Spirit of the Seminole

In the leafy shadow of pop ash and pond apple, beneath tall cypress and strands of moonvine, the legacy of the Seminole lives on. In harmony with the natural wonders of the Big Cypress Swamp, the Seminole Tribe of Florida invites visitors to explore their culture at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

The Unconquered

Under the leadership of Andrew Jackson, the U.S. Government put immense resources into an all-out effort to remove the Seminole people to Oklahoma. In response, the Seminoles asserted their military strength, armed, in part, by the U.S. Government itself as it traded old weapons technology to the Seminoles during this period.

You can check out some of these weapons In the newly opened "Tools of War" exhibit at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, advances in weaponry during this period of struggle. From 1817 to 1858, weaponry is shown to be at the heart of how the Seminole overcame strong odds to remain in Florida. In the context of a war camp, historic gems such as arrowheads, flint and percussion rifles, and original clothing from both U.S. military and Seminole warriors are also on display.

While the weapons were crucial to the Seminoles, their style of warfare that used the landscape to their advantage helped them hold out against the constant onslaught over three periods of war, the longest lasting seven years. After inflicting heavy casualties on their enemies at the Battle of Okeechobee in 1837, the Seminole melted deeper into the Everglades under the leadership of Abiaka. The Third Seminole War ended when Chief Holata Micco, also known as Billy Bowlegs, was captured and deported in 1858, yet hundreds of Seminoles remained in Florida, inaccessible in the Everglades. They never surrendered. In 1957, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, still unconquered, incorporated beneath the Council Oak in Hollywood and become recognized as one of the Indian Nations within the United States. 

Beneath the Cypress

It is easy to feel the connection between the Seminole and the natural world around them. Just take a walk through the cypress strand along the boardwalk at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, Interpretive markers explain the uses of native plants for medicine, such as wax myrtle, which can be used as a natural mosquito repellant. For more than a century, the Seminole lived on islands in this slow, shallow river, building chickees made of palm fronds and palmetto logs for shelter, living off the bounty of the land’s fish and game. At a bend in the boardwalk, a recreation of a village showcases the architecture, art and daily life within the cypress.

Established in 1938, the Big Cypress Reservation was one of several government reservations in Florida where the Seminoles were granted land for settlements, where they developed cattle ranches and orange groves. Today, visitors can explore more of the reservation at Billie Swamp Safari with its safari-style wildlife encounters, airboat rides and camping in palm-thatched chickees along the water’s edge.

Learning and Doing

Starting with the Legends Theater, where storytellers share legends and stories of the Seminole, a walk through Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki immerses visitors in the culture and heritage of the tribe. Exhibits throughout the museum engage visitors through sight, sound and touch. Temporary exhibits such as “The Tools of War” are a part of the larger permanent museum space, which showcases daily life throughout Seminole history with life-like displays. Stroll through a traditional Seminole camp, watch the ritual of the Green Corn Dance and see a family pole a long canoe down a crystal-clear river. Using the Spend the Day with the Seminole value package offered by tour operators in South Florida, visitors can explore both Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and nearby Billie Swamp Safari for one low price for both attractions.

This article was brought to you by the Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum. To plan your visit to Ah Tah Thi Ki, go to www.ahtahthiki.com.

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