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August Rain in the Everglades

There’s so much more to this simple image of a man and his canoe than meets the eye.

From the Collection: Scenes of Summer
A seminole man hauls a canoe during an August rainstorm, 1910. Photo by Julian Dimock, American Museum of Natural History

In 1905, the popular American periodical Century Magazine ran a story called “The Everglades of Florida: A Region of Mystery” that introduced its readers to the vast tropical wetlands in their southernmost state. “Certainly Nature could have contrived no more impregnable defense to guard any secrets she may have to conceal,” the authors wrote. “It would seem an easy matter to penetrate this unique wilderness, to examine it, to subdue it; in reality, this has proved a well-nigh impossible task.” During the late 19th century, white settlers forced Florida’s Seminole to retreat here from northern Florida. The  tribes took sanctuary in the ecosystem’s labyrinth of waterways with their natural protections. “There is no obvious way of forcing a passage,” Century Magazine indignantly contended. “The region is not exactly land, and it is not exactly water.” The Seminole were untroubled by such distinctions. They called their home “Pa-Hay-Okee,” or grassy water. 

When photographer Julian Dimock arrived during a 1910 expedition, large swaths of the Everglades’ sawgrass marshes and mangrove forests, home to rare and exotic wildlife, were under threat as developers dredged for agriculture and to make artificial canals. But it was still the terrain of Pa-Hay-Okee. The Seminole allowed Dimock to observe and document their customs and provided the invaluable labor of transporting his heavy photographic equipment via canoe. Each of his images required a glass plate negative about the size of a sheet of paper with the thickness of window glass. In images such as this, Dimock captured a way of life endangered by developers bent on dominating the delicate ecosystem and its inhabitants. 

As drainage for development increasingly lowered water levels, and a main road was built directly through Seminole territory, the indigenous tribes were pressured to find new ways to sustain themselves. They set up camps where they sold crafts and performed for tourists.  In 1947, the area that became Everglades National Park was carved out from grassy waters that had been designated Seminole territory. Today, the Florida Seminole live on six reservations and remain the only American tribe never to sign a peace treaty with the U.S. government.

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About Scenes of Summer

A new AMERICAN EXPERIENCE collection of images celebrating summer in America throughout the 20th century, from historical firsts like the original drive-in movie theater to iconic events like the 1977 New York City blackout.