Become an honorary gator wrestler!

By Alyssa Boge

What does it take to be a gator wrestler?

Alligator wrestling is no easy feat! It takes dedication and training. In order to wrestle, Seminoles first have to ask permission of the Snake Clan. They need to learn about the traditions. They need to learn about alligators and how to wrestle them while staying safe.

 In our new exhibit “Alligator Wrestling: Danger. Entertainment. Tradition.” you can discover what it takes. You can even become an honorary gator wrestler!

Christine Rizzi and Tori Warenik became our first honorary gator wrestlers!

Until the exhibit ends in November, any guest, no matter their age, can earn their badge. All you have to do is ask at the front for your missions. Just as gator wrestlers have a lot to learn, you’ll have your own knowledge to gain and tasks to accomplish.

Test your gator knowledge and find out what makes alligators dangerous. Listen to experienced alligator wrestlers about their experiences and hear the ‘Legend of the Alligator and the Eagle’. See if you can open a gator’s jaws and touch a gator’s teeth. Find out how alligator wrestling all began. Discover the different wrestling moves like the Florida Smile and the Face Off and try them out yourself (on our gator dummy).

You can do this program on your own or with a group. We welcome scout groups and field trips and will work with you to add this activity to your programs.

When all the activities are completed, a tour guide will review your packet or materials and you’ll say our gator wrestler pledge. Then you will receive your honorary badge sticker or button. The design features Alligator Wrestler, Billy Walker, when he was younger and his daughter Shylah. Below you can see them posing with the image in the exhibit!

Billy and Shylah pose next to the exhibit graphic that was inspired by them.

Come out and give it a try!

10 Reasons to Visit the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki in 2020


We hope that a visit to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is on your list of things to do during 2020.  For those looking for a special place to enjoy with family and friends, take in history and culture, or experience the beauty of the Everglades, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is the perfect destination.  There is so much to do and learn at the Museum and hope you will make your way to Big Cypress!

1) Experience Seminole history and culture
There is no better place to learn about and experience the history and culture of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  For 22 years, the Tribe has been sharing their history and stories with visitors from around the world.

2) Alligator Wrestling: Danger. Entertainment. Tradition
Our newest exhibit explores the deep roots of the Seminole’s relationship to alligators. Discover how alligator wrestling took hold and how it helps preserve culture and tradition today.  On exhibit through December 2020. AW Title

3) Great Florida Birding Trail
Did you know that the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Boardwalk is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail?  65 species of birds have been identified within the cypress dome behind the Museum.  Let us know which birds you see on your next visit!

4) Unique merchandise
Our Museum Store offers unique and exclusive merchandise in every price range. We promote Seminole and Native American artisans and makers.  Stop by on your next visit or visit is online at

 5) Special Programs and Events
Be on the lookout for family friendly programming throughout the year. This winter, we will be continuing our popular Boardwalk After Hours tour and each November you can count on the fun-filled 2 day American Indian Arts Celebration event.  All upcoming programs and events can be found on our website or our social media

6) #BeautifulBoardwalk
Our mile long boardwalk takes you around a natural cypress dome. There is a chance you may be able to see some incredible Florida wildlife including bobcats, panthers, snakes, and alligators.  The dome transforms itself from season to season and you’ll no doubt enjoy experiencing this unique ecosystem firsthand.


7) Research Opportunities
Interested in learning more about who the Seminole Tribe of Florida is? The Museum serves as a center of research for Seminole culture and Native American history in the Southeastern United States.  Take advantage of this resource by making an appointment today with our Research Coordinator by calling (877) 902-1113 x12252.

8) 2020 Lecture Series
We are looking forward to our 2020 Lecture Series.  Join us on February 21st at our community center To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne (just down the street from the Museum) as we welcome our first lecturer of 2020, Tina Marie Osceola.  Ms. Osceola is an enrolled member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and an active participant in Native American politics.  Details will be available on our website.

9) Everglades Destination
Did you know that the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is just one of many attractions on the Big Cypress Reservation?  Check out Billie Swamp Safari and the Big Cypress RV Resort and Campground for more information on all Big Cypress has to offer!

Airboat rides available at Billie Swamp Safari

10) The Perfect Escape from the Hustle and Bustle
Whether you are visiting from near or far, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum can be an escape from the hectic day-to-day.  An hour outside of Fort Lauderdale and Naples, the Museum offers a place to unwind and take in true Florida history, culture, and beauty. 


 We hope that your next visit out to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum will be memorable.  If we can help you plan your visit, please contact us at 863-902-1113 and we’ll be happy to assist.

Sally in front pond



Great exhibits take collaboration

By Rebecca Fell-Mazeroski

A lot of people think of exhibits as something handled by the Exhibits Department with little to no input from others. My experience, however, has been that the best exhibitions involve a lot of collaboration with other departments and the community. Our latest exhibit: “Alligator Wrestling: Danger. Entertainment, Tradition.” is a great example of strong collaboration.

Like most of our exhibits, we rely on the Collections team to help us source objects in the collection and make sure they are safely displayed. Even other departments outside the museum become vital. Up the road, our pals at Billie Swamp Safari provided the welding and metal skills to help install the totem pole in this display.

Our co-workers down at Billie Swamp Safari used their superior welding tools to make a stable metal base for our totem pole display.

We are lucky enough to have an oral historian, Justin Giles, to conduct interviews and search the archives for stories and interviews that come from alligator wrestlers. If there is one thing I have learned working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, it is the voice of the community is vital and needs to be heard in the Museum. Also, spending time in their archives, Seminole Media Productions (SMP) provided us a short film allowing visitors to experience alligator wrestling matches.

Of course, getting interviews from alligator wrestlers involves sharing and collaborating with them on the every aspect of the exhibit. Every good exhibit topic has more stories and themes than we can share with visitors. The wrestlers, like Billy Walker, Zac Battiest, Everett Osceola, and the Holt Brothers, are essential in pointing out what stories matter to them. That is how we develop the text, displays, and interactives. Jack Chalfant, THPO staff member and retired alligator wrestler, and his team built a 7’ x 7’ chickee in the museum in two days. Along the way, the museum consulted with Facilities and the Seminole Fire Department to meet safety requirements.

Community member Jack Chalfant and his team put a chickee together inside the museum in two days. Jack is a cattleman, THPO staff member, and retired alligator wrestler

Additional help came from other community members. Marlin Billie was able to share his experiences growing up in a tourist village, including all the gator wrestlers he knew. Cody Motlow, who is working with us through the Tribe’s Work Experience Program , gave us a much needed  pair of hands, some good proof-reading, and even an another photo to use in the displays.

Robin Croskery-Howard, Conservator, is always on hand at installs to ensure the safety of the objects. Cody Motlow, WEP intern, is helping install a postcard. Cody also provided additional community insight and resources.

We are truly excited about our exhibit on Alligator Wrestling because it feels like something that is bigger than the Exhibits Department and even the Museum itself. I hope you get a chance to come see it and enjoy it!

“Alligator Wrestling: Danger. Entertainment. Tradition.”  is open now and on display until November 29, 2020. The opening reception will be on January 11th, 2020 from 1 pm – 4 pm.

Archaeology Isn’t Just Digging in the Dirt Anymore

By Shawn Keyte, Field Technician

In July 2019, myself and Ben Bilgri from the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) went to the National Archives in Washington D.C. to find information on the Seminole Wars. The majority of historical records identify three Seminole Wars spanning between 1816‐1858, but for the Seminoles, it was one long war that lasted for 42 years. On this trip, we specifically focused on the Third Seminole War (1855‐1858) as this occurred primarily in the area surrounding what is now the Big Cypress Indian Reservation. We were in hopes of finding written correspondence, maps, or any other documents that would help us better understand how far the United States Government went in trying to remove the Seminoles from Florida.

The U.S. Military keeps extensive records of all the conflicts they are involved in, even as far back as the Seminole Wars. The records we were interested in are called “post returns”. These are basically letters from soldiers and officers that were sent to and from commanders that contained information such as supply routes, fort locations, weather conditions, troop movements, troop morale, and many other topics that paint a picture of what it was actually like at that time during this conflict. Other than oral histories from Tribal Members, this is the only way for us to get an idea what it was like for the Seminoles during this time period. The Seminoles did not keep a written history of the Seminole Wars, but by studying the U.S. Military’s records, we can better understand what happened first hand by some of those who were actually there. Although these records are from the perspective of the military personnel operating in south Florida, they can still help us to learn about the Seminole effort to defend their homeland.

In preparation for our research trip, we had identified the names of several soldiers, officers, military units, and military forts located in south Florida that were operational during the time period of 1855‐1858. Much of this information was gathered using previous research that had been performed by Ben and I, other members of the THPO, as well as books, documents, and Tribal Member oral histories. We used these names like keywords when searching the Archives’ record database, and by the end of the first day, we had several carts full of documents to begin looking through.

We found a plethora of new information on forts, such as a map from 1855 showing the locations of two prominent U.S. Forts, Fort Simon Drum and Fort Shackelford (Figure 1), as well as how and when they were built, and the materials used to build them. We also discovered a lot of new information about the skirmish that renewed hostilities between the Seminoles and the U.S. Military in December 1855. Tribal Member oral histories and previous literature is abundant in reference to this skirmish, but reading a document written by one of the soldiers involved in the fight really gave us insight into what happened.

Figure 1: Map of the Big Cypress Swamp drawn by Lt. George Hartsuff, acting Topographical Engineer,
2nd Artillery, 1855.

We hope to make future trips to the Archives and get even more information surrounding the Seminole War period that may not available to us by any other means. Having the confidence that the material we are presenting to the Tribal Community and the public is as accurate as possible is very important to us as we continue to help the Seminoles tell their story.

Museum Photographs Show us the Past to Help us Think about the Present and Look to the Future

By Tara Backhouse, Collections Manager

Happy Holidays to you and your families, from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year are times for celebration, but also for recollection and thought.  We remember times gone by and we wonder what is to come.  These days we all have our own interests and activities, but it’s rewarding to come together and find a common ground at family gatherings.  While you enjoy the company of your family and all of the entertainment that the modern holidays offer, take a moment to think about the Seminole Tribe’s journey for the last 100 years.  This selection of the Museum’s historic photographs was chosen to show how amazing that journey has been.   The pictures show scenes from the early, middle and late 20th century.  These decades saw the journey from humble camp lives in rustic settings to hard work and economic success in the modern world. When we see how much things have changed during this time, we can only imagine what changes the future will bring. 

Figure 1

At a scenic camp in the Everglades in the 1930s or 40s, two men are taking a canoe out on a journey.  Others watch them leave.  Notice this camp has several canoes of different sizes.  Canoes were shared by the residents, and different sizes were needed for different kinds of trips. Times may have been tough, but living in a traditional way was fulfilling and rewarding. (ATTK Catalog No. 2001.34.8)

Figure 2

Mrs. Corey Osceola poses for a picture with her two children, at a chickee in 1942.  See how many things are in and around the chickee?  Mrs. Osceola had to have everything she needed for her family in that one place.  Not only that, but they probably stored many things in the rafters so that they could have a clear floor to sleep on at night.  Imagine if we had to do that today, and how many possessions we’d have to move. (ATTK Catalog No. 2005.27.39)

Figure 3

In the 1950’s education was a big priority.  The world was changing and government schools helped people learn new things. Annie Tiger, Joyce Osceola, Sadie Fewell, Addie Tommie, Betty Mae Osceola and Johnson Billie study hard in this adult education night class on the Big Cypress Reservation in 1957.  Education helped people start businesses and form a government. (ATTK Catalog No. 2009.34.508)

Figure 4

In 1957 members of the brand new Tribal Council and Board posed proudly for this picture.  Included are: Billy Osceola, Chairman of Council, Bill Osceola, President of the Board of Directors, Willie Frank, Toby Johns, Robert Osceola and Dan Osceola.  This was a proud moment born of hard work and a warrior spirit.  People like this didn’t let the U.S. government terminate the Tribe’s sovereign status.  They persevered and started a brand new type of government, which is now over 60 years old. (ATTK Catalog No. 2009.34.463)

Figure 5

Henry Nelson wrestles and alligator at Okalee Indian Village in 1960.  Talented wrestlers learned this skill to show it off to visiting tourists.  The mid 20th century tourism enterprises of the Tribe showed that the Tribe had the diverse ingenuity needed to succeed financially.  Ventures like Okalee led to the acquisition of Hard Rock International. (ATTK Catalog No. 2009.34.884)

Figure 6

Betty Mae Jumper was elected the first female Chairman of the Tribe in 1967.  The U.S. Government has yet to catch up with the Tribe, since no female president has been elected, even in 2019!  Betty Mae Jumper and Billy L. Cypress were both powerful advocates for Education.  In this photograph, Billy honors Betty Mae by interviewing her on a cable television show produced by the Museum in 1993. (ATTK Catalog No. GRP1828.10)

Figure 7

A young girl helps out her friend at this important Ahfachkee graduation in 2001.  The Seminole colors on their gowns symbolize the cultural pride that runs through everything that Seminole people do today.  The Tribe’s continued support of education is palpable at an event like this. (ATTK Catalog No. 2016.14.363)

Figure 8

When the Tribe broke ground for the Hollywood Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in 2001 using gold shovels, who would have thought that 18 years later they would still be masters of the brand, and that they would be opening the world’s first guitar-shaped hotel on the same spot! (ATTK Catalog No. 2016.14.101)

Figure 9

Today the vibrant colors of the Tribe can be seen at public events like this Hollywood Tribal Fair in 2001.  Seminole royalty advances during the grand procession.  Pictured are Joe Dan Osceola, Ambassador; Desiree Jumper, Miss Seminole; and Jo Jo Osceola, Junior Miss Seminole.  This is a great place to see Seminole artists shine as you watch the clothing contests.  Tribal Fair has been held for many decades, and is sure to keep traditions alive in years to come. (ATTK Catalog No. 2016.14.185)

The variety of modern Seminole life is tremendous.  These pictures merely scratch the surface.  If you want to get lost in this subject, stop by the Museum to browse our photos in the library.  If you like to sure the Internet instead, check out our Online Collections here:

It is our mission at the Museum to chronicle the Tribe’s journey and to make sure everyone knows this tremendous story.  Come and help us if that is your mission too!