in which mr. john recants the story of how he became involved with the Seminole Indians and their schemes

This series of posts describes the real events surrounding my work with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, leading to the events of The Orchid Thief.

A Pattern Emerges

For many months after Hurricane Andrew and my divorce with Cindy, my life was a cesspool. I crawled out of homelessness, violence, and substance abuse, realizing that I needed to do “something” to recover a career and a life.

Contrary to popular belief, when I have a passion/career break or otherwise fail, I don’t throw it away lightly. If I can retool my knowledge, I will always prefer to do that over starting from scratch. Example; Collecting Fish > “Fuck Fish” > Pet Shop > Fish Import/Exporter/Breeder > Tanks to You. In another instance, Construction Summer Job > Partners with a Contractor Next Door > The HandyPeople.

It was no surprise then that I would seek to recycle my horticultural knowledge as I picked myself out of the wreckage that was my life.

What to do?

When I started my nursery businesses, it was with Cindy, and with my life’s work destroyed. I didn’t have the will to start my nurseries over again, especially on my own. Although, in hindsight, starting over was what I should have done. Instead, I kicked around a month or so and then responded to an advertisement placed in the newspaper classifieds. The ad was looking for a “nursery manager” for an upcoming project for the Seminole Indian Tribe.

The interview was more of a “checklist” of things they wanted and my affirmation that I could make them happen.

They don’t want much, do they?

“We have two tracts of land in Hollywood. We want a nursery on the first, both wholesale and retail. If this is successful, we want a second retail-only nursery on 441 (the main drag through the Hollywood reservation)”.

“We want tribe members trained to run the nurseries and care for the plants. You will be the General Manager.”

“We need some highly skilled labor to come out of this project. The knowledge that if they want, they can take what they have learned off-reservation and work anywhere.”

“We need to make money, not chump change but MONEY.”

“Finally, we have “special” medicinal plants as well as those that we use in our tribal rituals. These must be cultured and remain within the tribe.”

I responded slowly and with a measure of confidence and composure.

“I can do everything you want and more. I won’t tell you my full plans now, of course, because that would be stupid. You’ll need to buy into what I know.”

The response I got was that I was an arrogant and ignorant white man that thought that he could con the tribe.

I agreed that I was very arrogant (earned and well deserved), and explained that I deeply respected indigenous peoples all around the world. I would give him an off the cuff outline of what I could do.

The Sell

We could build a rotational tree farm on the large Reservation in the northern part of the Everglades; plant many highly desirable palm trees each year for 10-15 years. At the end of the cycle, you harvest, replant, and reap up to 20 million dollars annually, depending on the number and species grown.
I gave him a brief primer on micro-propagation and plant tissue culture, explaining that it was kind of like xeroxing plants. It required trained technical staffing, help to stock the nurseries, and help to deal with their “special” plants issue. I had a reasonably broad knowledge of ethnobotany. We spoke at length of Ayahuasca, Brugmansia, Amanita mushrooms, Ibogaine, Datura, Cannabis, Mitragyna (Kratom), Salvia Divinorum and Calea (Dream Herb) amongst others.

That Was Easy

I told them my salary expectations, they showed me my office, and the next day, I began my career as “The Crazy White Man” and ultimately, ‘The Orchid Thief.”

Adam and the Ants - Kings of the Wild Frontier
Adam and the Ants romanticized the American Indian in several songs. This one and "The Human Beings" stand out.