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.

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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:

https://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/

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!

Boxes and Crates: Housing the Collection

By Robin Croskery Howard, Conservator

Have you ever wondered about the objects in a museum collection when they aren’t on display? How are they cared for and stored? What happens when oversize objects don’t fit in a banker’s box? As the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Conservator, part of my job in caring for the collection is to provide adequate archival housing for objects that will protect them against certain basic agents of deterioration; in short, I make boxes with special inserts that protect our artifacts from too much light, dust, dirt, changes in the atmosphere, and vibrations. It takes time and creativity to figure out the best way to protect objects and still have the housing fit on the vault shelves. Sometimes the objects are too big and/or too heavy for me to make the right housing. When this happens, our Collections Division relies on outside companies to create custom wooden crates that will protect our objects in the same manner.

The Museum’s collection boasts ten large dugout canoes, which are mostly housed on chocks in the Curatorial Building and can be seen on our behind-the-scenes tours. These canoes were too big and heavy to place into the large vault in the building; they wouldn’t even make it around the corners in the hallway! Therefore, the canoes were moved into the hallway and placed onto heavy duty wooden and steel framed shelves. To prevent dust from accumulating on the interior of the canoes, they are draped in soft perforated Tyvek (textile-like DuPont material that is chemically inert). However, this material only partially protects them from too much light, dust, and dirt accumulation. And, the shelving is located at an access point for the building’s HV/AC system. Over the past year this has proved to be problematic.

In the next couple of years, the HV/AC system in the Curatorial Building will be overhauled to better meet the strict demands to properly store and care for our precious objects. To do that, the technicians will need to work in the same area as the canoes. Since they can’t be easily moved out of the way, the canoes need to receive protective housing. So, our division worked with an outside vendor to create custom wooden crates for three of the large canoes this year.

Exact measurements of the canoes were taken and sent off to the vendor. From there, the custom crates were built with a soft foam interior to protect and surround the object. On the day to crate the objects, four specially trained personnel from the vendor arrived to move the objects from the shelves and into the crates assisted by Museum staff. Last minute adjustments to the interior were made onsite as needed. By the end of the day, three canoes were safely stored in new crates.

These three canoes are now better protected against the agents of deterioration and anyone who has to work in the vicinity. This is a large and expensive project that we are undertaking in small chunks. Hopefully, all of the canoes will have this protective crating by the end of 2021, so that we can continue with the HV/AC project.

Initial Movement
Two of the art handlers lift the canoe from the rack to place inside of the crate

Covering Canoe
The canoe is covered with a Tyvek slip cover inside of the crate

Stays in place
Stays with Ethafoam bumpers are screwed into place to prevent further movement inside of the crate

Lid
The lid for the crate is placed on top and secured with screws

 

Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Station Opens at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

By Florida Seminole Tourism

Recently, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum launched a green initiative to do their part in saving the planet. The museum removed the use of paper plates, plastic silverware, and straws, along with paper cups. At the same time, they eliminated toxic cleaning products and changed to LED lighting and automatic flush toilets. In addition, the staff only uses refillable water bottles for daily use.

In taking the next step in “green” pursuit, the museum announced an Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station that opened in August in the museum parking lot. The station offers two stalls that provide “domestic charging” for Tesla EV’s. “While geared for overnight charging, it helps visitors who come a long way to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum”, according to Dr. Paul Backhouse, Senior Director and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.  Dr. Backhouse also commented “the charging stations are complimentary for all visitors and the reservation community.” It’s clear that the museum continues to make strides and helps do its part to make a better, brighter, more responsible community. Also, it provides an EV charging resource to neighboring communities and those traveling back and forth across South Florida through Alligator Alley. Dr. Backhouse also pointed out, “Everglades visitors can find the charging station on the Plugshare App.” The museum also plans to expand their location listing to be included the Chargepoint App soon.

tesla

Electric Car Outlook

Over the next several decades, the U.S. vehicle fleet will have to changeover largely to zero-emission vehicles if global climate goals are to be met. Electric cars make up only a tiny portion of the automobiles sold worldwide, but that may change quickly, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. By 2040, electric cars could make up over 50% of all passenger car sales worldwide. At the same time, light commercial vehicle sales in the United States, Europe and China could see comparable results.

car charging

Since electric cars are coming close to matching gasoline powered cars in price and they already cost less to operate, electric cars may soon overtake gas powered cars as the more cost-effective choice for consumers. Over the next twenty years, global electric car sales will rise from 2 million last year to 56 million by 2040, BNEF predicts. Conversely, sales of traditional gasoline powered cars would drop in half over the same period.

If this happens, emissions will begin to reduce quickly in the years leading up to 2040, but that will get the planet back to 2018 levels, according to reports. This is the consequence of failing to act sooner. In the meantime, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum will do its part to be a good green neighbor and inspire others in the community to do the same!

ABOUT FLORIDA SEMINOLE TOURISM (FST)

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is a federally recognized Indian Tribe. FST is a top Florida Everglades adventure, learning and camping destination. We share the excitement and wonder of the Florida Everglades to visitors from around the globe. Our award-winning Everglades attractions include Billie Swamp Safari, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, and Big Cypress RV Resort & Campground.

 

Coming to Understand Seminole Alligator Wrestling

By Siobhan Millar, Exhibits Coordinator

When I was about 20, my sister and I did a weekend trip to Naples. At the time she lived in the Hammocks area of Kendall Drive in Miami. The Hammocks were as far south-west as one could live before reaching Krome Ave. Once there, it was bushy and isolated until you hit the Tamiami Trail. Then it was wildness again for miles, at least until you approached the Miccosukee Village. We made a point to stop and visit to look at the baskets, beadwork and, of course, watch the alligator wrestling.  So what does this have to do with the Museum’s Blog? Little did I know then that nearly 30 years later I would be working as an exhibits developer for Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and developing an exhibit on what else, but Alligator Wrestling!

In 1991, alligator wrestling was on the decline from calls of abuse by animal activists. Back then I was, admittedly, clueless about the traditional cultural aspects that played a part in the practice of alligator wrestling. Having to develop an exhibit about alligator wrestling has challenged me in unexpected ways. With help from Jack Chalfant, Marlin Billie, Billy Walker, Clinton and James Holt, and Mike Gentry, I have a fuller understanding of how alligator wrestling affected the lives of Tribal Members.

Field Day 9
Image courtesy of the Seminole Tribune, Brighton Field Days 2017.

The association between the Seminoles and alligator is long lasting, having begun with the hunt and capture of the reptile for survival. In the generations that followed, the hunt and trade of alligator hides with non-Seminole businesses helped Seminoles obtain supplies to sustain the camp. This became a transitioning point for Seminole men as they joined Florida’s emerging tourist industry and entered the alligator at non-Seminole attractions. Eventually, this association would help to support Tribal-run operations, and aid in some part financial independence.

There are also the aspects of respect regarding traditions and the respect for the animal and the dangers that inevitably go along with alligator wrestling. The wrestler’s respect for the alligator is far more apparent to me now than it was before. There have been shifts in attitudes, too. I am grateful for the personal and traditional stories Jack Chalfant, Billy Walker, Clinton and James Holt and Marlin Billie have shared with me. The alligator has helped shape the environment of the Everglades, home to the Seminole and Miccosukee, and provided life in so many ways – for birds, plants, and humans alike. For the Seminoles, alligators fed your families. With quiet unpredictability, the alligator allowed man to match his strength against his own.

There has been humbleness and learning from seeing the practice fall into decline with the rise of animal rights and near mishaps. There is now a focus on the educational and for some, like Clinton Holt, the more “holistic” approach of the animal’s wildness. Along the way, the Tribe’s alligator handlers have rolled with the changes. It is with the same resilience applied by their ancestors that the tradition is still alive. I am interested to see where the tradition goes from here.

To find out more, why not come and explore the exhibit Alligator Wrestling: Danger, Entertainment, Tradition; opening on December 16, 2019 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

AW postcard art (002)