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History of Chokoloskee Island...

A quiet island of roughly 150 acres and a couple hundred residents, Chokoloskee is actually a large shell mound, owing its 20-foot elevation, the highest point of land around, to the work of the Calusa Indians. During the hurricane of 1910, residents on the island who survived by moving to the only piece of land remaining above water gained a true understanding of why the Indians built their mounds so high. They too knew about hurricanes and storm surges.

The island is situated at the lower end of the large, shallow Chokoloskee Bay, which lies between the mainland and the Ten Thousand Islands. The 10-mile-long, 2-mile-wide bay doesn't have a place in it with a depth of more than 5 feet. Sometimes billed as the Snook Capital of the World, Chokoloskee serves as a convenient entrance to the Everglades backcountry for modern day explorers and serious anglers.

Fishing patterns are the same as Everglades City's. Snook, tarpon, redfish, and seatrout are popular and plentiful. Fishing guides are available that will take you to the seldom explored parts of the backcountry. Most guides can accommodate, and in fact welcome, fly-fishing enthusiasts.

Like any pioneer town on the edge of a wilderness, Chokoloskee Island has seen its share of characters—including Totch Brown. A native of Chokoloskee, Totch became a legend for his success as an alligator poacher, smuggler, and story teller, and for his honesty in describing his past. His tales, which are available in his and Peter Matthiessen's book, Totch: A Life in the Everglades and on video, Tales of the Everglades: Totch Brown's Life in the 10,000 Islands, add a fabric of realism to the twentieth century history of the island. Both are available at the Smallwood Store and Outdoor Resorts.

Another far less scrutable character who has almost grown to mythical proportions is the notorious Ed Watson, a hot-tempered, quick-to-violence pioneer, who ran a farming and produce shipping operation from an island on the Chatham River south of Chokoloskee. In 1910 Watson, who was suspected of multiple murders, was killed by the townspeople of Chokoloskee. It's a story that's been told and retold in magazines and books, and most recently in a historical-fiction format in Peter Matthiessen's novel The Killing of Mr. Watson.

Chokoloskee today is a quiet town of commercial fishermen, fishing guides, and a slowly increasing number of seasonal residents. A pair of well-run resort operations blend in with the small community.

But you can still touch the island's history. You can visit the Smallwood Store and see the dock where Watson was shot, or journey into the Everglades backcountry to see where he lived. You can hear the tales of Totch Brown and stop to visit with his nephew, Kenny Brown, at Outdoor Resorts at the base of the causeway. Like Ted Smallwood and Totch Brown, Kenny Brown embodies a living knowledge of the island's short, but vibrant history.