The primary goal of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) is to preserve and protect the cultural
resources of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Artifacts and art works curated in museums represent only one part of this rich cultural heritage. THPO also seeks to identify and safeguard spaces tied to specific memories, events, and people important to the Tribe’s culture and history. One of the most common spaces reported to THPO are historic Seminole camps, such as the Lee Billie and Charlie Cypress Camp on the Big Cypress Reservation. THPO frequently reviews these sites as part of the On-Reservation Review Process to ensure that all areas of significance to the Tribe are known of and protected as development continues to increase.
In January 2017, the THPO began to investigate the former camp of Lee Billie and Charlie Cypress on the Big Cypress Reservation to determine the site’s eligibility for the Tribal Register of Historic Places (TRHP), a list of historic places significant to the Tribe. One of the criteria for eligibility under the TRHP is “a property that is important because of a contributing person or group in Seminole history.” This camp certainly meets that qualification. Charlie and Lee Billie were headman and matriarch at the Silver Springs Seminole Village. In these leadership roles, Lee and Charlie paved the way for widespread participation by Seminoles in this valuable economic scheme. As a Medicine Man, the community also respected Charlie’s advice as the Tribe endeavored to draft its Constitution and Charter. He and Lee also remained steadfastly committed to preserving traditional practices with Charlie continuing to make cypress dugout canoes and Lee maintaining a traditional camp. Together they devoted their lives to furthering their community’s growth, while upholding the traditions critical to their Seminole heritage.
Nominating the Lee Billie and Charlie Cypress Camp to the Tribal Register of Historic Places provides a means of recognizing the contributions of both Lee and Charlie to the Seminole community. Working with Lee and Charlie’s great-granddaughter, Mary Jene Koenes, THPO has been able to identify the key components and members of the camp. The camp was made of three chickees where Charlie and Lee lived with their son John Cypress. Their daughter, Willie Mae Cypress, also lived at the camp with her husband Albert Billie and their children.
Recording sites such as the Lee Billie and Charlie Cypress Camp remains a top priority for THPO. By interviewing community members, recording stories about these places and photographing their remains, THPO can help preserve significant places with future generations. If you would like to contribute to our ongoing efforts to record historic places associated with people, events, or traditions significant to Tribe, call THPO at 863-983-6549 or come by our offices on the Big Cypress and Brighton Reservations.