Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tiger Tail

Our last post (did you notice the use of the royal plural?) was
entitled 'Tiger's Tale' and since this one is 'Tiger Tail', you can tell it's completely different. Actually, it's still on the theme of North Miami and now I'm going to annoy you with history and geography. Sorry. There's a point made later.

Ah, North Miami. Although formally established under this name in 1926, Europeans have been living in the Arch Creek area since 1858. That's a long time in 'Miami years'. To the rest of the country, that's like the sixteenth century.

Dade County's first major road to the outside world was the 'Military Trail' and it ran right through the eastern part of North Miami. It can be traced from what is now Biscayne Boulevard right through Arch Creek Park where the Natural Bridge was and down NE 16th. Avenue to rejoin with Biscayne Boulevard. In south Florida, the Military Trail ran through Fort Pierce and Fort Lauderdale to Fort Dallas (later renamed 'Miami'). The purpose of the road was to move troops during the Seminole Wars.

There were three so-called 'Seminole Wars' but they actually involved many different tribes in addition to the Seminoles. During the Second Seminole War which ended in 1842 one of the lead strategists was Thlocko Tustenuggee who wore a Florida panther tail on his waist and went by the respected name Tiger Tail. Tiger Tail lived around Tallahassee and is not known to have ever been to the Miami area. But his legend made it there along with some namesakes.

There was a warrior in the Third Seminole War (which ended in 1858) who was also known as Tiger Tail. He is referred to as Old Tiger Tail or Big Tiger Tail and he had a younger relative called Young Tiger Tail or Little Tiger Tail.

The younger man may have been his son or nephew. More likely a nephew, actually, since the matrilineal Indian culture had sons follow their mother's clan not their father's. Consequently, men in Old Tiger Tail's clan would be the sons of his sisters - his nephews.

Now before I tie this huge mess together, I have to bring in the geography part. South Florida exists as we know it because of a thin ridge of limestone that runs down the southeast coast. The Military Trail followed this narrow limestone ridge and was used later to be developed into Dixie Highway which was later expanded and developed into US 1 - Biscayne Boulevard.

This limestone ridge forms the eastern edge of a huge, wide river that runs from Lake Okeechobee south to the ocean. That river is the Everglades. Most of what is Dade County now used to be a part of the Everglades and in the rainy season it was underwater. Underwater as in 'swamp'. This map from 1888 shows the Everglades almost to the coast.

From downtown Miami north to the Broward County line, there were only a few breaks in that thin limestone ridge: The Miami River, Little River, Snake Creek (then Snake River), Arch Creek and the Oleta River. If not for the modern day extensive range of canals and man-made lakes, Dade County would still be mostly swamp today.

During the rainy season, Old Tiger Tail, Little Tiger Tail and the other Seminoles, Miccosukees, Tequestas and other tribes lived on the islands in this swamp and moved around the landscape in their canoes. They camped on these 'islands' and the camps were identified when the mapmakers hit south Florida. One of those island camps was located on what we would now call North Miami.

On this map from 1890, three Indian towns are clearly identified. Tigers Tail Town named for Old Tiger Tail, Aleck Town (yes, 'Aleck') named for another warrior named Old Alec, and Little Tigers Town named for Little Tiger Tail. Tigers Tail Town and Aleck Town were around where Arch Creek Park is now and Little Tigers Town appeared in the area between downtown North Miami and William Jennings Bryan Elementary School.

By 1917, four major canals had been cut to allow the land to dry out and be habitable. The Biscayne Canal drained most of what is North Miami now.

And what's the point of all this then? You can't ever know yourself and the land where you live without discovering what was there before. That's the point!

Now, go out and study something. ;->


Dave said...

Nice work Rich!!

Leah Kleylein said...

Very interesting!