When people think of Indians in Florida, they tend to think of Seminoles. Yet the Seminoles are relative newcomers to Florida. Even Europeans had been here for over 200 years before the first Seminoles came down from Georgia in the 1700s. But that does not mean the land was unpeopled until then. About 12,000 years ago, when Florida was much larger and drier than now, wandering hunter-gatherers arrived. They lived a simple life, following the great herds of mammoths and other mega-fauna and gathering the wild grains, nuts, and berries they found in their seasonal wanderings. They made no pottery, used no bows and arrows. Instead they hunted with spears and cooked in leather bags, heating the contents with hot stones. No one knows what these people called themselves, but to archaeologists, they are known as Paleo-Indians, the oldest Indians.
Archaic Period: Orange Culture
4000-1000 BC (Dates are approximate)
Woodland Period: Regional Cultures
1000 BC – 1500 AD (Dates are approximate)
By the time the Europeans arrived in the early 1500s, the regional cultures were well established and differentiated. The group living along the Caloosahatchie River and the coast south of Tampa Bay became known as the Caloosa. They were a powerful, fierce people who exacted tribute from less powerful groups in the region. The archaeological site at Marco Island, south of Naples, FL, shows a typical village with built up shell islands connected by canals. Beautifully painted and carved wooden masks were found at this site. They had a well-established religion and practiced human sacrifice. Temples were built on mounds. They believed that people had three souls—in one’s eye, one’s shadow, and one’s reflection in water. Some people believe that the Caloosa traveled to Cuba in their canoes and may even have traded with the Mayan of the Yucatan. There is evidence that they had had experience with Europeans before Juan Ponce de Leon arrived in 1513. The Spanish were never able to missionize them as they did with the other Florida natives.
The Apalachee lived in the uplands of the panhandle and north-central Florida. The soil was good there, and the Apalachee developed agriculture and extensive trade networks. This group’s territory was so extensive at one time that the Appalachian Mountains were named after them. The Apalachee played a type of ball game with up to 50 men on a team, and it was so rough that it was known as “the Little Brother of War”. Besides providing a social gathering in which news could be exchanged and young people find mates, the ball game kept the men fit for battle and also eased tensions and arguments between villages. The Apalachee were thoroughly missionized by the Spanish. Mission San Luis, a state historical site in Tallahassee, is a good example of an Apalachee-Spanish mission with a reconstructed church and priests’ house on one side of the central plaza and the tribal council house and Chief’s house on the other side. The council house could hold several thousand people.
Last updated: April 2, 2018