The first Floridians were the American
Indians. Some twenty-five thousand years before the birth of Christ, when North
America was still inhabited by prehistoric beasts, small tribes of primitive
hunters crossed the frozen wastelands of the Bering Strait from Asia to the
Florida was probably one of the last places in the
Americas to have human inhabitants although every year earlier and earlier
remains of first Floridians are discovered in springs such as Warm Mineral
Springs, south of Sarasota. These early
Paleo-Indians (c. 12000 B.C. to 7500 B.C.)
were nomadic hunters, using crude spears and arrows of flint and stone. The
fire drill was their highest technology. In the mild climate of
Eight thousand years ago the earth started to warm and Florida became smaller and more tropical. Centuries of
Era (1000 B.C. to 1500 A.D.) brought farming and pottery skills.
Commerce with Indians outside
About 500 years ago the native people became known as the Woodland Indians. In North Florida lived two highly
organized, farming tribes the Apalachee of the Tallahassee Hills
and the Timucuans,
located between the Aucilla River and the Atlantic
Ocean as far south as Tampa Bay. These people were latecomers to
The Timucuans and Apalachees were divided into numerous independent villages, each with a leader. An inter tribal dialect developed by traders united the tribes. In the summer, the planting of maize, squash, and beans dominated village life, while in the lean months of winter, hunting deer, turkey, and small game in the forests became important. Meat was smoked on open grills and stored in pine needle baskets or clay containers in tribal warehouses.
A typical Timucuan village sometimes consisted of a cluster of small huts surrounded by a circular twelve foot high wall of tree trunks. A single opening led to the village plaza where the cacique or chieftain resided and the tribal granaries were located. Along the perimeter of the wall were humble family dwellings, furnished only with beds of reeds, three legged stools, and food storage pottery.The presence of a good water supply was the key not just for drinking, bathing, and cooking, but for fishing, hunting, and collecting food.
The Timucuans practiced a rigid feudal system. The absolute rulers were the cacique and his council of noblemen. Their chief ally was the shaman, or medicine man, who performed all necessary rituals. Large burial mounds and temple mounds for sacrifice to the sun god showed the impact religion had on their daily lives.
Each Indian was born into a particular occupational status in the village, and only a major crisis altered the predetermined story of a person. Warriors and hunters were the most common job, but skilled potters and canoe makers were given great status. The aged, women, and children did most of the planting and probably accumulated the most food. This division of labor reflected a stable, complex agrarian society.
Along the southwest Gulf coast lived the Calusa (Caloosa) Indians. A new tribe that entered
They were powerfully built men, often four inches
taller than their European counterparts. In the warm
The Calusa were great
sailors. Their large canoes of hallowed out cypress logs were capable of
forty coastal villages spread along the
The Calusa's reputation was well established. The hereditary chief and the dolman or priest ran the villages. They practiced sacrificial worship and demanded obedience from all villagers. The Calusa had a rather closed society and the Spanish would discover little interest in missionary activity from the Calusa.
Along the lower
The Tequestas had many
villages at the mouth of the
While Florida's Indians at the time of Ponce de Leon did not match the technical skill of the great Indian Empires of Mexico and South America, the Florida tribes were satisfied that the abundant wildlife and sea life and the mild winters met their expectations. A level of political and economic stability had developed under the strict control of the village chiefs and religious leaders. The Indian measured satisfaction in his understanding and control of the natural resources around him. The Indian could not imagine what would be the impact of the arrival of people from another hemisphere.