Come face to face with his­tory

Visit trails and mu­se­ums for Na­tive Amer­i­can Her­itage Month.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bon­nie Gross Flori­daRam­bler.com

The chances are good that your first for­mal les­son about Amer­i­can In­di­ans in­volved Thanks­giv­ing.

It’s no sur­prise then that No­vem­ber is Na­tional Amer­i­can In­dian Her­itage Month — or Na­tive Amer­i­can Her­itage Month. (Both names are com­monly used.)

Amer­ica’s na­tive peo­ple worked for decades to get “an Amer­i­can In­dian Day” pro­claimed. In 1914, Red Fox James, a Black­foot In­dian, rode horse­back from state to state seek­ing ap­proval for a day to honor In­di­ans. Fi­nally, in 1990 Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush named No­vem­ber as Na­tional Amer­i­can In­dian Her­itage Month.

I had lived in Flor­ida a long time be­fore I dis­cov­ered the rich, fas­ci­nat­ing and of­ten tragic his­tory of Na­tive Amer­i­cans here.

Like a lot of peo­ple, I thought “Flor­ida’s In­di­ans” were the Semi­noles. But it’s a lot more com­pli­cated — and in­ter­est­ing — than that.

In re­cent years, I have vis­ited some won­der­ful parks and mu­se­ums that help tell the sto­ries of Na­tive Amer­i­cans, from the tribes that were wiped out soon af­ter Euro­peans ar­rived, such as the Calusa In­di­ans, to the Semi­noles, who didn’t come to Flor­ida un­til the 18th cen­tury.

If you’re look­ing for a way to learn a bit about Flor­ida’s Na­tive Amer­i­cans while dis­cov­er­ing some of Flor­ida’s out-of-the-way by­ways, here are five places to go, rang­ing from mu­se­ums to his­toric hik­ing trails to kayak out­ings.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Mu­seum

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Mu­seum, which is lo­cated on the Big Cy­press reser­va­tion of the Semi­nole Tribe, opens with a dra­matic mul­ti­screen me­dia pre­sen­ta­tion, and its well-de­signed dio­ra­mas and ex­hibits ex­plain Semi­nole his­tory and tra­di­tions. This is a first-class mu­seum where it’s easy to spend an hour or two.

A high­light for many vis­i­tors is a mile-long board­walk through a spec­tac­u­lar cy­press dome ad­ja­cent to the mu­seum. Half­way around, there’s a vil­lage de­signed to look like a tourist out­post from last cen­tury, where Semi­nole ar­ti­sans cre­ate and sell such well-known crafts as bead­work, bas­ketry and wood carv­ings.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Mu­seum, 34725 W.

Bound­ary Road, Clewis­ton. 877-902-1113. Ad­mis­sion: $10 adults; $7.50 se­niors and stu­dents 18 and un­der. ah­tahthiki.com

Di­rec­tions from I-75: Take Exit 49 for Snake Road, and con­tinue for roughly 17 miles into the Big Cy­press Semi­nole In­dian Reser­va­tion. The mu­seum is on the left at the in­ter­sec­tion of Josie Bil­lie High­way and West Bound­ary Road.

Dade Bat­tle­field His­toric Park

The Dade Bat­tle­field His­toric Park is just off I-75 north of Tampa, and it il­lus­trates our chang­ing at­ti­tudes to­ward the Semi­nole In­di­ans.

This peace­ful park shaded by huge oak trees (some of which are 250 years old!) was the site of a ma­jor bat­tle in the Sec­ond Semi­nole War. Maj. Fran­cis L. Dade emerged a hero — he and all but three of his 106 men were killed here in an am­bush by Semi­nole Indi-

ans in 1835.

But the park’s video and ex­hibits tell a fuller story. In the Sec­ond Semi­nole War, the Na­tive Amer­i­cans were re­sist­ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s at­tempts to move them to Ok­la­homa. The Semi­noles had wel­comed for­mer slaves as broth­ers, much to the dis­ap­proval of the white South­ern­ers try­ing to force them from their land.

With­out telling you what to think, the park’s video and ex­hibits tell a nu­anced story of the peo­ple and that war. We are left to think about which side was right as we walk past the his­toric mon­u­ment that says: “Here fell Ma­jor Dade.”

The 80-acre park pre­serves the land to look the way it did when the bat­tle oc­curred. There’s a lovely half-mile trail through pine flat­woods, where you have a good chance of spot­ting go­pher tor­toises, wood­peck­ers, song­birds and hawks. The park has a play­ground plus a pic­nic area with cov­ered shel­ters.

Dade Bat­tle­field His­toric Park, 7200 Bat­tle­field Park­way, Bush­nell. 352-793-4781. Ad­mis­sion is $3 per ve­hi­cle. flori­das­tate parks.org/parks-and-trails/ dade-bat­tle­field-his­toric -state-park

Mark your cal­en­dar for the an­nual Dade bat­tle re-en­act­ment Jan. 5-6. The bat­tle is re-en­acted at 2 p.m. but there are events all day, in­clud­ing pe­riod sol­dier, Semi­nole and sut­ler camps, his­toric arts and crafts demon­stra­tions, can­non fir­ing and more. Ad­mis­sion is $5.

Paynes Creek His­toric State Park

Paynes Creek Park in Cen­tral Flor­ida marks the site of a fort from the Semi­nole War era. Don’t be put off, but the fort was aban­doned be­cause of dis­ease­car­ry­ing mosquitoes.

The park pre­serves an 1895 mon­u­ment to com­mem­o­rate the deaths of two set­tlers at the hands of Semi­nole In­di­ans.

A small, well-done mu- seum tells the story: Ba­si­cally, it was a con­ve­nience store rob­bery of its day. A few rene­gade Semi­noles killed the set­tlers man­ning the trad­ing post. Un­for­tu­nately, de­spite the Semi­nole tribe’s at­tempt to make amends — they turned in the of­fend­ers to au­thor­i­ties — the in­ci­dent be­came a way to ra­tio­nal­ize ef­forts to eject the In­di­ans from Flor­ida.

Paynes Creek Park has many hik­ing trails. The park pre­serves lovely lit­tle Paynes Creek, which flows into the Peace River. The Peace is well-known for ca­noe­ing, kayak­ing and fish­ing. At Paynes Creek, it’s also fun to walk across a bouncy sus­pen­sion bridge and gaze into the clear creek and cy­press for­est.

Paynes Creek His­toric

State Park, 888 Lake Branch Road, Bowl­ing Green, 863-375-4717. Ad­mis­sion is $3 per ve­hi­cle. flori­das­tateparks.org/parks -and-trails/paynes-creek -his­toric-state-park

Mound Key State Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park and the Mound House

Be­fore the Semi­noles came to Flor­ida, the state was home to more than a half-dozen tribes whose peo­ple were largely wiped out.

South­west Flor­ida, from what is now Sara­sota to Marco Is­land, was home to the Calusa In­di­ans, who were great sailors and fish­er­men.

The Calusa were a thriv­ing, so­phis­ti­cated civ­i­liza­tion when the Span­ish landed in the 1500s, and their cap­i­tal was lo­cated on what is now a small wild is­land off Fort My­ers Beach — Mound Key State Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park. Be­cause it is ac­ces­si­ble only by boat and is lo­cated in beau­ti­ful Es­tero Bay, it makes an out­stand­ing kayak des­ti­na­tion.

The Calusa In­di­ans built this is­land up to its tow­er­ing 30 foot height with seashells, fish bones and pot­tery.

The best way to reach Mound Key is to kayak from Lovers Key State Park, where you can rent kayaks and get maps and di­rec­tions. The wa­ter here is full of wildlife: We saw dol­phins and many birds, from os­prey to roseate spoon­bills

Mound Key is a great out­ing, but sig­nage and in­ter­pre­ta­tion is slim. Go, though, for the ex­pe­ri­ence of imag­in­ing this is­land as the cen­ter of a whole world now van­ished.

Mound Key is best ac­cessed by boat from Lovers Key State Park,

8700 Es­tero Blvd., Fort My­ers Beach. There is no ad­mis­sion fee. flori­das­tate parks.org/parks-and-trails/ mound-key-ar­chae­o­log­i­cal-state-park

For a good spot nearby to learn more about the Calusa, visit the nearby

Mound House in Fort My­ers Beach, which has an ex­cel­lent small mu­seum about the Calusa. High­lights in­clude repli­cas of some re­mark­able Calusa masks and a cut­away shell mid­den. Mound House also op­er­ates boat tours to Calusa sites, in­clud­ing kayak tours, and a va­ri­ety of other pro­grams.

Mound House, 451 Con­necti­cut St., Fort My­ers Beach, 239-765-0865. Ad­mis­sion is $10 for adults. mound­house.org

Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter, Bo­keelia

The best place I’ve been to learn about the Calusa is on Pine Is­land Key off Fort My­ers Beach at the Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter.

This is a very much out-of-the-way lo­ca­tion, near one of my fa­vorite Flor­ida towns, funky Mat­lacha. Pro­nounced mat-la-SHAY, it’s a for­mer fish­ing vil­lage now full of gal­leries, shops and restau­rants.

At the Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter, we rec­om­mend walk­ing the Calusa Her­itage Trail, which is full of in­ter­est­ing in­for­ma­tion about the Calusa In­dian com­mu­nity.

You’ll climb tow­er­ing shell mounds, which were built by a peo­ple who dug and en­gi­neered ex­ten­sive canals. The Calusa sup­ported a pop­u­la­tion of 50,000 through­out South­west Flor­ida by fish­ing and har­vest­ing the bounty of th­ese coastal wa­ters.

When the Span­ish ar­rived, they con­sid­ered the Calusa a fierce tribe. By the late 1700s, how­ever, the Calusa were gone — vic­tims of dis­ease or cap­tured and en­slaved.

We learned a lot of sur­pris­ing facts about the Calusa on our walk through this fa­cil­ity. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists found the Calusa used shark liver oil as a mos­quito re­pel­lent, for ex­am­ple.

The in­for­ma­tion on the sig­nage and trail maps is clear, in­for­ma­tive and fas­ci­nat­ing.

Ran­dell Re­search Cen­ter, 13810 Water­front Drive, Pineland, 239-283-2062. Ad­mis­sion is by do­na­tion. They sug­gest $7 for adults. flori­damu­seum.ufl.edu/rrc

There are many more sites listed on the Trail of Flor­ida’s In­dian Her­itage, a non­profit, whose brochure can be down­loaded at trailof­flori­dasin­dian her­itage.org.

Flori­daRam­bler.com gives tips on get­aways to the nat­u­ral and authen­tic Flor­ida.

RICHARD TRIBOU/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

A statue of a Semi­nole In­dian hold­ing a bow and ar­row is part of dis­play of the Semi­nole Vil­lage, a re-cre­ation of tourist camps that were pop­u­lar in the early- to mid-1900s, along a 1-mile-long board­walk at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Mu­seum on the Big Cy­press reser­va­tion.

FLORI­DARAM­BLER.COM PHO­TOS

Mound Key State Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park is a small wild is­land off Fort My­ers Beach in Es­tero Bay that is ac­ces­si­ble only by boat or kayak.

Site of a ma­jor bat­tle in the Sec­ond Semi­nole War, the Dade Bat­tle­field His­toric Park near Tampa pre­serves the land to look the way it did when the bat­tle oc­curred.

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