Around 8,000 to 10,000 years before the first
Europeans arrived, Florida became wetter and the mammoths and other
big game animals that people hunted for food disappeared. Although
the Native Americans continued to hunt deer and other smaller
animals, they began to depend on fish and shellfish for the bulk of
their diet, especially in places not well suited for agriculture.
Villages developed along the coasts and the shores of rivers and
lakes, and people began discarding the remains of their
meals-mainly shells and bones-in what were to become huge shell
middens. Some peoples also built mounds to bury their dead and as
platforms for their temples. When Europeans arrived in the 1500s,
Indians were living and prospering throughout Florida. Within Three
Lakes are at least two pre-historic mounds.
Florida Photo Archives
Florida cow hunter on open range, 1910
Three Lakes was part of the last large open range
ranching in the United States, which persisted until 1949 when the
Florida Legislature passed the Fence Law requiring all cattle to be
fenced. Well into the 20th century, 90 percent of the
land in several central and southern Florida counties was in open
native range. The Seminoles first herded cattle here at the
beginning of the 19th century. American colonists
replaced them after the Second Seminole War (1842) when the
surviving Indians sought refuge in the Everglades and Big Cypress.
In the later part of the 19th century, it was not
unusual for these early cowmen to see wolves and hear panthers as
they moved their herds across the range from Kissimmee to
Florida Photo Archives
Florida cracker family on way to church
The prairie was home to the Florida cow, a small,
bony, long-horned descendant of Spanish cattle able to survive
heat, drought, insects, and poor forage, and the rugged,
independent semi-nomadic Florida cow hunter who rounded up and
herded cattle with the help of well-trained dogs, the best of which
were a mix of hound and bulldog.
The name "Florida Cracker" is thought to have its
origin from the distinctive sound of the cowman's whip.
Each year from February to the end of March,
cattlemen burned the prairie to kill back pine saplings, oak, and
palmetto and to encourage the growth of grass. Early in the
20th century lumbering and naval stores industries
followed the railroad south. At first large stands of pine were
turpentined, then the larger saw timber was cut, and finally the
pulpwood was removed.
Formerly known as Three Lakes Ranch, Three Lakes
was purchased by the state in 1974 under the Environmentally
Endangered Lands Program. The Prairie Lake Unit was established to
protect and manage wet prairies and marshes and to provide natural