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From tribal lands to hunting & citrus farming, a city is born

60th Anniversary: A look back

By TOM HAYDEN - | Jun 13, 2022

Before there were 200,000 people. Before there were 400 miles of canals. Before two bridges connected Cape Coral to the rest of the world, a nearly almost untouched piece of wilderness existed where mangroves and palmettos thrived, hogs and turkeys ran wild, and Native Americans and settlers clashed.

One can go back over 400 years and find an area where the first residents, Calusa and Seminole Native Americans, were living off the land and water in an area called Redfish Point.

Redfish Point got its name because of the abundance of redfish, red snapper, tarpon and snook that attracted fishermen to “The Point,” which is where the Cape Coral Yacht Club is now.

Fishing was also a major food source for the Native Americans, whose lives changed dramatically after Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513. In exchange for the United States forgiving a $5 million loan owed by Spain, the Spanish deeded what became Florida to the U.S. in 1821.

A year later, settlers began pouring onto the land, along with runaway slaves, who were harbored by the Seminoles. Clashes erupted between the Native Americans and settlers known as the Seminole Wars. A key battle was the Harney Point massacre during the second of the Seminole Wars on July 23, 1839.

Colonel William S. Harney took 26 men and supplies across the Caloosahatchee River and landed near the site of what is now the Cape Coral Bridge. It was first thought they came to capture and deport the indigenous people, but history documents Harney and his men wanted to establish a trading post.

The Seminoles weren’t happy with Harney’s trip and his possible sinister reasons for being there. They attacked the colonel and his men, killing 13 and taking supplies. History says Harney escaped in his underwear to a boat and retreated to a safe place. A vengeful Harney returned the next year with 90 men. They dressed up as tribesmen and surprised the Seminoles, killing 10, including Chief Chekaika. There is a plaque near the Cape Coral Bridge describing the battles.

The Seminoles were later moved to reservations.

Redfish Point, also known as “Hungryland” and “the other side of the river,” soon became part of a land patent when Florida became a state in 1845. The land, filled with an abundance of hogs, deer, wild turkeys and ducks, was sold to railroad companies, who then sold to various companies and individuals. One of those individuals was avid hunter Franklin Miles of Miles Laboratories and Alka Seltzer fame. He bought some of the land in 1910.

Enter the Rosen brothers Leonard and Jack who bought 1,724 acres of land from Miles, Ogden Phillips and Granville Keller for $678,000 in 1957. The Rosens and their company, Gulf American Land Corporation, took their investment, changed Redfish Point to Cape Coral, dug the 400 miles of saltwater and freshwater canals, branded their little piece of paradise “Waterfront Wonderland,” and began selling home sites near the yacht club area