Tag Archives: Captain Backus’ 1838 Map of Lake Okeechobee

Captain Backus’ 1838 Map of Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

1838 Captain E. Backus map of Lake Okeechobee.

This week we will take a look back at Lake Okeechobee, a lake that since 1923–via the C-44 canal,  has been  connected to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Information for these posts is made possible through a book entitled “Environments of South Florida–Past and Present,” by Patrick J. Gleason. This text was lent to me by Dr Gary Goforth. I will transcribe portions of this rare and amazing text in order for us to contemplate the changes that have occurred and how those who first documented this once remote area experienced our region.

It continues to amaze me—the ability of the early map makers and surveyors who functioned without today’s technology.

For me it is noteworthy to notice how the original map of the lake “veers off to the south-east.” Looking below one can see that today this area is today’s Bell Glade and South Bay. These lands are the richest in “black gold” as they have the accumulation of thousands of years of muck. Now we can see why. Tremendous amounts of sugar and vegetable products are produced in this area. Also, I believe these lands are most valuable because they are less likely to freeze due to their proximity to the lake.

As we can see, although we must take the Captain’s map with a grain of salt–interestingly enough—this area was once the lake…

Today's Google map, 2016.
Today’s Google map, 2016.

Here are the words of Captain Backus for us to ponder as I transcribe:

In 1838 map produced by Captain E. Backus had produced a map of Lake Okeechobee, which for a long time remained buried in the national archives records of the Seminole War. It reveals the knowledge of the lake that time, and his version of the lower Kissimmee River shows graphically how that crooked meandering stream flowed thirty-five miles from Fort Basinger to reach the lake only eighteen miles away– as the crow flies…  In a brief statement in the lower left portion of the map, Captain Backus writes: “Many small streams flow into the Okee-cho–bee on the North-East and West side and also on the South- East side, but it is not known that it has any outlet, and probably has none, except at the high water when Grassy Lake (The Everglades) and Okee-cho-bee are united, and probably empties thought some streams into the Atlantic. This is corroborated by the statements of different indians and negroes who profess to have crossed from one side to the other in a canoe at high-water, and to have carried and dragged a canoe many miles over the portage at low tide.”

I wonder how we would have seen the lake had we been there? Would you have crossed it in a canoe? What would you have dreamt it to become?


….The handwritten text
….Book information and inside cover.