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Who Were the Spanish Indians? Part I: End of the Calusa

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Last week Dr. Brent Weisman gave a talk on the Spanish Indians in Bonita Springs. I want to hit some of his points, and add some of my own. The meeting was like part two of the FAS conference, because many other archaeologists / anthropologists were in attendances who have written of the native people of south Florida, like Bill Marquardt of Pine Island.

Dr. Weisman started out by saying that although people often ask who the Spanish Indians were, it is a very confusing and complicated answer. It involves so many different people and cultures that were mixing in Florida during the 18th and 19th centuries. He said that he has not gotten a satisfactory answer after 25 years of research and archaeology. We cannot describe the Spanish Indians without considering all the other players during that time in the region.

When Ponce de Leon arrived in Florida in 1513, he was greeted in Spanish. The Calusa had already had contact with either Spaniards, or refugees from the Spanish colonies.

Below: a model of Mound Key during the time of Calos. You can see this at Koreshan State Park south of Fort Myers.

After the killing of Cacique Calos and the subsequent chief at Mound Key by the Spanish, the Calusa culture or society fell apart. Calos held both spiritual and secular power in the Calusa region. Getting rid of him unglued the society, and the remaining Calusa refused to follow the Spanish and dispersed. The Spanish still tried to establish a mission in southwest Florida in the 1690s. After 200 years of contact, the Calusa had adopted much of the Spanish culture, clothing, and were even converting to Catholicism. By 1763 the remnants decided to go to Cuba instead of remaining in the new British territory of East Florida. Dr. John Worth indicated that he has seen records where 500 Calusa baptized as Catholics and received Spanish names near Havana.

But the Calusa were certainly aware of the other tribes in Florida, and apparently had contact with them in the 18th century. Take into account the Apalachee. After Governor Moore of the Carolinas destroyed the Spanish mission chain in northern Florida, the Apalachee dispersed. We know of a remnant that are in Louisiana today. But they also fled to southwest Florida. Dr. John Goggin found Apalachee mission pottery on Big Mound Key. In 1688, a Calusa delegation visited the Spanish governor in the Apalachee province. When the Spanish attempted another mission in southwest Florida in 1697, an aged cacique spoke to the Franciscan friar in both the Apalachee and Timuquan languages. (Since the Spanish did not have enough contact to learn Calusa language.)

Below: reconstructed Mission San Luis de Apalachee near Tallahassee.

In 1952, William Sturtevant interviewed elderly Seminole Sam Huff. Since Sam spoke no English, it had to be translated. Sam said that he was of the Big Town Clan, descended from Apalachicola Town. It should be noted that at one time, Apalachee Town with Mission San Luis was only five miles away from Apalachicola Town. The different between the two old towns were mostly political and religious. (Apalachee went Catholic.) Other than that, they had very close ties. The chief at Apalachee had an Apalachicola wife.

Below: Sam Huff about 1920, from Smithsonian images.

Thus, even before the Calusa either left Florida or disappeared from history, other tribes were already entering the area.

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