Southeastern Indians Purposely
Burned the Longleaf Pine Forest
(bolded words in text indicate key words
Similar to forest managers of today, Indians of the longleaf pine
forests purposely burned areas for centuries to create habitat for
important plants and animals they needed for survival.
This picture depicts Native Americans
around the Tallahassee FL area (the Apalachee) burning the longleaf
pine forest. However, the practice of using fire was common to all
tribes throughout the longleaf pine ecosystem.
The longleaf pine forest remained a significant source of food,
medicine, tools, housing materials and clothing for most
indigenous cultures of the Southeast. Lightning-ignited
fires played a role in creating these desired provisions;
however, because these fires were stochastic in character (and thus
unreliable), Indians purposely burned areas to perpetuate many of
the desired plants and animals in the forest around them. Over time,
the frequent fires began to mold a forest comprised of fire-tolerant
longleaf pine and other plant species.
Tribal legend of the Alibamo
Creek Indians states that Fire belonged to Bear in ancient times.
However, one day Bear neglected Fire and it nearly extinguished.
People heard the cries of the ailing Fire and fed it with sticks
and brush. From that point on fire belonged to human beings. The
respect for fire by other tribes in the southeast is evident by
their calling it grandfather.
John Lawson, an early explorer of the Carolinas in the late
1600s made note of the local Indians that no people
have better eyes, or see better in the night or day, than the Indians.
Some allege, that the smoke of the Pitch-Pine (longleaf pine), which
they chiefly burn, does both preserve and strengthen the eyes.
The Apalachee Indians depicted in this picture are using fatwood
knots from a longleaf pine tree
to ignite the combination of wiregrass and pine needles. The fire
that followed moved quickly across the ground, cleansing it of dead
debris. This fire did not make its way up into the treetops of the
Key Words and Concepts (click
on for glossary definition): indigenous,