In Calusa 1, Ed, Mindi, and I learned about villages of the Calusa that once existed right in downtown, Ft Meyers. Soon after, we visited an even more remarkable remnant, the Mound House seven miles away on Ft Meyers Beach.
Continuing our journey, we headed south along Estero Bay, an aquatic preserve connected to the Caloosahatchee River. As Adrift’s draft was too deep, we viewed Calusa site #3, Mound Key Archeological State Park, from a distance. Archeologists have determined that “Mound Key” was the capital so to speak, the ceremonial center, of a sprawling Calusa Kingdom that influenced much of South Florida. Over centuries, high shell mounds and a grand canal were built on Mound Key by Calusa hands as explained in Trail of Florida’s Indian Heritage. Seeing the famous key from a distance was quite remarkable and really and gave me a reference point for the Calusa people and their travels throughout the remainder of the trip.
III. Mound Key
IV. Marco Island
-Rounding into Marco Island, Gulf of MexicoThe boat trip to beautiful Marco Island, Calusa site #4, cradled in the Gulf of Mexico, was rough, but once we got there about six hours later, it was calm and beautiful. I knew -here as well- we could not experience Calusa culture first hand as its most famous archeological site is now developed and covered over by the Olde Marco Inn. This photo below is close to this area.
–Key Marco as documented in the Pepper -Hearst Expedition of 1886
The Key Marco/Marco Island’s story is fascinating. Around 1895, landowner, W. D. Captain Bill Collier, no relation to the famous Collier family, was living-subsiding-on Key Marco of today’s Marco Island. While digging on his property, he noticed artifacts. Serious artifacts. Shortly thereafter, anthropologist, Frank H. Cushing, sponsored by the Smithsonian, University of Pennsylvania, and William and Phoebe Hearst was called to excavate. The “Key Marco” location became one of the most famous North American archeological sites of all time as Cushing basically “unearthed remains of an entire Calusa village.”
-The Calusa used many beautiful and once abundant shells for various aspects of their amazing culture -All photos are replicas of Cushing’s finds, Randell Research Center, JTL Most famous among the 1896 finds is the hard-wood, in tact, gorgeous “Key Marco Cat,” and many ceremonial masks that were painted by Wells M. Sawyer before they disintegrated or fell apart. Eventually, the artifacts, photos, watercolors, and drawings were split-up among well known institutions after Cushing’s death only four years later in 1900. Thus it is difficult to view them all in one place.
Thankfully, the most famous, the “Key Marco Cat” or “Panther Man God” is on loan from the Smithsonian to the Marco Island Historical Museum until 2026. You can learn more about the iconic Florida artifact by watching this video by Pat Rutledge, Executive Director of the Marco Island Historical Society with her guest, Curator of Collections, Austin Bell.
Unfortunately, Ed and I did not get to see the Marco Cat as I left Marco Island to attended a South Florida Water Management District governing board meeting in Key Largo. But Ed and I are planning a trip back to Marco Island to see the famous feline! This is a must! Our in Search of the Calusa tour is ending up being one of our all time favorite trips! So much to learn about our Florida!
–Screen shot of slide via above link to video, Austin Bell.
-Not a replica. Image of Key Marco Cat or Panther Man God, Smithsonian Museum –Florida Museum of Natural History reconstruction of ancient Calusa chief/dolphin images-Ed meets a modern street dolphin while walking Marco Island -As you can see from this photo, Marco Island is built up today as is most of South Florida…-Advertisement for the Marco Cat at the Marco Island Historical Museum!-Goodbye Marco Island! Next stop Pine Island north of the Caloosahatchee River. Ed and I look forward to taking you there for our final Calusa visit!