Summer Lovin

by Joy Murphy, Education Coordinator

Summertime brings lots of new, exciting, and some not-so-exciting things to The Museum. First, we’re sad to say goodbye to our Tribal student interns and volunteers. All of our Tribal student interns and volunteers attend Ahfachkee School on the reservation and the Education Section oversees their experience at the museum. Some have graduated and will be attending college this fall and after a short break, some will return to work with us either this summer or in the next school year. We were happy to have them and appreciate all of their hard work.

Some of the things that summer brings, such as the rain and the bugs, induce moans and groans. Other things, like baby animals and blooming flowers, bring about smiles of happiness. For the Education Section, summer means kids, activities, and fun.

Yes, this is the busiest and best time of year for the Education Section! For the third year in a row, we will participate in the Big Cypress Boys and Girls Club summer camp. An average of twenty campers will come to The Museum weekly for an hour of activities that will include storytelling, animal shows, and crafts. The campers are not required to come to The Museum, but volunteer to come because they enjoy the fun experiences that we offer.

For the second year, we will work with the 21st Century Learning program at Ahfachkee School. The 21st Century Learning grant, through the Florida Department of Education and the United States Department of Education, funds the program. This program focuses on S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) subjects. This year, we will teach them about scale and ratio by replicating buildings with Legos. Needless to say, we are very excited about “playing” with Legos.

Finally, for the third year, we will participate in the Family Services annual teen and youth camps. These camps are held at Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida. For two weeks, campers will learn about nutrition, exercise, history, and culture in a fun, safe environment. This is collaboration with several different Tribal departments across all reservations. It’s an opportunity to introduce The Museum to Seminole youth from reservations that we don’t have the opportunity to work with on a regular basis, as well as build relationships with other Tribal departments and employees. This has been a great experience for us.



Figure 1: Winning “Minion” from the boxcar derby at youth camp. Tribal youth and Museum staff helped worked together to create this masterpiece.


Five Things You May Not Know About The Seminole Tribe of Florida

By Virginia Yarce, Development Assistant

In 2014, I spent five months commuting to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation working with the Florida Seminole Tourism office, and I always found it worth the drive. It seemed like there was something new every day– panoramic cloud formations, encounters with wildlife, even an occasional stunning dark sky, filled with layers of stars as if looking through 3-D glasses. I wondered why more people did not come out just for the drive, to enter a world away that is really only right around the corner, or to stay for a night in the land of the unconquered.

Figure 1: Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum; Photo Credit: Marty Dawson, Tour Guide
Figure 1: Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum; Photo Credit: Marty Dawson, Tour Guide

Then, when I starting working in the Visitor Services and Development Section at the Museum in January 2015, I again looked forward to what new things I might encounter on the drive to Big Cypress, and what new things I would learn about the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In this short amount of time I have learned that the Seminole story is much more central to Florida’s history than meets the eye, and is certainly no sidebar. There is so much more to the story than a remnant of 300 Seminoles standing their ground through the Wars of Removal in the 19th century to become what is today a thriving community of over 3,000 Tribal members.

So I put together a short list of things I discovered about the Seminole story in my first month at the Museum. Here, then, are five things you may not know about the Seminole Tribe of Florida:

1. There was an alligator clan. When you visit the Big Cypress Reservation, you will pass over the “Eight Clans Bridge”, and on the Museum boardwalk you will find a nice outdoor exhibit of the eight clans: Panther, Bear, Deer, Wind, Bigtown, Bird, Snake, and Otter. After starting at the Museum, however, I was surprised to discover there were many other clans, including Tiger, Bobcat and Alligator. These clans also fought to stay in Florida, but have faded into Florida history as the last matriarch of that clan passed away. The eight clans of today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida are the followers of Sam Jones/Abiaki, the legendary Seminole leader who fiercely protected the remaining Seminoles, taking refuge in the Everglades, where alligators became, instead of a clan, an iconic symbol of Seminole culture.

Figure 2: Fall 2013 AQ featuring Sam Jones/Abiaki
Figure 2: Fall 2013 AQ featuring Sam Jones/Abiaki

2. There is a single person responsible for the Tribe’s presence in Florida today. I knew about Abiaki/Sam Jones, and had visited at least three sculptures honoring his role in Seminole history, including one at the entrance of the Museum. But not until I read the Fall 2013 Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Quarterly (AQ) did I realize his pivotal role in Seminole survival. Abiaki’s name is certain to become more readily recognized in Florida as we continue to celebrate, preserve and interpret Seminole culture and history. While Fort Lauderdale is named after Major William Lauderdale, it was Abiaki’s home in the 1820’s. His clans inhabited the “seven islands” along the Pine Island Ridge, the highest elevation in Broward County, where he defeated Major Lauderdale in battle in 1838. Today the Seminole story is also shared at sites like Long Key Nature Area where Abiaki’s historical lands are recognized.

3. Fort Lauderdale was one of hundreds of military posts built for the Seminole War effort. The United States Congress spent more money during the Seminole Wars than on the Revolutionary War, including building of many forts now familiar to us as city names. These include Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Jupiter, and Fort Pierce to name a few. After 20 years of living in the Fort Lauderdale area I did not associate the name of this city specifically with Seminole history, but their spirit of survival is indelibly linked not only to Fort Lauderdale, but places across the entire peninsula.

4. The Longest War. The three Seminole Wars were the longest, hardest Indian wars in U.S. History. The remaining Seminoles under Sam Jones/Abiaki remained unconquered. What may be surprising is that the Seminole Wars total 13 years of “official” fighting, but the wars were still being waged even during the in-between years. This ranks them among not only the longest Indian wars, but the longest wars in U.S. history altogether, like the Afghan War, which made headlines in 2010 as becoming the “longest war” in U.S. history. Many argued that Vietnam War’s record was not the 10 “official” years, but almost 20 years of U.S. involvement. Along these lines, one understands better the Seminole perspective of the Seminole Wars spanning over 40 years of struggle. What is even more surprising is that during the 2nd Seminole War alone, less than 2,000 Seminole warriors held off over 50,000 U.S. soldiers and volunteer militia for seven years.

5. Cowboys and Indians. No, really – cowboy Indians. Seminoles kept large herds of cattle in Florida before the Seminole Wars, including Chief Ahaya/Cowkeeper in Northern and Central Florida. Ada Tiger in Indiantown owned up to 100 head as late as 1925. The modern Seminole cattle industry started in the 1930’s, and as you drive through the Big Cypress and Brighton Reservations you can enjoy the picturesque prairies dotted with Seminole cattle. The Tribe’s cattle enterprise continues to grow with the purchase of the famous Salacoa breeding herd in northwest Georgia in 2013 and currently ranks number 5 in the United States for Cow & Calf Production with over 13,000 head of cattle.

Figure 3: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation Cattle Prairie 1
Figure 3: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation Cattle Prairie 1
Figure 4: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation Cattle Prairie 2
Figure 4: Big Cypress Seminole Reservation Cattle Prairie 2

There is always something new happening at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and something new to learn. The boardwalk is renovated; we have new villagers on site making award-winning basketry and other traditional Seminole arts and crafts; the Ahfachkee students have new art on display; we have new birds of prey presentations and new signage in the making. The Museum is vibrant and growing. The best way to stay in touch with new happenings at the Museum is through our Facebook and Twitter sites and through membership at the Museum, so you can visit anytime and enjoy a new and informative AQ publication each quarter. Come by the Museum or give me a call, so I can update you on any new happenings since this blog post, help you plan your next trip to Big Cypress or enroll you in a Museum membership!

Figure 5: Victor Billie Carving a Totem Pole at the Ceremonial Grounds: Photo Credit: Ellen Batchelor, Head of Security
Figure 5: Victor Billie Carving a Totem Pole at the Ceremonial Grounds: Photo Credit: Ellen Batchelor, Head of Security


By Van Samuels, Outreach Specialist

Yes, Outreach is “growing” in more ways than one can imagine.  We’re growing in personnel, as we welcome Seminole Tribal member, Jake Osceola, to the Outreach team.  Outreach is literally growing, as well.  No, not in body mass index or age! (Although some would agree with that last sentence)  Outreach is growing a garden—a Seminole garden to be exact.


Enhancing the visitor experience has been one of the many on-going endeavors of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  This continued goal is evident within the interactive areas of the museum galleries and with the exciting exhibits that are forthcoming.  The Outreach staff has also been instrumental in working towards the mission of enhancing the visitor experience with the renovation and improvements at the museum amphitheater to ultimately provide cultural, educational, and informational Storytelling/Wildlife presentations (which are already underway).

The latest of the Outreach projects is currently under construction—the establishment of a Seminole garden.  Historically speaking, gardens were an essential element to survival in the Seminole camps throughout the Everglades, providing the sustenance of life, vegetables and fruits.

The proposed location of the garden is the area next to the replica ceremonial grounds, right before you arrive at the Living Village alongside the boardwalk.  Let’s take a look……

Approaching the Living Village, visitors will see the hint of some sort of development in the brush… what could it possibly be?






The following are images of the ongoing construction currently underway

Jake and Rei discussing log placement and garden structure….





van 10


Van “appearing” to supervise..……..from a safe elevated boardwalk distance






This project is still in the developmental stages and will be completed in the near future. However, further information and images of the garden will be forthcoming as the garden begins to take shape and vegetables eventually grow, so stay tuned OR simply make plans to visit the Big Cypress Seminole reservation and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to behold our progress. SHONABISH!


Strengthening External Relationships: The Army Corps of Engineers Cultural Immersion Workshop

By Carrie Dilley, Joy Murphy, and Annette Snapp

During the first week of March, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum hosted the Army Corps of Engineers Cultural Immersion Workshop. The first on-campus Army Corps Workshop happened in 2008, but in 2014 we wanted to shake things up and make it a truly immersive experience.  The Museum set out to educate the Army Corps about Seminole culture, and to help them understand their connection to the land from the Tribe’s perspective.  We also wanted to foster a better understanding of the different ideologies of the two groups in order to build a more harmonious working relationship.   A combination of eager Museum and THPO staff, the Big Cypress Community, Seminole Tribal members, and excited Army Corps participants willing to take in Seminole culture made the workshop a huge success.


The workshop kicked off with an orientation inside the Museum’s theater. Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits, opened with a discussion of the Dimock Collection photographs.  Dr. Backhouse and Councilman Tiger welcomed participants to Big Cypress and Willie Johns gave a talk about Seminole history. Following the presentations, there was a tour of the Museum.


Day one ended at Billie Swamp Safari with storytelling by Everett Osceola and Ollie Wareham, followed by a Twilight Swamp Expedition. Workshop participants spent the evening in the chickee dorms at Billie Swamp Safari.


Day two started with various section of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) giving presentations. The THPO frequently works with the Army Corps on various projects and the audience was full of questions. Colonel Dodd (Army Corps) and Mr. Tommie (Seminole Tribe) both reflected on the importance of relationship building between the Tribes and the Army Corps.  Following lunch, a tour of the boardwalk given by Rey Beccera exposed the participants to important flora and fauna within Big Cypress.


The three generations of Seminoles discussion engaged the audience by offering insights on the past, present, and future of the Tribe from three different Tribal member perspectives—Quenton Cypress (high school student), Everett Osceola (30-something adult), and Willie Johns (senior).


The traditional dinner served in the Museum’s Living Village reflected many traditional foods enjoyed by Seminoles including lapoli (pan bread), gator tail, frog legs, garfish, sofkee, and swamp cabbage. Participants came from all over the country and most of them had never sampled these foods before.


A trip to Egmont Key (outside of Tampa Bay) on day three helped show a critical part of Seminole history—a time when Seminoles were removed from their homes and sent to Indian Territory. Egmont Key had been a holding area for Seminoles en route to Oklahoma.  It is simultaneously a source of pride and a source of sorrow for Tribal members.  It represents the tenacity of a people who refused to give up their lands by signing a peace treaty with the United States Government and at the same time reminds them of the hardships and loss they had to endure at the hands of the United States Government. The Army Corps of Engineers itself faces challenges at Egmont Key due to heavy erosion.  Without steps taken on the part of the Army Corps, the natural process will result in the loss of the entire island in time.  By visiting, they learned about the cultural significance of the island and the potential impact on people.



On the way back from Egmont Key we stopped at the Brighton reservation to give participants a glimpse of life on a different reservation and to show them key historic and modern buildings.

Day four consisted of the workshop wrap-up. Here the participants had the opportunity to provide feedback about their experience; they expressed their enjoyment and gratitude for such a great event.  We successfully shared the Seminole story and the Army Corps participants listened!