In Search of the Calusa, 1

-Museum exhibit, Mound House, photo Ed LippischOn May 2nd of 2022, Ed and I began one of my favorite adventures. We went in search of the Calusa, one of Florida’s most famous native tribes. It was in spirit that we found them and they, indeed, were everywhere…The trawler left Stuart going through Lake Okeechobee to Ft Meyers. Lightening and thunder exploded with great force over the Caloosahatchee as Adrift slowly approached Legacy Harbour Marina. As first mate, I refused to walk to the bow to dock the boat for fear I would be struck. “Don’t you realize Florida has more lightning strikes than any other state?” I called through the wind and rain. Ed gave me the evil-eye until I did my job, and the storm was lessening. I stepped out into the elements, crossed myself, pulled up the hood of my rain jacket, and grabbed the lines.

My prayers must have worked as almost immediately the sky began to clear.  After, cleaning up, Ed and I got off the boat, now in good spirits, and walked towards downtown where right away there were signs of former Calusa villages…The following day, my UF friend, Mindi Morrall, met us and we began the second part of the trip to the Mound House, this time by car, located about seven miles away on Ft Meyers Beach. We quickly realized that the Uber driver was from out of state and was not aware that any “Calusa Indians” had ever lived in Florida at all.

The Mound House is considered the “Crown Jewel” of Fort Myers Beach. In April of 2019, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was selected for its historic and its archeological value. The Calusa built the shell mound underlying the mound house over many centuries. A timeline marks their presence in the region from 500 B.C. through the 1700s.

The Calusa lived from the riches of the estuary environment eating tremendous amounts of mollusk and fish, piling remains into very tall mounds -some taller than thirty feet- over centuries. In the 1500s the Calusa were the dominant people in what today we call “South Florida.” The word “Calusa” is thought to mean “fierce people.” They were not farmers, but fisher-hunter gatherers, and as their name states, fiercely independent. The Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon, was attacked and fatally wounded by this tribe upon his return to La Florida, the conquistador’s first visit being in 1513.

I have always felt it is the spirit of the Calusa Warrior that helped bring a turning point to the estuaries of the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee. Today, I will briefly share this experience as an introduction.

This image by the Florida Museum of Natural History shows the “radiation” of the Calusa.

Photos of our meeting the Calusa:

-Entrance to the Mound House, Lee County, FL-Mindi was taller than most Calusas and I was just about the height of the Spanish!-Road to the Mound House built in 1906 atop the thousand/s year old Calusa shell mound-Ed and Mindi wait for the tour to begin. Estero Bay in the distance. -Presentation by Mound House Preservation specialist. Welch & conch were used for many different tools and other utensils. The Calusa are famous for their masks and art.-Location of Mound House and other sites of the Caloosahatchee

-An Atala butterfly on a Strangler Fig tree, the sap of tree used by the Calusa to make paint. -Examples of Calusa replica artifacts -many are some of the most famous in the world. -Looking into floor of  the Mound House built in early 1900s. Shells! -Of great interest was where a display in the ground where a swimming pool had been excavated and shell layers of the mound beneath the house could be closely viewed “over time,” layer by layer.-Necklace of the four corners

Escalante Fontaneda’s Memoir 1575

The Mound House was a great introduction to the Calusa. But there is much, much more! Ed and I will take you there next: Marco Island & Pine Island…


15 thoughts on “In Search of the Calusa, 1

  1. Love that last pic of you two! I’ll be taking this trip with you as an armchair traveler…thanks for taking us along!

  2. I really appreciate all your hard work that you have done and all your emails over the years. All your hard work does not go unnoticed. Much ♥️.

  3. Jack Davis’ book, “The Gulf”, has astounding history on the first interactions between the Calusa and Europeans. The book is a great read.

    1. Cari thank you so much. I will order the book. I have read An Everglades Providence awhile back and remember thinking Jack Davis was an incredible author. I look forward to his story about the Calusa.

  4. Thanks once again for a great post Jacqui! I look forward to your comments on the Randall Research Center in Pineland on Pine Island. Our home is on the Southern most tip of Pine Island.

  5. Thanks once again for a great post Jacqui! I look forward to your comments on the Randall Research Center in Pineland on Pine Island. Our home is on the Southern most tip of Pine Island.

    1. Mike-I can’t wait to write about the Randal Research Center. You live in an amazing place. Pine Island was one of the best experiences of our trip. The whole area is remarkable. No wonder the Calusa chose it to be their home.

  6. The history of the Calusa is fascinating. Enjoyed you and Ed’s visit to the Mound House and the always great photographs. Just in case you have not visited the Marco Island Historical Museum, don’t miss it. Their Calusa exhibits are extraordinary including original finds from Cushing’s expedition .

    1. Dear Franklin,
      Even through Ed and I spent a lot of time on Marco Island we did not get to the museum. I kept seeing the signs and wanted to go. Thank you and now I have a reason to go back!

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