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Historic Everglades City

Spend a day in Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island. These throwbacks to early Floridas wild frontier and commercial fishing heyday beckon with funky seafood houses and their gateway to Everglades National Park.


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The Calusa People: A Lost Tribe of Florida that Early Explorers Wrote Home About

The Calusa (said to mean fierce people ) are a Native American tribe that once inhabited the southwestern coast of Florida.

The Calusa are said to have been a socially complex and politically powerful tribe, and most of southern Florida was controlled by them.

Early Calusa Days

The Calusa are said to have been the descendants of Palaeo-Indians who inhabited Southwest Florida about 12000 years ago.

The Calusa Indians did not farm like the other Indian tribes in Florida. Instead, they fished for food on the coast, bays, rivers, and waterways. 

The men and boys of the tribe made nets from palm tree webbing to catch mullet, pinfish, pigfish, and catfish. They used spears to catch eels and turtles.

Despite the social complexity and political might that the Calusa attained, they are said to have eventually went extinct around the end of the 18 th century.

One of the causes of this was the raids conducted by rival tribes from Georgia and South Carolina and of course the Europeans with there dieases.

Although the Calusa came to an end, some remains of their achievements can still be seen today.

The shell mounds are an example of these remains. Shells and clay were used by the Calusa to create the foundation of their cities.

One example of a shell mound can be found at a site known as Mound Key at Estero Bay in Lee County.

This site is believed to have been the capital of the Calusa, as well as its military stronghold and ceremonial center.

Hence, the Calusa are sometimes called the ‘Shell People / Indians’.

The white man's first contact with this Eden was in 1513 and 1521 when the fierce Calusa twice drove off the Spanish caravels of Ponce de Léon.

Pedro Menendez de Aviles Claims Florida for Spain

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He claimed the land for Spain and called it “La Florida,” perhaps after the ... the southwest coast of Florida, but they were soon attacked by Calusa Indians. ... and he sent one of Spain's most experienced admirals, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, ..

South Florida was then home to approximately 20,000 Indians -- the Tequesta in southeast Florida, the Mayaimi near Lake Okeechobee, and the Calusa in the ...

The first white settlers began to show up after the Civil War.

Long before Totch's ancestors came to the Chokoloskee Bay country, the Calusa Indians lived in the area.

Early settlers said that the Indians grew potatoes along the banks of the Barron River.

It is a place where hardworking Florida Crackers eked out a living from the shallow waters of the mangrove fringed Everglades.

American settlement began after the Civil War, when Union sympathizers who had farmed on Cape Sable to supply Key West during the war, moved up the west coast of the peninsula.

While fishing and tourism are presently the major economic factors of this small town of about five hundred year-round residents, the town has a colorful reputation and some very deep roots. 

Everglades Rod & Gun Club History

What I want to know, though, is whether you have ever heard about the Storter family, the Smallwood family, or the Janes family?

What about Totch Brown, A.C. Hancock, C.G. McKinney or Annie Mae Perry and many others who were also pioneers in this region of southwest Florida?

They may not have the name recognition of Collier, but their lives have indeed been an important thread in the creation and development of this county.

The first permanent settler was William Smith Allen, who arrived on the banks of Potato Creek (later renamed the Allen River) in 1873.

After Allen retired to Key West in 1889, George W. Storter, Jr. became the principal landowner in the area. Storter gained fame for his sugar cane crops.

He opened a trading post in 1892, and gained a post office, called “Everglade”, in 1895.

Storter also began entertaining northern tourists who came to Everglade by yacht in the winter to hunt and fish. His house eventually grew into the Rod and Gun Club, visited by United States Presidents and other notables.” 

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Barron Collier, a successful Memphis businessman, came to the area in 1922 and bought thousands of acres.

In 1923 the Florida Legislature created Collier County from Lee County, and Everglades City became the county seat.

It was first named Everglade, then Everglades, and finally Everglades City.

In 1923 the Florida Legislature created Collier County from Lee County, and Everglades City became the county seat. It was first named Everglade, then Everglades, and finally Everglades City.

Collier pushed the completion of the Tamiami Trail (US-41) from Naples to Miami, and in 1929 built State Road 29 south to Everglades City Florida.

The County seat was then moved from Everglades City to East Naples, where it still is today.

The Hidden History of Everglades City
as Florida's last frontier

Everglades City Florida Was The Square Grouper Capital

In the 1970's and 1980's, Everglades City and Chokoloskee became notorious for their trade in "square grouper", a euphemism for bales of marijuana.

Boats and airplanes were dropping the stuff into the mangroves of the 10,000 islands where it was picked up by locals and delivered all over the United States.

During Ronald Reagan's "War On Drugs" most of the activity was stopped and had completely dried up by the end of the 1980's.

High Times in Everglades City

The skeletons in the closets of this tiny Southwest Florida mangrove community don't rattle.

They stare, then skulk away. There are certain subjects you just don't pry into while cruising around E-City, especially during the past few decades.

Money, for example. It's nobody's business but the IRS; and those agents have been here, raked through the area with souped-up calculators, grabbed millions in ill-begotten gains, and gone.

But people talk the talk. They say strongboxes of cash are buried in overgrown backyards in these parts.

They say sacks of 1980s money are hidden on landless mangrove islands, thousands of hundred-dollar bills stuffed inside the steel belts of old tires roasting in the sun next to rusted hulls of once-proud shrimp and mullet boats.

There are fortunes mixed within the flotsam, hidden by the jetsam, covered by barnacles and rumor. It's all done under the "radar," they say, secretly slipped from the slowly squandering sunken treasures of the sea's last pirates. That's what they say.


"There's people all over this island who were smart enough to hide it and not touch it for years," he loosens up.

He was a baby when the feds raided the island.

"There are men who will wait 'til no one's looking-they'll starve three days until the coast is clear, and then just take out what they need and leave the rest alone.

You think they're bums. They're richer than the folks in Palm Beach.

"Nothing fancy. Uh-uh. No gold chains and big black dooley pick-ups and 'Vettes like the old days. Just the basics: beer, cigarettes, three-square, gas, dog food, pot and walkin'-around money."

Staples a man needs to survive out here on the godforsaken edge of Florida. That's what they say.


"They" don't have names. You really don't want to be caught knowing "their" names unless you are one of them.

They might hang out at night at the Chickee Bar, just west off S.R. 29 when you're just comin' into town, where Red the bartender might ask you directly:

"You folks from around here?" just to see what you might say.

Best answer: "We're Florida boys, down to do some fishin'." (Bad answer: "Hey, isn't this the place where the whole town got busted for drug smuggling back in 1983?")

"Be careful," Red'll say. "People can get lost out there."


Despite the storm-trooper tactics, it was a peaceful raid. Several smugglers, most of them white-booted crabbers preparing to go fishing, reportedly shook the hands of their captors.

(Later, law enforcement agents would attend good-bye pig roasts thrown by smugglers on the eve of their departures for federal prison camp.)


Twelve were arrested right in Everglades City, including two former police officers and a guy with an arsenal of 15 handguns, a rifle and a MAC-11 submachine-gun.

Sixteen were arrested in Goodland, Naples and elsewhere; and they were still looking for 13 more (including former Florida Supreme Court Justice David L. McCain and Naples bail bondsman Andy Petz) by nightfall.

The way the press reported the raid, in dispatches sent around the world, one would've thought every male adult in Everglades City had been taken down.


When the dust had cleared 11 months later, however, Operation Everglades had nabbed 14 boats (nearly the entire Southwest Florida stone crab fleet), two small planes and a whole bunch of cars and trucks, not to mention more than $5 million in property and personal assets.

About 200 people (100 from the E-City area alone) were brought up on various federal charges.

Not a bad haul from the Ten Thousand Islands gang, but not near the numbers the DEA had put up in 1981 for its three-state Operation Grouper ($1 billion in illegal drugs, $12 million in assets and 30 boats) or in 1982 for Operation Tiburon (495 arrests, 95 vessels and 6.4-million pounds of marijuana).


These were pure everyday working-class American patriots, net fishermen and crabbers, charter boat captains and guides, hunters and gatherers, struggling to make a subsistence living, lured into crime by the promise of wealth.

The story was reported for weeks: A proud town gone rotten.and busted.

But, as "they" say, a few got away. The smart ones paid attention to the federal indictments in Miami and kept their ears to the ground. The cash was buried. That's what they say.


Two decades later, the big bust is largely forgotten. It's not even listed among the proud campaigns on the DEA Web site.

The "I Survived Operation Everglades" T-shirts and ballcaps worn proudly by locals for many years have all but disappeared."We really don't mention anything about it in here," says Campbell, the museum curator.

"Yes, it is history. It did happen. But it's not really something the town doesn't talk about. You know what I mean?"

"The Rise and Fall of Chief James Billie" in the October 2004 issue of Gulfshore Life. 

Everglades Frontier

Click any of the Stories below
 And Travel to Florida's Magnificent Everglades.

Florida's Magnificent Everglades - A small group of visitors clusters at the edge of a pond behind the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Two minutes of visiting the Everglades and the first gator had already been spotted. Try spotting a bear that fast in Yellowstone.

"CRACKER" The term stems from the early days when Florida cowboy cow cavalrymen, in lieu of the rope used by Texas cowboys, welded a bullwhip, 10 - 12 feet long made of braided leather, and when snapped over a cow's head, made a sharp"crack".
Thus was born the term "cracker"

Romancing the Swamp Local eco-tour provider wades into the Florida wild. Scared of the swamp? Intrigued by the swamp? Then explore the swamp. It will forever change you.

"Square Grouper" - Historic Everglades City 

The Hidden History of Everglades City as Florida's last frontier

Everglades City Florida Was The Square Grouper Capital at one time in the recent past.

In the 1970's and 1980's, Everglades City and Chokoloskee became notorious for their trade in "square grouper", a euphemism for bales of marijuana.

Everglades Stories - We’re trying to find ways to restore wetlands and to do it in a way that will really benefit the water quality when it finally does leave the land and also to store the water there and not sort of pipeline it straight into Lake Okeechobee and pipeline it into the everglades.

The Square Grouper - Through the Everglades to a shore about 20 miles to the west of Flamingo, called Cape Sable.and was said to have a pink beach literally made from shells, and also was habitat to the rare and elusive Cape Sable Sparrow, which we all wanted to see.

The Calusa Shell IndiansThe Calusa (kah LOOS ah) lived on the sandy shores of the southwest coast of Florida. These Indians controlled most of south Florida.

The population of this tribe may have reached as many as 50,000 people.

The Calusa men were tall and well built with long hair. Calusa means "fierce people," and they were described as a fierce, war-like people.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida The Seminole people are the descendents of the Creek people. The diversity of the Tribe is reflected in the fact that its members spoke seven languages- Muscogee, Hitchiti, Koasati, Alabama,