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Couple establish marker near home to honor Seminole history

DADE CITY — Karen and Eric Hannel moved into their dream home in the country a few years ago about 40 miles northeast of Tampa Bay in Dade City.

It is surrounded by lush vegetation and land that has been used for farming and ranching for decades by the area’s early pioneer families.

Even though they knew there was a history of the area that existed well before that time – a Seminole one – they would soon discover more.

After the Saint Leo University professors moved into their home in the fall of 2016, they were chatting with a neighbor who mentioned she’d heard there was once an Indian village located nearby.

That piqued the interest of Karen Hannel, who’d seen a street sign – Chipco Ranch Road – near her property’s back entrance. She’d also seen a Chipco Road street sign.

“At the time I thought it must have once stood for Chip Company – like for a mulch business or something,” she said.

The Hannels were now intrigued, and why wouldn’t they be? The two are historians with a longtime interest in Native American history and issues.

They’re familiar with Florida history, too – Karen Hannel has spent her whole life in the state, including generations of her family.

Eric Hannel is a transplant who came to Florida via Pensacola and the Marine Corps.

Karen and Eric Hannel stand next to the Florida Heritage Site marker that they worked to make a reality. The couple lives about a half mile away from the marker site. The marker describes the former town of Chipco, named after a Seminole chief. (Photo Damon Scott)

“I thought: ‘OK, we’ve got to look into this now,’” Karen Hannel said.

Research began in earnest and the Hannels soon discovered their home was located in the former town of Chipco – named after Chief Chipco, a Seminole who took refuge in the area, it’s thought, prior to 1850.

He likely traded in the area until about 1866.

Seminoles living on the Fort Pierce Reservation, called Chupco’s Landing, consider themselves decedents of Chief Chipco.

(The Hannels said the variance in spelling is likely due to Anglicization of Indigenous names over time).

Chief Tallahassee succeeded Chief Chipco as the leader of the Creek Seminoles. Tallahassee was Chipco’s nephew, who he adopted as his son. Chipco is thought to have succumbed to old age in 1881.

With more knowledge of Chief Chipco and the former town, the Hannels would discover more clues pointing to the validity of their neighbor’s claim, including pottery shards and arrowheads that have been found in the area.

The artifacts have not yet been verified as Seminole, but Eric Hannel is in the process of identification.

From bustling to bust

The town of Chipco rose to prominence as an economic center sometime after the Civil War.

Eric Hannel said he discovered through his research that the town was known by its name even before it had an official Post Office – which was designated in 1883.

“We surmise that the town was known as Chipco at least by the late 1870s,” he said.

The town thrived when Tampa Bay was little more than a trading post. Chipco boasted a school that doubled as a church on Sundays.

It also had a thriving general store, planing mill, train depot and a grist mill that was said to be the first in the county.

The marker describes the former town of Chipco and its connection to the Seminoles. (Photo Damon Scott)

The town likely declined due to multiple factors. The Great Freeze of 1895 killed many citrus groves, and there was an exhaustion of virgin pine forests that negatively impacted the area’s lumber and turpentine industry.

While the town’s school continued to operate until 1901, by 1909 Chipco had disappeared from most maps.

Shared interest

While the Hannels are not affiliated with any tribe, they are scholars of Native American history – Karen Hannel is also an expert in World War I.

“My focus has always been on art and conflict,” she said. “I would study protest art, anything that has to do with how artists respond to any kind of cultural conflict.”

Karen Hannel is particularly proud of a style of protest art that hangs in her home.

“Still Dancing” was created for International Women’s Day in 2016 by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to raise awareness of the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The poster uses small versions of women and girls’ faces to form a larger one of a Native woman.

Eric Hannel has taught Native American history at Saint Leo.

“From a more holistic perspective. It’s pretty interesting to see the light bulb come on with the students. Because we talk about the national myth of Thanksgiving versus the destruction that took place,” he said.

Eric Hannel, who earned a master’s degree in Indigenous People’s Law from the University of Oklahoma, has written a course on federal Indian law for Saint Leo.

“[And] in my criminal justice ethics course I talk about the disproportionate number of Native Americans who are incarcerated … given the minority of the population they represent,” he said.

The two recently presented together in Amsterdam on Indigenous perspectives of sustainability.

They also collaborated recently with Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter on his Mountain of SGaana animated short film, writing a companion curriculum for teachers.

‘We wanted people to know’

The Hannels new research and discovery of where their home was located motivated them to figure out a permanent way to recognize the area’s history.

They petitioned the state for permission to erect a historical marker about the town of Chipco and its Seminole connection.

The Hannels convinced their neighbors – many of whom are decedents of those pioneer families who were around when Chipco was a town – to sign a release for the marker.

The marker is now located about a half mile from their home on donated land. It is near mailboxes and has an area where cars can pull over and park.

“We wanted people to know that the Seminole were here,” Eric Hannel said. “It’s a way to remember that history doesn’t stop with the pioneer families. The history goes far beyond that.”

“In Florida you come across all of these names and it’s ‘Oh, those weird Florida names,’” Karen Hannel said. “It’s this inconvenient reminder that there was something else and someone else here.”

The marker is designated as a Florida Heritage Site and the Hannels are the sponsors with the Florida Department of State.

A formal dedication of the Chipco Township marker was held on Dec. 16.

The Hannels are working with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office on a future version of the marker that would include a Mikasuki translation on one side.

If you go

The marker is located midway along Jessamine Road between Saint Joe Road and Blanton Road in Dade City.

Contact Karen Hannel at 941-685-0372 or karen.hannel@saintleo.edu for more information.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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