The U.S. National Park Service describes the pristine Everglades as “...a shallow, slow-moving sheet of water (that) covered almost 11,000 square miles, creating a mosaic of ponds, sloughs, sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammock, and forested uplands.” The Everglades is also known as The River of Grass, the title of a 1947 book by the conservation advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglas, published the same year that the Park officially opened.
After a long career as journalist and short-story writer, Marjory Stoneman Douglas became a best-selling author with The Everglades: River of Grass (1947). It introduced the general public to the importance of the Everglades ecosystem. She later founded Friends of the Everglades, a major force for protection from human intervention. She continued to work tirelessly, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993. Marjory Stoneman Douglas died in 1998, at age 108.
Everglades National Park preserves just a fraction of the historic Everglades, with just over 1.5 million acres, most of which is designated wilderness. It lies at the juncture of temperate and tropical, the interface of land with fresh and salt water, with plants and animals from all types of ecosystems adapting and mingling in a mixed system that happens nowhere else in the United States. There are at least 800 protected species in the Everglades: including birds, and abundant fish, amphibians, reptiles that include crocodile and alligator, lizards and snakes, plentiful insects to keep the system thriving, and abundant plant life all in a complex mix of fresh water and sea water.
The story of the Everglades is the story of adaptation.
People have lived in the Everglades as long as they have existed, approximately 6000 years. Archeologists call the earliest inhabitants of the Park the Glades Culture, which show increasing adaptation to the Everglades ecosystems throughout the millennia. At the time the arrival of the Spanish, the park was inhabited by people associated with the Calusa tribes on the west coast and the Tequesta tribe on the east and central portions of the park. The Calusa and their affiliates were unique among prehistoric tribes with establishment of chiefdom level societies based on foraging the rich resources of the Everglades rather than on agriculture. In addition to complex shell architecture that was developed in the southwest coast of Florida, the Calusa also used extensive prehistoric canals systems and canoe paths, skirting the more treacherous Gulf of Mexico and providing access to the rich resources of the interior of the Park.
For more information on the Calusa, the shell works, tree islands and Mud Lake Canal, visit The National Park Service.
Early on, the Spanish tried to establish missions in Calusa territory, and eventually, the remainder of the Calusa were sent to Cuba. Some returned after time, and were known as the “Spanish Indians”. Many are claimed by Miccosukee as ancestors. For more information on the Miccosukee, visit their website.
When the Spain controlled Florida, the Creek and other tribes, with freedom-seeking slaves, fled into Spanish Florida, and only then became known as “Seminoles”. They were gradually were forced further and further south as they fought, for decades, in three Seminole Wars.
At the same time, the area experienced the first influx of non-native peoples, lured by the false promise of cheap and fertile agricultural land. For many European settlers, the land was thought useless until swamp was turned into farmland. Large-scale draining canals were begun in the 1880, and dredging in the early 20th cen. Gladesmen, white hunters and fishermen, braving mosquitos and hurricanes and living off the land, also understood this complex natural environment. Florida Women’s Clubs were key in establishing protection, including establishing Royal Palm State Park, which eventually became part of the Everglades.
In 1948 the Congressional authorization of the Central and South Florida Project began construction of a vast system of flood protection and water distribution that involved roads, canals and levees, and alterations in the watersheds, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While providing benefits, it left significant damage to the Everglades, by altering the natural water flow that defines the ecosystem.
This film, shot by an amateur Seminole specialist and research associate for the National Museum of Natural History, shows Seminole mothers and children. Early adopters of the sewing machine, the film shows the distinctive Seminole clothing style that had developed by 1950.
This amateur film shows the Park as a tourist destination, also in the 1950’s.
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