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Seminole role in plume trade, ‘Everglades’ film focus of event

Everett Osceola speaks prior to a film screening of “Wind Across the Everglades” at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale on April 26. (Photo Sergio Tirado)

FORT LAUDERDALE – Film buff, Native Reels Cinema Festival creator and cultural ambassador for the Seminole Tribe, Everett Osceola, spoke at an event to mark National Audubon Day at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale on April 26.

Osceola spoke about the role the Seminoles played in the plume trade of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Florida, as well as their contribution to the 1958 film “Wind Across the Everglades.”

The event was a collaboration between Osceola, the Historic Stranahan House Museum, the South Florida Audubon Society and Savor Cinema. The Hollywood Culture department provided fry bread at a reception before the screening.

The so-called “plume wars” reference a time in the U.S. when it was a fashion craze for women to wear unique and colorful bird feathers in their decorated hats. Use of the large feathers, or plumes, became so popular that hunters made big money in the trade. However, much of Florida’s wading bird population was being decimated in the process.

Osceola said hunters would hire Seminoles to be trackers to help them locate bird-nesting areas.

“We would help these hunters, but after awhile it became troublesome because they were taking more than they should,” Osceola said. “Some of these birds we use for our ceremonies and we use some for our regalia. But they were becoming very scarce.”

The increased bird slaughter caught the attention of Ivy Stranahan – who ran a trading post along Fort Lauderdale’s New River with her husband Frank. Both were involved in the trade at first, but she would eventually direct her husband to stop buying the feathers and would also help persuade the Seminoles to no longer serve as trackers.

Ivy Stranahan was a conservationist and is known to have held a special relationship with the Seminoles as a schoolteacher and supporter.

Increased public outcry of the trade motivated state and federal legislators to pass laws against the practice, which then needed to be enforced. Enforcement fell to game wardens – many of which were hired by an emerging Audubon Society – to patrol areas from Key West through the Everglades.

One of those game wardens was Guy Bradley. “Wind Across the Everglades” is loosely based on his life. Poachers murdered him in 1905 at the age of 35 and his death would further outrage the public and result in additional legislation banning the practice. By 1920 the trend had all but ended and eventually many of the bird populations made a comeback.

Seminole Cory Osceola, who was a leader in the tribe, and his daughter, Mary Moore, both now deceased, are featured in the film along with lead actor Christopher Plummer who plays Bradley.

“I believe one of [Osceola’s] family [members] were one of the hunters during that time – was an actual part of the plume wars,” Osceola said. “The director got him and his daughter, Mary Moore, to participate in the film.”

Osceola said that when Plummer attended a screening of the film at Savor Cinema about a decade ago, Moore presented him with a Seminole patchwork vest. Osceola, in turn, honored Mary Moore for her role in the film at a previous Native Reels Cinema Festival event with a lifetime achievement award – renaming it the “Mary Moore Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Prior to the April 26 screening, Osceola made a point to recognize Moore and members of her family, who live in the Naples community, although they were unable to attend in person.

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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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