Native Peoples

Recent surveys in the Everglades and within the Big Cypress Swamp indicate the presence of at least several hundred archeological sites within the interior of south Florida. Some of these sites proved to be substantial, and suggest more than just marginal or short-term use. Based on current data, it also appears that the sawgrass plains region south of Lake Okeechobee, now the Everglades Agricultural Area, was a transitional area used for canoe travel and small encampments by many tribes. The exceptions are earthwork complexes, some of which are known to be located on the western edge of the Everglades. These sites show a strong affiliation with the Belle Glade Area on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. Pottery remains found in portions of the southwest section of the Everglades Agricultural Area indicate influence from regions as far away as Ten Thousand Islands/Florida Bay on the southernmost end of the state. The settlement of South Florida, which has occurred since 10,000 b.c., has been chronologically categorized up until a.d. 1930.

Paleo-Indian Period (10,000 b.c. to 8000 b.c.) — The Paleo-Indian likely lived with mammoths, bison, and other types of megafauna in arid climate conditions. With the extinction of these animals, the Paleo-Indian adapted to the changing climate and emerging wetlands and began to establish patterns of subsistence (deer and rabbit hunting, as well as marine life gathering).

Archaic Period (8000 b.c. to 750 b.c.) — During the Post Glacial period, the sea level rose and diminished Florida’s land base, and the climate began to change. By 5000 years ago, cypress swamps and hardwood forests characteristic of subtropical terrain began to develop. The people of this period increasingly relied on shellfish and other coastal resources, as well as expanded hunting, fishing, and plant gathering. From the Early Archaic Period to the Late Archaic Period, advances were made in the shaping and use of tools and pottery. Remnants of the tools and pottery are valuable in dating these sites.

The Glades Period (ca. 750 b.c. to a.d. 1500) — The Glades I, II, and III periods are dated and characterized by pottery types. During the Glades II and III periods, evidences of a thriving trade network is evidenced by a variety of exotic resources, such as lithic tools and ornaments.

Historic Contact Period (ca. a.d. 1500 to a.d. 1750) — This period includes the arrival of the Europeans and their encountering of a thriving population of at least five separate tribes: the Tequesta in southeast Florida, the Calusa in the southwest, and the Jeaga and Ais along the east coast north of the Tequesta, and the Mayaimi near Lake Okeechobee. At the time of Spanish contact the Calusa maintained political dominance over these groups. It has been estimated that there were approximately 20,000 Indians in south Florida when the Spanish arrived. By 1763 when the English gained control of Florida, that population had been reduced to several hundred, which were reported to have migrated to Cuba with the Spanish (Romans 1962).

Historic Period (ca. a.d. 1750 to a.d. 1930) — There is little information on any pre-19th century activities in the area south of Lake Ockeechobee. With the demise of indigenous people in south Florida, and white settlement occurring to the north, increasing migrations of Creek peoples moved southward for hunting and settling. The Creeks and proto-Seminoles were in the area as early as the eighteenth century. During the Seminole Wars (1817–18, 1835–42, 1855–58) independent bands of Florida Indians established themselves in the Everglades to avoid removal from Florida.

From the Everglades Agricultural Area Land Acquisition Programmatic Environmental Assessment, U.S. Department of the Interior, July 1997.

Last updated: April 5, 2019

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