Seminole Indian War Fort Unearthed in the Everglades

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: July 17, 2014 3:55 AM
Fort Harrell search

Fort Harrell search: Courtesy / Chris Harris

Sometimes we forget how remarkable the Florida Everglades really is. A team of amateur explorers has given up another one of its treasures, and this time the treasure isn't natural, isn't part of the wetlands' extraordinary biodiversity.

It's part of history.

Jeremy Regis, a retired University of Miami professor, told Sunshine State News a small group of local "explorers" found the site of a lost U.S. Army fort buried deep in the Everglades.

"What a find," said Regis. "A long time ago it served as a restocking post for troops during guerilla-style skirmishes with the Seminole Indians."

Tucked into dense swamps 60 miles from the Atlantic, Fort Harrell, built in 1837, was one of nearly a dozen forts across Florida used in the early and mid-19th century.

Regis said the search for Fort Harrell, last seen by engineers of the Tamiami Trail in 1917, has been an all-consuming passion for outdoorsman and high school chemistry teacher Shawn Beightol; for Chris Harris, a computer engineer; and for Tony Pernas, a National Park Service employee. During the past year they launched five trips into the Everglades, spending more than 100 hours searching possible sites.

FOX News said the three men found evidence of Fort Harrell on an overnight expedition June 26-27. The Sun-Sentinel was the first to report the story.

Beightol told the newspaper, “It needs to be preserved and memorialized. I’d like to see a monument placed there for the people who served in that Godforsaken location 170 years ago. Their story needs to be told.”

Regis, who taught history, said he hopes that when the site is confirmed as Fort Harrell, the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee will include a small display to commemorate it and perhaps the other forts that were so instrumental in the Seminole Indian Wars.

“What's so important about Harrell is that so few of these forts have been preserved. We would actually have something of that period," Regis said.

According to the news reports, army soldiers used the fort to stock supplies and prepare for battles during the second Seminole War. It was one of eight smaller forts erected in the interior of the Sunshine State. Larger forts were built along the coast, including Fort Lauderdale, Fort Jupiter and Fort Myers.

The three men studied historic war maps, engineering surveys and aerial photos from the 1940s. They narrowed down the fort's possible location to a single clearing in the Big Cypress Preserve in Collier County.

Searching the area last week, Pernas noticed a series of post holes in the limestone used to support the foundation walls of the fort. They mapped out the geometry of the post holes and saw they were aligned in a roughly rectangular pattern about 135 feet long and 45 feet wide. They returned with a cypress log carved into a long beam and brought it to the National Park Service and Robert Carr, a South Florida archaeologist who has excavated and studied 2,000-year-old Tequesta Indian sites found in the heart of downtown Miami.

He and others are studying the find now, Regis said.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

Comments (1)

10:28AM JUL 17TH 2014
Such a pleasure to come across a nice story, instead of all the typical partisan nonsense that runs as reporting. Thanks!

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