I am posting my talk from a recent program I gave at the Marco Island Historical Society. Several people who could not attend wanted to hear it, so I am posting the entire talk here.
To understand the Seminole War in southwest Florida, we must first look at the “Spanish Indians.”
When the Spanish arrived with Ponce de Leon 500 years ago, they found a civilization in southwest Florida that was the remnant of the mound builders that covered the southeast. King Carlos and the Calusa on Mound Key were so powerful that they resisted Spanish colonization and missionization in southwest Florida. In return, the Spanish labeled this area on their maps, “the Bay of Infidels.”
Hamilton Cushing's excavation here on Marco Island in 1895 uncovered the evidence of a civilization that was flourishing in the Ten Thousand Islands a thousand years before the Calusa. A name survives from the Spanish, “Muspa.” These fantastic wooden objects that you commemorate in this museum date from a thousand years before King Carlos and the Calusa on Mound Key. Muspa artifacts are distinctly different from Calusa before 1300 A.D. The Muspa artifacts appear to be Hitchiti, and the Calusa were Tunica / Natchez. It appears that the Muspa abandoned here about 1300 AD; probably a result of changing sea levels during the beginning of a 700 year period known as “the Little Ice Age.” After 1300, the artifacts from this area begin to resemble Calusa.
The decline of the original mound builders, Muspa and Calusa, brings us to a very important group here during the Seminole wars, known as the “Spanish Indians.”
Dr. Brent Weisman gave a talk on the Spanish Indians last May in Bonita Springs. He said that after 25 years of research, it is still not completely clear who the Spanish Indians were. It involves a confusing and complex mixing of people and cultures in southwest Florida during colonial times.
Oral history of the Seminoles recorded by William Sturtevant in this area in the 1950s indicates that the Seminoles were moving down here in the 1700s, but had little interaction with the Calusa. The Seminole knew the Calusa were here, but not much more than that. Naturalist William Bartram said in the 1770s that all the Calusa had left from this area.
But depending on whom you ask, the Miccosukee and some of the Seminoles claim to have Calusa ancestors. Legend among the Seminole and Miccosukee say that a Calusa remnant are still here.