“Mammoth of a Discovery by THPO”

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office’s Research Assistant, David Brownell, appears as a guest blogger in this segment. Below he talks about the amazing discovery of a fossilized mammoth tooth, along with a number of other large animal remains on the Big Cypress Reservation:


 Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Willard Steele, who made the initial discovery when he spotted the tooth protruding from spoil piles left over from recent canal dredging, estimates the bones date back around 10,000 years to the Pleistocene Era. During this time, Florida had a much drier climate, and due to lower sea levels, was actually much larger in terms of land mass than it is today, almost twice its current size. Instead of being covered in rivers, lakes, and wetlands like the Everglades, the dry climate produced a savannah covered by hardy grasses and scattered oaks, which would have looked very similar to the African savannah of today.

Mammoth Tooth

Over these vast savannahs roamed mega-fauna like the mammoth, Giant Sloth, camel, American Bison, and mastodon, another relative of the elephant that was much smaller in size. North America was inhabited by a number of mammoth species, ranging from the Imperial Mammoth, the second largest known species which stood 16 feet tall at the shoulder, to the Columbian and Jefferson Mammoths, which are argued to be the same species and were slightly smaller. Though they were herbivores, consuming an estimated 700 pounds of plant material each day to maintain their massive size, they also possessed impressive tusks to deter would-be predators. In fact, though their tusks averaged around 6.5 feet, one specimen uncovered in Texas had tusks reaching 16 feet long. The mastodons were another elephant-related family found here, but were much smaller than their mammoth cousins. Due to the warmer climate, these mammoths lacked the woolly coat of their cousins in Europe and Asia, and would have had skin similar to modern African Elephants, but with small patches of hair on their shoulders and head.


These herbivores were stalked by predators like the Dire Wolf, Saber-toothed Cat, American Lion (similar to its African counterpart but larger), and the short-faced bear, which stood up to 13 feet tall and weighed up to 1,200 pounds. Though there is no evidence that this particular mammoth was killed by humans, they did interact, and there have been multiple archaeological finds including actual kill sites that prove they were hunting mammoth in Florida. Mammoths died out between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago, with the last hold outs in northern Alaska and Russia becoming extinct between 4,000 to 2,000 years ago; though the cause of extinction is unknown, it is generally thought that a combination of shifts in global climate along with increased hunting pressure from humans led to their demise.


My First Time on the Boardwalk

I remember the first time I walked the boardwalk at the Museum. It was at my interview for the Education Coordinator position. The warmth of sun filtering through the trees, the feel of the cool wood planks beneath my feet (I had worn heels to my interview and my feet were sore). The needles from the bald cypress trees had begun to fall onto the boardwalk and were getting stuck to my trouser socks. I remember breathing in the clean Big Cypress air feeling the difference in the air quality compared to that of Detroit where I had grown up. Looking at the placards I appreciated the life giving nature of the plants around me. I wondered how many of these plants are weaved into the Seminoles’ culture.

I didn’t make it very far that day without proper footwear, but the memory has lasted and driven the way I work with the Tour Guides to give visitors a memorable experience. I have had many walks on the boardwalk since that time; each experience has given me a deeper appreciation for where I work. However, boardwalk itself isn’t how my understanding and appreciation for Seminole culture has grown; being a part of programming that takes place on it, the exchange thoughts and ideas about life and the world around us. Some days I go out talking with Tribal members, colleagues, and visitors, which left me with a feeling that we had just solved the world’s problems. Other days I walk out there to clear my head or to get in some exercise. Much of the time I’m out there, I’m working to keep the plant information fresh in my mind or am brainstorming ideas for a new program.

My advice for a person planning a trip to our Museum is to make sure you have enough time to walk the boardwalk. It’s just over a mile long so bring some water and good walking shoes. Bug spray is a must especially during the summer time. It’s hot and muggy this time of year with rain. Dry season is nice time to walk the boardwalk the humidity drops and the temperature in mild and cooler (75 to 80 degrees on average). In the wet season, with almost daily afternoon down pores, the rain gives life to the cypress dome plants that are dormant in the dry season come back to life in the wet season.

Need to take a break, about half way through the walk is our village and ceremonial grounds. It is a great place to cool off under a chickee, get a drink of water, and visit with Seminole crafters.

It’s more than just plants that come to life in the summer animals are more active, too. All staff seems to be aware that more animals are around and to keep a distance between us and them. The animals we see on a daily basis are wild and roam freely through our grounds. We see raccoons and turtles, alligators and otters, and on rare occasions a black bear will wander through. At this point many of you are thinking, “Isn’t it scary working in place with so much wild life?” Not at all. I feel safe out here knowing all the staff is trained in first aid and we have numbers on our boardwalk along with call boxes to send help quickly if something were to happen. The best part of all is we’re across the street from the police, fire, and EMT building; average response time in my experience about 5 minutes.

Maybe it’s the heat or any of the other unique experiences I just described, but we don’t get much visitor traffic during the summer time. I say, “Come prepared and you’ll have a great adventure.”

-Diana Stone, Education Coordinator

THE AH-TAH-THI-KI MUSEUM NEEDS YOUR ASSISTANCE: Snapshots Recall Key Players of 1940s Cattle Program

One of the great pleasures of working at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is rediscovering small treasures held in the permanent collections.  Recently, while processing a portion of the Archival Collection photographs, I rediscovered a small group of photographs.  These twenty-one small sized snapshots show general scenes of daily life of the Seminoles, which include cattle operations and key figures related to the Tribe’s cattle program.  Key figures shown include James Benjamin “J. B.” Thomas, Fred Montsdeoca, Josie Billie, and Kenneth A. Marmon.  James Benjamin “J. B.” Thomas’ son Bobby Ray Thomas generously donated these photographs to the Museum in 1999.

Of special interest is this photograph of an unidentified signing event.  Museum staff believe this photograph is related to the Tribe’s cattle program and was taken on Big Cypress in the mid to late 1940s.  Big Cypress Agricultural and Livestock Enterprise trustees Morgan Smith and Jimmy Cypress are shown seated at a table.  Joe Bowers, Fred Montsdeoca, and others stand encircling table.

Photograph (1999.40.15) of unidentified signing event. Can you help us identify what is happening this photograph?

Further information about this group of Seminole cattle program photographs can be found in the next issue of the Seminole Tribune (http://www.semtribe.com/SeminoleTribune/AboutUs.aspx) and the Fall 2011 Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Quarterly, our membership magazine.  A subscription to the AQ is one of many benefits of joining our membership program.  To find out more about our membership levels please contact, Mary Birch-Hanson, Membership Coordinator, marybirch-hanson@semtribe.com

If you would like to view this group of photographs, additional items related to the Tribe’s cattle program, or other Museum materials, please contact the Museum at 877.902.1113 to arrange an appointment.

-James Powell, Associate Registrar

Lessons from Denver

The Denver Art Museum (DAM as it is affectionately known) has recently reopened their Native American Art section after a seven-month closure.  Why?  So they could attribute the names of actual makers to the pieces they made.  Could a slow and steady movement be catching on?  Are we finally moving away from the old methods of ethnographic presentation or simple art historical approaches to displaying Native art?  Will I have to find something else to harp on during my blogs?  One would hope so.


Let’s shift focus on what others are doing and talk a little about our own identification projects here at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki.  Seminole material culture has certainly not been spared from the scourge of ethnographic collection and display.  Hundreds if not thousands of objects in our own collection have incomplete records of who made certain items.  Even many of the faces within the hundreds of postcards in our collection are nameless while the non-Indian photographers are celebrated as noble recorders of history.  It’s time to take the anonymity out of the Museum whenever it’s possible. 


Here at the Museum we try to attribute the names of the makers and owners of the object in our collections.  We also make a point of identifying the people in historical pictures.  This has not always been the case as shoddy collection practices were prevalent until relatively recently.  That’s why we are making the addition of artist/maker names to as many objects as we can in the Permanent Artifact Collection (dolls, baskets, beadwork, ect.) a priority.  During the next few years we also plan on researching and writing biographies of the Seminole artists in our Fine Art Collection.

Osceola Wearing an American Flag by Seminole artist, Noah Billie.

I think we are off to a good start but we have a long way to go before we can claim any real accomplishment.  Through our community contacts we were able to get some Tribal seniors to visit the Museum and identify the makers of some of our ethnographic collections, such as dolls and baskets.  In August of 2009 the museum took possession of the Boehmer Collection of Photographs.  This collection of photographs may be one of largest visual records of the Seminole Tribe from the 1930s thru the 1960s.  While many of the people in the photos were identified before we received them there were a few faces researchers and our staff couldn’t recognize.  The community was again helpful in identifying their friends and relatives.

Collections staff meets with Tribal elders to identify individuals in photographs during an advisory tour in April of 2010.

Of course the best way to ensure these kinds of things occur is by ensuring Tribal members are involved in every aspect of their museum.  I’ll be the first to admit we don’t always hold fast to those ideals but in the last two years the Museum has begun to cultivate community with Tribal members so we can gather as much information as possible on the rich and vibrant Seminole culture by connecting the past with a contemporary population of Seminoles.  I would personally like to see more museums take a proactive approach by applying these principles.  Together with other members of the international museum network we can move our organizations to new levels of distinction while gaining credibility amongst the communities we claim to represent.


Jonathan McMahon

Museum Membership Happenings

It’s summertime here at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  We are preparing for summer camp kids, family vacation groups and you. 

For those of you that have been our friends for a year or more, and live or visit Southeast Florida in June, be on the lookout for BAMM.  What is BAMM you ask?  It’s the Broward Attractions and Museums Month.  As a member of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum or any of the other 17 participating organizations you can visit all in June FREE…What a deal!  Check out www.BAMMinfo.org for additional information.

Next time you visit Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, look for our red shouldered hawk (south Florida pale adult) and his new mate.  They have built a nest right outside our curatorial building.  We have asked for ideas for names, have any suggestions?  Find us on facebook or email GregPalumbo@semtribe.com .

Our Tribal Historic Preservation Office is hosting another season of their archaeological field school.  University students will work directly with our THPO staff using ground penetrating radar (GPR), digging the site, processing artifacts in the lab and participating in a Chickee survey.  The site under study is potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

We also have, Tools Of War, our newest exhibit which looks at the changing technology of weapons and how these advancements shaped the Seminole Wars.  This exhibit features great items from our collection, including weaponry from 1817 -1858. 

Another current exhibit, From Surviving to Thriving: An Everglades Economy is also available for your viewing.  It is a chronological look at how the geographical area commonly known as the Everglades, has sustained the Seminole Tribe of Florida from the mid 1800’s to the present.  Learn how some of the deliberate attempts to change the Everglades have impacted the ecology of South Florida and how they have affected the Tribe in both positive and negative ways.

Our Museum Store also has new merchandise relating to the Tools of War exhibit.  In addition to a catalog of the exhibit, we have: sword letter openers in brass, gorgets of brass and silver plate, and decorative wooden canteens similar to artifacts from our collects.  We are especially proud of our Bandolier Bag jewelry.  It was designed based on details form Osceola’s bag as well as other exhibit items.  Remember that members of the museum receive a 15% discount on all purchases!

Beginning Memorial Day, May 30, 2011 and running through Labor Day, September 5, 2011, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum will offer free admission to active-duty military and their immediate family members (military ID holder and five immediate family members). Active duty military includes: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and active duty National Guard and Reserve members.  To learn more about Blue Star Families, visit http://www.bluestarfam.org.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is proud to participate in Blue Star Museums; in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and more than 1,300 museums across America. Leadership support has been provided by MetLife Foundation through Blue Star Families.  The complete list of participating museums is available at http://www.arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.

To enhance your Museum experience we offer free tours on most days, check the calendar on our website for times & days.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum members are always admitted free.  If you would like Museum membership information, please email marybirch-hanson@semtribe.com or call 954.364.5205.

I look forward to seeing you at the Museum. 

Mary Birch-Hanson

Membership Coordinator