Almost 200 years ago, the remnants of the Seminole Indian tribe ventured deep into the Everglades and made a new home.
Today, the area is the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, home to slice of Seminole history, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.
Opened in 1997, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, which means “a place to learn,” tells the story of the 300 or so Seminole Indians that escaped the forced migration set upon them by the U.S. government during the Second Seminole War from 1835-1842.
The tribe then flourished over time, finding a life in a part of the state not encroached on by Americans. Eventually, these Seminoles began trading with the Stranahan family along the New River in Fort Lauderdale and over time juggled their native identities while intermingling with tourists coming to Florida.
The Seminoles also have reservation land in Hollywood south of Fort Lauderdale, also home to a more popular Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, but a decision was made to build the homage to the Seminole history near the site where famed leader from the Second Seminole War and medicine man Abiaka, aka Sam Jones, made his camp.
What stands now is a building with several permanent exhibits that explain the daily life of the tribe, not only in centuries past, but through to the the new millennium. One of the most touching exhibits is the Legends Theater, where a DVD plays of fables told by Seminole Betty Mae Jumper, the same as were told over time by grandparents to children as they got ready to go to sleep.
This is how you find out the vain opossum that used to brag about its beautiful hairy tail ended up losing all the hair, and why Seminoles always let mice eat their corn, after a pair of mice saved a woman’s two daughters who fell into a deep sleep.
While the displays give an appreciation for the Seminole way of life, the 1.5-mile boardwalk that passes through the forest deepens that appreciation. Just like many of Florida’s natural boardwalk attractions, this one is filled with signage. But in addition to information like a plant’s Latin name and how and where it grows, the signage lets visitors know how Seminoles used it. Resurrection fern, for instance, was steamed and used to treat depression. Shoestring fern is used to make a medicine to treat those who had lightning strike nearby. Good to know, although there’s also signage warning visitors to not try these remedies at home.
Along the boardwalk is the Clans Pavilion, telling the stories of several of the surviving Seminole clans. Fun fact: once a clan’s maternal line dies off, that clan is finished. The Alligator clan of the Seminoles, for instance, no longer exists. As such, those who wish to wrestle alligators for tourists, must ask permission from the Snake clan.
Farther back is a reconstruction of what a Seminole village looked like intermingled with the tourist crowds closer to the coast from the 1900s.
The boardwalk is a highlight of the visit, with birdsong near and far, the knocking of woodpeckers on nearby trees and the rustle of small woodland creatures amid the flora.
Upon leaving, you may notice a fire burning near the entrance, two logs crisscrossed. The fire is kept burning continuously, a sign of welcome to visitors. You may not have known that going in, but the museum is doing its job in giving you an insightful look into the lives of the Seminole tribe.
If you go
30290 Josie Billie Highway, Clewiston
About Hendry County
Population (as of 2015): 39,290
Major cities: Clewiston, LaBelle
Tourism bureau website: discoverhendrycounty.com
The Log Cabin: logcabinlabelle.com
Forrey Grill: forreygrill.com
Jalapenos: Visit website
Blue Cane Ale House: facebook.com/blucaneclewistonflorida
The Tiki Bar: tikibarandgrill.net
Harold P. Curtis Honey Company: curtishoney.com
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum: ahtahthiki.com
Billie Swamp Safari: billieswamp.com
Holiday Inn Express Clewiston: Visit website
Port Labelle Inn: Visit website