October 17, 2014

Seminoles with Irons During Round-up and Branding at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation

The cattle industry in Florida began soon after the nation’s oldest city, Saint Augustine, was established in 1565. Spaniards imported livestock to meet the needs of the small but critical colony. By the dawn of the 18th century, Spanish, African, and Native American cattlemen worked cows on the vast wet prairies and scrublands found throughout northern and central Florida. La Chula, the largest ranch in Spanish Florida, boasted thousands of head of cattle in the late 1600s. Seminole migrants took up cattle herding in northern Florida following the destruction of the Spanish mission system in the early 1700s. When, in the 1770s, William Bartram visited the Seminole town of Cuscowilla (also seen as Tuscawilla) located near the former La Chula ranchlands on present-day Paynes Prairie, he witnessed thousands of cattle grazing on the lush grassland. The Seminoles remained Florida’s primary raisers of livestock until the end of the Second Seminole War in 1842. During the Civil War, Florida Crackers, so-called because of the sound generated by their bull whips, supplied the Confederate Army with beef and shipped livestock to Cuba and other Caribbean islands via Punta Rassa near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. Florida’s modern cattle industry took off with the arrival of railroads in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, cattlemen developed breeds specially adapted to cope with the extremes of the Florida climate. The open range ended in the late 1940s with the implementation of statewide fence laws. Today, the cattle industry remains a vital component of Florida’s economy, and the state ranks near the top of cattle production in the United States. The Seminole tribe of Florida is one of the state’s largest producers. In this photograph, Seminole cowboys on the Big Cypress Reservation hold irons forged in the shape of their initials in preparation for branding the livestock.

Portrait of Seminole Indian Cowboy Charlie Micco at the Brighton Indian Reservation

Seminole Indians dominated Florida’s cattle industry during the early 19th century. The Seminoles themselves, not originally cattle people, inherited abandoned Spanish livestock in the 16th century and adopted herding into their own culture. Seminole cattle all but vanished as a result of fighting during the Seminole Wars (1817−18, 1835−42, and 1855−58). Following the removal of the vast majority of the Seminoles and the seizure of their cattle, the remaining Florida Indians adapted their herding culture to the abundant supply of wild hogs found in central and southern Florida. The federal government developed a cattle program for the Florida Seminoles during the Great Depression as part of the Indian New Deal. The program was intended to provide an economic foundation for the tribe, and aimed to ultimately wean Seminoles off of a traditional hunting lifestyle no longer feasible in southern Florida. A starter herd shipped from a western reservation arrived in the early 1930s but fared poorly in the Florida heat. Subsequent breeding efforts combined the desirable traits from Florida scrub cattle, descended from the old Spanish stock, with proven beef-producing varieties. The breeding programs eventually resulted in hardy animals capable of withstanding the climate and retaining weight. Charlie Micco, pictured here, was instrumental in the early development of the cattle program at the Brighton Reservation, located on the northwest corner of Lake Okeechobee. Federal officials chose Micco because of his previous experience working cows for white ranchers near Brighton. The government helped manage the Seminole cattle program for several decades. The Seminoles gradually took over total control of the program in the latter half of the 20th century. The photograph is by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier's, and Town & Country.

Ringling Circus Clown Emmett Kelly in Sarasota, Florida

Emmett Kelly (1898−1979), pictured here, portrayed the melancholy hobo-clown Weary Willie for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for more than a decade. His act differed from that of the typical jovial clown and made Weary Willie one of the most memorable components of the Ringling Brothers show. The Ringling Brothers built the show from humble beginnings in Baraboo, Wisconsin, into the largest and best-known American circus. They began their ascent in show business in 1884 when they combined with the Yankee Robinson circus. The following year the Ringlings bought out Yankee Robinson and became sole proprietors of the traveling show. The Ringling Brothers quickly acquired smaller circus shows and sought out the top performers from around the world. In 1919, the Ringlings merged their two largest ventures—Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey—into a single, combined circus, the “Greatest Show on Earth.” In 1927, the circus moved its winter quarters from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota, Florida. Members of the Ringling family had wintered in Sarasota since 1911. This photograph, taken in 1947, is by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier's, and Town & Country. His work has been referred to as "an American social history," which documented diverse scenes of American life. Steinmetz moved from Philadelphia to Sarasota in 1941.

Killing Time

Highways to the southern states of the United States opened up during the second decade of the 20th century, allowing men and women from around the country to see the unique sites of Florida's interior, away from the cities on the east and west coasts. After the completion of the highway from Montreal to Miami in 1915, the number of automobile tourists increased dramatically. The original “tin can tourists” of the 1920s pioneered camper travel, and the practice became ever more popular after World War II, as young families as well as with increasingly mobile retirees journeyed south. Trailer parks developed to cater to these new visitors who brought their accommodations with them. Likewise, roadside attractions and amusement parks developed facilities to meet the needs of campers and trailers. The Tin Can Tourists of the World, an organization of camping and trailering enthusiasts, was founded at a Tampa, Florida, campground in 1919. Its goals were to provide its members with safe and clean camping areas, wholesome entertainment, and high moral values. This image of John and Lizzie Wilson and their trailer in Bradenton, Florida, in 1951 shows an example of post-World War II tin can tourists. The sign at the back of the trailer identifies the Wilsons as from Boston, Massachusetts. The photograph is by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier's, and Town & Country. His work has been referred to as "an American social history," which documented diverse scenes of American life. Steinmetz moved from Philadelphia to Sarasota, Florida, in 1941.

Rescue Train Swept off the Tracks by the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane

On September 2, 1935, a powerful hurricane slammed into the middle Florida Keys. Known as the Labor Day Hurricane, it was the first Category 5 storm to strike the United States in recorded history. The hurricane claimed at least 485 lives, including about 260 World War I veterans working on a section of the Overseas Highway in a federal relief project. The veterans came from the ranks of the Bonus Army, a group of soldiers who camped at the steps of the U.S. Capitol in the early 1930s to demand compensation promised by the federal government, and who on July 28, 1932 were dispersed by U.S. Army troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Some of the veterans later were given relief jobs by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt through the Works Progress Administration. On the day of the storm, officials sent a train to evacuate the men, but it failed to reach the camps located on Lower Matecumbe Key. This image is an aerial view of the ill-fated rescue train taken three days after the storm. High winds and an estimated 18 feet (5.49 meters) of storm surge swept the train off the tracks. Author Ernest Hemingway, then a resident of Key West, captured public outrage about the episode in an essay entitled “Who Murdered the Vets?” published just days after the hurricane. A government inquiry investigated both the mishandling of the evacuation and the shortcomings of forecasting work done by the Weather Bureau in the days leading up to the storm’s landfall. The official judgment ultimately assigned blame in both instances to nature, rather than to human error. Following the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the Weather Bureau established additional monitoring stations in southern Florida and took steps to improve disaster preparedness in vulnerable coastal areas. The Labor Day Hurricane still ranks as one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall in the United States, but it likely will be remembered mainly as the tragic conclusion to the story of the Bonus Army.

Devastation in Miami from the 1926 Hurricane

Florida, especially the southeastern portion of the state, experienced rapid growth in the early 20th century. The land boom of the 1920s brought thousands of new residents and ushered in a period of unprecedented construction. The prosperity initiated by the arrival of the Plant and Flagler railroads and prolonged by endless boosterism came to a screeching halt in mid-September 1926. A catastrophic hurricane made landfall near Miami Beach in the early morning hours of September 18, 1926. Known as the Great Miami Hurricane, the storm cut a path of destruction across southern Florida. With winds in excess of 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour and storm surge heights topping 11 feet (3.35 meters) above mean high tide, the hurricane left its mark from South Beach to Moore Haven on Lake Okeechobee, and on to the Tampa Bay area. The northern Gulf coast also experienced the wrath of the storm, which made a second landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, and dumped more than eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain on an area extending from Pensacola, Florida, to southern Louisiana. Weather Bureau officials were unprepared for the swift-moving hurricane, which betrayed few telltale signs of a major storm before slamming into South Florida. The citizens of Miami and the surrounding communities were equally surprised by the rapid advance of the storm. The devastation left in the wake of the hurricane prompted one Weather Bureau official to call the storm the “most destructive in the history of the United States.” Officials estimated the storm destroyed 4,700 homes in South Florida and left 25,000 people without shelter. The Red Cross reported that 372 people lost their lives and more than 6,000 people were injured in the storm. The long-term impact of the Great Miami Hurricane became apparent in the months and years to come as the real estate bubble burst and Florida plunged into an economic depression some three years in advance of the rest of the nation.