Ghosts of Lake Okeechobee’s Sugarcane Fields, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Calusa Indian mask image, public domain. Many wooden masks were found particularly at the Marco Island in far west Florida. They were and sketched  before they disintegrated once removed from the muck.
Calusa Indian mask image, public domain. Many wooden masks were found particularly at Marco Island in west Florida. They were and sketched before they disintegrated once removed from the muck.
Tribes and locations of Florida's natives peoples around 1500.
Tribes and locations of Florida’s natives peoples around 1500. (Online source)
Swamp to Sugar Bowl, Lawrence E Wil, 1996.
Swamp to Sugar Bowl, Lawrence E Wil, 1968.

Today, I continue my series based on the 1968 book “Swamp to Sugar Bowl,” by Lawrence E. Will.

To understand the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon region and its water issues, it is imperative we study not only our own area, but also the waters and the history that  is connected to Lake Okeechobee. As you know, the area south of Lake Okeechobee is inexorably connected to our region, as the reason the waters of Lake Okeechobee do not flow south, and are directed through the northern estuaries is due to the agricultural development south of the lake.

The area south of the lake includes various “townships,” but today we will focus on Belle Glade, in Palm Beach County very close to Martin County. Today, Belle Glade is the home of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, (http://www.scgc.org)

In ancient times, it was the home of the warrior tribes known as the Calusa Indians. According “Swamp to Sugar Bowl,” somewhere between 1000 and 1700 A.D. , the Calusas lived along the shores of Lake Okeechobee. A Paleo-Indian culture preceded them thousands of years earlier. The Calusa were “mound builders” using the shellfish they gathered and consumed to create mounds sometimes over 70 feet in height and over 100 feet long. They were a fishing society, living off the rich resources of the waterways. Agriculture was not necessary for their survival. (Ironic considering today!)  In the Belle Glade area, the Calusa lived between the forks of a river that of course has been channelized, known by white settlers as “the Democrat.”

Location of indian mounds just south of Lake Okeechobee in today's Belle Glade community.  (Map Swamp to Sugar Bowl. 1968.)
Location of Indian mounds are  just south of Lake Okeechobee in today’s Belle Glade near historic “Chosen,” on mainland’s north shore side of Canal Street at the Torry Island Bride. (Map Swamp to Sugar Bowl, 1968.)

It is sadly ironic to me that we live on the burial grounds of Indians that lived so in tune with nature, and we manage to so completely destroy it. That goes for areas of Martin County as well. Much of Hutchinson Island and other locations across the state were bulging with shell middens, sometimes sacred graveyards,  that later were used to pave roads. “Bad karma,” I’d say.

Guess what is left of this once magnificent  Indian Mound in Belle Glade today? Not a thing. It is a sugar field in a “ghost town” known as “Chosen!” (http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/fl/chosen.html)

Map of Indian Mound area today, Google Maps, 2015.
Map of Indian Mound area today, Google Maps, 2015.

The small community of “Chosen” (http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/chosen) preceded, “Belle Glade,” and was destroyed in the horrific Hurricane of 1928 that drowned somewhere between 2000 and 3000 people: (According to Mr Lawrence it was 3/4 black farm workers and 1/4 white pioneers.) These bodies were piled up and burned or buried in mass graves. 

Indian Mound of Chosen being excavated by the Smithsonian and University of Florida in the 1930s. (Palm Beach Historical Society.)
Remains of the Indian Mound at Chosen being excavated by the Smithsonian and University of Florida in the 1930s. (Palm Beach Historical Society.)

The whole story is quite disturbing really. Don’t you agree? My family recently went to St Augustine and the kids got me thinking about ghosts. Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon soils must be full of them. I bet they are watching how we handle this next part of of our water history.

Welcome to Belle Glade Where Her Soil is Her Fortune.
Welcome to Belle Glade where “Her Soil is Her Fortune.”

_______________________

Belle Glade: (http://www.bellegladegov.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=63:about-us&Itemid=53)

Burial Mounds of the Calusas: (http://teachingflorida.org/activity/ceremonial-and-burial-mounds)

 

2 thoughts on “Ghosts of Lake Okeechobee’s Sugarcane Fields, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. Great post, JTL. Every time I’m on my kayak, among the mangroves, and I can’t see anything but ospreys, wood storks, schools of mullet and the clouds above, I feel very close to the earth and to the the tribes who understood how sacred these waters are.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s