The name Fisheating Creek is derived from the Creek Thlothlopopka-hatchee meaning "the creek where fish are eaten." Early inhabitants, known as the Belle Glade people, began building mounds and other earthworks along the banks of Fisheating Creek between 1000 and 500 BCE. They subsisted by netting fish and harvesting turtles, snakes, and alligators. For these early people the creek was also a canoe highway leading to Lake Okeechobee and its resources to the east and other settlements to the west.
The Fort Center site located in the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and accessed from the Banana Grove Road entrance off SR 78 consists of mounds, ponds, circular ditches and linear embankments. William Sears, director of the excavation and author of Fort Center: An Archeological Site in the Lake Okeechobee Basin, believes that corn pollen found in one of the three overlapping basins indicates that the Belle Glade people grew corn. If true, Fort Center would be one of the earliest, if not the earliest, example of agriculture in the pre-Columbian Eastern United States.
At the site, bundles of human remains were found along with the remnants of a wooden platform decorated with wooden carvings of wildlife including life-size cats, a bear, foxes, eagles, wading birds and a wooden carving of an otter running with a fish in its mouth. The site, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was still occupied, although there was no evidence of agriculture, when the Europeans arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries.
During the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), a cabbage palm palisade at the site was named Fort Center for Lieutenant J.P. Center. Oscen Tustenuggee, who had organized many war parties, and his two bothers Micco Tustenuggee and Old Tustenuggee and their wives lived in villages along the creek.
The fort was reactivated at the start of the Third Seminole War in 1855. At the conclusion of the war in 1858, many Indians had been removed from Florida. In 1881, the federal government found 37 extended families living in in and near Fisheating Creek. By 1930, cultivation of sugar cane, cattle ranching, and establishment of a refinery forced the remaining Seminoles to move from Fisheating Creek WMA.
Much of the land surrounding the creek came to be owned by the Lykes Brothers. The Lykes family prohibited development along the creek and ran a campground and a canoeing concession at Palmdale. Eventually they closed the area in 1989, and following a protracted legal battle, the State of Florida purchased an 18,272 acre corridor along the creek which became the Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
Painting and history courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History and Florida FWC.