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1 An abandoned camp in the Big Cypress Swamp. Photograph by Deborah Mitchell. 1. THE FLORIDA EVERGLADES An Entangled Landscape As a landscape, the Everglades has epitomized all that we think of as nature at its most uncultivated: an icon infested with frightening reptiles, botanical excess, swarms of mosquitoes, and unforgiving heat. This is the alien and impenetrable Everglades that stymied the attempts of early surveyors and settlers and that continues to provide dramatic flair to countless novels, films, and other accounts of swampland exploration. At the same time, these exotic visions of the landscape have supported widespread practices of landscape transformation, particularly schemes of drainage and development, as they have in the swamps and wetlands throughout the Americas.1 In southern Florida, beginning in the late 1800s, the sense that the value of the Everglades lay solely in its potential for “reclamation” and cultivation led to the drainage and development of two-thirds of the historic Everglades. Yet even as the dredging machines plowed forward, in their slow bid to create canals through the muck, concerned scientists and citizens lobbied to protect a landscape they considered both unique and fragile. Certainly this protectionist , and increasingly ecologized, vision has gained momentum over the past thirty years, culminating in today’s multibillion-dollar plans for Everglades restoration. Today, all these visions of the Everglades have become entangled into a set of contradictory practices and politics of nature. Yet within this entanglement , the place of people in the Everglades remains highly ambivalent. For the most part, humanity in the Everglades has been displaced to roles of externalized agents of change, with most accounts focused on conflicts over its drainage and resources. The narrative arc of these accounts generally begins with the landscape’s settlement and drainage in the mid-nineteenth 2 The Florida Everglades century, then details the ensuing environmental devastation, and ends with a triumphant plea for restoration. In these narratives, the Everglades is an unpeopled landscape that humans act upon. As a corrective to this selective vision, this book reclaims the landscape as a place of people and human history. But I do so with a particular interest in understanding how what it means to be “human” is constituted through changing relations with other animals, plants, material objects, and the like. This book focuses on the world-making practices of poor rural whites, called gladesmen, alligators, snakes, mangroves, and fire (this book’s central characters). Gladesmen settled in southern Florida at the midpoint of the nineteenth century. They and their descendents supported themselves primarily through commercial and subsistence hunting and fishing and through small-scale farming. Although this has been an Everglades history largely neglected by scholars, there is a robust popular literature that tends to both romanticize and essentialize rural Everglades life into easy stories of outlaws and outsiders. Certainly this outlaw mythology has become an important part of what the Everglades is and means—including to gladesmen themselves. For this reason, I return again and again to stories of the most famous Everglades outlaws, the Ashley Gang. Still, these outlaw stories contribute little to our sense of the Everglades as a real human experience, one emerging out of specific relations among hunters and the nonhuman world. More problematically, Everglades lore, with its ever-present simplified “outlaw” (poacher, moonshiner, gangster, and so on), blinds us to a critical appreciation of how oppositional culture and social class operate in our understandings of wilderness in the United States. As the Everglades became increasingly transformed by drainage and development projects throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the calls to protect remnant wild lands gained political and social acceptance. This lobbying for Everglades protection and conservation recalls the romanticism inherent to the creation of wilderness throughout the United States.2 In particular, this wilderness paradigm reverberated with Edenic overtones that positioned rural inhabitants of wild lands as uncivilized threats to nature’s purity.3 Rural whites, in contrast to indigenous peoples, were particularly suspect. In these Everglades wilderness stories, indigenous Seminoles and Miccosukees of southern Florida are discursively The Florida Everglades 3 and simplistically sited within the landscape. Certainly, the nature–Native metonym entails multiple racist effacements, including, in the case of the Seminoles and Miccosukees, a history of resisting genocidal removal practices , pressures on land and resources, and current efforts to maintain their territorial and tribal autonomy. At the same time, Native presence (both precolonial and contemporary) in the Everglades is accorded an acceptability that is not extended to rural...


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