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Who Were the Spanish Indians? Part II: The Seminoles in old Calusa Domain

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The Seminoles were down into southwest Florida as early as the mid to late 1700s, and most likely had knowledge and contact with the Calusa. William Bartram records that there were a few scattered remnants of the Calusa when the Alachuca Seminoles established their town in Florida, but said that all of the old tribes were destroyed, and the few surviving Calusa left for Cuba with the Spaniards.

Now, the question to ask here, is if there was a remnant of Calusa who were assimilated into the Seminole culture? It is not a simple answer.

The Miccosukee today claim that they have Calusa ancestors, and the tribe descended from Calusa. The Catfish Dance is one of the dances they acquired from the Calusa, along with some plant and medicine knowledge. But the dance really doesn't have any words and is not very different from the many other dances. Medicine knowledge would certainly be traded and is easy to accept. But, this does not mean that a large number of Calusa survived to form what we know as the modern Miccosukee tribe. So, did the Calusa survive, or were they gone like the Seminoles told William Bartram? According to what the Miccosukee say, maybe some survived.

Below: The Seminole Catfish dance at the Seminole Tribe's Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. The tribe is proud enough to choose this dance to show it to the world in the museum. Excellent choice, because it is certainly something you can say is uniquely Seminole.

Frances Densmore wrote a story told to her by the Seminoles of warfare with the Calusa. But the story has the Calusa coming from the north. Like many of the Seminole legends, the story may have been transmitted from the distant past, where locations are sometimes changed along with participants to fit the message being conveyed. It makes us wonder if the Seminoles have a different concept of the ancient tribes, specifically Calusa, than what we think? This could be, because many of the Seminole words describe categories or concepts instead of specific objects.

Remember that by the mid-1700s, the Calusa population was decimated. The Seminole population arriving would probably outnumber the small remnants of the Calusa population. The smaller Calusa group would be absorbed into the more dominant Seminole / Miccosukee culture.

So there could have been a remnant of Calusa who survived, but they did not leave much when they left or disappeared. It is hard to believe that they all left in one smooth exodus in 1763. By that time, we wonder what would have been left of the Calusa culture that wasn't part of the Spanish or Seminole/Miccosukee culture. When talking ceremonial beliefs and habits, all the southeastern tribes have similarities that can be attributed to the Mississippian mound builder culture. But tracing that down to where it specifically came from is impossible.

But it is more than likely that the Seminole/Miccosukee already had knowledge and contact with the Calusa in the mid to late 18th century. The Seminole were apparently already down in south Florida.

Florida Archaeologist Ripley Bullen discovered a Seminole burial on Pine Island in the 1950s and dated it to the mid to late 1700s. A number of places on the maps made of southwest Florida during the Second Seminole War already had Seminole place names; some being known for a long time.

In the 1770s, William Bartram visits Talahasochte, a town on the Suwannee River near present day Fanning Springs. There was a trading house here, and the inhabitants would trade all along the Florida coast and down to Cuba. They mentioned a large Seminole town on the Bay of Calos, now Caloosahatchee Bay. This town is described as catching and drying fish and trading with the Spanish. This Seminole town was what became known as the Spanish Indians.

If there is a question of what the Seminoles/Miccosukee retained of any surviving Calusa culture, there is no question that they have inherited the old Calusa domain after being in south Florida for 200 years.

Next: The Spanish fishing ranchos.
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