Blog Description

Mound House Happenings shares the latest in ongoing projects, site improvements, scheduled programs and events, plus interesting facts and photos on our unique archaeology, history and ecology.

Mound House

Mound House
October 15, 2013

Thursday, August 28, 2014


 Snowy egret (Egretta thula)

The striking white plumage, black legs and distinctive yellow feet of the snowy egret make this one of our islands’ most attractive resident wading birds. They are frequently found on  the beach, fishing in the shallows, especially on calm mornings.   

Highly evolved for a life of fishing, the snowy egret with its long legs, long slender neck and pointed bill, is perfectly designed for catching the small fish and crustaceans in the shallows. Sometimes, standing motionless until the moment they strike, they also can be observed herding fish with widespread wings and their bright yellow feet.     

The snowy egret can be found at least seasonally throughout most of the United States, inhabiting rivers, lake shorelines as well as swamps and wet agricultural fields. They are most commonly encountered along the

They can be seen nesting in colonies often in association with other wading birds on small isolated islands and mature cypress swamps.

Now a recovered species, the snowy egret was nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century as commercial plume hunters harvested these birds for their gaudy breeding season plumage. These were the feathers that adorned the hats of fashionable ladies throughout the Americas and Europe at the time. Legal protection and post Great War changes in fashion saved this species from demise.    


Tuesday, March 11, 2014



Common Ground Dove (Columbina passerina)

 One of the regular residents at Mound House is the common ground dove, a bird native to the southern United States. These doves are much smaller than their cousins, the mourning dove. Ground doves have a similar soft brown coloring but with pink feathers around the beak with tan wings. Ground doves can often be observed at our bird feeder or foraging amongst the coastal dune vegetation on site for grass seeds or fruits. Picking up bits of shell and grit for their gizzards is a typical late afternoon habit of ground doves, and they are often seen on the shell paths of the property.

Ground doves build their nests either on the ground, or in low growing bushes.  Their small, delicate nests can be observed by our visitors and have been located along the sandy slopes of the shell mound itself or in the low growing native vegetation. These nests usually hold two eggs.  Chicks can fly as early as eleven days after hatching.

These birds are yearlong residents whose feeding and nesting behavior has adapted to seasonal changes.  Not unlike the bobwhite quail, who occupy similar habitat, the ground dove spends most of its time on the ground walking and foraging, flying short distances as needed to relocate.           



Tuesday, January 14, 2014


PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)

 One of the occasional visitors to Mound House is the pileated woodpecker. They can be seen foraging in our larger trees for insects, especially carpenter ants and have a particular affinity for the coconut palms on site. Slow and undulating in flight, pileated woodpeckers are a strikingly colorful bird with a bright red head ,white stripes along the cheeks, and jet black body.

Not only does the pileated woodpecker eat ants, they also dine on other insects such as caterpillars and roaches and enjoy fruits and berries as well.

These woodpeckers typically nest in dead trees, carving a large cavity into the tree that can also serve as a future home to other birds. Their large and heavy bills are used to strike and chisel tree trunks with an audible “thunk-thunk” that can be heard far away. They inhabit forests and suburban areas from New England to Florida and all across the United States.  

The photo to the right shows a replica of the Calusa Indian tablet painting found at Key Marco which was dated to over a thousand years old. What significance this bird held for the Calusa remains a mystery, but this tablet is demonstrative of the fascinating art created by these long ago people.

You can see this tablet and many other examples of Calusa art in the “Stories Beneath Our Feet” underground archaeological exhibit here at Mound House.     


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Plants In Profile #28

FIREBUSH (Hamelia patens)
The Mound House is home to a wide variety of plants and trees.   Firebush, a native species of Florida, is one of the more colorful and interesting shrubs and is located right outside our office door.  Blossoming all year long with bright red and showy flowers, these plants are often featured in tropical landscaping.  The fruit of this shrub is a juicy red berry that is edible, but unremarkable in flavor.  Beyond enhancing the landscape with color, firebush serves as a host plant to attract butterflies and migratory hummingbirds.  While beneficial to wildlife, firebush has also been selected for the landscape at Mound House because of its medicinal and industrial uses.  Historically, firebush was utilized by Native Americans to treat skin problems such as burns, insect bites and rashes.   Recent research into the medicinal value of firebush has revealed that extracts from this plant showed analgesic and anti- inflammatory uses.  In addition, tannins from this plant are used in several industrial applications as well.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Plants In Profile #27


WILD COTTON ( Gossyplum hirsutum)

The newest addition to the Mound House botanical collection is a native plant often found on ancient shell middens such as ours here at Mound House. In the wild, growing amongst the coastal hammocks and thickets, wild cotton grows as a shrub and can reach heights of 6 to 12 feet living for several years. The native range of wild cotton includes southern Florida, Mexico, northern South America , Central America and the West  Indies. People have been cultivating and using cotton for over two thousand years, spinning the fibers of the cotton bolls into fabric and string. Today, modern varieties of cotton are the most widely used natural fiber in the world and the seeds of cotton are used in the production of oils and animal food. In herbal medicine, cotton seed and roots have been used to treat asthma , dysentery and cancer and is occasionally planted as an ornamental. Interestingly, in Florida, a permit is required  from the State to grow wild cotton, even though it is listed as an endangered plant. Oddly, this plant achieved its endangered status due to extensive eradication efforts in the 1930s which nearly obliterated wild cotton from the Florida. Wild cotton was eradicated in an effort to prevent the spread of boll weevils from wild sources into cultivated crops. Even though there is no cultivated cotton crop within several hundred miles of the Mound House and our plants, the Florida Department of Agriculture still requires a permit to grow cotton and monitors the site with insect traps to detect the potential presence of the boll weevil.       


Friday, September 20, 2013


During the seventeenth, eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries, there was an
extensive and lucrative fishing industry between Cuba and the coast of Southwest Florida
which included the waters of Estero Bay and our own Mound House site. Semi-permanent
seasonal fishing camps or "ranchos" were established along the coast, many of which
occupied the abandoned shell mounds of the Calusa . The abundance and accessibility of
this tremendous shallow water fishery that had enabled the Calusa to establish a vast and sophisticated kingdom, now supported a new group of people, the Cuban fisherfolk. The protected back bays and expansive sea grass flats of our area lent themselves to the simple
fishing technology of the day. Using handmade woven nets and shallow draft sailboats,
these Cuban fishermen harvested up to two million pounds of fish a year from our waters.
Without refrigeration, fish had to be smoked ,or dried and salted before being packed for
shipment to market.

For centuries, South Florida was more closely tied to Havana than to any other port or
capitol in North America. It is roughly one hundred miles by water from Estero Island
to Key West, and another 90 miles to Havana. As a Spanish possession, "La Florida"
had no gold or silver for the conquistadors, but Florida is rich in natural resources, and
in the long run provided many colonial benefits to Spain.

With the ascendancy of Spanish influence in the western hemisphere, Havana became
a populous port city and soon the  productive fishing grounds along the north coast of
Cuba had become depleted. Feeding the growing colony of Cuba was a lucrative enterprise
for the commercial fishing industries of the day. The Spanish Crown leased exclusive
fishing rights to Cuban businessmen who set up seasonal, and sometimes permanent,
ranchos upon the old Calusa shell mounds. In the fall, fishermen would target species
such as redfish ,snapper, trout, pompano ,and particularly the mullet which begin to
fatten up in the fall in preparation for the winter spawn in which vast schools of mullet
assemble in the tidal creeks  and back bays of our estuaries, making them  accessible to the
Cuban nets. As these fish were harvested,they were smoked or dried upon racks, salted and
packed for shipment to Cuba. Around March, at the end of the fishing season, these fishermen
would then sail to the Bahamas to harvest salt collected from seawater evaporation pools. 
This salt was then brought back to the fishing ranchos in preparation for another season.
As trade became more established, many Cuban fishermen ended up marrying local Indian
women. Historians and other observers of the day referred to the descendants of these people
as "Spanish Indians". These families often  joined the Catholic church and sent their children
back to Cuba for education.

For 200 years Cuban fishing ranchos operated along the coast of Southwest Florida, many
of them, like the Mound House site, established atop ancient Calusa mounds .Ultimately,
Spain ceded control of Florida to the United States in 1821, and in 1835 the Second Seminole
War ended the era of Cuban fishing ranchos in Florida as the United sought to end foreign
settlement of its new territory.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jack DeLysle and Rum smuggling

While the Mound House has had a variety of interesting resdients, one of the most colorful was a British promoter named Jack DeLysle. DeLysle came to Southwest Florida amid charges of smuggling rum from Cuba to the United States during the alcohol free era of Prohibition. The following narrative describes the event and is pulled from newspaper accounts from the time.
Jack DeLysle in front of a Ft. Myers home

The Uralia, a schooner containing a ship load of whiskey was wrecked on a sand bar below Naples during heavy northeast gale Saturday, the fifteenth of January 1921. Three days before the ship had set anchor off the coast of Naples and when the storm hit the crew attempted to secure the boat in Gordon’s Pass and became grounded on a sand bar. A large number of cases of alcohol washed ashore and were then salvaged and were either hidden in mangroves or stolen and changed hands.  The vessel originated in Mobile several weeks before the incident under the name Frank M. and sailed under an American flag. It then sailed to Tampa, Naples, and Key West before it anchored in Havana. It was here that the boat was loaded with alcohol and changed its name to Uralia and its flag to British. Its destination was meant to be Pensacola but the Uralia was forced to drop anchor off of Fort Myers due to the storm.

The crew originally consisted of Jack and John Delyse, Captain Brindley L. Coats, a Spaniard, and a black deck hand named Cleveland Bodden or Bedden. Jack DeLysle, had previously served in World War I as a captain in the air service and “acted as one of the official air photographers for the British government.” DeLysle met his wife and two year old son in Havana and sailed back to Fort Myers with his family on a separate ship. At the time of the shipwreck DeLysle and his family were living in a suite at a Naples hotel and “apparently caring little for expense. Among the incidentals added to the furnishings of the suite was a handsome piano.” When police arrived at the shipwreck, the crew consisted of John Delysle, the Spaniard, and Cleveland, John claimed that he was merely the engineer and that the captain had fled the ship.

Major William, federal prohibition enforcement officer, arrived in Fort Myers from Tampa and worked alongside Sheriff Frank B. Tippins and Officer John Barnhill to investigate the illegal alcohol aboard the ship. They estimated that originally the Uralia held close to 995 cases. The cases were labeled “Soap” and marked in blue chalk with the number “12.” While most of these cases disappeared, the officials were able to find a couple of cases labeled “Country Club” whiskey. The alcohol in these branded boxes appeared to have originated from New Hope Kentucky before Prohibition was enacted, at that time it was shipped out of the country to Cuba. The officers stated that the liquor is a very poor grade, at least the bottles discovered by them. The investigators discovereed Cleveland’s diary and found that he was employed by Captain Coats three months prior to the incident; he and the captain met the DeLysles in Mobile Alabama and chartered them for this trip. They then sailed to St. Andrews Bay and then down to Tampa where the DeLysles came aboard. It appears that on the cruise down south between Key West and Cuba Capt. Coats and DeLysle had a quarrel “over whether they should bring back with them a load of Chinamen or a load of booze, the former claiming it was more profitable to smuggle in Chinamen to the United State.” Once they arrived in Havana Coats registered the boat as the Uralia under Cleveland’s name since he was a British subject.

The DeLysle brothers were taken to Tampa for a trial before Walter O. Sheppard, the United States Commissioner. The two brothers were represented by their attorney R.A. Henderson. Cleveland was called as a witness during the trial as was Will Tomlinson and J.O. Whidden.
Both brothers were declared innocent after it was found that a number of the witnesses had been caught with liquor and one of them at least had been convicted several times previously for illegal sale of liquor. The testimony of one man, that he purchased illegal liquor from Jack DeLysle, was thrown out after several witnesses proved that Jack DeLysle was not in Fort Myers on the day the witness said, nor for two days prior to that time.  The jury acquitted the DeLysle brothers after only ten minutes of deliberation and with not a single dissenting vote.