In Search of the Calusa 3

About Randell Research Center, Pine Island, Lee County, FL -an extension of the University of Florida, both Ed and my alma-mater.

This post will be my final post in a series entitled “In search of the Calusa.” Today is number 3. You may have already read 1 & 2.

In Search of the Calusa 1

In Search of the Calusa 2

Pine Island’s Randell Reaserch Center was the perfect place to end Ed and my west coast Calusa journey in May of 2022. It made a huge impression. A big shout out to my Uncle Russell who brought the center to our attention.

The research center and heritage trail is located on the northwest side of Pine Island, an island that is seventeen miles long making it the largest on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Although Ed and I were traveling via our trawler, Adrift, we rented a car and drove about forty-nine miles from Captiva Island to the center.

The Randell Reasearch Center consists of fifty-three acres and is the heart of a huge shell mound of more than a hundred acres. At the center, one can interact with a volunteer expert, walk the Calusa Trail, and then look through artifacts and literature in the museum.

-Adrift docked in Sanibel/Captiva. Its draft precluded a boat outing to Pine Island.What made this experience different than Ft Meyers (1) or Marco Island (2) is that the Calusa village on Pine Island is basically intact. Thus it was here that Ed and I felt we finally met soul of the Calusa. The walking trail is about a mile long and a series of artistic and informational signs tell the story of the Calusa and the lands they inhabited. I have taken pictures of some of the signs. If you wish to read, click on the image and it will be enlarged.

The Calusa were a fascinating and impressive people. Standing tall, long-haired, painted  and beautiful, they skillfully constructed towns, built relationships with distant tribes, engineered extensive hand-dug canals, partook in canal-connected “aquaculture” holding-ponds to feed their people, experienced a deep spiritual life, and respectfully buried their dead. This society created complex and self-sufficient living with influence as far away as Cape Canaveral.

It was interesting to me to learn that the Pine Island site was originally named “Tampa.” Apparently, only Big Mound Key near Charlotte Harbor and Mound Key in Estero Bay are comparable in sophistication. All of these communities lived from the overflowing bounty of their estuaries and with shells, fish, and animal bones built what became multi-generational mounds rising from the landscape. These were the great cities of their time and perfectly located for life. The Spanish documented 60 smaller Calusa towns by 1612.

As one walks through the varied landscape, the tallest mound provides an observation platform. These sacred places are where for at least 1500 years these amazing people worshiped, loved, lived  and politicized, until unfortunately decimated by European Contact.

Ed and I were so honored to experience their home. Thank you to those who preserved rather than developed these lands. May the spirit of the Calusa Warrior be with us as we fight today to bring our estuaries back to full life.

-The Caloosahatchee River pours out into Pine Island Sound, beyond,  and into the Gulf of Mexico.-Ed with volunteer at welcome center and library.-A portion of the Calusa Trail.-Remains of a Calusa shell mound.-Another mound, the shape clear to see.-Walking on along the mile long trail, Ed spots an osprey chick!-Ed reads one of the many interpretive signs along the Calusa Trail.-The site is on the Nation Register of Historic Places. -A marsh rabbit says hello!-DAILY LIFE-BROWNS MOUND COMPLEX-Atop the highest mounds is a boardwalk.-It was hot! Bring your mosquito spray! -CALUSA SOCIETY-ON TOP OF THE WORLD -A nice place to sit and ponder the ways of the Calusa.THE PINELAND CANAL-Remnants of the two and a half mile, six foot deep canal, dug by hand using “buckets”! This canal cut ten miles off a journey to Matlacha Pass. The Calusa constructed many canals across the marshy landscape of South Florida and these canals were part of why they had such wide reaching influence. -Photos of the canal and bridge today… -A sign in three sections: EARLY & MIDDLE PINELAND -A view along the trail.-SPIRITUAL LIFE -PRESERVING THE PAST -SACRED PRECINCTS-PINELAND SINCE THE CALUSA -A walk through time…-Library information and artifacts -The Calusa made weights of shells for their fishing nets. -Quahog clams are often a part of the great mounds. You may see these clams around today.-An impressive people; we remember them with honor…

12 thoughts on “In Search of the Calusa 3

  1. Thank you for shining a spotlight on the Randall Research Center which documents the rich heritage of the Calusa people in SW Florida and specifically Pine Island. They flourished with the abundance of marine life in the clean waters of Pine Island Sound. Keep up your excellent work towards restoring clean water on your East Coast and our West Coast. Thanks for all your efforts on the SFWMD Governing Board; it is greatly appreciated!!!

  2. What a wonderful job you and Ed have done documenting this remarkable area. I really enjoyed the photos of the various trail signs. Being able to read those signs added a lot to my appreciation of the site you do aptly described!

  3. Interesting read, Marco Island was the hub of the Calusa Culture and religion. UF in Gainesville Fla. has a top notch display of Cushing’s work on Marco Island.

    1. Thank you Michael – I did not know about the UF display. I will try to go see it. Gainseville is kind of a second home so I am sure my husband and I will be there soon. The Calusa Culture is so inspirational.

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