Florida has been settled for thousands of years. Recent discoveries at Little Salt Spring in North Port include a wooden carving that is around 12,000 years old (Little Salt Spring). Ancestors of the Calusa lived in SW Florida for at least 10,000 years before European contact (Inhabitants).
The Calusa were the dominant tribe in Southwest Florida for generations. They were primarily fishermen and hunters. Unlike all other tribes in Florida, the Calusa did not farm on a large scale (Widmer). There is evidence that the Calusa gathered wild fruits (Widmer).
The Calusa controlled Charlotte Harbor directly and about ¼ of the state politically. Tribes from all over Florida sent tribute to the Calusa (Milanich 49).
The Calusa didn’t have a source for metal to make tools. As a result, they developed tools made of shell. Everything from hammers to bowls were made of shell (Brown).
The Calusa had distinct positions in society. There were priests, artisans, fishermen, and warriors. Spanish records show Chief Carlos’ family held positions of power. His father was the head priest, and his cousin was the head of the army (McMahon).
In 1521, Ponce de Leon was killed by the Calusa. He was attempting to colonize the Charlotte Harbor area. He and his crew, along with 200 colonists, were attacked and de Leon was shot with an arrow. He later died of his injuries in Cuba (Milanich 110).
In the late 1600s and early 1700s, tribes from the Carolinas conducted slave raids deep into Florida. These tribes had been given weapons by the British. The Calusa, who were still hostile to Europeans, had no guns. Between slave raids and smallpox epidemics, the Calusa were destroyed as a power (McMahon 118-21). The last Calusa lived in the Keys. Around 270 Calusa were evacuated by Cubans and taken to Cuba in 1711, but over 200 died soon after the trip. Members of the aristocracy were among those who were evacuated (Milanich 41). Dr. John Worth, found evidence of the royal family in old Cuban ship logs which listed all passengers aboard their vessels. It is believed some of the Calusa survived and integrated into the Cuban population. He is still searching for evidence of their blood line. There is no evidence of Calusa in Florida surviving after the 1760s, when Florida became British territory.
Brown, Robin C. Florida’s First People. Orlando, FL: Pineapple Press,1994.
“Little Salt Spring.” University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. 11 June 08.http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/group/lss/.
MacMahon, Darcie A. and William H. Marquardt. The Calusa and Their Legacy: South Florida People and Their Environments. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2004.
Milanich, Jerald T. Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida: 1998.