Thursday, March 24, 2011

Florida History: Seminole Shirttail Charlie - sentenced outcast in Fort Lauderdale?

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By Jane Feehan

With a past that was the stuff of folklore rather than fact, Seminole Shirttail Charlie (1855-1925) was one of early Fort Lauderdale’s colorful characters.

He was known for dressing in nothing but a shirt. News accounts of the day claimed he killed his wife and was sentenced by tribal elders to “be attired in a one-piece garment reaching half way to his knees and slit on the sides.” (Miami News, June 19, 1924). Others claimed he committed only some minor infraction that earned him the shirt sentence.

In reality, Shirttail Charlie dressed in garb that was customary among Seminole men a few decades before he roamed the streets of Fort Lauderdale. He was a consummate panhandler. “He begs from the white man for the few pennies necessary for his existence and the major part of his conversation is confined to a grunt.” (Miami News, June 19, 1924). A heavy drinker whose infrequent baths were big news, Charlie was also thought to have been an athlete and fearless hunter in his younger days.

Shirttail Charlie Tommie died in 1925 and was buried near his family’s former camp, near today’s Broward Boulevard east of I-95. A restaurant on the New River bearing his name closed a few years ago.

More on Seminoles here

Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America. Charleston: Arcadia (2004).
Weidling, Philip J. , Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press (1966).

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Seminole history, Florida history

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