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Gambling, history won't mix at Darby parcel

A historical marker about the Bradley Massacre in Darby is near the 60-acre parcel that an Ohio landowner is trying to sell.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

A historical marker about the Bradley Massacre in Darby is near the 60-acre parcel that an Ohio landowner is trying to sell.

DARBY — Past the Neon Cowboy bar, past the farmhouses set far back from the two-lane road, past the rusty white pickup for sale, past the sign that proclaims "Beef. It's What's For Dinner," lies a spot where blood spilled more than 150 years ago.

Tucked beneath a canopy of oaks is an ancient burial ground and the site of the Bradley Massacre, the last American Indian raid on a white settler's homestead this side of the Mississippi.

An Ohio man now trying to sell the 60 acres says that history could be enough to pave the way for an Indian casino.

Could there someday be a Hard Rock nestled in the pastures of Darby?

Don't bet on it.

"The possibility of the Seminoles having a casino in Pasco County is as great as the possibility of me becoming president," said tribe spokesman Gary Bitner, who debunked rumors earlier this year about a casino in west Pasco. "The land may be interesting for historic reasons, but it's not ever going to be land where there will be gaming."

That hasn't stopped the owner from trying. The rules may not allow for a casino now, owner Walter Lamb said, but rules can change.

As part of the effort in the 1800s to push American Indians west of the Mississippi, the feds gave white settlers like Robert Duke Bradley the promise of a 160-acre homestead in Florida — and the right to use deadly force to secure it.

Bradley had been a captain in the U.S. Army during the Second Seminole War. The seven-year war ended in 1842 with the relocation of most of the tribe, but hostilities still smoldered among the Indians who stayed behind.

Bradley staked out his land in the area now crossed by Bellamy Brothers Boulevard and St. Joe Road. He led a band of surveyors and engineers through Indian lands, cutting down banana trees and other crops to starve the tribe.

The Seminoles hated Bradley for pushing them out — and for killing the brother of Tiger Tail, a tribal leader.

Chief Billy Bowlegs and a small band of Indians went to Bradley's log cabin on the evening of May 14, 1856. They opened fire, killing Bradley's son, Billie, and daughter, Mary, as they played in an outdoor passageway.

Bradley, who had been sick in bed, grabbed his gun and fired back, killing the leader of the attack. Several other people, possibly Bradley's slaves, also perished in the shootout.

The attack raised anxieties among the settlers. Church services were interrupted. Residents petitioned a general in Tampa to send soldiers to protect the area. After this and other skirmishes in the Third Seminole War, the Indians from the Everglades were relocated to Oklahoma.

Bradley died a year and seven months after the attack. Some historians believe he is buried next to his children on the Darby property now owned by Lamb.

• • •

Lamb recently put together a packet of information to market the 60-acre site to potential buyers.

"Available for acquisition is one of the most important and historical sites for all Native Americans," began the pitch, which included backup materials on the Bradley Massacre.

"For the Indian Nation that purchases this property, the opportunity exists for the land to be placed in 'Federal Trust' and eventually declared reservation land," the pitch continues, "and with the burial of both Native and Prehistoric Native Americans on the 60 acres, the entire property will qualify as a site for an Indian Casino under the guidelines of the National Indian Gaming Commission."

But Seminole leaders say that last part isn't true.

According to Bitner, the tribe spokesman, federal law says that tribes can open gaming operations only on reservations or lands held in federal trust before 1988. The Darby site missed the cutoff date two decades ago.

Lamb acknowledged that's the case today, but he said the regulations are set by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs — and such policies can change any time a new president takes office.

"Fifteen years from now, the policy may change," he said.

But the Seminoles, who already have seven casinos on six reservations across Florida, say they aren't looking for another gaming site. As for whether the tribe would want the property for historic purposes, Bitner didn't know.

"People come to the Seminole tribe every day for the purchase of land," he said.

• • •

In an interview last week, Lamb downplayed the casino possibility as being something that, if it happened at all, would be years from now.

"It makes more sense for it to be a museum or historical site," said Lamb, 63, a retired owner of a paper and plastic packaging firm who lives an hour's drive from Columbus, Ohio.

He obtained the site as part of a land swap last year, when Chris Daniels and two uncles bought Lamb's 475-acre Briarwood Sporting Club in Ohio. Daniels, of Clearwater, was an All-American wide receiver for Purdue University and played briefly for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before an injury ended his football career.

Lamb contacted the Seminoles to see whether they were interested in the site. "We're talking," he said.

He also recently pitched the property to county officials for purchase as a historic site. A granite marker outside the Darby community center commemorates the nearby site of the Bradley Massacre.

But money is tight for county officials, who are already facing a budget hole and the prospect of layoffs.

"It's a beautiful piece of property," said David Edwards, the county's real estate manager. "It would be great to have as a park. But as far as paying for it, I don't know how we'd end up paying."

Lamb said perhaps a developer who needed mitigation credits of some sort could buy it and donate it to the county.

He did a lot of research making sure the land included the massacre site and says it would be a shame for it to become a subdivision. It now is approved for six 10-acre lots.

"It's a shame a historic site has fallen through the cracks," he said.

So why can't Lamb just donate the land?

He said tax laws wouldn't allow him to take a deduction because he acquired it through a land swap that didn't cost him anything.

"Because it was free," he said, "I would just literally get nothing for it."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Fast facts

About this story

Historical information for this story comes from an article in Florida Historical Quarterly, an account in Old Brooksville In Photos & Stories and online PBS resources about Indian removal.

Gambling, history won't mix at Darby parcel 08/01/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 12:52pm]

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