Tag Archives: Seminoles

Tate’s Hell State Forest Name Origin

How Tate’s Hell State Forest Got its Name

Tate’s Hell State Forest is named after Cebe Tate, a 45 year old local farmer plagued by a panther that kept attacking his livestock. The year was 1875, a time when Florida was experiencing a population boom as homesteaders moved in on land formerly controlled by Native Americans. Although most Seminoles escaped the Trail of Tears by disappearing deep into the swamp that makes up most of Tate’s Hell State Forest, many Native Americans were rounded up for relocation in Oklahoma.

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The homesteaders didn’t have an easy time of it and rogue panthers were unwelcome pests. Cebe Tate decided to do something about his problem and headed into the forest with his shotgun and hunting dogs.

It didn’t go well. After just a few hours, he became separated from his dogs. Lost in the swamp, he lost his shotgun. When he sat down at a tree stump to rest, he was bitten by a snake.

Lost and disoriented for seven days and seven nights, he suffered greatly. Water was scarce, the mosquitoes were relentless, and the heat was stifling. Cebe was forced to drink the muddy swamp water. Finally breaking through the underbrush to a clearing near the town of Carrabelle, nearly 25 miles from his home, and barely able to speak, he walked up to two men. “My name is Cebe Tate,” he said, “And I’ve been through hell.” With that, he collapsed at their feet and died.

What to Expect During a Visit to Tate’s Hell State Forest

Tate’s Hell State Forest is typical Florida terrain, made up of woodland and swamp. Today’s visitors to Tate’s Hell State Forest have well marked paths, including a boardwalk that winds through a dwarf cypress forest of ancient trees.

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There is a dirt (mostly sand) road through the forest, but a four wheel drive is strongly suggested, and, since many areas flood during rainy periods, hiking may be your only option. It is well worth your effort. Once commercially forested, Tate’s Hell is now a wildlife management area and abuts the Apalachicola National Forest.

 

Tate’s Hell State Forest is a popular place for hunters and campers alike.

The Gamble Mansion

The Gamble Mansion’s Thick Walls Protected Against Seminole Attack

The Gamble Mansion is South Florida’s only remaining antebellum mansion. Located in Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, it belongs now to the Florida State Park system after being rescued from decay and neglect by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But in pre-Civil War days, it was home base for a thriving sugar plantation. The park itself is now known as the Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial.

Shortly after the Second Seminole War ended in Loxahatchee, Civil War Major Robert Gamble staked out his homestead and began to build a home. The mansion was built in two stages. The rear of the house was built first, as protection against Seminole attacks as they fought extradition in a clash of cultures. The US government’s intention to resettle the Native Americans on reservations out west did not sit well with the Seminoles. They used guerrilla warfare to resist, hiding in swamps they knew well and mounting surprise attacks. While many were captured and relocated, quite a few Seminoles avoided capture and maintained their independence. Their descendants are scattered about the state.

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The architectural style called Doric Revivalist Vernacular graced the front of the house. The Greek Revival pillars make it seem larger than it actually is. The original plantation grew to encompass 3,500 acres in its prime; today 16 acres remain.

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The Gamble mansion is built of red brick and tabby, a crushed shell, sand, water, and lime mix. The insulating two-foot thick walls and wide verandas provided much needed relief from the summer heat, as did the numerous Live Oaks found on the property. The home was large for a bachelor: ten rooms in all in the two-story mansion. The building is split into two sections, front and back, with the traditional dog-trot air space between buildings.

Comfort has hard to find, but the homesteader did his best.

The mattresses on the beds were stuffed with Spanish moss, so named, it is told, because it resembled the early explorers’ beards. Taken from the Live Oaks on the property, the bugs that inhabit Spanish moss, called “chiggers”, also made it into the beds, giving birth to the saying, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”. The mattresses were secured by ropes, which could be tightened by a key. There is an extra blanket on the roller in case the air turned chilly.

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An early American flag

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Civil War era kitchen at the Gamble Mansion:

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In my next post, we’ll look at the role the plantation played during and after the Confederacy and its impact on operations in and around the Gamble Mansion.

 

Other Towns in Central Florida Offer Out-of-the-Ordinary Entertainment

Central Florida, From Fisheating Creek to the Brighton Seminole Reservation

We drove around Lake Okeechobee, enjoying the expansive views of the leading edge of the Florida Everglades. The sky is big in Florida, and the swamp stretches for mile after desolate mile, broken only by a cluster of live oaks or staked out individually by independent palm trees, whose round heads and lack of branches look very much like landscaped lollypops from a distance. The weather was clearing, but clouds still hung over the land like a dark umbrella bent on betrayal and we drove in and out of rain.

The larger towns in this part of central Florida have the usual chain motels, but most lodging offerings consist of RVs or trailers, some quite weary looking. Campers who don’t mind roughing it will have no trouble finding suitable lodging, but those looking for a little more comfort will have to dig a little deeper. We did find a few cabins. The most inviting were cozy log cabins with peaked roofs in a small enclave. One of the owners rents two of his units, #9 and #17, for around $500 per week. If you’re interested, call Abe at 561-234-0277. A future visit will most assuredly include a week at the Lake Okeechobee Resort in Pahokee. It is the only place with accommodations directly on the lake.

We made a stop at Fisheating Creek where I told my husband the story of my great-great grandmother who was taken (along with her kids) to Fort Myers by Union soldiers trying to flush out my great-great-grandfather who was aiding Confederate soldiers by bringing them cattle. She became disgusted with camp conditions and threatened to whip the soldier who tried to stop her from leaving. She went to her brother’s place on Fisheating Creek and stayed there until the War of Northern Aggression was over. I think I would have liked my great-great-grandmother. :)

The Seminole Indian Reservation in Brighton was a disappointment. No museum, no shopping, just gambling. The room was dark, filled with slot machines that flashed neon colors, and full of cigarette smoke. Once off the reservation, we stopped at a roadside stand and bought swamp cabbage. I look forward to breaking the trunk open and cooking up a pot of swamp cabbage, which tastes a lot like asparagus.

Brighton Seminole Reservation

Most of the central Florida towns around the perimeter of Lake Okeechobee offer airboat rides. Since the weather was bad the weekend of our visit, we decided against it, but if you’ve never been, I strongly encourage you to try it out. Most tours last about an hour, the cost is in the $30 to $40 range (per person) and includes picture stops. Airboat rides are exciting and fun, but not scary.

Lake Okeechobee: a Hidden Treasure

You Can’t See Lake Okeechobee From the Road

Lake Okeechobee would have probably been a lot more fun had we not visited during the last slap of Tropical Storm Andrea’s outermost feeder bands. Our stay at the Hampton Inn Okeechobee was reasonably priced, but I found the hard bed uncomfortable. The air conditioning unit kicked on and off, rather than the usual racket all night long and the bathroom had a great shower.

We enjoyed our fried catfish lunch at the Lodge at the River, which offers “Sharpies” (the entire fish, heads, bones, and all) or just the catfish filets. We chose the latter and enjoyed it very much.

Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake (730 square miles) that is entirely within the United States. Mostly what you see from the road is the Hoover Dike, a twenty-foot high berm, or levee, on one side and sugar cane on the other side of the road (sometimes corn…how can they grow corn in FL when I can’t?). This is the legacy of the Army Corps of Engineers, who, back when ideas like land stewardship and environmental responsibility were unheard of, “improved” the land for farmers and ranchers by draining the wetlands and straightening the surrounding rivers from their usual meandering course into straight line canals, forever affecting the natural ebb and flow of the Everglades.

We finally figured out the “Scenic Trail” signs indicated lake access to the other side of the levee. The top of the 140 mile long levee that protects the surrounding communities allows bikers and hikers a great view of the lake. Driving up the berm and making blind turns (and I DO mean your car is tilted skyward and you cannot see over your hood) reminded me, once again, of why I am not a mountain girl.

However, once you get over the levee, you aren’t quite there, yet, since the only way to access the lake is by canal…in other words, you take a waterway to get to the water! If you look at these pictures, you can see how the two are separated:

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The water hyacinth, an invasive species, chokes the shallow lake of nutrients and oxygen and is an on-going problem for the area. The alligators, however, love them because they provide cover for the hunting reptiles.

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Boating, fishing, and hunting in season are popular here.

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Alligators, bears, and otters are a common sight, as are osprey and eagles’ nests, high atop light poles and trees. Some sights were amusing. At one point, a baby alligator escaped the lake and a big, burly man stopped his car in the middle of the road, got out and grabbed the reptile by the middle, right behind its head, and carried it to a ditch, while it wiggled and fought him the whole way. He was laughing his head off, looking as if he was having the time of his life. The man, not the gator. The gator was furious. His wife walked back to the car, shaking her head. We were going in the other direction and didn’t get stopped in time to take a picture. Apparently, this is not a terribly unusual occurrence down by the levee, as they seemed to take it in stride.

Lake Okeechobee #10

 

 

A Visit to Gulfport, Florida

Gulfport, Florida is a Step Back in Time

Our trip to Gulfport, Florida, nestled next to St. Petersburg, was a trip down memory lane! Little has changed over the years here and yet it has kept up with the times, offering the best of both worlds: family-friendly safe as well as eclectic Key West-style lifestyle.

We headed for Gulfport’s waterfront district, on the edge of Boca Ciega Bay. The city of 12,000 is an art community, as well as a beach community, and the seaside cottages are painted in bright colors that lift the soul.

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As I stepped through the doors of the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, small, by today’s standards, and into the Quonset hut shaped building, I could almost hear the Big Band sound wafting from the stage and instead of tables and booths filled with Florida memorabilia, I could see the pretty girls in their rolled and pinned up hair waiting by the sidelines for a boy in uniform to ask her to dance.

The building sits by (on?) Williams Pier, which juts out over the bay. The crystal chandeliers and the worn wooden floorboards brought me back to the days of shuffleboard and bocce ball and old men feeding seagulls from park benches.

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The Tierra Verde shoreline and the Don Cesar Hotel, aka “The Pink Palace” across the bay, offer pleasing views, whether wiggling your toes in the water or soaking in the sun on a beach towel. The “Don”, originally built as a hotel in 1928 and used as a hospital for recovering soldiers during WWII, reverted back to hotel use in 1973. We stayed there once. The view was fantastic and we watched a beach wedding from our window. It is, however, a historic building and all the quirks are there, including very small guest rooms.

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Gulfport houses and stores are quaint, no high rise condos here, folks, even the library is vintage 1950s. Maybe 60s. It wasn’t terribly crowded, but it was busy. We were all there for what had been billed as “Florida’s largest show” of vintage Florida souvenirs and memorabilia. I found many treasures including a “Florida Queen” cigar box and a matchbook with matches intact. Its outside cover offered “a choice Florida home site (Only $195 per lot, no money down! Purchaser paid $5 per month per lot.). Other finds included a “Graham for Senator” political button, a quilted hat made by Seminole Indians, and shipping labels from a couple of Florida citrus companies.

I priced some textiles, but passed them up. Later, we crossed the street and had lunch in one of the many restaurants in the area. There is a wide variety of cuisine choices here and the area has been recognized in the past as a strong contender in “Best Dining Experience”-type competitions.

Ours was a day visit, so we did not get to see all the area had to offer. Next time, I’d like to explore the Clam Bayou Nature Preserve and stroll the grounds of nearby Stetson University.

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The Seminole Reservation

No Trip to the Everglades Would be Complete Without a Visit to the Seminole Reservation

The Billie Swamp Safari on 41 offers about the same things as the Big Cypress Seminole reservation on I-75, but the airboat rides are cheaper and longer. I stopped at a roadside stand and bought some sugar cane juice to take home to my mother, a third generation Florida Cracker, who was under my care at a nursing home for dementia at the time. I also purchased a Seminole cornhusk doll, just like the ones she used to buy me when I was a little girl. She was very pleased with both surprises.

We saw numerous Chickee Chobees:

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Most Seminole homes have at least one in their yards. The fanciest shelters have are enclosed or at least screened, others are nothing more than four posts and a roof. These were available for rent for $35 per night, but that price may have changed. I was quite taken with the thatched roof:

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One of the guides (who informed my husband that I was a very cool lady, which I’ve been saying for years), explained the thatching process for me, so guess what one of my NEXT projects is? I’ve decided to make a chickee for Baby Blue, my 2003 Thunderbird, to park under. The first palm fronds are folded in half and then nailed to the pole frame:

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I spent many wonderful hours in the shops and highly recommend the AhTahThiKi (it means “a place to learn”) museum. I thought about buying a skirt pieced by the Seminole women, but paying $700 for a skirt just goes against the grain. Not that I don’t appreciate the hours of work that goes into such a piece, but I had my husband with me, making it hard to justify so I didn’t even try. I DID buy a ceremonial staff, with lots of beading and feathers and leather talismans. I intend to shake the rain out of the clouds. The saleswoman didn’t know how much to charge for shipping, so she said she’d mail it and I could send a check. I offered to pay for the staff, but she told me she trusted me.

Shopping on the reservation was like being a kid in a candy store. I bought some beautiful jewelry, lots of fun beaded things, and three books, one of poetry, another of the history of the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, another book on their art.

My husband eventually dragged me out of the swamp and we headed south again, this time landing in Key Largo.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get to explore the Gulf on the “It’s a Dive” scuba boat, but that just gives us a good excuse to make a return trip.

Next up? Key West, of course!

An Airboat Ride in the Everglades

An Airboat Ride in the Everglades

When it comes to finding out-of-the-way corners in Florida, it doesn’t get much more secluded than the Everglades and the best way to find those spots is to treat yourself to an airboat ride. You’ll find numerous charter companies along the highway as you drive US 41, better known as the “Tamiami Trail” along the coastline south of Naples, but I suggest you curve inland, where the highway becomes known as “Alligator Alley”, cutting through Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, and catching your ride at the Seminole reservation for a more authentic experience.

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The airboats are fascinating. We rode in a flat bottom boat, a skiff that had two rows of seats bolted to the bottom. Behind the seats, the boat captain sat on an elevated seat. The engine was located beneath his seat and it ran a huge caged fan directly behind the captain.

Airboat #2

I’m not much of a dare devil, but wasn’t nervous about riding in the airboat, and truly, it was no different than skimming across the lake in a speed boat, except that it banked more sharply and the spray was quite high, adding to the excitement.

Skimming the Swamp

Since everything mechanical is located above the waterline, the boat can glide along on mere inches of water, a good thing when drought conditions hit the area hard. I was amazed at some of the places we made it through, such as this narrow passageway!

Airboat Ride

Walking Trees

Notice the waterline on the Mangrove roots below. When the fresh water dries up, salt water moves in. Mangroves (those are Red Mangroves, to be precise) get rid of the excess salt in their diet through the leaves, turning them yellow in the process.

Mangroves

The Seminoles called them “Walking Trees”. Mangroves regenerate by dropping their green pods (actually long seeds with roots on the bottom and a fully formed, tiny mangrove at the top) in the water below and the pods are carried away by the current. The seedpod is so perfectly balanced that it drops into the water in an upright position and remains that way as it is washed downstream. If it gets tipped over, it rights itself. When something finally stops it, the pod immediately roots, thus continuing the process. Easy to see how Indians would interpret this as “walking”!

Mangroves #2

I tried to capture the way the boat would bank real fast around the bends in the waterway and spray would rise up above my head, curving away back into the water, but all the pictures came out looking like I was just holding the camera wrong and the water’s spray just looks…well, not very interesting. I should take an online photography course on nature. There must be a trick in how to photograph those moments. Then again, how do you photograph touch? Like trying to make one sense do the job of the other. Still, I try. Mostly with words, though.

What Comes to Mind When You Think of Visiting Florida?

What comes to mind when you think of visiting Florida? Do you envision the international shopping at the malls in Orlando or making the scene in Miami? Perhaps your preference is for the relaxed “Old Florida” friendliness found in the panhandle or the gracious hospitality of Mount Dora. For those who feel kinship to sea life or sunbathing, our beaches stretch for miles and our coral reefs reveal stunning mysteries in gemlike colors. All things cultural tempt some to Florida’s west coast, also known as the suncoast, where a focus on the arts offers a wide variety of entertainment choices. From there, you might venture north, up the Nature coast and around the bend, feasting on scallops and oysters, or south to Seminole reservations and airboat rides in the watery Everglades.

Sport fishermen and golfers love the wide open expanses our tropical peninsula supports and water sports, from sculling and offshore racing to surfing and swimming with dolphins (or manatees, if you prefer), attract thousands here each year.

Most people, especially families, tend to visit Orlando’s tourist attractions first, and there’s good reason for it. Besides a little mouse-bonding (I highly recommend the theme-related breakfast buffets where your kids can meet Disney characters without the jostling crowd making it difficult), there’s much to be learned about our environment at Sea World (okay, and a lot of fun, too!). Islands of Adventure, Discovery Cove and Wet n Wild Orlando will help burn off any residual energy.

My Favorite Florida Spots for Relaxation

But I suggest that you also consider discovering Florida’s lesser known treasures, oftentimes a cheaper alternative with an added bonus of fewer crowds. Of all my favorite “mini-vacation” breaks, finding out-of-the-way, oftentimes unusual, restful spots in the state allows me an escape from the day to day stress of running my own business and was especially key to retaining my sanity as I helped my mother as she developed the symptoms of dementia. Now I am an empty-nester and our getaways are less rushed, giving me time to absorb the ambience of a particular setting. Rather than cramming in a lot of useless information, I hope to convey each spot’s unique “vibe”, from the wild and open gay pride parade in Key West to the nighttime sounds of the Ocala forest.

This website is not just a travel brochure or a Florida tourist attraction map, however. Along the way, peppered in amongst the descriptions and recommendations, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on nature and of life, as well as family history, from settlement in Florida before Statehood to date. Photos will range from vintage to modern, but each will tell its own story.

I’ve been asked if I worry that revealing these gems will cause a great migration that ruins ambience, but I’m not really worried, since most people will satisfy themselves with armchair daydreams. And for those brave enough to get off the beaten path and flexible enough to accept beauty in its natural state, I say, “Welcome, fellow adventurer! Glad you made it! Now, pull up a seat. The sun’s about to set and I have a story to share with you.”