Ticks and Politics in South Florida: The Fourth Seminole War and the Photographs of Roy Komarek


By Robert L. Crawford

In the first half of the twentieth century, the United States Department of Agriculture went to war against the Cattle Fever Tick, a disease carrier causing great economic loss to the southeastern cattle industry. Led by its Bureau of Animal Industry, and various state agricultural agencies, the Department of Agriculture created a tick-killing tsunami that swept across the states of the Old Confederacy and laid waste to the tick. The tactics were heavy-handed and very expensive but ultimately successful.

The last section to be treated, peninsular Florida, was also the most troublesome. The ticks in south Florida proved to be more resilient, resisting the techniques that had rid the other Southern states of the pest. Another host besides cattle was found. Also, one group of people in one area of south Florida refused to cooperate with the campaign: the Seminole Indians on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation.

This caused a bitter inter-agency fight in Washington between the Bureau of Animal Industry, promoting the eradication, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, part of the Department of the Interior, which backed the Indians. This infighting resulted in what might be called the Fourth Seminole War.

Caught in the middle was biologist Roy Komarek, who in the early 1940s tried to conduct a fair test of the tick’s status on the reservation. Roy happened to be an accomplished photographer, and with some fine equipment, he caught rare images of a vanished era’s culture and activities. Roy’s black-and-white negatives were forgotten and misplaced for decades; the photographs have never been published and are virtually unseen by living eyes. They are presented here, augmented with other images, and with a narrative of the tick controversy to put them into context.

About the author: Robert L. Crawford, a former staff ornithologist at Tall Timbers Research Station, has published two other titles dealing with aspects of Tall Timbers’ history: The Great Effort: Herbert L. Stoddard and the WCTV Tower Study, and The Legacy of a Red Hills Hunting Plantation: Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy.

Tall Timbers Press – Heritage Series No. 1
Details: 82 pages; 8.5 x 11
Paperback: $19.95
ISSN 2380-3045
ISBN 978-0-9703886-4-3
Publication Date: 9/15/2015