General History of Indian Key -
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.
who was court martialed. However, the trial brought out 10
by Lt. McLaughlin upon which the Navy held a Court of Inquiry. An
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,
68 officers, 130 attached Marines and other personnel.
On the ten specific
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
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
of the Dade County seat being located at Indian Key. Once the Navy
in 1842, other residents, except William Bethel, appeared to have
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
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
abandoned and that "he was in possession of the county seal, the only
left by the Indians whereby to recognize the County Court of Dade . . .
" The Legislative Council on March 9, 1844 moved the "County Site" to
at Miami on the south side of the Miami River.
Dade County continued
population and court problems. In 1888 an election moved the Dade
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
back to Miami where it remained. To read the Maloney letter and
of other letters relating to early Dade County Click
- Carysfort Lighthouse Period -
some but not
by all was that the two Charleston men that held mortgages on the
They filed their briefs at the estate probate to preserve their
Afterwards, Messrs. Mowry and Lawton foreclosed and bought the 10.4 -
island at public auction on the Court House steps in Key West on
15, 1844 for $355. This included all the structures the Navy left
Key had been lucky that no significant hurricane had struck the island
since 1820. The Great Hurricane of 1844 was reported but no specific
were given of the damage to the structures that the Navy had left;
the newspapers said it was considerable.
W. H. Hilliard was
as an manager for the island and he is thought to have operated some
of a store after the hurricane. Hilliard acted as the agent to lease
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
itself had been suggested for the location of a lighthouse at one time.
Major Linnard of the Topographical Engineers did the preliminary work
his death and Meade's subsequent takeover. For several of Linnard's
HERE and then use Back Arrow to return.
In January of
Lawton sold his rights to Indian Key, including those to the Hilliard
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
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
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
capacity of Inspector of Customs. To read more details Click
here and then the Back Arrow to return
was sent to Indian Key in 1856 because of concerns of Indians seen in
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
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.
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.
Dr. J. B. Holder published Along the Florida Reef for Harper's
in 1871 of his voyage in 1861. He
wrote "Indian Key is one of the few islands of the Reef that can be
inhabited. Here for many years the wreckers have resorted, as it is
as a midway station and the safest harbor in heavy weather. . .
This indicates that Indian Key remained occupied after the Third
War period and probably until the next period. He also mentions the
epitaph was on a "brick tomb." It is a lengthy report, but should you
to read it, the part about Indian Key is on page two of the following
HERE, and use the Back arrow to return.
- Civil War Period (1861 - 1865) -
This is a
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
running, etc. During the war the Key West court adjudicated 199
runners. When Washington established the Gulf Blockading Squadron the
knew that, ". . . Water may be had near Fort Dallas, on the Miami
Key Biscayne, at Indian Key, about midway of the reef, and at Fort
on the Tortugas." It was decided that under the present circumstances
to build and occupy small forts at Miami or Indian Key. Again, the
of fresh water for human life and now steam ships places Indian Key in
the limelight. Additionally, it offered a protected anchorage and a
location for nefarious operations as it would later be in the
Presented are two
events that the author has. One occurred in late 1861 when the British
schooner Telegraph was seized by the U.S. ship Wanderer
Indian Key and taken to Key West. The captain of the Telegraph
the captain of the Wanderer he was ". . . going to stop at
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
this event please Click HERE.
Another incident occurred
of 1864 when the Union gunboat Vicksburg intercepted and
the British-registered schooner Indian off the coast of Cape
North Carolina. The Union captain was of the opinion that the vessel
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
on Indian Key for this period.
- Ship Building, Alligator
and the Yellow Fever Period (1866 - 1880) -
This could be called
period as you will see. The 1870 census revealed 46 people in
residing on Indian Key. One family was that of Robert and Zylphia
Methodist minister. The McCooks were in Key West during the Civil War
it was placed under martial law and the "writ of habeas corpus"
The Reverend McCook spoke out against the order and was said to have
arrested. McCook was at Indian Key in 1870, possibly because of the
Civil War period.
Other than McCook, the others were
listed as farmers, seamen, keeping house, servant or carpenter. The
carpenter was James Bethel of the island's owner family, William H.
records indicate three ships were registered in Key West that were
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
as master. Third was the 37 feet long, 13-ton schooner Clyde
with Agustas Sands as master. A fourth ship, the Race, of 23
was supposedly constructed in 1875. The Bethels are thought to have
Indian Key once again
involved with the lighthouse service when it was used as a depot to
and pre-assemble the Alligator Reef lighthouse from late 1870 to
An agreement was signed on May 10, 1871 between William H. Bethel and
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
Reef. . . ." It was returned to Bethel in 1881. In 1873 the state
documented it as "Occupied by Wm. Bethel." Many say that Bethel
the Key and became rightful owner but I have found no record of this.
In mid 1875 there was a
fever outbreak in Key West and a hospital detachment, named "Camp
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
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
Indian Key. The author does not believe one should conclude the bananas
were grown on Indian Key. The Pinders were probably living on Upper
Key by then as their homestead had been proven by 1885. The
was Richard Pinder who along with his children, Adolphus and Cephas
homesteaded middle Upper Matecumbe Key. The Sands family was another
Indian Key family. The father of Johnny "Brush" Pinder, builder of the
schooner Island Home (1903) on Plantation Key was
in the 1870 census.
- F.E.C. Railroad Period ( 1905 -
that Henry Flagler used Indian Key to support his dredging operations
the middle Upper Keys. It was especially important during the early
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
but dated September 11, 1909, clipping reads: "The extension well at
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.
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
the southwest corner of the town site square.
Key from the state, but had the land patent issued to Elizabeth H.
of Duval County, Florida. The land patent is dated June 30, 1909 but
not filed until October 16, 1913, six months after Flagler's death.
How did Flagler do
documented history is full of previously recorded land owners? If you
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
not to mention for the Navy base in 1840. In passing, ownership of Tea
Table Key was transferred in 1912.
- Fishing Camp Period (1913 -
Not much can be said
period. The island was abandoned for practical purposes as when the
used it. Local residents tell of pleasant picnics on the island and
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
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 not 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
two unemployed telegraph operators were using Indian Key as a fishing
The Miami Herald of September 4, 1935 gave their names as Lee Coulter
Bill Hanlin. Later, Jack Horsley, who was entertaining 20 friends at
island, when writing to the Miami Herald of how the Coast Guard dropped
hurricane warnings wrote, ". . . My good, stubborn friends L. F.
and William Hanlin, operators of the Indian Key Fishing Camp, paid a
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
found drowned on Lignum Vitae Key.
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
brick cisterns. Saw 3 round; and a square one cut in the bedrock. Two
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
water supply vegetation] vegetative complex. No sign of any site. I
I covered the island fairly thoroughly. Came back and stopped at Tea
Key. Found a refuse area on the beach in the middle of the north side
the key. Just a few shells mixed with coral sand. No black dirt. Some
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 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.
right is a photo taken by
resident Terry Starck of a grave site that was uncovered by Hurricane
in 1965. He wrote that there were bones in the site; however, by the
he returned a few weeks later with a camera for this photo, the bones
- State Park Period (1971 to
In 1971, the State
bought the Key
and designated it as a historic site. The first owner on the state's
is Elizabeth H. Smith, June 30, 1909, deed filed October 16, 1913.
The complete history
Key, a small but populated island half way between Key West and Miami
Dallas), is much more detailed than the above. It is interwoven with
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
and the massacre finale of burning almost everything up to 1840, its
facts, legends and sensationalism's are difficult to separate.
with time and effort of researching the archival records and the
of the Perrine children and others, its history can be approached. The
serious researcher must remember that, as with Herrera and Fontaneda,
of the comprehensive writings were made many years after the event.
the Perrine children were hidden in the turtle crawl during the
until afternoon. For reasons of space, only the principal data has been
As part of the Bicentennial
the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys and the
Chamber of Commerce jointly conducted the first Indian Key festival
7, 1976. A group of guides were trained by Irving Eyster, Jerry Ellis
Donna Sprunt that provided a broad spectrum of the island's
history. Water spouts and rain dampened the evening's planned
The Friends of the Islamorada State Parks continue the festivals,
permitting. The tents used are in the left corner of the town square
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
left of the photo.
historic groups attempt preservation and restoration, but are
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,
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,
stop will be a comprehensive description of the Indian Raid of
-- - - - - - - - -
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