New

The Calusa People: A Lost Tribe of Florida that Early Explorers Wrote Home About

The Calusa People: A Lost Tribe of Florida that Early Explorers Wrote Home About


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

The Calusa (said to mean fierce people ) are a Native American tribe that once inhabited the southwestern coast of Florida. The Calusa are said to have been a socially complex and politically powerful tribe, and most of southern Florida was controlled by them.

Additionally, it has been suggested that the population of this tribe may have reached 50000 people at one point of time. The men of the Calusa are recorded to have been powerfully built, and let their hair grow long. Additionally, they had (as their name suggests) a fierce, war-like reputation. When the Spanish explored the coast of Florida, they soon became the targets of the Calusa, and this tribe is said to have been the first one that the explorers wrote home about.

Early Calusa Days

The Calusa are said to have been the descendants of Palaeo-Indians who inhabited Southwest Florida about 12000 years ago. The ancestors of the Calusa are said to have survived by hunting prehistoric animals such as woolly mammoths and giant tortoises, and collecting fruits and other edible plants. At some point of time in their history, this tribe discovered that there was a wealth of fish in the waters, and began to exploit this resource.

Map of Calusa territory in Florida. ()

It has been proposed that as fishing was a less time-consuming means of obtaining food than hunting and gathering, the Calusa were able to devote more time to other pursuits, such as the establishment of a system of government.

  • Chinese Votive Sword Found in Georgia suggests Pre-Columbian Chinese travel to North America
  • First humans in Florida lived alongside giant animals

When the Spanish arrived in Florida in the early 16 th century, the Calusa were already in possession of a complex centralized government. At the top of the hierarchy was the chief, who had control over the life and death of his subjects, and was believed to have the ability to communicate with the spirits.

Calusa beliefs included a trinity of governing spirits. Rituals were believed to link the Calusa to their spirit world ( Art by Merald Clark. Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History )

By interceding with these spirits, it was believed that the chief was ensuring that his people would be well-supplied by the land. Additionally, it has been pointed out that tribute was sent to this chief from other tribes in south Florida. Directly beneath the chief was the nobility. This class was supported by commoners, who provided them with food and other material goods. Slaves occupy the lowest level in Calusa society.

One illustration of the sophistication of the Calusa can be found in eyewitness accounts of an event in 1566. It is recorded that in that year, the Calusa chief formed an alliance with the Spanish governor, Menéndez de Avilés.

Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519-1574) by Francisco de Paula Martí (1762-1827)

Certain ceremonies were performed to seal the alliance (and perhaps also as a display of the might of the Calusa), and was witnessed by over 4000 people. The chief is said to have entertained the governor in a building so large that it could hold 2000 people in it.

In addition, elaborate rituals with synchronized singing and processions of masked priests were also carried out on that occasion. It has also been stated that the Spanish were brought into a large temple, where they saw carved and painted wooden masks covering its walls.

A diorama of a Calusa chief in the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Despite the social complexity and political might that the Calusa attained, they are said to have eventually went extinct around the end of the 18 th century. One of the causes of this was the raids conducted by rival tribes from Georgia and South Carolina. Many Calusa are said to have been captured and sold as slaves. Furthermore, new diseases such as smallpox and measles were introduced into the area by European explorers. The Calusa, who had no immunity against such illnesses, were wiped out in large numbers.

  • Rare coin hoard worth $1m discovered by treasure hunters off the coast of Florida
  • Juan Ponce de León and his Search for the Fountain of Youth

A Calusa alligator head carved out of wood, excavated at Key Marco in 1895, on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Although the Calusa came to an end, some remains of their achievements can still be seen today. The shell mounds are an example of these remains. Shells and clay were used by the Calusa to create the foundation of their cities. One example of a shell mound can be found at a site known as Mound Key at Estero Bay in Lee County. This site is believed to have been the capital of the Calusa, as well as its military stronghold and ceremonial center. Apart from that, shells are said to have been used by the Calusa to make all sorts of things, including tools, jewelry, utensils, and even spearheads for fishing and hunting. Hence, the Calusa are sometimes called the ‘Shell People / Indians’.

A reconstruction of a Calusa home and terraces, on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Featured image: Calusa people fishing. Photo source: Moving to Tampa


The Calusa People: A Lost Tribe of Florida

The Calusa (said to mean fierce people) are a Native American tribe that once inhabited the southwestern coast of Florida.

The Calusa are said to have been a socially complex and politically powerful tribe, and most of southern Florida was controlled by them. Additionally, it has been suggested that the population of this tribe may have reached 50000 people at one point of time. The men of the Calusa are recorded to have been powerfully built, and let their hair grow long. Additionally, they had (as their name suggests) a fierce, war-like reputation.

When the Spanish explored the coast of Florida, they soon became the targets of the Calusa, and this tribe is said to have been the first one that the explorers wrote home about. Early Calusa Days The Calusa are said to have been the descendants of Palaeo-Indians who inhabited Southwest Florida about 12000 years ago.

The ancestors of the Calusa are said to have survived by hunting prehistoric animals such as woolly mammoths and giant tortoises, and collecting fruits and other edible plants. At some point of time in their history, this tribe discovered that there was a wealth of fish in the waters, and began to exploit this resource.

It has been proposed that as fishing was a less time-consuming means of obtaining food than hunting and gathering, the Calusa were able to devote more time to other pursuits, such as the establishment of a system of government.

When the Spanish arrived in Florida in the early 16th century, the Calusa were already in possession of a complex centralized government. At the top of the hierarchy was the chief, who had control over the life and death of his subjects, and was believed to have the ability to communicate with the spirits.

By interceding with these spirits, it was believed that the chief was ensuring that his people would be well-supplied by the land. Additionally, it has been pointed out that tribute was sent to this chief from other tribes in south Florida. Directly beneath the chief was the nobility.

This class was supported by commoners, who provided them with food and other material goods. Slaves occupy the lowest level in Calusa society. One illustration of the sophistication of the Calusa can be found in eyewitness accounts of an event in 1566. It is recorded that in that year, the Calusa chief formed an alliance with the Spanish governor, Menéndez de Avilés.


Legends of America

The Calusa people were an important tribe of Florida. They formerly held the southwest coast from about Tampa Bay to Cape Sable and Cape Florida, together with all the outlying keys, and extending inland to Lake Okeechobee. They also claimed authority over the tribes of the east coast, north to about Cape Canaveral. They were farmers to a limited extent but were better noted as expert fishers, daring seamen, and fierce and determined fighters, keeping up their resistance to the Spanish arms and missionary advances after all the rest of Florida had submitted.

They practiced human sacrifice of captives, scalped and dismembered their slain enemies, and were repeatedly accused of being cannibals. They first encountered Europeans in 1513 when, with a fleet of 80 canoes, they boldly attacked Ponce de León, who was about to land on their coast, and after an all-day fight compelled their enemy to withdraw. Even at this early date, they were already noted among the tribes for the golden wealth which they had accumulated from the numerous Spanish wrecks cast away upon the Keys in the passage from the south. Two centuries later, they were regarded as veritable pirates, plundering and killing without mercy the crews of all vessels, excepting the Spanish, so unfortunate as to be stranded in their neighborhood.

In 1567 the Spaniards established a mission and fortified post among them, but both seem to have been discontinued soon after, although the tribe came later under Spanish influence. About this time, they numbered nearly 50 villages, from one of which the city of Tampa takes its name. By the year 1600, they were carrying on regular trade with Havana, Cuba.

By the constant invasions of the Creek and other Indian allies of the English, they were driven from the mainland and forced to take refuge on the Florida Keys. More were evacuated to Cuba, where many of them died. When Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain in 1763, the last remnants of the tribes of South Florida went to Cuba. Those few that remained on the mainland were absorbed into the Seminole tribe however, their language and culture survived up to the Second Seminole War’s close.


Who are the Calusa Indians?

The Calusa Indians were a tribe of Native Americans that inhabited the southwest coast of Florida. Most historians believe they were direct descendants of the paleo Indians that lived in Florida up to 12,000 years ago. Their original name was “Calos,” which means “fierce people,” and they were generally well-known for their skill and tenacity in warfare and often described as tall and physically imposing. At their peak, there were as many as 50,000 Calusa, but they died out in the late 1700s and the early 1800s due to a combination of European illnesses, slavery and attacks from other Indian tribes.

Calusa Indians generally built houses near the water, and they were erected on stilts to protect them from floods. Their homes had no walls, and they made their roofs out of woven palmetto leaves. The tribe did not rely on agriculture for food. They probably gathered certain wild fruits and vegetables, but they didn’t actually grow anything. Their primary source of food was meat that they obtained by hunting and fishing.

The Calusa Indians built 15-foot (4.5-meter) canoes out of cypress, and they used them to travel in the ocean and to move up and down the Calooshahatchee River, which was their primary waterway. This ability to travel on water was generally considered a great military advantage for them, helping the tribe dominate southern Florida for many years. According to reports, the Calusa Indians traveled as far as Cuba in their explorations, and they also took advantage of European shipwrecks, which allowed them to gather valuable supplies.

They collected shells near the seaside, and they used these in many different ways. In most of their former villages, there are mounds of shells, which have been excavated for study purposes. Archaeologists have found several different kinds of tools made out of shells, along with pottery and ornamental objects.

According to reports from the time, the Spanish explorers who first encountered the Calusa Indians found that they were quite hostile. The Calusa supposedly sent raiding parties to attack the Spanish encampments. Over time, contact with the European settlers caused problems for the Calusa, primarily because of diseases like smallpox and measles, which decimated their population. In the 1700s, Indian tribes from other southeastern states started to invade their territory, and the tribe was unable to defend itself adequately. Some of the Calusa were captured by invading tribes and kept as slaves, while a few others left Florida and went to Cuba.


Buntings' Beach Blog

Over 5,000 years ago, the Calusa Indians made their home on the sandy shores of Estero Island. In fact, carbon dating suggests that southwest Florida was the cultural center of the Calusas.

Perhaps the most impressive historical proof of the Calusa can be found in the shell mounds on many barrier islands in southwest Florida. Archeologists believe that Mound Key was the cultural capital of the Calusa Indians who dominated the waters of Southwest Florida for over 2,000 years. The Calusa tribe may have consisted of as many as 50,000 Indians inhabiting these barrier islands at the peak of their culture.

Calusa means “fierce people” which accurately describes these tall, well-built Indians who have been described as fierce and war-like. The Calusa were different than other Florida Indians as they did not farm. Instead, they lived off the water, fishing in the bays, rivers, and waterways. Using nets made from palm fronds, they caught fish. They made arrowheads from fish bones to hunt deer and other small animals. They also caught shellfish like crabs, clams, lobsters, and oysters. Known as “shell collectors,” the Calusa used shells for tools, utensils, jewelry, and spears.

Since they lived on the coast, the Calusa were excellent sailors. They were able to defend their land against threatening tribes and explorers who approached them by water. The Caloosahatchee River was their main waterway.

Using canoes made from hollowed-out tree trunks, the Calusa traveled as far away as Cuba. They were known to attack ships when they anchored close to shore sailed up and down the west coast salvaging shipwrecks.

Mound Key, the cultural center of the Calusas, was constructed of shells, bones, and other discarded objects known as midden. In 2013 and 2014, Victor Thompson, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Georgia, worked on the island using “coring, test-and-block excavations and radiocarbon dating” to determine that midden was not the same from top to bottom.

One would think that the materials in midden would include the more recent additions on the top of the mound and the older elements towards the bottom. However, Thompson and his team found that this pattern was not the case on Mound Key.

For example, radiocarbon dating showed that much of the wood fragments and shells were not arranged in this order. They found older shells and charcoal fragments above the younger ones—completely out of the normal order. Researchers concluded that this pattern suggests that Calusa reworked midden deposits to create land and were shaping them for different purposes.

The tallest mound on Mound Key is almost 32 feet above sea level. This probably took hundreds of millions of shells according to Thompson. The Calusa lived on top of the midden-mounds. They built canals and water storage facilities. Thompson believes that the mounds were built as a result of daily living.

Two University of Georgia students excavate a site on Mound Key near Fort Myers Beach. Photo courtesy of Victor Thompson/University of Georgia

What Happened to the Calusa?

What happened to these fierce sailing Indians? The Calusa tribe died out in the late 1700s. Enemy Indian tribes from Georgia and South Carolina began raiding the Calusa territory. Many Calusa were captured and sold as slaves.

In addition, diseases such as smallpox and measles were brought into the area from the Spanish and French explorers and these diseases wiped out entire villages. It is believed that the few remaining Calusa Indians left for Cuba when the Spanish turned Florida over to the British in 1763.

Mound Key has always been a mysterious island that brings back wonderful memories. When I was a kid back in the 50s and 60s, Mound Key was not a state preserve. The 125 acre island served as capital of the Calusa civilization for thousands of years. After the Clausa, the island was home to settlers including the Koreshans who farmed on the land. In 1961, the Koreshans donated the land to the state. This included all but one 10-acre parcel which was owned by the McGee brothers. The county has since purchased this parcel, so the entire island is now protected.

Every Christmas, a group of campers from Red Coconut would take a trip to the island. We would load boats with families and friends, pack a lunch, and head to the mangroves. At that time, there were a couple of fishing shacks on the mound, and we had so much fun roaming around the island, exploring these shacks, the “burial grounds” and of course, the pirate treasure. Our parents would hide “gold” around the island and would lead us on hikes where we would “discover” the gold. We never found out what happened to these treasures, but at the time, we were thrilled with our discoveries.

Even today, I always look for reasons to visit the island. There is a trail that leads from one end of the island to the other. You can see canals cutting through the island and from the top of the mound, you get a great view of Estero Bay.


The Calusa Indians

Before the first explorers landed in Fort Myers, the area was largely occupied by the Calusa Indians – a Native American people that populated the Southwest coast of Florida. In fact, they controlled a large portion of South Florida, and were often described as a fierce war-like people feared by their neighboring tribes.

The Calusa were a unique people for their time, from the way they lived to their culture and traditions. Instead of farming, they lived off of the spoils of the sea. The men and boys of the tribe would make nets from palm tree webbing to catch mullet, pinfish, pigfish, and catfish, and would use spears to catch eels and turtles. Fish bone arrowheads were used to hunt large game animals, like deer, and the women and children learned how to catch various species of shellfish.

And, rather than the traditional tent-like shelters many Native American tribes adopted, the Calusa chose to live in stilted huts with no walls and a roof made of Palmetto leaves on the coast along the inner waterways. They were also considered the first “shell collectors,” discarding shells in huge mounds that can still be seen today. The Calusa used them to construct tools, utensils, and to create jewelry and ornaments for shrines. They also made shell spears for fishing and hunting.

The Calusa were also rather fierce sailors. They traveled in canoes made from hallowed Cypress trees, and used the Calooshahatchee River (“River of the Calusa”) as their main water way, traveling as far as Cuba. Explorers also reported that the Calusa attacked their ships that were anchored just off shore, in an attempt to protect their land. They were also known to sail up and down the Coast of Florida, collecting treasures from shipwrecks.

Sadly, as their land was taken over by European settlers, the Calusa tribe died out in the late 1700’s. In addition to their exposure to foreign pathogens, enemy tribes from Georgia and South Carolina began raiding their territory. Many of the Calusa people were also taken as slaves.

5781 Cape Harbour Drive , Cape Coral , FL 33914
©2013 Banana Bay Tour Company. Design and SEO by thirteen05 creative


The Calusa People: A Lost Tribe of Florida that Early Explorers Wrote Home About - History

Juan Ponce de León was the first Spanish explorer to arrive in Florida. Early Spanish explorers were known as conquistadors (kahn-KEYS-ta-dawrz) or "conquerors." While there are no official records, historians believe that Ponce de León was born in 1460 in San Tervas de Campos, Spain.

Early Exploration

In 1493, Ponce de León sailed with Christopher Columbus on Columbus' second voyage to the Americas. He and his family settled on an island in the Caribbean named Hispaniola (Dominican Republic). He became a military commander at this post and was appointed deputy governor.

In 1506, Ponce de León discovered a nearby island named Borinquen. While there, he found large deposits of gold. Soon after his discovery, he left the island. He returned in 1508 on orders from the king of Spain to explore and colonize the island. He renamed the island Puerto Rico. He was the island's governor for two years until the king replaced him with Columbus' son.

Discovery of Florida

Hurt by the King's action, Ponce de León sailed again, this time north through the Bahamas heading towards Florida. He was in search of new lands and treasures. He had also heard of a mythical fountain of youth. Indians spoke of a legendary, magical spring whose water was believed to make older people young again. Ponce de León explored many areas, including the Bahamas and Bimini, for both gold and the mythical fountain, but he never found either.

In late March of 1513, his ships landed on Florida's east coast near present-day St. Augustine. He claimed this beautiful land for Spain. Since he had discovered this country of lavish landscape and beautiful beaches, he was entitled to name it. He named it La Florida (LAH flow REE dah) or "place of flowers."

He decided to continue his exploration of this land and sailed down the coast. He encountered some rough currents at one point and named the area Cape Canaveral which means “Cape of Currents”.

Ponce de León continued down the east coast of Florida and along the keys until he arrived at an island that had many
turtles. He named the island Dry Tortugas because there was no fresh water on the island and “tortugas” means “turtle” in Spanish.

Ponce de León and the Calusa Indians

Continuing up the west coast of Florida, Ponce de León entered the Charlotte Harbor area. As he and his men explored inland for wood and fresh water, they saw the Calusa tribal village at Mound Key. They discovered that the Calusa were an unfriendly tribe. The explorers fled back to their ships and decided to leave the area. They sailed back to Puerto Rico.

Return to Florida

In 1521, Ponce de León returned to Florida again to build a colony. He landed on the gulf beaches between Charlotte Harbor and Estero Bay with over 200 settlers, horses, tools, and seeds. The plan was to set up a farming colony. As they went inland for fresh water, the Calusa ambushed them. Ponce de León was shot in the thigh by an arrow and was seriously wounded. The settlers decided to abandon the settlement and sail back to Cuba.

As a result of his wound, Ponce de León died at the age of 61 in Cuba. He will always be remembered as the brave conquistador who first explored many parts of Florida and searched for the mythical fountain of youth.



South Florida

Less is known about the early Indians of South Florida. The best known group is the Calusa, whose vast domain was ruled by a single chief. Although lacking agriculture, the Calusa developed elaborate political, social and trade networks. They were also expert wood carvers, and the many ceremonial items recovered from a Calusa site on Key Marco display great artistic skill. The Calusa lived around Charlotte Harbor just north of present-day Naples and around the mouth of the Caloosahatchie River in South Florida.

Arguably the most complex precontact culture in South Florida existed inland, in the Lake Okeechobee basin. These people not only had a sophisticated political and social organization, but they also grew corn. Striking similarities between their form of maize horticulture and that originating in the savannas of northern South America. This has led some scholars to suggest that ancient people of South American migrated north to South Florida through the Antilles islands of the Caribbean.


Watch the video: Domain of the Calusa (November 2022).

Video, Sitemap-Video, Sitemap-Videos