Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Trailblazing the Tamiami Trail

Official car of the Tamiami Trail Blazers Expedition
April, 1923.
(Click image to enlarge)


From the Seminole Tribune:
On April 4, 1923, the Trail Blazers left Fort Myers driving toward Miami across the vastness of South Florida. The motorcade consisted of nine vehicles, one tractor, 25 men and four women. Russell Kay, business manager of Florida Grower, was chief director of the stunt later called the Tamiami Trail Blazers Expedition.

Two Seminole Indians played major roles as guides, hunters and food gatherers: Conopatchee (Little Billie), who was the father of medicine man Josie Billie; and Assumhatchee (Abraham Lincoln Clay). Both were popular among the pioneers living in Lee and Collier counties.

Allen H. Andrews, a Koreshan Unity church member and expedition member, wrote about his experience during the “blazing” stage, which began immediately in the first hour after leaving. Andrews described the terrain as a land where “law and order are practically unknown, home only to the Seminoles and assorted moonshiners, bootleggers and other outlaws.”

As the expedition of mostly city slickers progressed through wet prairie, marsh, sawgrass and hammock islands, the group lost three vehicles, rendered “out of commission” by the muck. Andrews and the others relied on the knowledge of their Seminole guides to find water, food and the best route across the Glades.

Andrews commented on the constant need for fresh water: “To the writer the lack of good drinking water proved the greatest privation and there were frequent periods when one’s thoughts dwelt in anticipation upon the ice cream and cooling drinks one would get in Miami when the Trail’s end was reached – but when?”

As they reached the halfway mark from Fort Myers, Andrews also started to worry about food, which was “practically gone” at that point. His outlook brightened when Seminole guide Clay returned with a fresh-killed deer. Soon the men had boiled venison for dinner, sufficient to satisfy the “almost famished crowd.”

When the group hadn’t arrived in Miami on the expected date, rumors circulated that the Trail Blazers were lost in the Everglades and likely dead, giving the expedition daily national news coverage. Each day, airplanes scanned the rough terrain and rescue parties were dispatched from both sides to find them.

On April 10, The Miami Herald ran a story with the headline, “Rain Dashes Only Hope of Trapped Party – Believe All Have Perished.”


April 10, 1923.

Seminole Tribune: Blazing a trail through swamps and the Everglades

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