The Calusa were the dominant tribe in Southwest Florida for generations. They were primarily fishermen and hunters. Unlike all other tribes in Florida, the Calusa did not farm on a large scale. The Calusa controlled Charlotte Harbor directly and about ¼ of the state politically. Tribes from all over Florida sent tribute to the Calusa (Milanich 49).
The Calusa didn’t have a source for metal to make tools. As a result, they developed tools made of shell. Everything from hammers to bowls were made of shell (Brown). The Calusa had distinct positions in society. There were priests, artisans, fishermen, and warriors. Spanish records show Chief Carlos’ family held positions of power.
In 1521, Ponce de Leon was killed by the Calusa in attempts to colonize the Charlotte Harbor area. (Milanich 110). By the late 1600s with weapons from the British, tribes from the Carolinas conducted slave raids deep into Florida. Between slave raids and smallpox epidemics, the Calusa were destroyed as a power (McMahon 118-21). The last Calusa lived in the Keys until about 1760. Around 270 Calusa were evacuated by Cubans and taken to Cuba in 1711, but over 200 died soon after the trip. Members of the aristocracy were among those who were evacuated (Milanich 41). It is believed some of the Calusa survived and integrated into the Cuban population.
Brown, Robin C. Florida’s First People. Orlando, FL: Pineapple Press,1994.
MacMahon, Darcie A. and William H. Marquardt. The Calusa and Their Legacy: South Florida People and Their Environments. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2004.
Milanich, Jerald T. Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida: 1998.