General History of Indian Key - Page 3
These pages by Jerry Wilkinson
History of Indian Key continued from page 2
      The Florida Indian War sputtered to an end in 1842 much as did Viet Nam, but Indian Key was to continue in Navy history.  Diverting a moment for end of the war. President John Tyler in 1842, realized that total removal of the Seminoles from Florida was not possible. Col. William North, commander of all U.S. troops in Florida, recommended on February 5, 1842 that the remaining Seminoles remain in peace in Florida.  The U.S. Secretary of War, John Spencer, ordered the conflict terminated, so the war was over. Of the estimated 5,000 Florida Seminoles in 1835, about 600 remained at war's end - some had been sent to Indian Territory. Indian Reserves were established in Florida.
      Now back to the Navy history. In January of 1843, Navy Lt. McLaughlin brought charges against Marine Lt. Tansill who was court martialed. However, the trial brought out 10 irregularities by Lt. McLaughlin upon which the Navy held a Court of Inquiry. An informative item at the hearings was that Captain M. W. Arnold reported at one time the naval unit was as large as 622 men with 7 small vessels, 2 barges, 140 canoes, 68 officers, 130 attached Marines and other personnel.

       On the ten specific charges, the Court of Inquiry concluded only that Lt. McLaughlin had no right to call himself Captain and paid too much for the canoes. The remainder of the charges were too vague, not enough evidence, no specific data and he may have enriched himself, but not specifically. He died at the age of 36 in the line of duty of a service induced disease.
       Back to the previous discussion of the Dade County seat being located at Indian Key. Once the Navy departed in 1842, other residents, except William Bethel, appeared to have departed. Charles Howe departed for Key West some time between May and July 1842. George Center, who was operating a store soon departed. 
       In 1843, Acting Clerk of the Court W. C. Maloney wrote from his residence in Key West to the Florida governor that he deemed it not safe to dwell in Dade County, that it was abandoned and that "he was in possession of the county seal, the only thing left by the Indians whereby to recognize the County Court of Dade . . . " The Legislative Council on March 9, 1844 moved the "County Site" to be at Miami on the south side of the Miami River.
       Dade County continued to experience population and court problems. In 1888 an election moved the Dade Countygovernment Seat to Juno, Florida. Florida law allowed elections to change the location of the county site once every ten years. In 1899 the county site was moved back to Miami where it remained. To read the Maloney letter and portions of other letters relating to early Dade County  Click HERE.
- Carysfort Lighthouse Period -
        Forgotten by some but not by all was that the two Charleston men that held mortgages on the Indian Key.  They filed their briefs at the estate probate to preserve their holdings. Afterwards, Messrs. Mowry and Lawton foreclosed and bought the 10.4 - acre island at public auction on the Court House steps in Key West on January 15, 1844 for $355. This included all the structures the Navy left behind.
         At the time Indian Key had been lucky that no significant hurricane had struck the island since 1820. The Great Hurricane of 1844 was reported but no specific details were given of the damage to the structures that the Navy had left; although, the newspapers said it was considerable.
       W. H. Hilliard was employed as an manager for the island and he is thought to have operated some kind of a store after the hurricane. Hilliard acted as the agent to lease the island to the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers for 15 months at $20 a month for the construction of the Carysfort Lighthouse. George Meade revealed the negotiation in his letter of June 30, 1851. Indian Key itself had been suggested for the location of a lighthouse at one time. Major Linnard of the Topographical Engineers did the preliminary work before his death and Meade's subsequent takeover. For several of Linnard's letters CLICK HERE and then use Back Arrow to return.
        In January of 1852, Joseph Lawton sold his rights to Indian Key, including those to the Hilliard store, to his partner Smith Mowry. Mr. Hilliard continued as Mowry's agent for Indian Key for some time. 
- U.S. Army Period -
        A letter from William H. Bethel dated March 10, 1856 (during the Third Seminole War 1855 - 1857) to Mowry reveals Mr. Bethel living on the Key alone. He and the owner, Mowry, petitioned for troops to be sent to protect the island against the Indians so Bethel could move his family there from Key West. Bethel was also deeded Lignum Vitae Key in 1881. Bethel evidently also acted in the capacity of Inspector of Customs. To read more details Click here and then the Back Arrow to return
         A military garrison was sent to Indian Key in 1856 because of concerns of Indians seen in the surrounding areas. This was the time period of the Third Seminole War. Mowry indicated that he owned 24 or 25 houses on the Key and he feared that they would be burned. These were offered for use by the military. To read the Mowry letter  CLICK HERE, and use the Back Arrow to return. That many houses may seem a little exaggerated assuming that the Bethel family was the only family there. A year earlier A. D. Bache surveyed the island and depicted only seven buildings. Perhaps, Bache was not interested in houses as he was a marine surveyor. To see the Bache map  Click HERE.
        The present Upper and Middle Keys, including Indian Key, became a part of Monroe County again in 1866. Two companies of the 3rd Artillery were sent to Indian Key for a short stay again in 1869.
        Concerning Indian Key, Dr. J. B. Holder published Along the Florida Reef for Harper's Magazine in 1871 of his voyage in 1861. He wrote "Indian Key is one of the few islands of the Reef that can be called inhabited. Here for many years the wreckers have resorted, as it is convenient as a midway station and the safest harbor in heavy weather. . . ."  This indicates that Indian Key remained occupied after the Third Seminole War period and probably until the next period. He also mentions the Housman's epitaph was on a "brick tomb." It is a lengthy report, but should you like to read it, the part about Indian Key is on page two of the following link. CLICK HERE, and use the Back arrow to return.
- Civil War Period (1861 - 1865) -
     This is a relatively unstudied period of Indian Key.  One must remember that Key West's remaining under Union control had to have influenced the use of Indian Key for blockade running, etc. During the war the Key West court adjudicated 199 blockade runners. When Washington established the Gulf Blockading Squadron the Union knew that, ". . . Water may be had near Fort Dallas, on the Miami River, Key Biscayne, at Indian Key, about midway of the reef, and at Fort Jefferson, on the Tortugas." It was decided that under the present circumstances not to build and occupy small forts at Miami or Indian Key. Again, the importance of fresh water for human life and now steam ships places Indian Key in the limelight. Additionally, it offered a protected anchorage and a tempting location for nefarious operations as it would later be in the rum-running times.
       Presented are two documented events that the author has. One occurred in late 1861 when the British schooner Telegraph was seized by the U.S. ship Wanderer near Indian Key and taken to Key West. The captain of the Telegraph told the captain of the Wanderer he was ". . . going to stop at Indian Key for baggage belonging to some passengers he had on board." The U.S. captain became suspicious and took the ship to Key West. To read more about this event please Click HERE.
      Another incident occurred in April of 1864 when the Union gunboat Vicksburg intercepted and captured the British-registered schooner Indian off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. The Union captain was of the opinion that the vessel was running cargo out of Indian Key. The Indian was seized and sent to Washington, D.C. To read the U.S. Navy document please  Click HERE. To date there is no documentation of land based operations on Indian Key for this period.
- Ship Building, Alligator Lighthouse, Farming and the Yellow Fever Period (1866 - 1880) -
       This could be called the eclectic period as you will see. The 1870 census revealed 46 people in nine-families residing on Indian Key. One family was that of Robert and Zylphia McCook, Methodist minister. The McCooks were in Key West during the Civil War when it was placed under martial law and the "writ of habeas corpus" suspended. The Reverend McCook spoke out against the order and was said to have been arrested. McCook was at Indian Key in 1870, possibly because of the aforementioned Civil War period.
      Other than McCook, the others were listed as farmers, seamen, keeping house, servant or carpenter. The sole carpenter was James Bethel of the island's owner family, William H. Bethel.
        Between 1868 and 1875 records indicate three ships were registered in Key West that were built at Indian Key. The first was the 34 feet long, 11 ton schooner Emma registered in 1868 with J. Fernandez as master. Second was the 33 feet long, 10-ton schooner Euphemia registered in 1873 with George Bartlum as master. Third was the 37 feet long, 13-ton schooner Clyde registered with Agustas Sands as master. A fourth ship, the Race, of 23 tons was supposedly constructed in 1875. The Bethels are thought to have controlled this business.
       Indian Key once again became involved with the lighthouse service when it was used as a depot to store and pre-assemble the Alligator Reef lighthouse from late 1870 to 1873.  An agreement was signed on May 10, 1871 between William H. Bethel and Col. Charles Blunt for the: ". . . use of the said island of Indian Key for a depot in connection with the construction of a Light House on Alligator Reef. . . ." It was returned to Bethel in 1881. In 1873 the state surveyor documented it as "Occupied by Wm. Bethel." Many say that Bethel homesteaded the Key and became rightful owner but I have found no record of this.
      In mid 1875 there was a serious yellow fever outbreak in Key West and a hospital detachment, named "Camp Bell", was established on Indian Key. It opened on April 3 and closed October 29, 1875. To read a couple of related letters  Click HERE, then the Back Arrow.
       In 1876 Henry Perrine Jr. revisited Indian Key for an hour. He commented that "There are perhaps half dozen common dwelling houses scattered about the central portion of the Key." In 1885 bananas valued at $8,000 were shipped by the Pinder families from Indian Key. The author does not believe one should conclude the bananas were grown on Indian Key. The Pinders were probably living on Upper Matecumbe Key by then as their homestead had been proven by 1885.  The Pinder was Richard Pinder who along with his children, Adolphus and Cephas Pinder, homesteaded middle Upper Matecumbe Key. The Sands family was another 1870 Indian Key family. The father of Johnny "Brush" Pinder, builder of the schooner Island Home (1903) on Plantation Key  was also in the 1870 census. 
- F.E.C. Railroad Period ( 1905 - 1912) -
        Newspaper accounts reveal that Henry Flagler used Indian Key to support his dredging operations in the middle Upper Keys. It was especially important during the early construction of the Indian Key Fill causeway. The island and it wharves were used to support dredge operations. The Indian Key Fill area was the site of "Central Supply" for Flagler's construction of the Key West Extension and was actually a mini-seaport for a short time. In 1908 when his port of Knight's Key dock was opened, Central Supply was down sized and later discontinued; however, this is the reason that the causeway is as wide as it it. At one time, the State Road Department used the fill as a park.
        Another unidentified, but dated September 11, 1909, clipping reads: "The extension well at Indian Key water station is now down ninety feet. The Messrs. Walker, who have charge of putting down this well are determined to make a record. Twelve inch casing is being supplied from the Long Key machine shops." Fresh water of sufficient quality was not found and the well opening used to be near the southwest corner of the town site square. 
       Flagler eventually bought Indian Key from the state, but had the land patent issued to Elizabeth H. Smith of Duval County, Florida. The land patent is dated June 30, 1909 but was not filed until October 16, 1913, six months after Flagler's death.
       How did Flagler do this when documented history is full of previously recorded land owners? If you go deep enough into the Florida archives you will discover that the U. S. did not transfer ownership of Indian Key to Florida until 1909, yet the U.S. government was leasing it for U.S. lighthouse projects (1851 and 1871), not to mention for the Navy base in 1840. In passing, ownership of Tea Table Key was transferred in 1912.
- Fishing Camp Period (1913 - 1971) -
       Not much can be said about this period. The island was abandoned for practical purposes as when the Indians used it. Local residents tell of pleasant picnics on the island and stopping by enroute to visit the Alligator Lighthouse personnel. 
       As a passing note and word of caution, Florida has a second Indian Key. It is in Tampa Bay and was designated the Indian Key Reservation for the protection of native birds by President Warren Harding on June 25, 1921.
        In December 1921, John K. Small and wife departed New York for an extended trip to Florida the accounts which were published in Journal of The New York Botanical Garden, volume XXII, 1921. On page 217, he wrote of their visit to Indian Key: "Only three things remain on the key  to indicate the improvement of a century ago. They are the masonary foundations of the former buildings, some cultivated tropical trees, and which is more interesting, numerous descendants of the sisal (Agave rigida) plants Dr. Perrine evidently introduced as part of his nursery stock.
       "The stone slabs one placed near the middle of the key so to mark the graves of Perrine and others, intact until recent times, have been destroyed or removed, perhaps, by vandals or treasure hunters.
        "Several modern frame houses, now deserted and n
Perrine grave markerot only unprotected, but  plundered of their contents, ready to be consumed  with the first fire that sweeps the island, stand on the highest part of the key. . . ."
        As to the referenced 'stone slabs' grave markers, at the right is an undated photo named and credited to Mr. Small.
       At the time of the 1935 hurricane, two unemployed telegraph operators were using Indian Key as a fishing location. The Miami Herald of September 4, 1935 gave their names as Lee Coulter and Bill Hanlin. Later, Jack Horsley, who was entertaining 20 friends at the island, when writing to the Miami Herald of how the Coast Guard dropped hurricane warnings wrote, ". . . My good, stubborn friends L. F. Coulter and William Hanlin, operators of the Indian Key Fishing Camp, paid a very high price for not leaving with us. . . ." After the hurricane, one was found draped over a cistern with a broken back and the other was reportedly found drowned on Lignum Vitae Key. 
       Yale archaeologist John M. Goggin while in the Keys area noted on Wednesday, July 12, 1944: "Lunch at 11:50, back at 12:20. At 12:45, I rented a skiff and motor for $4.00 and went to Indian Key. Place was just recently burnt. Many old circular brick cisterns. Saw 3 round; and a square one cut in the bedrock. Two shacks on the place. All around the perimeter is a fairly high wide coral sand and broken coral ridge. Place is covered with a varied xerophytic [limited water supply vegetation] vegetative complex. No sign of any site. I believe I covered the island fairly thoroughly. Came back and stopped at Tea Table Key. Found a refuse area on the beach in the middle of the north side of the key. Just a few shells mixed with coral sand. No black dirt. Some sherds were found. All Glades Gritty ware-pie crust rims. Also one shell celt and a shell hammer-celt."
      Here is some Indian Key history provided by Terry Starck (son of Capt. Buck Starck, grandson of Capt. Walter Starck),  who lived across highway US-1 and visited Indian Key frequently beginning in the 1950s. In brief it was an island of mostly sisal  and cactus with a sizable stand of tamarind trees plus two cabins - the one at the northeast shore was dilapidated and the one on the western shore (facing the highway) was useable; albeit, he never saw any one actually living in it. Hurricane Donna of 1960 destroyed both cabins. He vividly recalls the remains of an old slot machine in the dilapidated cabin and a small second burial head stone deep in the cactus thicket in the tamarind stand - other than seedlings, there were no other trees. This
grave site was a vertical headstone as opposed to a horizontal stone like Jacob Housman's. There was actually a small sand beach in front of the western cabin, also removed by Hurricane Donna.
           To the right is a photo taken by Lower Matecumbe resident Terry Starck of a grave site that was uncovered by Hurricane Donna in 1965. He wrote that there were bones in the site; however, by the time he returned a few weeks later with a camera for this photo, the bones were gone.

- State Park Period (1971 to present) -
       In 1971, the State bought the Key and designated it as a historic site. The first owner on the state's abstract is Elizabeth H. Smith, June 30, 1909, deed filed October 16, 1913. 
       The complete history of Indian Key, a small but populated island half way between Key West and Miami (Fort Dallas), is much more detailed than the above. It is interwoven with the history of wrecking, orchestrated by a character named Jacob Housman at its peak, and its most famous event occurred during the Second Seminole War - a massacre. With the public records divided by Monroe and Dade Counties and the massacre finale of burning almost everything up to 1840, its historical facts, legends and sensationalism's are difficult to separate.  However, with time and effort of researching the archival records and the writings of the Perrine children and others, its history can be approached. The serious researcher must remember that, as with Herrera and Fontaneda, many of the comprehensive writings were made many years after the event. Remember, the Perrine children were hidden in the turtle crawl during the massacre until afternoon. For reasons of space, only the principal data has been presented here.
      As part of the Bicentennial Celebration, the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys and the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce jointly conducted the first Indian Key festival August 7, 1976. A group of guides were trained by Irving Eyster, Jerry Ellis and Donna Sprunt that provided a broad spectrum of the island's history. Water spouts and rain dampened the evening's planned fireworks. The Friends of the Islamorada State Parks continue the festivals, weather permitting. The tents used are in the left corner of the town square that had been cleared to correspond with 1840s promotional lay out diagram. The ferry boat can be seen leaving the State Park's Service dock at the lower left of the photo.
        The saga continues as historic groups attempt preservation and restoration, but are making  definite progress. Journalists continue to set us back by romanticizing the innuendoes. Should you be able to locate a copy of the out of print historical juvenile novel Rumskudgeon by Kaye Edwards Carter, BPK Press, 1976, it is worth reading. The role of renegade wreckers of Key West in 1840 is depicted in the movie Reap the Wild Wind starring John Wayne, Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard. 
       If choosing the tour, the first stop  will be a comprehensive description of the Indian Raid of August 7, 1840.
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