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