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Memories of the Big Cypress Reservation 1954-1956: Frank and Raquel Wood

In 2013 the Museum received a letter from Frank and Raquel Wood. Accompanying the letter was a DVD with pictures, taken on the Big Cypress Reservation, and pages of memories. The following is excerpted from those pages.

In August 1954 we arrived in our new home on the Big Cypress Reservation. We would be living in the teacher’s house which had been built a few years earlier. The one room Bureau of Indian Affairs School, of which Frank would be the principal-teacher and Raquel [his wife] the dietitian, adjoined this house. They were part of a cluster of BIA Affairs buildings that also included an older house, a bathhouse, and a garage-shop for road-building equipment, and several smaller buildings.

Reservation sign. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

Electricity was supplied by generator in the bathhouse. Water was pumped from a well into an elevated tank. There were no phones.

The people of Big Cypress were good to us during the two years we were there. We left because we were homesick for our own families, friends and religious community but with sadness at leaving friends behind.

We arrived toward the end of the summer wet season so the ditches and much of the ranch land was still flooded. There were few houses along the road. In a few places the dikes had been built to permit the growing of tomatoes in winter. The first of this kind of agriculture was begun on the reservation during the years we were there.

The only road to the reservation in 1954 branched south from US 27 about 10 miles east of Clewiston. While we lived at Big Cypress, the BIA crew was completing and upgrading the road through the reservation and building side roads into the camps where families lived. Construction was also extending a road west that would eventually cross the west boundary and link up with a road to Immokalee. There was no Interstate 75.

Big Cypress Store-Henry Osceola. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

We were told that the school building had built as a stable for horses. The basic framework was that of a chickee, poles spaced so that in this case, shingles could be nailed to them to make the walls. Milled lumber had been used to transform the barn into a large single room. A small addition had been built onto one corner to house the kitchen. We ate lunch at a long table with Raquel at one end and me at the other. The boys sat on one side and the girls on the other. Early in our stay, an elder asked me about my use of Miccosukee words in student-generated stories. He politely explained that he and others wanted the children to learn English in school. As a result I restricted my use of Miccosukee words in school.

We made a number of field trips with the students. There was a fire tower along the road to the reservation. We learned that while the children had seen it many times, they never climbed it. So , we arranged for them to make a visit. We also made a trip to the beach near Ft. Myers. It happened to be a time when the hermit crabs were coming onto the beach to mate and everyone had fun catching them. The students told me this was the first time they had seen the ocean. Several times we took trips to swim in flooded marl pits. The students were enthusiastic bathers.

At this time most people lived in chickees with a platform supported by the poles about two feet above the ground. There were no sides, so people slept under mosquito nets. There was no heating other that the cooking fire, so on chilly days in winter students like to hang out at the school building or in our house.

Webster Wise’s wife sews. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

This short excerpt from Frank and Raquel Wood only tells part of the story of their time on Big Cypress. To see the pictures they took, please visit us in the Museum Library weekdays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. or call 863-902-1113 ext. 12252 for an appointment. We are here, waiting to show you “the rest of the story”!

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Mary Beth Rosebrough
Mary Beth grew up in Saint Louis, Missouri but has been a South Florida resident for 33 years in the Palm Beach area. After graduating magna cum laude with a BA in interdisciplinary studies and a certificate in ethnic studies from FAU as a mother of 5, she continued thriving in education. 5 years later, she received yet another BA from FAU in anthropology, focusing on archaeology. She has worked with the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum since her final semester at FAU. During her time there, she has fulfilled many of her dreams--working in a museum, being a librarian, connecting with the community, and even editing and publishing a book. She says even though she waited a lifetime to realize some of her dreams, it's further proof that people should never give up. You can email her at marybethrosebrough@semtribe.com.

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