I know some of you are interested to know how it is going with the Okeechobee battlefield. A few days ago I was at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum where Bill Steele gave a talk about it to some of the park rangers from Johnathan Dickinson State Park (which currently oversees the battlefield property.) Bill has been fighting for the preservation of the park since 1985.
The state is currently going through the planning process. This takes some time, and involves public meetings for input. Then a Unit Management Plan is drawn up, telling every aspect of the park, like plans for the museum and facilities.
This is a battlefield / historic site, and we want to keep it that way. We want it to focus on the battle, which is one of the most significant of the 2nd Seminole War. The Seminole Tribe also has heavy influence here. And at some point, we would like to see a return of some historical reenactment event or commemoration.
A contemporary litho of Battle of Okeechobee, although very biased and unrealistic of what really happened.
So far 145 acres has been preserved. There is much more that we hope will be added in the future, like the location of Taylor’s camp/headquarters. The same location was used as the Seminole’s camp a few days before. The battle line itself was a mile and a half long. It is only a piece of the battlefield, but it is important to preserve ANY part that we can. If we do not preserve the land, people will forget about it and there will be something like a Wal-mart there within a few years. If we have a part that is preserved as a park, people will realize that something important happened here that is worth preserving, and maybe more of the land will become available to add to the park.
This site has the good fortune of being undeveloped for many years afterwards, so all objects recovered from archaeology work are 1830s objects.
There is a housing development right in the center that was built a few years ago. Interesting is that a lot of houses were not built there. So there is just a small maze of streets and a few houses. And many of these houses are currently up for sale. The property the state finally acquired has an interesting history: Three previous owners sought to develop it, but all met strange and unusual deaths, so the area remains as is.
Another contemporary view of the battle. Also not very accurate. Taylor stayed in the back of the line, not the front. And far out of range of any musket.
Okeechobee is a booming area, so buildings have been popping up all over the last few years. There is a land boom currently going on. That is one reason why we are surprised that some of the land was saved as it was.
So even though you have not heard much, there is work going on. Right now it is still in the planning stage. This will take a few more years. I think it will take about three to five years before some major park construction is completed. Hopefully it won’t be delayed by the county, like I have seen in my own park for construction projects. Although it is going slow, these things take a lot of time and planning. And the park needs to be developed in the correct manner—you don’t want tennis courts in the middle of the battlefield.
I visited Fort Gadsden in 1993. That is the location of Negro Fort, and one of the worst gruesome tragedies in the history of Florida and our history. There was a large church group having a picnic there. I thought that it was very surreal with people having a social outing at a place like this, where 270 people were violently killed in an instant when the fort blew up in 1816. I wondered to myself if they were even aware of the tragedy here? Can anyone stand to casually eat at a place like this? How can people pray over baked beans and potato salad, and not a prayer mentioned for men, women, and children who were suddenly killed here?
It use to be that when a park was established, anything would be added. That is why you have tennis courts or basketball courts next to a fort, or a battlefield where good men were killed in a desperate fight. Over the last few years things have changed, and parks are planned much better. I think they even removed the concrete courts from Dade Battlefield. There is nothing wrong with tennis courts or basketball courts, but it didn’t seem right at a place that should be held with reverence and respect for those who died.