The above photograph was taken in the late 1910s or early 1920s at Musa Isle, near Miami, Florida. The individuals in the photograph are described as “medicine men,” but are otherwise unidentified in the catalog record from the State Archives of Florida.
Musa Isle was a tourist attraction started by John Roop in 1907 on property he purchased on the Miami River from A. J. Richardson. In 1919, Roop leased a section of his property to a Seminole man named Willie Willie. Willie Willie and his father, Charlie Willie, operated a trading post west of Miami. They brought animal commodities to Musa Isle and sold them directly to wholesalers.
Seminoles and Tourism
Willie Willie encouraged other Seminoles to camp at Musa Isle during the winter tourist season. Willie Willie’s interests in Musa Isle came under the control of Bert Lasher in 1922. However, Seminoles continued to frequent the site for several decades thereafter. Until Musa Isle closed in the 1960s, Seminoles were an integral part of this early Florida tourist attraction.
At Musa Isle and similar venues, Seminoles wrestled alligators, made and sold crafts and performed aspects of their daily life, such as making coonti bread and patchwork clothing. In addition to frequenting attractions in southeastern Florida, Seminoles traveled widely throughout the state to work in the tourism trade. One group of Seminoles even traveled to the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.
Musa Isle represented an early entrepreneurial effort on the part of Seminoles to engage the tourism economy. At the same time as Seminoles worked at Musa Isle, families living near the Tamiami Trail operated similar attractions catering to tourists. From camps alongside the Tamiami Trail, Seminoles guided hunting expeditions, gave airboat tours, made and sold crafts and demonstrated their skills in handling wild animals. Some of the Tamiami Trail businesses remain active today.
Presently, the Seminole Tribe of Florida operates several tourism-related enterprises. These businesses carry on traditions stretching back to the founding of Musa Isle’s Seminole Indian village by Willie Willie in the late 1910s.