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(Everglades National Park)
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About: Through the years, colorful characters have populated, explored, plundered, and preserved South Florida. Some historical figures include "the people of the Glades," who migrated to the lower peninsula at least 11,000 years ago; Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, who came to Florida searching for the Fountain of Youth and eventually died from a native's arrow; and Black Caesar the pirate, who ambushed sailing ships passing his refuge at present-day Caesar Creek. Local folklore recounts tales of his buried treasure, cruelty, and compassion.
Nineteenth-century South Florida welcomed naturalist John James Audubon, and twentieth-century Florida wouldn't be the same without writer and conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
The People of the
The Tequestas and Calusas established permanent villages at the mouths of rivers, on offshore islands, and on hammocks - elevated stands of tropical forest. They ate shellfish, turtles, deer, small mammals, and wild plants, and pursued large fish in their dugout canoes. They especially sought manatees, a delicacy latecomers dubbed "pork of the sea."
The people of the Glades used no metal or stone. From shells they created picks, drinking cups, hammers, chisels, fishhooks, and other tools and household implements. They used sharks' teeth to make knives, chiseled out cypress logs for canoes, and made pottery from mud.
The huge shell mounds along South Florida's coast and on nearby islands mark sites where these villagers settled. Archaeologists have determined that some mounds were used as burial sites and ceremonial sites; they most probably began as middens, or refuse piles, of discarded shells.
The Europeans Arrive
In 1513, Spanish explorer Ponce de León sailed from his governor's mansion in Puerto Rico to Florida, searching for gold and slaves. He sailed along Florida's shores, stopping briefly at a place he called Manataca - present-day Cape Romano.
The Calusas at Manataca had heard word of Spanish cruelty from indigenous traders who traveled throughout the area in great seagoing canoes. According to an early historian who told Ponce de León's story, the Calusas "fought from the morning until the night without hurt to the Spaniards, because the arrows did not reach, whilst for the cross-bows and artillery shots they dared not draw near, and in the end the Indians retired."
In 1565, Spanish captain-general Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sailed to South Florida to make peace with the native peoples and settle the lands for his king. His fleet was caught in a storm, and the crew took refuge in a Tequesta village in Biscayne Bay.
Menéndez returned in 1567 so that "the souls and natives thereof may be saved and his Majesty's purpose be furthered, which is to prevent the [French] Lutherans from setting foot in that land, and to endeavor to implant the gospel therein." During this voyage, he established a mission, protected by 30 soldiers. The soldiers occasionally provoked acts of hostility, culminating with killing one of the uncles of the Tequesta chief. This enraged the Tequestas, who attacked and forced the missionaries to retreat.
The Spanish continued to establish missions and forts along the Florida coasts to strengthen their hold on the New World. During this time, however, the Tequestas and Calusas began to feel the decimating effects of slave raids and European diseases. By 1800, the people of the Glades were reduced to a handful of survivors.
The Seminole Wars
By 1821, the population of Seminoles in Florida was about 5,000. They lived and hunted throughout the state and provided refuge for runaway slaves, infuriating southern plantation owners. Florida's officials sequestered the Seminoles on a reservation north of Lake Okeechobee, and the Seminoles retaliated by raiding white settlements.
In 1830, Congress decreed that all Indians east of the Mississippi be relocated "far beyond the possibility of any contact with white men." Many Native Americans were forced to travel west on the Trail of Tears to present-day Oklahoma. A number of Seminoles refused to leave and declared war on the U.S. Army. The Seminole Wars of 1835-42 and 1855-59 inflicted heavy losses on both sides, finally ending with an 1859 truce. After the battles ended, about 150 Seminoles remained, hiding deep in the cypress stands and saw-grass prairies. Today, descendants of these Seminoles still live within Everglades National Park.
Hurricanes and treacherous shipping lanes frequently scattered treasures and crews across the reef. The wrecking business became a major source of income here: salvagers were legally entitled to a portion of a ship's salvaged goods. Whenever a ship grounded, the cry "Wreck ashore!" halted all on-shore activities as residents rushed to scavenge the unlucky vessel.
Today, more than 40 shipwrecks are located within the boundaries of Biscayne National Park. You can still view the remains of these wrecks on boat tours.
Turn-of-the-century South Florida also became home to poachers and plume hunters, particularly near the small town of Flamingo. Plumes of great egrets and snowy egrets were in demand as fashion accessories. Hunters slaughtered these wading birds by the thousands for their colorful feathers, and several species came dangerously close to becoming extinct.
In 1905, the National Audubon Society hired Guy Bradley to protect heron and egret rookeries (breeding colonies). Bradley was killed while investigating shots he heard near Oyster Keys rookery. The resulting publicity and outrage fueled the demand for protecting the wading birds' remaining colonies. In 1916, a small area of Paradise Key was granted protection by the creation of Royal Palm State Park.
National Park Status
In that same year, Marjory Stoneman Douglas first published The Everglades: River of Grass. She understood its importance as the major watershed for South Florida and as a unique ecosystem (the only everglades in the world).
Throughout the following decades, Coe, Douglas, and other dedicated conservationists continued to push for protection. In the 1960s, developers proposed to sprinkle resorts on Biscayne Bay's keys. Conservationists campaigned to preserve the bay and its remaining untouched islands. In 1968, Congress designated Biscayne a national monument, citing its "rare combination of terrestrial, marine, and amphibious life in a tropical setting of great natural beauty." In 1980, Congress authorized new acquisitions of the bay's keys and reefs and changed Biscayne's status to a national park.
In 1993, Biscayne National Park, with its glimmering bay and brilliant mosaic of underwater sea life, celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Historical information provided by APN Media, LLC
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