The Biscayne Times

Saturday
Jul 22nd
Indians As Tourist Bait PDF Print E-mail
Written by Paul S. George, Special to the BT   
July 2017

A Pix_Picture_Story_7-17view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami

In last month’s Biscayne Times, we examined early tourist attractions along the north bank of the Miami River in close proximity to the eastern edge of the Everglades. The most famous of the later attractions, which opened in 1919 on the site of these earlier tourist venues, was the Musa Isle Indian Village, seen here in this 1928 photograph.

Musa Isle stood on the south bank, just east of today’s NW 27th Avenue. Other “Indian villages” stood nearby.

As before, many of the visitors to Musa Isle (Musa is a botanical term for the plant genus that includes bananas) came by boat up the Miami River; others reached it through other conveyances. The chief attractions, of course, were the Native Americans, today’s Miccosukees, then mislabeled as Seminoles, who lived and worked there.

Musa Isle and other similar attractions were owned by white entrepreneurs and represented an important element of Miami’s early tourist offerings. Many Miccosukees joined these ventures after their traditional ways of life were threatened through Everglades drainage, which began in the early 1900s.

After paying a cashier at the entrance, visitors to Musa Isle moved past chickee huts housing families, including women who sewed authentic Indian clothing, beads, and dolls, which they sold to tourists. They also cooked over open fires before an audience.

The grounds contained totem poles, a wishing well, and a museum. The village also hosted ducks, parrots, flamingos, chimpanzees, and monkeys, all of which seemingly had a free run of the grounds. Closer to the river were the alligator pits, where hardy Miccosukees wrestled the reptiles in front of an often awestruck audience. Sometimes visitors tossed coins into the river and young Indian males would dive in after them.

Musa Isle and the other villages remained popular attractions until the 1960s, when tourists’ tastes changed and new attractions appeared, undercutting their popularity.

Along with the others, Musa Isle closed in the mid-1960s, and its native population relocated along the Tamiami Trail west of Miami. A three-story apartment complex replaced it. Only a rock wall outlining the southern perimeter of the once-popular attraction remains.

 

Paul George is historian at HistoryMiami. To order a copy of this photo, please contact HistoryMiami archives manager Dawn Hugh at 305-375-1623, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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