My family lives in a thatched-roof hut called a chickee. It does not hold back the noises coming from the outside. It does not prevent spiders, cockroaches, mosquitoes, rats or snakes from visiting. Wintertime you freeze but in summertime you are cool and comfortable.
Every morning we are awakened an hour before daylight by the cawing of the crow greeting the day. Red birds (cardinals), mockingbirds, woodpeckers and from a distance you can hear the whooping crane and all are singing their songs and looking for breakfast.
Jets flying overhead seem like they are coming through the roof. A chickee does not hold back noise. Raining on the roof and the lightning above is especially nice but a little scary. But it’s our house and we love it.
At the junction of Highway 70 and State Road 721 is a settlement named Brighton, one of Lykes Brothers’ headquarters, and this reservation is in the proximity. It was named Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation, with approximately 36,000 acres of land taken into trust in 1936.
On this land there are zillions of sabal palms or swamp cabbages. Because of this, Seminole Indians named it Tahl-chobee yo-gee, or “Land of the palm trees.”
I first set foot in Brighton around 1947. I was only 3 years old. My Bird Clan uncles Willie Tiger, Tom Smith and Dick Smith were living in the Bowlegs Camp area at this time.
Morgan Smith was their brother. My mother and I stayed with Morgan and his wife, Katie, back in those days.
The chickee was the predominate dwelling throughout Tahl-chobee yo-gee.
If you live here in Brighton, you should try sitting outside under a palm tree and close your eyes and listen … the wind blowing through the leaves sounds like the ocean waves.
I like living in a chickee, probably because I was born under one.
There are a few Tribal members my age who grew up in chickee huts. God bless them. It’s an experience they will never forget.
James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.