Cultural sites on Lake Okeechobee are primarily attributed to pre-historic Indians who occupied islands, lake tributaries, and landward along the old lake meander. Pre-historic sites on Lake Okeechobee are predominantly situated on the edges of hammocks, creek, and river levees where artifacts have been recovered from middens and sand mounds. These middens were constructed to inter the dead, as burial preparation areas, as house sites, and possibly as temple foundations. Artifacts retrieved from pre-historic sites include tools constructed of bone, lithic tools and marine shell tools. Bone paddle ornaments and wooden paddles associated with burials suggest the possibility that the canoe, a major component of the wetlands culture, was symbolically significant to the culture as well. Knowledge of the Florida interior resulting from the Seminole wars and from the travels of later Everglades explorers and hunters opened the area to settlement. By the turn of the nineteenth century catfish fishermen and farmers had settled the entire lake perimeter. Pressure to drain swampland to create farmland and navigable waterways drastically changed the region. Historical sites from this era include early flood control structures and navigation locks, as well as the early settlements, built in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.
Cultural Resources Timeline
400 B.C. — Earliest known Indian occupation in the region. Evidence has been recovered of a subsistence culture based on the exploitation of wild food resources. The canoe was a vital component of the wetland environment. Extensive ceramic works have been recovered.
1551 A.D. — Earliest historical documentation of the Lake Okeechobee area was reported by Fonteneda, a Spaniard held captive by Florida Indians.
1556 — Pedro Menendez de Aviles explored the region in search for a passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Mid-1700s — Indian communities were disintegrating from socio-economic consequences of Spanish contact. Deaths and migration to the Spanish fishing rancheros on the coast took considerable toll on the native population.
1763 — George Bowen, an English geographer, erroneously illustrated South Florida as an archipelago of large and small islands.
1763 — British occupation began. Little exploration or settlement occurred.
Early 1800s — Various bands of Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama were pushed into south Florida by white settlers and soldiers. They became collectively known as Seminoles, meaning “wild people” or “runaways.”
1821 — Florida became part of the U. S.
1835 to 1842 — Second Seminole War. A concerted military effort to remove the Seminoles to the Western U.S. resulted in raids and skirmishes.
1837 — Battle of Lake Okeechobee was fought near Taylor Creek on the north shore of the lake.
1838 — First map of Lake Okeechobee was prepared by military expedition.
1845 — Florida was admitted to the Union as a state.
1880 — Hamilton Disston, the “Drainage King” began dredging operations to connect the Kissimmee River to the Gulf of Mexico using Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River.
1900s — State Legislature created the Everglades Drainage District to coordinate the most active reclamation effort. The system drained the northern and eastern parts of the Everglades, creating popular farm land. Major hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 caused Lake Okeechobee to overflow and claim 2400 lives. The Florida State Legislature created the Okeechobee Flood Control District, authorized to cooperate with the Corps of Engineers in flood control efforts.