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The Legend of Burnt Store

Provided by Burnt Store Isles Association - 1997

More than 2,000 Calusa Indians inhabited this area. They survived on the abundance of fish & wildlife plus what they could grow in the warm climate.

When the Spaniards, headed by Ponce De Leon, whose attempt to settle was thwarted, he and many his men lost their lives as the result of wounds received during the skirmish to establish themselves in the area.

That was just the beginning of the settler’s invasion of the Indian Territory, taking over their land where they could hunt and raise vegetables.   Little by Little most of the Indians left, but a few remained.

Records show that there was a small band of Indians living approximately twenty miles north of the Caloosahatchee River, which would put them roughly in the Burnt Store area. The leader of the Indian Settlement was Billy Bowlegs, who led an attack during the Seminole Massacre in 1839.

Although pushed back with little territory, these Indians lived peacefully side by side with the settlers, who build a Trading Post which not only acted as the town’s general store but also served as a gathering place for everything from gossip to politics. The Indians, however, didn’t socialize with the settlers, nor did they with the Indians, except for Old Salty.

Old Salty Lived alone in a shack down by the harbor, (BURNT STORE MARINA AREA), minding his own business. Rumor says that he enjoyed his privacy. However, he and Billy Bowlegs managed to get along, learned a lot from each other and they became good friends.

Life in the area was enjoying a peaceful existence, when young Lt. Gil Hartstuff arrived with a band of surveyors. Feeling the power of his position, he stamped around over Indian Territory as though he owned it, asking permission from no one, and not caring what damage he did. Old Salty became concerned about what Lt. Hartstuff was doing and brought it to the young officer’s attention. Salty was afraid of raising the Indian’s ire, but the lieutenant just laughed it off, and mentally established Salty as an old coot!

“If we’re going to lose our land” said Billy Bowlegs, “we won’t do it without a fight.”

So one dark night Billy and his small band stormed the Trading Post and set it on fire. Some of the Indians were killed as well as many of the settlers.

Billy and a few of his followers managed to get away, but knew they had to leave the area. Old Salty hid them until things cooled down, and then bid them a fond farewell.

Salty stayed on in the village and the settlers began listening to him. If only they had listened before, many lives would have been saved.

The Trading Post was never rebuilt, but from that day on, the road has been known as Burnt Store Road. 

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