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Historic preservation moves forward by sign-ifying past

Brown’s Trading Post, circa 1913, is one of four locations listed on the Tribal Registry of Historical Places that will be publically marked in coming months with a heritage landmark sign.
Brown’s Trading Post, circa 1913, is one of four locations listed on the Tribal Registry of Historical Places that will be publically marked in coming months with a heritage landmark sign.

By winter, four more heritage markers will likely be added to the Big Cypress and Brighton reservation landscapes to designate some of the Tribe’s most significant historic locations.

The brown and white 3-by-4-foot embossed signs will herald sites added this year to the Tribal Register of Historic Places by the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). The locations are the Charlie Micco Camp, Billy Bowlegs Camp and Tom Smith Camp in Brighton; and the first location to be officially marked in Big Cypress, Brown’s Trading Post.

Though the Tribe boasts hundreds of notable spots on and off Seminole land, not all can be publicly marked, said Paul Backhouse, director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

“It only happens after we consult with the families and they say it is appropriate. For some it’s where they camp still today. Others only want a record of the spot. The ones that get marked are those that the cultural advisers, the families and the Councilmen think are appropriate,” Backhouse said.

Salina Dorgan, granddaughter of Charlie and Emma Micco, said marking her family camp is both historical for the Tribe and personal for her family. The camp, directly next to the historic Red Barn, is where Charlie Micco launched the Brighton cattle program and served as one of the original cattle trustees.

For Dorgan, the camp represents a place where adults strengthened the Tribe’s independence and children grew up to be the leaders.

“It’s kind of a memorial and it’s where our Tribe’s government was structured. It’s nice to see it preserved,” Dorgan said.

Some of the earliest government leaders who were influenced as children growing up around the adults at or near the camp included Dorgan’s parents, Alice Snow and Jack Micco, who became Brighton Board Representatives; Rosie Billie, Jack Smith Jr. and Roger Smith, who later served as Brighton Council Representatives; and Fred Smith, who grew up to become the Tribe’s Secretary and served as President.

Dorgan said she checked with her older first cousins Billy Micco and Jennie Mae Shore before giving the go-ahead to THPO to designate the Charlie Micco Camp with the historical marker.

Still, Dorgan’s fondest memories, which date back to when she was barely 7 years old, feature banana trees that grew along the back of the camp; pretend umbrellas made of huge elephant ear plant leaves; and her grandfather, though blind later in life, pulling out a large pickle jar filled with candy, asking the children what candies they wanted and then taking out the exact one they asked for.

“We never knew how he could tell which one was a peppermint, butterscotch or Tootsie Roll – and we sure tried to trick him. We didn’t realize until we grew up that he knew how each one felt,” Dorgan said.

Established in 2011, the tribal registry is designed to protect and preserve the Tribe’s unique history.

THPO research assistant David Brownell, who gathers registry research data with Tribe archaeologist Maureen Mahoney, said the latest landmarks to be approved by Tribal members bring the total number of documented historical sites to 14.

Two among the 14, The Council Oak Tree in Hollywood and the Red Barn in Brighton, are also listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service, under the Department of the Interior.

Two on the future list for documentation by THPO are the Morgan Smith Camp in the Kissimmee Billie Slough and Josie Billie Camp not far from Eight Clan Bridge, both on Big Cypress.

“We’re still working on those and we’d love to have people contact us if they have information or stores to tell,” Brownell said.

The documentation requirements for the Tribal Register of Historic Places nearly mirror the national list criteria, but with a clear bent for what is vital to Seminole history. For example, no time element is fixed and no existing building or proof of building other than world of mouth is absolutely necessary for certification.

In all cases, oral histories and stories about the sight are compiled and a walk-through survey is completed. Photos taken from the day are reliable sources also. Sometimes, if a camp existed in the advent of aerial photography, aerial images can be used to compare geographic and topographic conditions for evidence.

“When we, as in everyone involved, feels the place is well described in multiple ways we can move forward,” Brownell said. “It’s a long process, usually a year of two, but if anyone comes with details later we can always add.”

In some cases, the key to unlocking the past has been a hand-drawn map provided by seniors who remember the camps from their childhood. In February, Virginia Tommie helped provide THPO with vivid memories of the Josie Billie Camp, across the street from her own childhood home that matched other oral accounts, old photographs and topographic conditions.

Uses for the designated areas can be whatever Tribal members decide.

The Tom Smith Camp, with fire pit and benches, is used as an occasional field classroom for Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School. The Red Barn – used from about 1941 though the 1960s for cattle ranch horses and later as a social hub for official meetings, family reunions and even a haunted house – is now renovated but not currently in use.

In Big Cypress, the only hint of the Brown’s Trading Post is a marker post made of concrete placed in the 1940s by a Collier County historian a few feet off Snake Road. However, archaeological findings near the site, including beads, mechanical nuts and a Lea & Perrins bottle cap, prove its existence circa 1913.

Brownell said the Tribe is waiting now for word from Hendry County to determine where signs will be placed along the newly named Sam Jones Trail, a 20-mile stretch of Country Road 833 that runs from the intersection of State Road 80 through the reservation line where the road becomes Josie Billie Highway. Backhouse said a likely spot could be on Museum property closest to Josie Billie Highway.

Both Backhouse and Brownell agreed that listing places on the Tribal Registry of Historic Places has barely touched the surface. In all Florida, hundreds of sites exist that tie directly to Seminole history.

“We will never run out of important places to look at,” Backhouse said.