luluIt was truly the Garden of Eden.  Birds, fish, and animals of every size and description thrived together in a landscape of lush tropical vegetation amongst exotic flowers and palm trees that rose in some places to more than one hundred feet; all relatively untouched by man.  This was the Florida Everglades region of Southwest Florida in the 1700s; the departure point for James Hammond’s fascinating and well researched book, Florida’s Vanishing Trail.

But like the biblical Garden of Eden, the lush, peaceful life of the Everglades was not destined to last and; after a brief overview, Hammond takes the reader forward in time to when paradise was lost, namely, in the early 1800s.  This is when white settlers began arriving in Northern Florida and began forcing the Seminole Indians further south and into the interior.  Relations between the two factions deteriorated rapidly into what is characterized as the Seminole Wars.   

Dates assigned later in history identify three distinct phases of the wars: The First Seminole War 1817-1818, The Second Seminole War 1835-1842 and the Third Seminole War (sometimes called The Billy Bowlegs War) 1855-1858.  These phases mark the periods of the greatest unrest and the most overt hostility in the region; and in response to this unrest, the U.S. government built a series of eight Army forts in the Everglades starting with Old Fort Foster, established in 1837. 

In a narrative rich in detail gleaned from old photographs, drawings, maps, military dispatches, letters and diaries, Hammond describes each fort and provides anecdotal evidence of the role each played in the Seminole Wars. After the Seminole Wars came the inevitable rush toward expansion and development as more settlers moved into the area.  Groves and fields were planted, sawmills were built to support the growing lumbering industry, and an infrastructure of roads, and rail lines was established to get the goods to market. 

Prominent developers during this period between the late 1800s and early 1900s include the Collier family from the Naples area and the ubiquitous Henry Flagler who was in the process of extending his railroad down to Miami.  This is my favorite part of the book.  The pictures are more numerous and of better quality and leafing through the pages you can see Indian chiefs, medicine men, grove and sawmill workers, wealthy families in their Sunday best, and settlers standing in front of their meager homes; all gazing out through the mist of time. 

My favorite picture in the book is that of the first passenger train started in the Big Cypress in 1917.  It consisted of a steel box welded to a Model T Ford, which in turn was modified to run on a set of railroad tracks!  Being a resident of Southeast Florida not too far from Miami, I could not wait to finish “Florida’s Vanishing Trails” and strike out on my own to see all the places so ably described. 

Unfortunately, I soon found out that most of the monuments, historical markers, and old buildings worth seeing were either lost, stolen or are locked securely behind the fences of state parks and Indian reservations.  I guess I will have to settle for a nostalgic drive down the Tamiami Trail, which is now called US Highway 41.  Meanwhile, you don’t have to be a historian, or even a Floridian to enjoy this wonderful book.  There’s something in it for everyone. 

Title:  Florida’s Vanishing Trail  

Author:  James Hammond  

Publisher:  Lulu Enterprises  

Publisher Address:  860 Aviation Parkway, Morrisville, NC 27560  

Publisher Phone Number and URL:  919-459-5858, www.lulu.com  

ISBN, Price, Publication Date:  978-0-578-00385-6, $24.95, 2008  

Reviewed by: Ron Standerfer for Reader Views (March/2009) Ron Standerfer is a freelance writer and photographer who is a frequent contributor Blogger News Network as well as numerous other online news sites. His latest novel, The Eagle’s Last Flight chronicles the life of an Air Force fighter pilot during the Cold War and Vietnam years. Details of his book can be found at http://www.ronstanderfer.com.  

Be Sociable, Share!