Musa Isle

by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)

Musa Isle Alligator Wrestler

Musa Isle Alligator Wrestler

Musa Isle Alligator Wrestler
Musa Isle Postcard

Musa Isle Indian Village was located in Miami.

Old timers in Miami tell me that the Everglades essentially began right about where 27th Avenue is today.

Everything west was The Swamp, and land was filled for development over the years until now the sprawl heads out west almost to Krome Avenue.

They say there was a natural rapids or waterfall near where NW 27th Avenue today crosses the Miami River. Just downstream of the waterfall was Musa Isle, and Seminole Indian village that was created as one of Miami's earliest tourist attractions.

I don't think you can see any remnants of the attraction, and I believe it closed in the 1950's. It was on the south bank of the Miami River just east of the current NW 27th Avenue bridge over the Miami River.

Musa Isle featured all kinds of alligator wrestling shows, Seminole dancing, weaving, jewelry, clothing and other hand made items from the Seminole nation.

Only old timers remember the place, but they speak fondly of the simpler days when it was a big attraction.

COMMENTS FROM OTHER VISITORS

Jul 16, 2014
Musa
by: Anonymous

Wish I would have known it would all disappear, but then we didn't have the cameras and videos that we have today. Alligator alley was just a lonely stretch in the road.

Jul 16, 2014
When the Miami River was Green - Musa Isle.
by: M. L. Wiley

My elementary school took a field trip there. My grandmother would shop there for what I can't remember. My crew and I , 8-12 years old, would float a leaking rowboat from the bridge at 7th Avenue to 27th Avenue passing the Indian caves in the banks of the river. Sometimes we went even further.

The environment started look like the mighty everglades as we took the river to what is now MIA property. I can remember when they would stop traffic on Jejune to pull airplanes to the east side for the students at the plane engineering/mechanic school.

The big ships used to plow up the river almost swamping us.Maybe two of the 6-8 on board could swim. I saw my first manatee.I thought that we had seals in Florida.

Pictures painted in my mind.

Mar 02, 2014
Musa Isle
by: Anonymous

I too lived across the street from the Musa Isle Indian Village. I was very young then (1940's)and we used to ride the Jungle Queen Riverboat to downtown Miami from time to time. The daughter of our landlord worked at the village so we were able to visit the village often at no cost.

I remember the Seminole ladies sitting in their chickee huts sewing with foot operated sewing machines making shirts and dolls to sell.
I remember the tourists tossing money into the Miami River and the Seminole boys would dive in to get the money.

To this day I can still remember the smell of the women cooking over open fires making meals for their families.

There was a family named "Tiger" that we often spoke to when we went there. Bobby Tiger wrestled alligators for whatever money the tourists would toss into the alligator pit after the show.

It was a great area to live in. Had many happy days then.

Jan 03, 2014
Cypress
by: Anonymous

Paradise paved over, I think all of you have good memories of history in the real. I have been reading all the web site of Cypress Indian Reservation,, and good to know history has been important and worthy of saving. Thank you for sending the site. I feel a story from all of you, as you know the true history. Happy New Year everyone!!!

Dec 31, 2013
Seminole Museum
by: Anonymous

If you are really interested in the history of Seminole Villages, head over to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress reservation. They have a whole exhibit on postcards and colonial perceptions. John Roop, the owner of Musa Isle Grove leased a portion of his property to Willie Willie, a member of the Bird Clan, in 1919. Willie established the Musa Isle Trading Post and Seminole Village. Famous families (Tony TommiePanther Clan, Cory Osceola Big Town Clan, and William McKinley Osceola Big Town Clan) lived there. This is not where alligator wrestling started. That came out of Coppinger's Tropical Gardens and Pirates' Cove Indian Village where Henry Coppinger Jr. taught the Seminoles how to wrestle alligators as a tourist attraction. Camps like these proivded financial opportunities to the tribe at a time when their traditional ways of living and hunting had been threatened through the drainage of the Everglades, increased population due to the new railroad, and hunting competition.

Dec 15, 2013
I Lived Across The Street
by: Anonymous

In the early 1950's, I lived 3 houses away. Musa Isle was on the river (real Indians), Tropical Hobby Land was on 27th Ave (not so-real Indians). I was too young to play at Musa but my sisters did. Remember walking across 27th Ave to get a soda at a crumbling convenience store, that had those cheap "birds" on sticks that whirled around when you blew on them, hung all around the roof edge in front, along with bananas. If I remember my history, the village grew up around the turnaround point for the river cruise ( where the boat couldn't pass the rapids), to give the tourists an opportunity to see an authentic Indian village (and purchase authentic artifacts) for maybe a dime.

Oct 23, 2013
musa isle
by: Anonymous

Jeff,

How much fun you had in your younger days to have played in Musa Isle. I am hoping that since the country has finally noticed to preserve the past, to know the future, some one or organization will be interested in a tribute to the long forgotten village. I wonder if the Indian heritage is still around the Miami area?

Oct 23, 2013
Remembering Musa Isle
by: Jeff R.

Although shut down by then. I lived directly across the street. Back then it was 16th st. Rd. I believe I have some old pic's. The time was about 1968 thru 70.

Oct 22, 2013
Historical plaque.
by: Jeff R.

I believe it was 1968 thru 1970 that I lived in the house directly across the street from the entrance. 16th St. was actually 16th St. Rd. Musa Isle had already shut down by then.

Looking back I wish it were still open. At the time though, I had full access to an empty village that was heavily overgrown with vegetation.

There was a large concrete building on the left side as you looked at the entrance. Attached to that was a wall made out of coral rock that I used to climb. I remember very wide stairs that led to a wishing well of sorts and a path down to the bottom of that well which looked somewhat secretive.

I collected bones and pottery. Free play back in the day from the street to the river. Really great memories. I have a few pic's I think of the wall out front. Would love to share.

The house I lived in was actually the same house my father lived in. My grandfather built the house and several others on the block but I'm sure my father would have some great info. I just happened to stumble across this site, so he doesn't know about it yet.

Ten years ago I went through there and was disappointed to see it was all gone. However, on the property there is a service drive where the garbage dumpster sits and there is a plaque commemorating Musa Isle off to the side.

All the history and memories condensed on an 18 x 12 piece of pop metal. Could be gone by now..don't know.

Going to get those pic's. would love to show. Hopefully more to come.

EDITOR SAYS: Jeff, thanks for the memories. If you'd like to share your photos, go to the bottom of our Lost Attractions page and write us a little story and attach the photos. We'd be glad to publish them.

Oct 05, 2013
heritage
by: Anonymous

Smithsonian has for visitors a beautiful replica of Indian villages, and designed it with dignity to compliment the culture.

However, the leased land for gambling doesn't say much for the CULTURE. All about the money. Sad.

Oct 05, 2013
I'm not so sure about a resurrection
by: Gumbo Limbo

I'm not so sure about that. Would you like your heritage/way of life put on display as a tourist oddity? Seems kind of exploitative in this day. It was back then, too, but we weren't that aware.

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Mar 01, 2019
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Musa Isle More Comments
by: Mike Miller

Mar 10, 2015
Pictures
by: Anonymous

Do you have the pictures ? Is there an Indian named Bobby?

Mar 04, 2015
1933 Tourist pictures
by: Diana Williams

My father-in-law and his new wife were residents in Miami Florida for seven years ending in 1933. His picture album has pictures of Seminole families and individuals and alligator wrestlers also.

He was a Miami policeman. After the great Hurricane He was sent to the Glades to check on the Indians and he said there was no sign of life there.

Jan 19, 2015
Forgot some things
by: Sherry Alexander Sugg

The years we visited our grandmother and great grandmother in Miami were from around 1955 to the late 1960's.

I just read some of the other's comments and it brought back memories. We used to walk under the Miami Canal bridge at 27th Ave from NW 18th Terrace so that we didn't have to cross 27th Ave to get to the little convenience store. I remember their outdoor table of bananas for 9 cents a pound. And does anyone remember Judy's Gift Shop where they had tiny stuffed alligators? Oh the things they could sell back in the day!

Jan 19, 2015
NW 18th Terrace
by: Sherry Alexander Sugg

Our great grandmother lived in a little stone house on 18th Terr. This was on the other bank of the Miami River on a point between the Miami Canal and the Miami River, opposite the village.

We could hear the loudspeakers from the Indian village but couldn't see into the alligator pits.I didn't know there were rapids or that the land had been filled in.

The last time I was there, my great grandmother's home was gone and the road redeveloped. That was in 2004.

Mar 01, 2019
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Musa Isle More Comments
by: Mike Miller

Oct 05, 2013
Musa Isle
by: Anonymous

Thank you for those who post for this site. Do you think that the village could be restored? Not in the same place as that is long gone, however the Indian ancestors should be acknowledged and remembered. It would be a great tribute to them.

Oct 05, 2013
History of Musa Isle
by: Tommy Taylor

I met the last owner of Musa Isle when it closed it's doors in the early 70's. I purchased several alligators from him to add to my alligator show at Ocean World in Ft. Lauderdale.

Jim Kegan was the owner and the property was sold to a developer for condo's, the house (gift shop) was pecky cypress outside and framed in old Dade County pine wood. It was dismantled and moved.

The drum someone asked about was made by Bobby Tiger who is now deceased and was a friend of mine. The first alligator wrestler was Henry Copperington of Miami who ran Pirates Cove Indian village. He taught the Seminole to wrestle as a gimmick to lure tourists in to see Seminoles and alligators.

After 55 years of alligator wrestling it's great to see interest in the old attractions that were once here in Florida.

Oct 04, 2013
Musa Isle
by: Dave Matthews

My dad was a tour conductor at Musa Isle back in the early 1960s . He was the commentator for the alligator wrestling. We lived in a block house on the main road as you entered the attraction . The owner lived across the road from us.

We were there in 62 or 63 when hurricane Donna came through. I was about 7 years old at the time.

After Donna came through the river was up to our front door.

Aug 25, 2013
Money
by: Anonymous

By sheer coincidence, Randy Wayne White has a book to be released in Sept titled "Deceived".
It is about this very topic I have been posting.

Hope someone is watching the store. If Tallahassee sends the money to Miami for Indian restoration, it would be a beautiful gift.

Aug 25, 2013
MUSA ISLE
by: Anonymous

Read where Tallahassee in this year's allocations $100,000 dollars-

Down where Musa Isle used to be. For donation to indian tribe. Check it out.

Jul 21, 2013
PS on Musa Isle
by: Ben Godwin

This was what the entrance to the Musa Isle village looked like...

Place the following URL on your Internet address bar..

http://i.ebayimg.com/t/Musa-Isle-Seminole-Indian-Village-Miami-Florida-Linen-Postcard-/00/s/MTA2MVgxNjAw/$T2eC16V,!yME9s5qGsv)BQ(GPDG4z!~~60_57.JPG

Jul 21, 2013
Jungle Queen
by: Ben Godwin

My late uncle captained the Jungle Queen out of Pier Five in Bayfront Park for several years. I sometimes went with him when he'd ferry tourists up the "River" so they could visit Musa Isle and watch the Seminoles wrestle the gators.

Afterward we'd travel throughout Biscayne Bay while passing the homes of Al Capone and the modern day house that was used in 1949 to shoot the Ma & Pa Kettle movie, starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride.

I really loved growing up in my "native" home town of Miami. Wonderful memories and wonderful friends.

Jul 20, 2013
Village
by: Anonymous

I don't live near you or Miami, however, your lobbyists for the gambling casinos represent the Indians. Would be a good project to reinstate the village, with the artifacts in a safe place. I saw where one Navaho blanket sold for over a million dollars.

Jul 19, 2013
my friends
by: Anonymous

I don't see anything about the owners George and Alice Stacy.

Jul 18, 2013
Musa Isle Indian Village
by: Patricia Leazer

They have built apartment buildings where it used to be.

Jul 18, 2013
Village
by: Anonymous

Talk to officials, think it would be a precious work of art to restore the village. Maybe the Miami city Rotary would tackle it. Worth a look=see. From the posts, it looks like the original was paved over, ..... So can it begin again ??????

Jul 17, 2013
Musa Isle Indian Village
by: Bill Eades

Growing up on the river & having visited the Village many times only brings back nice thoughts.

My friend Bob lived on the River. His father had been a navy diver and after his time in the service he owned and operated a salvage boat, the Little Monster.

May 29, 2013
Childhood memories of Musa Isle
by: Anonymous

I grew up in Miami in the 1950's very close to Musa Isle in a section called Grapeland Heights. Indeed there was alligator wrestling at Musa Isle and I was always so scared to watch it as a child. Musa Isle was indeed on 27th Avenue and the locals went there frequently. A piece of Miami Magic..........

Mar 28, 2013
Village
by: Anonymous

What would it take to talk to the members left of the indian town to restore it? I think it would be a most interesting project and worthy of it's cause.

Mar 27, 2013
History
by: Anonymous

IS there an historical site or library for the artifacts from the village?

Mar 26, 2013
Old Florida
by: Betty Jo Starke

When I used to take the #3 bus, it would go by the beautifully colored ornate entrance. I think the developers bought it out in the latter 60's. What a beautiful memory of old Miami.

Jan 31, 2013
DRUM
by: Anonymous

Have handmade drum from a "Bobby" Musa Isle Indian Village. Would like to find owner or family

Jan 11, 2013
Wasn't there a building at 27th Avenue & the River?
by: Gumbo Limbo

In the late 60s, still living near NW 103rd & 22nd, I worked in Coconut Grove. I'd drive down 27th Avenue and I have a vague memory of a boarded up building at the river, SE corner of the intersection of Miami River & 27th Avenue. Whether it was for Musa Isle or the Jungle Queen riverboat, I don't recall...but I *did* recently unearth a family photo from 1951 taken of us on the Jungle Queen.

Sep 19, 2012
A family mystery
by: Anonymous

My grandparents owned this Indian village, and I wish I knew more about it. My mother grew up there until the age of 8, in 1963 when they sold it. The native people lived on the premises and were displaced. Many went to live at the Tiger's Miccosukee Indian Village, as I understand it.

Mar 30, 2012
I Wish I Could Go Back In Time as a Tourist
by: Greg May

This article reminded me of the time they closed the Miami Serpentarium. The landmark attraction was located on US1 in Miami and had a 30-foot tall concrete cobra out front.

The owner of the Serpentarium - Mr. Haas- decided to donate the cobra to a high school that were known as The Marching Cobras.

One Saturday morning as the band played and the girls twirled their batons, a crane lifted the 30-foot cobra off its pedestal to place it on the back of a flatbed truck. All of a sudden the concrete cobra tipped and broke into a million pieces all over US1!

I would love to find that news video and post it on YouTube!

Mar 30, 2012
Souvenir Folder
by: Anonymous

Happy to find your site!

I have an old souvenir folder of "Musa Isle, Seminole Indian Village NW 16th Street & 25th Avenue Miami, Florida", and as I had never heard of the place, I googled it.

The folder was sold for 15 cents; there isn't any date. You mention alligator wrestling, and there are 3 pictures involving the animals: one is of "alligators and crocodiles", one of "Tommy Carter, famous white alligator wrestler, he is seen with a gator twice his own weight", and one "Seminole Indian Capturing Live Alligator with his Bare Hands".

The rest of the folder involves the Seminole culture; dug out canoe, dress, kitchen etc. Interesting.

Jan 19, 2012
Alligator Joe's
by: Florida Back Roads Travel

There is an article in our January 2012 E-Zine about Alligator Joe's, an attraction in Palm Beach that operated in the early 1900's. We thought perhaps that "Alligator Joe", the Florida Cracker character that owned the place, may have been the first Alligator wrestler.

A Florida history student at the University of South Florida wrote us and says that the Seminoles started alligator wrestling at Musa Isle.

We haven't been able to confirm this, and it would make an interesting project for somebody to research and document.

Oct 18, 2011
Home movies of Musa Isle
by: Richard

We were looking at some old home movies recently and came across a video of an Indian wrestling an alligator. Location: Musa Isle Indian Village. Also numerous colorful plants and landscaping in the video. I'm not sure of the date, I'm guessing late 40's or early 50's.

Feb 27, 2011
1957
by: jean

In the spring of 1957, my 4th grade class took a field trip to musa isles. We saw the alligator wrestler and after could go into a little hut they called a museum to see a thumb in a jar. It was bitten off by an alligator. I couldn't look. I always wanted to go back as an adult, hadn't realized that it had closed.

Feb 26, 2011
They paved paradise
by: Pat

The Indian village I remember was on 17th right next to the river. My grandmother lived in the house on the corner next to the entrance road. There was an Indian there by the name of Johnny Tiger who wrestled alligators. We went back to the
spot recently and its all gone. There are apartment buildings in its place. So sad.

Jan 10, 2011
Alligator Farm on Miami River
by: Mike Miller

Greg: I remember hearing or reading about that Alligator farm. That's right near downtown now, but way back then I imagine it was on the western edge of what they new as the City of Miami.

Jan 07, 2011
Ah, Those Long-Lost Alligator Farms!
by: Greg May

Mr. Beer's description of Musa Isle Indian Village coincided with my readings in Steve Rajtar's HISTORIC PHOTOS OF FLORIDA TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: There was an alligator farm located at the junction of the Miami River and Seybold Canal - which is now Spring Garden Point Park - that operated from 1896 until 1913.


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