John Bartus

No one can deny that these are strange days. It’s reminiscent of the ancient Chinese blessing/curse: May you live in interesting times. Fish are spinning. People are just crazy. And idiots populate social and regular media with all sorts of absolute excrement, so little of it true. 

Yet people still believe it.

That makes this column somewhat difficult to write. Much of what I am going to reveal will sound less than believable — but who would have believed fish spinning in canals a year ago?

It’s no secret that the Calusa tribe roamed these islands long before Bahamian or Spanish explorers showed up. According to the College of Education at the University of South Florida, the Calusa controlled most of South Florida, with an estimated population of 50,000. The Calusa lived on the coast and the inner waterways, building their homes on stilts (centuries before FEMA). They wove Palmetto leaves to fashion roofs, but they didn’t construct any walls.

The Calusa were known as the Shell Indians — their shell mounds can still be found today in many parts of southwestern Florida. Needless to say, environmentalists and conservation groups work to preserve many of these remaining shell mounds.

Conservationists and archaeologists have found some of these shell mounds — and what seems to be a Calusa burial ground — right here in the Middle Keys. Boot Key, in the city of Marathon, seems to have been the site of a Calusa village sometime in the 15th through 17th centuries. This was right around the same time as the Spanish explorers arriving in Florida.

The archaeologists working on the site have done their level best to keep their operations a secret from the surrounding community and local media, fearing that something bad could disrupt their preservation efforts. Sadly, in these strange times, they have been proven correct.

A relatively new Facebook group called Calusa Descendants has cropped up, and they are trying to find people who may have ancestors in the Calusa Tribe. It sounds innocent enough on the surface. But this group has ties to some wealthy real estate developers who are looking for old Indian burial grounds and village sites, as well as the tribal descendants who may have a claim on the land. 

If you still don’t understand the reason, just look at the Seminole Tribe and what they’ve accomplished on their reservation lands in South Florida. Then look at the island of Boot Key, a largely undeveloped but rather large parcel of land that may have Calusa roots. It’s not that far-fetched to envision a future that might see a Calusa Casino and Golf Tropical Beach Resort right here in Marathon. Imagine the Hard Rock in Hollywood with golf, fishing and an ocean view with a beach.

An unnamed former city official said, “At least they’d fix the Boot Key Bridge.”

The Calusa Facebook group listed the admin as one April F. Day. I tried messaging her. I tried looking her up on LinkedIn. I did one of those stupid people searches on one of those stupid people-search websites. I still have no idea if April F. Day is a real person or just a fictional character used to establish the group.

The ramifications of all this are quite huge. Do the Keys need another mega resort? Should Calusa descendants have a chance for their payday like the Seminoles did? What will we do with even more traffic? And just who the hell is April F. Day?

If you’ve read this far and wonder what else may be coming down the pike, the Weekly Newspapers will begin charging a $100 annual subscription fee for home delivery. Invoices will be sent on April 1. Welcome to April … fools.

– Catch John live Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, Friday night at Havana Jack’s, Sundays at Skipjack Tiki Bar, and this Monday at Carnegie Hall. Find his music anywhere you download or stream your music. •

John Bartus
Very few towns or cities could ever claim that their Mayor was a smokin' hot guitar player. The island city of Marathon in the Florida Keys is one of those towns. While politics is a temporary call to service, music is a life sentence. John Bartus, a more-than-four-decade full-time professional musician, singer, and songwriter, continues to raise the bar with his groundbreaking solo acoustic show. It’s easy to catch John on one of his more than 200 shows a year throughout the Keys on his Perpetual Island Tour. His CD releases include After The Storm, Keys Disease 10th Anniversary Remaster, and Live From the Florida Keys Vol. 2. John’s music is available wherever you download or stream your music.