chickee talk by Tina Marie Osceola


I often write about my father’s memories and life in Ochopee and Everglades City. The Seminole story is deep and colorful to write about. The options seem endless… and during many of my stories, I think of many other side trips to take everyone on and I lose my place and have to start over. I promise to start on one of those detours and stay “off course” this time.

David Shealy is holding a cast of a footprint that he found around the camp

Travel writers like to write about the roads less traveled and the roadside attractions locals conveniently drive past. They become local landmarks and used as directional signs when we tell others how far something is or when to turn. Travelers on Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami easily recall Port of the Islands, Carnestown, Wooten’s and the Miccosukee Airboat Rides. Almost every tourist also remembers one hard to miss stop in remote Ochopee… Trail Lakes Campground. Not ringing any bells? How about Skunkape Headquarters? Do I have your attention now? Of course I do! How can you not notice the statue of the Bigfoot, Yeti, Sasquatch-like creature on the south side of the road as you approach Turner River?! That’s rhetorical…

The Skunkape Headquarters is more than a roadside attraction. It is home to a local family, the Shealys, who have called the Everglades home for generations. Representatives of a local pioneer culture called “The Gladesmen,” Jack and David Shealy, brothers, have worked tirelessly to keep what is left of life in Ochopee alive and authentic. David’s son, Jack C. Shealy, is that next generation of entrepreneur, preservationist, historian, musician, and activist to help keep the legacy moving forward.

I recently took the folks from my office on a field trip to Ochopee and we stopped in to visit the Shealys. The welcome is always warm and the conversation is always captivating. Before our visit, David had just spent a few nights out on our Big Cypress Reservation. He had been invited by one of our tribal members who had some suspicious experiences around his camp and he wanted David to check it out. He showed our group castings he took of footprints found around the camp. I know there are many of you who consider the Skunkape local lore or legend and I understand. Many Seminoles, like me, have grown up with stories about the Skunkape. Many indigenous cultures have a deep respect for these beings and believe that we coexist as part of the natural environment and maybe even part of the supernatural world.

My grandpa, Cory Osceola, born in 1893, spoke of the Skunkape and told us that if we ever smelled something stronger than a skunk and a bit like garbage to be aware and leave the area because a Skunkape was nearby. Now, for those of you who have canoed or hiked through the Everglades, you know the feeling of knowing that you aren’t alone. It is that human instinct, maybe fear, that tells us when to be alert and danger may be present. I would like to think that this keeps the Skunkape safe from humans. We have a tendency to ruin things…

The next time you are driving down Tamiami Trail, I urge you to stop at the Skunkape Headquarters and say hi to the Shealys. Talk to them about their preservation efforts and what it’s like to be a Gladesman. I’m not asking you to believe in the Skunkape. You don’t have to…

I just want you to believe in our local cultures enough to place value in their stories.

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