jobs on farms and in cities. The women create distinctive handicraft items, which find a ready market with tourists.

No one is certain when the first Indians—the Calusas and Tequestas—appeared in south Florida; it may have been more than 2,000 years ago. Even more than today's glades Indians, these coastal Indians lived with the rhythm of river and tides, rain and drought. Hunting, fishing, and gathering of shellfish were their means of existence. We have learned this much of their life from artifacts unearthed from the many Indian mounds or washed up along the beaches. They lived on huge shell mounds, made pottery, used sharks' teeth to make saws, and fashioned other tools from conch shells. They even built impoundments for fish—a few remains of these can be seen today. They were ingenious hunters. (Ponce de León and his Spanish explorer-marauders were said to have been turned back from the everglades by the deadly arrows these Indians fashioned from rushes.)

Following the arrival of the Spanish, these early Indians disappeared from the scene. They were apparently wiped out, destroyed by the white man's diseases as much as by his aggression; but some may have escaped to Cuba. Perhaps a handful of them were still in the everglades when the Creeks came down from the north in 1835, and were absorbed into the new tribe. Their known history ends here.

Proud, independent, and ingenious in wresting a living from the land and the water, the Indians knew how to live with nature. Unlike the white man, they fitted into the plant-and-animal communities. Today these communities have been severely disrupted. In the few decades that the white man has been "developing" the region, he has broken every chain of life described in this book.

Alligator populations have been much reduced in south Florida; their chief prey, the garfish, has in some places become so numerous as to constitute a nuisance (most of all to the fresh-water anglers, some of whom had a hand in the killing of alligators). The pattern of waterflow over the glades, through the cypress swamps, and into the mangrove wilderness has been altered by highways and canals. Much of the habitat has been wiped out by construction of homes and factories and by farming operations. An increasingly alarming development is the pollution of glades waters by agricultural chemicals such as DDT.

Only through complete understanding of this fragile, unique subtropical world can man reverse the destructive trend. Only through carefully applied protective and management practices can we make progress toward restoring to the Everglades some of its lost splendor.

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Last Modified: Sat, Nov 4 2006 10:00:00 pm PST

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