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A Florida History


Races. The Indians found by the Spaniards in Florida were a wild and savage people. Two of the tribes in the lower part of the peninsula, the Tequstas and Caloosas, were so like the natives of the Bahama Islands that it is thought they must have come from there many years before Ponce de Leon's discovery. The tribes living north of these belonged to the great Muscogee family.

Physique. Like others of the race, they were tall, copper-colored people, with long, straight, coarse hair, high cheek bones, and black, deep-set eyes. The early Spanish explorers declared that the men they met were like giants in size, and so strong that they could shoot an arrow and drive it through a tree the size of a man's thigh. And they told, too, of how fleet-footed the red men were following the deer, and of their wonderfully keen sight and hearing.

To what two great families did the Florida Indians belong? Describe their facial characteristics.

Clothing. They wove a kind of coarse cloth of bear grass and palmetto fiber, and of this made most of their clothing. The women wore mantles of this material fastened on the shoulder with the right arm out, and skirts fastened at the waist and hanging to the feet. The men wore mantles over the shoulder in the same way, with short tunics of deerskin dressed and colored. Their moccasins were of deerskin prepared in such a way as to be as soft as cloth. They loved display and wore ornaments of gold and of pearls. The gold must have been gotten from the Indians of the nearest gold regions, and the pearls from their own waters. Some of these Indians tattooed their skins.

Dwellings. Their dwellings were usually grouped together in villages surrounded by a close wall of posts ten or twelve feet high. In the northern part of Florida and on the Gulf coast these dwellings were often mere shelters of poles covered with woven mats. In some cases the whole tribe had its home in one great building—which must have been something like a large arbor—a part of which would be set apart for the chief and his family. With some tribes the houses were very substantial. In certain villages near the Atlantic coast, all the houses except the chief's were circular, having floors level with the ground, The chief's house was usually on a mound, and was not circular; the floor was below the level of the ground.

Of what did the Indians make cloth? What ornaments did they have? How were their villages protected?

Government and Wars. The chief or king was always very powerful. When he died his son ruled in his place. The tribes that were governed by these chiefs were fierce, and war was their delight. Like other Indians, they fought in small bands, and their weapons were arrows, spears, clubs, and tomahawks. Warriors were proud of the number of scalps they could take. They would sometimes take prisoners. Some of these were put to torture and afterward killed, some were kept as slaves. Occasionally a prisoner who showed very great courage would be adopted into the tribe.

Occupations. These Indians were skilled in hunting and fishing. With streams, lakes, and full of bears, coast waters alive with fish, and the woods deer, turkeys, and other game, they fared well. Tilling the soil in a simple way, they raised food crops twice a year. The principal tool used was a kind of hoe made of a shell fastened to the end of a stick. A clumsy sort of tool it must have been, but the fertile fields produced corn, beans, squashes, and other vegetables in plenty. When vegetables could no longer be had, there were nuts and roots to be found. Gourds were raised to furnish dishes and vessels for various uses. The Florida Indian thought much of his tobacco, and smoked it in a long pipe made of a cane with an earthen cup at the end, much as pipes are made and smoked now.

What form of government did they have? What were their weapons? How did they dispose of their prisoners? How did they provide food?

Amusements. They were grave, dignified people, who talked little and seldom smiled. Yet they had their amusements-games of ball, wrestling, running, and leaping matches and their wild dances.

Worship. They worshiped the Great Spirit, and believe that after death the good and brave would enjoy the happy bunting grounds. They had special festivals in honor of the sun and the moon, and offered sacrifices to an imaginary being called Toya.

In the morning every Indian would stand before his dwelling, and stretching out his hands to the rising sun, say or sing a sort of hymn in praise of its glory. This was done again at noon. At evening, standing so that the last rays of the sun would fall upon them, they bade farewell to the rapidly sinking globe of fire.

What crops did the Indians raise? What was their religious belief? What was their daily custom?

There were a number of feasts, but four especially, during the year, when they would gather on the highest ground near the villages and offer sacrifices of plants and honey. At such times the chief priest, or jauva, as he was called, would spread corn on a smooth stone as an offering to the birds in gratitude for their melody. At noon the offering would be made again, and then cages, in which a great many birds had been kept for the occasion, would be opened and the birds set free. A festival was held at the time of the corn planting and another when the corn was ripe.

The jauvas were also medicine men and were expected to have a cure for every ailment. They were treated with great respect at all times, and were always consulted when anything of importance to the tribe was to be decided.

They were a strange people, very fierce, very cruel to their enemies, but brave as men could be and faithful to those of their own tribe. The story of Juan Ortiz and other stories their history gives show that they were capable of a high sense of honor and noble conduct.

What did their feasts celebrate? Who were the jauvas?


  1. Describe the physical characteristics of the Florida Indians.
  2. Their clothing.
  3. Their dwellings.
  4. Their warfare customs.
  5. Tell about the agriculture of the Florida Indians.
  6. Their religious customs.


  1. Supplement and illustrate this chapter with all that has been said in preceding chapters regarding the Indians.
  2. Compare the Indians of Florida with those farther north as described in large United States histories.
  3. Of what kind of stone were the arrow and spear heads most commonly made and where are quarries of this stone found?
  4. Old Indian fields, mounds, and collections or specimens of pottery and weapons are to be found in almost every part of the State. Large mounds of oyster shells are found near the coast at various points, which show clearly that they were formed by annual encampments of Indians at these places. All these afford convenient material for research throughout the State.
  5. Read the accounts of the recent or present customs of the remnant of Indians in the Everglades, including the "Green Corn Dance" and other feasts in recognition of the beautiful belief of "God in Nature."

Excerpt from Part One, Chapter Four, "The Indians of Florida" A History of Florida, 1904. Next Section; Table of Contents.


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