Seminole Spaces: Trading Posts
Welcome back to our series on Seminole Spaces! In this series, we explore places and spaces important to Seminole culture, history, and tourism. This week, we are exploring a unique type of Seminole space: trading posts. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Seminoles utilized trading posts as points of contact with non-Seminole traders. They would trade alligator hides, deer, foodstuffs, and plumes for items they could not obtain or make themselves. At this point in time, Seminoles were very insular, making trading posts a vital point of contact with the world outside the Seminole culture and way of life.
Join us as we explore trading posts, why they were important, and how they influenced Seminole life and culture through to today! In this blog post, we will look at four trading posts that were found throughout South Florida: the Stranahan House in Fort Lauderdale, Brown’s Trading Post near Big Cypress, Ted Smallwood’s Store on Chokoloskee, and Storter’s in Everglade (later renamed Everglades City). It is important to note that the trading posts mentioned here are not the only ones that supported the Seminole economy throughout this time. These trading posts were often the largest, though, or made a significant impact on Seminole history.
In the featured image for this week, you can see four Seminole men standing in front of Smallwood’s Store the Ole Indian Trading Post. The sign on the building reads “Post Office, Chokoloskee, Fla.” From left to right (identified on the postcard) are Tommy Osceola, Tigertail, Cypress, and Dixie. This image is circa 1900.
Thriving and Surviving in the Swamp
By the time the Seminole War period ended, the remaining Florida Seminoles had “been prepared for survival in the harsh wetlands environment by nearly five decades of wartime life.” Seminoles were cautious and wary of outsiders, and for good reason. Typically, they avoided the ever-expanding settlements of these new American pioneers. Seminoles built their camps far away from these burgeoning towns, hidden and protected. Thus, trading posts became vital resources for Seminoles. Not only could they trade alligator hides, deer pelts, coontie, bird plumes, and other goods, but they could keep their families and camps protected and separate. Trusted traders like Frank Stranahan and Ted Smallwood were important to the Seminole economy, and these initially tenuous trading connections would strengthen over time.
Typically, trading posts were located on waterways and riverbanks. Seminoles utilized the waterways of the Florida Everglades like a highway; using landmarks to navigate through the ever-shifting River of Grass. Dugout canoes were incredibly important during this time and could be used to transport entire families and goods all throughout South Florida. Below, you can see a Seminole man wearing a bigshirt. He stands on a canoe outside Ted Smallwood’s Store on Chokoloskee. Unfortunately, the heyday of traditional trading posts was short lived. With the introduction of railroads, massive Everglades drainage projects, and the cutting of the Tamiami Trail through South Florida, the ease of mobility of canoes was significantly hindered. But, the impacts of these early trading posts can still be seen. Even today, general stores and other places selling Seminole goods and crafts are often still called “trading posts”.
Frank and Ivy Stranahan
On the banks of the New River in Fort Lauderdale, the Stranahan House is one of the most famous trading posts of that era. In fact, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum even features the Stranahan House in one of its permanent exhibits, From the Land. You can explore this exhibit online through the Virtual Tour, or in person. Hailing from Ohio, Frank Stranahan came to the Fort Lauderdale area in 1893. He quickly established a robust trade economy with the Seminoles in the area, creating strong ties and friendships. Frank would marry Ivy Cromartie in 1900, just a handful of months after she joined the New River settlement as a schoolteacher. Ivy continued to teach, “offering informal lessons [to Seminole children] at the trading post that respected the tribe’s traditions.” Together, the Stranahans would be important friends and advocates for Seminole rights and the Seminole people.
After Frank’s death in 1929, Ivy continued to be important in the community. Although the era of traditional trading posts came to an end, she remained an advocate for the Seminole community for the rest of her life. Ivy Stranahan would be instrumental in Seminole advocacy, encouraging and helping Seminole children enter public schools and pushing for Seminole rights and reservations.
Ivy Stranahan “had no desire to transform the Indian culture and often told her pupils ‘We don’t want to make white people out of you, just give you the best of what you are’” (Kersey et al 7). She was a large part of “Friends of the Seminoles,” an advocacy group, from 1899 through 1971. The organization sent five Seminole students to the Cherokee Indian School in North Carolina in 1937. These five students were Betty Mae Tiger, Howard Tiger, Mary and Agnes Parker, Mary Tommie, and Moses Jumper (Kersey et al 8).
The Stranahan House
Above, you can see the original Stranahan & Co Trading Post and Post Office in the late 19th or very early 20th century with steps down to the New River. This image is featured in The Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes of Southern Florida by Patsy West on page 50. The description reads “The Stranahan Trading Post on the New River in Fort Lauderdale was the focal point of trade for the Seminoles of the Pine Island complex. Begun in 1893, Frank Stranahan catered to the Seminoles’ needs, adding a shelter for overnight stays (in background) and a boatslip off the river. Furs, bird plumes, and alligator hides were traded to obtain salt for tanning and flour for bread.” Below, you can see a historic image of the expanded Stranahan House.
Frank Stranahan would construct the larger Stranahan House we know today in 1901. The lower floor served as a trading post. In 1906, he would further expand the complex to include a bank and a general store, with the trading post converted into a living space for the Stranahan family. Today, the Stranahan House has been converted into a museum. The Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and the Fort Lauderdale Board of Realtors restored and reopened the house as a museum in 1984. The Historic Stranahan House Museum hosts over 10,000 visitors a year. This sweeping wood structure with wide porches is located only feet from the New River. The Stranahan House is “Fort Lauderdale’s oldest and most historically significant surviving structure.” Stranahan House is currently open for scheduled tours only. Tour guides are available with advanced booking.
Ted Smallwood’s Store on Chokoloskee
On the opposite side of the state from the Stranahan House, Ted Smallwood’s Store on Chokoloskee served as an isolated, rural trading post nestled in the Ten Thousand Islands. Established in 1906 by Ted Smallwood, it “served a remote and isolated area buying hides, furs, and farm produce in exchange for providing the goods required to survive.” Smallwood also operated as the Postmaster for the area, and the store contained the local Post Office. The National Register of Historic Places listed Smallwood’s Store in 1974. In the nominating documentation, Smallwood’s store was noted as being significant as “the Smallwood trading posts became trading headquarters for the region, although Storter’s interests at Everglades were also prospering and rivalled Smallwood’s business.” Smallwood’s Store operated as a general store until 1982. After closing, many of the goods remained in the store until it reopened as a museum in 1990.
Above, you can see a black and white image of the back of the Smallwood’s Store. A sign on the back of the store says “Post Office Chokoloskee.” This is a copy of an unidentified historic photograph, most likely a postcard. Interestingly, Smallwood’s Store and Chokoloskee were featured as an important backdrop in the 1958 film Wind Across the Everglades. Below, you can see a shot taken during the filming showing the backside of Smallwood’s Store. Focusing on the plume wars, the film also featured Cory Osceola and Mary Moore Osceola. You can learn more about the film in a previous blog post. Today, the museum at Smallwood’s store is open 7 days a week. From December to April, it is open 10 am to 5 pm, and from May through November it is open 11 am to 5 pm.
Brown’s Trading Post and Landing
Located on what is now the Big Cypress Reservation, Brown’s Trading Post was unique even in the trading post era. Bill and Jane Brown established the trading post in 1910, constructing it on a high point. Typically, trading posts were most often found on the coasts, closer to the newer American settlements. But, Brown built his trading post deeper within the center of the state. Although now it is reservation land, at the time the reservations had not yet been formally established. Typically, it would take Seminole families four or five days to travel to these coastal trading posts. For those in the area, Brown’s location cut down their travel time to a mere one or two days. During construction, Brown placed a house, store, barn, and various outbuildings on the cleared land. He also dug a ditch, allowing Seminole canoes easier access to the trading post.
Seminoles would trade alligator, deer, raccoon and otter hides, and egret plumes in turn for grits, flour, sugar, glass beads and cast iron kitchen items. Brown also operated a small grocery in present day Immokalee, and his family would spend part of the year in Big Cypress and part in Immokalee depending on the season. Brown and his family left the trading post in 1908. But, the next operators abandoned the trading post by 1913.
In the last thirty years, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) and other entities have conducted a number of archaeological excavations. In 2013, the THPO and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum hosted a Brown family reunion on the site of Brown’s Trading Post. Archaeologists have uncovered a number of glass trade beads, black glass bottles, and other historic content of the era. To learn more about Brown’s Trading Post, check out a previous blog post by the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum!
Storter’s At Everglade
A contemporary and competitor of Ted Smallwood, George Washington Storter opened his trading post in now-Everglades City in the late 19th century. Here, Seminoles would trade alligator hides, deer skins, and other goods. Storter also established the first Post Office in Everglade in 1895. In the area, American settlers were primarily farmers, growing sugar cane, bananas, and vegetables. Storter grew sugar cane, and was a prolific trader of buttonwood, sugar cane, and grapefruit up through Tampa.
Trading Posts were an important economic and cultural connection point between Seminole and non-Seminole settlers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although there are only remnants of some, others have stood the test of time and serve as historic makers of this important period in Seminole history that helped propel Seminoles into the tourism industry. Seminoles would begin to operate their own trading posts, trading goods and crafts. These early ventures would show the resilience and business acumen still seen today in the modern Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The author accessed these sources digitally. Page reference numbers may not align with paper and hardback copies.
West, Patsy. The Enduring Seminoles: From Alligator Wresting to Casino Gaming, Revised and Expanded Edition. 2008. University Press of Florida. Digital.
West, Patsy. The Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes of Southern Florida. Arcadia Publishing. 2012. Digital.
Kersey, Harry A. Jr and Rochelle Kushin. Ivy Stranahan and the “Friends of the Seminoles” 1899-1971. Digital. https://journals.flvc.org/browardlegacy/article/download/78586/75993/
Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to South Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series, and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Fort Myers, FL with her husband, son, and dog.