Courtesy Billie Swamp Safari
Tourists enjoy a swamp safari ride on the Big Cypress Reservation in south Florida

Swamp Rides and History Lessons Make for Unique South Florida Winter Vacay

Tish Leizens
1/15/14

If you’re thinking of a Florida winter family vacation, consider a trip to the Big Cypress Reservation and get a front row seat to the history and culture of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

On Friday, January 31, a series of educational  demonstrations and historical battles dubbed the “Big Cypress Shootout” begin. The three-day event sketches the struggles of the Seminoles to remain in their homeland through a reenactment of the second Seminole War from 1835 to 1842.

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“This was an important part of Florida and U.S. history,” said Pedro Zepeda, part Seminole and Mexican, who has played major and minor roles in the reenactment for some 17 years. “The Seminole people are still here. We are still breathing our culture.”

A rider reenacts what might have taken place during the Seminole War (Courtesy Billie Swamp Safari)

The tribe takes pride in being the “Unconquered Seminoles,” and historical accounts capture the pain that the Seminoles experienced in the battles that their people fought.

The second of the Seminole wars (there were three) was an uneven battle between the mighty force of the U.S. Army, Navy and Marines, numbering around 50,000 against some 5,000 Seminoles.

The end of the costly war — the U.S. military was said to have spent $40 million — caused the forced removal of thousands of Seminoles who were relocated to Oklahoma.

Willard Steele, who wrote a brief history on the Seminoles, said that by the end of the war there were about 300 Seminoles left in the Florida territory.

“History tends to repeat itself. Fighting people in their own territory has always been difficult for the U.S. military,” said Zepeda. Zepeda said that there may have been few Seminole fighters, but they were trained and skilled in military campaigns. “Military know-how is built into our culture.”

Picture this for a moment: mounted soldiers in uniform and Indian warriors in colorful attire fiercely battling it out in the grassy field. You hear the exchange of musketry shots and cannon booms. This glimpse of reenactment is not all that bloody. In fact, the weapons are loaded with black powder, not real bullets, so it is safe.

In between the war scenes, enjoy watching alligator wrestling, a snake show, Stomp dancing, tomahawk throws, primitive archery competition and music. Visitors will see how early settlers hew wood, iron and silver crafts.

You can camp and join some 800 scouts who will be there for the weekend event.

“Camps are set up back in their time period,” said Noella O’Donnell, tourism coordinator of Florida Seminole Tourism.

What You Should Know When You Visit:

·       Check the weather in Florida before your trip, it is generally nice, but it can be chilly or rainy

·       Dress comfortably.

·       Come a few minutes early for the battle reenactments

·       Be aware that the firings can be loud for some children

For more on the history and culture of the Seminoles, check out the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (ahtahthiki.com), 3 miles down the road from the Billie Swamp Safari where the reenactment takes place.

If you are staying in the area, there are accommodations offered at Billie Swamp Safari or at the nearby Big Cypress RV Resort and Campground.

Billie Swamp Safari, 2,200 acres of untamed everglades, offers a fun family adventure with swamp buggy rides and airboat rides. Check out their rates and packages at BillieSwamp.com.

 

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