Broward County’s Historic Islands: Pine Island, Long Key (Sam Jones’ Seven Islands), Big City Island,
and Snake Warrior’s Island.
By Patsy West, Director
Seminole/Miccosukee Archive, Fort Lauderdale
Here in Broward County, we are most fortunate to have valuable, historic green spaces. Some of these sites represent the earliest and most important sites in the County. And, because our county has seen some of the most aggressive development in southern Florida, we are doubly fortunate that these spaces were preserved before they were bulldozed into oblivion in the
name of “Progress” and financial opportunity.
It is hard to believe (since the eastern Everglades was drained in 1906) that these sites were REAL ISLANDS in the once watery Everglades. And, in our flat landscape, Pine Island, at 29 feet above sea level, remains the highest point in Broward County! The other islands have lesser altitude, but it was their elevation and location near the river outlets to the beaches that appealed to the earliest inhabitants in southern Florida. Even then, as in real estate today, it was “Location, Location, Location!”
Paleo Indians, Tequesta Indians, and by the 19th century, the Mikasuki speaking “Seminoles” have resided on these islands. The earliest documented account of Pine Island’s settlement as a Mikasuki-speaking Seminole habitation is 1828. The island was doubtless settled much earlier under the Mikasuki war leader Abiaki or Sam Jones, a determined resistance leader of the Panther clan and the future Chief of all of the Florida Indians during the Second and Third Seminole Wars (1835-1842; 1855-1858). Jones’ warrior and emissary was Chitto Tustenuggee. These two leaders were the historic, famous residents of the Pine Island Complex and Snake Warrior’s Island.
It was a great coincidence that I completed my initial ethno-historical research on the Pine Island Complex in 1988, just before the southern section of the property at Pine Island was slated for development. That research aided in the islands’ purchase and preservation in 1990. Broward County Parks and Recreation, the Trust for Public Lands, the State’s Conservation and Recreational Lands (CARL) funding, and lobbying in Tallahassee with representation from the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes, provided cultural and financial support to acquire the site.
In 1995 the Seminole Tribe of Florida erected a statue of their patriot Sam Jones leading a woman to safety on Pine Island at Tree Tops Park. The pioneer Mikasuki residents who built and settled on these islands brought with them their cultural “Creek Town System” that anthropologists thought was extinct in southern Florida. Towns with clan houses and ceremonial ball grounds had been brought by the Indians from northern Florida and creatively adapted to these satellite island communities of the southern Everglades. This data is so profound that it is contributing to the rewriting of Seminole history, making the preservation of these historic Broward County islands more valuable than we even imagined… and the foresight of Broward County’s preservation efforts far more significant!
LONG KEY (Sam Jones’ Seven Islands):
It was the Town of Davie’s aggressive acquisition of Long Key completed the preservation of the Pine Island Complex. Long Key, called also “Sam Jones’ Seven Islands” (there were channels between the islands in historic times) is now preserved as Long Key Natural Area. The historic citrus grove, Flamingo Groves, is now Flamingo Gardens at the eastern end of the Island. Besides private homes, the novel restaurant, Kapok Tree Inn was located on the western end of the island. Today this island is host to a Public Art in the Park work, a 120 x 88 foot project by Lorna Jordan called “Island Garden.”
As I told my Seminole students at the Tribe’s Ahfachkee School in the 1990’s, the only reason that they exist here in Florida is through the determination, self sacrifice, organizational, and navigation skills of this one man, Abiaki. That’s what it came down to…as over a period of 23 years and three wars, more and more of his people were killed, captured, or gave up to emigrate to “Indian Territory” in Arkansas, enforced by the United States military… Sam Jones became the last man standing. The 200-500 people he saved are the nucleus of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida that we know today!
BIG CITY ISLAND:
The largest island in the Pine Island Complex, along State Road 7 (441), Big City Island, was acquired by the Federal Government by Executive Order in 1911 for the Seminole Reservation. The Seminole women in this matrilineal tribal society, eventually gave up their strict “resistance beliefs” and permitted their families to move to the federal reservation to live. It was a tough decision, but many women did in order to protect their families from encroachment and to live together as tribal people, assuring the continuance of their tribal existence as Seminoles. Big City Island is home to the Seminole Tribe’s Corporate Headquarters.
This year the Seminole Tribe of Florida is celebrating the Centennial of their Hollywood Reservation land, which housed their first Bingo establishment and their first Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. In 2006 the now affluent Seminole Tribe purchased the international corporation Hard Rock International, the first international corporation owned by a Native American tribe.
SNAKE WARRIOR’S ISLAND:
Lastly, Snake Warrior’s Island, just 6 miles southeast of Pine Island in Miramar, Florida, is the oldest archaeologically documented Seminole site in the county. Purchased in 1992, it opened in 2004 as Snake Warrior’s Island Natural Area by Broward County Parks and is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. The site was settled by 1828 under Sam Jones’ military leader, Chitto Tustenuggee, “Snake Warrior” of the Snake clan.
Visit these sites and step back in history!