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Florida Guide > Florida History

Calusa Indians

The Native Americans known as the Calusa Indians inhabited the south west coast of Florida. The word Calusa means fierce people and they certainly lived up to their name. They were pro active in repelling other Indian tribes. In the days that the Spanish exploreres first arrived they gave them short shrift as well. They were of a tall imposing stature for their time and there was an impressive population of them.

They were otherwise known as the shell people and those of us that have visited that particular part of Florida will realise that they were making good use of what they found around them. They would implement the shells to fashion tools and to craft jewellry and various ornaments. Shells were also used to embellish and decorate their shrines. All Native Americans placed huge importance on their rituals and ceremonies.

Their homes were built without walls and with roofs woven from the ever useful palmetto leaf. The homes would have stood on stilts to protect them from floods.

The main waterway route was the Calooshatatchee River which when translated means River of the Calusa. They travelled this river in 15 feet canoes that they fashioned out of the cypress tree. It is known that they travelled as far away as Cuba in these craft and they were not averse to looting wrecked ships along the Gulf Coast in their travels. The amount of wrecked craft meant that there were rich pickings to be made from this.

Unlike most other tribes of Native Americans, the Calusa people did not grow any crops but instead fished and hunted. They would have eaten fish, seafood and game and it was the women and children who would have normally caught the seafood.

This seemingly indominatable tribe was almost extinct by the late 18th century. This was due in part to the western illnesses and also to attacks from other tribes and shamefully that they were sold as slaves. At one point, it is estimated that the population was around 50000 so this makes it even more sad.

If you visit Mound Key at Estero Bay you can see a wonderful Calusa shell mound. This was once the capital of the Calusa Indians and it is known that Chief Carlos lived here. There is no finer way to get a feeling of the life and times of the Native American than to visit an appropriate State Park.

We aim to provide accurate and useful information, but if you feel anything provided here is not accurate or out of date, please email us with the address of the page concerned and any comments so we can amend as necessary.

Page added on: 11 October 2009
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