Distinctly Hammeresque humor peppered Roger’s recent talk for the Dade Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society as he recounted early history of South Florida to a standing-room-only crowd:
The Florida Keys: “A drinking community with a fishing problem.’’ The now-extinct American lion, the largest mammal predator ever, once roamed Miami-Dade County: “As a naturalist, I live for American lions to make a comeback.’’
But seriously, folks. An archeological dig at the Deering Estate turned up American lion bones, dire wolves, and remains of a saber tooth cat. Unearthed and re-covered in the1980s, the dig was “one of the most major archeological finds in the eastern United States,’’ Roger said. From it came knowledge of human occupation in the region as early as 10,000 years ago by Paleoindians. Archaic Indians followed them. Then the Tequesta Indians, who lived on the Miami Rock Ridge and the Calusa Indians, who inhabited Florida’s west coast. Eventually, the Creeks moved into Florida from Georgia and Alabama and became the Seminoles and Miccosukees.
Telescoping through the decades, Roger covered the Seminole Indian Wars, proclaiming that an important outcome of the Second Seminole War was the naming of Dade County for slain U.S. Army Maj. Francis Dade. The other name being considered by the Legislature was Pinckney. “Can you imagine being stopped by the Pinckney County police?” he asked.
The round-up of historical figures included Henry Perrine who tried to introduce a sisal industry to South Florida; John Jacob Houseman, Perrine’s partner who offered to kill the Seminoles for bounty; Chekika, chief of the Spanish Indians who set out to kill Houseman; but killed Perrine instead; Col. Harney for whom the Harney River is named; Henry Flagler, who brought the railroad from St. Augustine through Palm Beach to Miami, and William Krome who was Flagler’s engineer famous for taking the railroad to Key West and growing avocados. And Napoleon Bonaparte Broward who was elected Florida governor by promising to drain the swamp.
The natural history, of course, preceded human history, and in Roger’s version, it goes like this:
As the seas bobbed up and down over eons, exposing the Florida plateau and covering it again, calcium carbonate precipitated out of the water and glued itself together to form the limestone base called the Miami Rock Ridge. That rocky ridge runs from Broward County through Miami-Dade and sputters out in Everglades National Park. It is the high ridge on which our cities are built (just look at a map of the greater metropolitan areas of the counties, and you will be looking at the ridge) and “that’s what makes your shovel go clink.’’
About 4,000 years ago, offshore coral reefs were exposed to air. They hardened and created the upper and middle Florida Keys, which are composed of true coral rock, unlike the limestone of Miami-Dade. The lesson: “It should never have been called Coral Gables.'' Limestone Gables, he mused, probably wouldn’t fly.
While much of the natural area of the ridge has disappeared, the swamp is undergoing restoration, and there are millions of acres remaining to be explored, Roger stressed. From Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the Fakahatchee Strand on the west coast, to Big Cypress National Preserve, and the 1.5 million acres of Everglades National Park, which sits next to Biscayne National Park. Exploring opportunities abound – his own exploits are legendary, including the time he hiked from the Fakahatchee Strand to Alligator Alley without a change of clothes and tried to hitchhike home; he made it -- and his newest book is Everglades National Park and the Surrounding Area, A Guide to Exploring the Great Outdoors. It is sold in Fairchild’s gift shop. After a talk like that, there are sure to be more hikers in those natural areas – at least once the mosquito season disappears.