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Seniors’ excellent adventure at Billie Swamp Safari

BIG CYPRESS — Seminole seniors played tourist for a day when they gathered Feb. 27 at Billie Swamp Safari in Big Cypress for an adventurous senior culture day.

Airboat rides, swamp buggy tours, alligator wrestling and a traditional Seminole meal including freshly-caught garfish were on the agenda for the day, as well as friendship and fellowship with peers from every reservation.

Mahala Madrigal, Diane Smith and Molly Shore take in the outdoors from an airboat during the tribalwide senior culture day in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

As the crowd gathered in the shade of tents and chickees, Tribal leaders welcomed them.

“It’s always good to see the elders talking about old times,” said President Mitchell Cypress. “I might be president, but today I’m just a senior.”

Although he has a way to go until reaching his senior years, Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. was awed by the seniors in front of him.

“I hope I’m still able to enjoy myself as they do,” he said. “We are fortunate to be where we are today and put this together for our seniors. This is a true test of how we keep our culture enriched and together.”

“You paved the way for us,” said Brighton Board Rep. Larry Howard. “Without you, we wouldn’t be where we are and I appreciate every one of you.”

Activities took place throughout the day. At the gator pit, Billy Walker showed off his skills and courage as he ventured into the water to retrieve an ornery alligator, which was recently caught and added to Billie Swamp’s collection. Clearly the gator wasn’t used to being handled by a human and resisted strongly. However, Walker prevailed and put on an exciting show.

“I like people to get together anytime and socialize, like folks used to do a long time ago,” said Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr.

Seniors enjoy an airboat ride at Billie Swamp Safari on Feb. 27 at the tribalwide senior culture day. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Groups of seniors filled the swamp buggies to brave the wilds of Big Cypress, where they encountered bison, antelope, wild hogs, turkeys, reindeer and other creatures from the comfort and safety of the cushioned seats.

“These are the people carrying on the culture and they get together to celebrate it,” said Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola. “The young people need to learn the culture too; it’s where it’s at.”

The piercing sound of airboat engines could be heard all day as seniors experienced the thrill of a high speed romp in the swamp.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum set up a table with old photographs under the tent, hoping someone could identify some of the people pictured. Billy Johns Sr. found a photo of his mother Ruby Cypress and grandmother Nina Cypress in one of the photo albums.

“It’s awesome to see the seniors get together,” said Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger. “This culture is what makes us or breaks; it’s important to keep it going.”

David Jumper, Billy Johns Sr. and President Mitchell Cypress look through albums of photos to try to identify people in them. Johns found a photo of his mother Ruby Cypress and grandmother Nina Cypress in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum albums. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Seniors check out the wildlife from the safety of a swamp buggy in Billie Swamp Safari. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at

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