The Calusa was a powerful, complex society who lived on the shores of the southwest Florida coast. Their main waterway was the Calooshahatchee River, which means River of the Calusa. They had a reputation from being a fierce, war-like people, especially among European explorers and smaller tribes.
Some Calusas were sent to Cuba as slaves by the Spanish in the 1500’s, and others traveled there voluntarily during the epidemics and turmoil of the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. Their descendents may still be living in Cuba today. Other Calusas survived the epidemics and ultimately joined the Seminole tribe.
The Calusa Indians were originally called the “Calos” which means “Fierce People”. They were descendants of Paleo-Indians who inhabited Southwest Florida approximately 12,000 years ago. During the Calusa’s reign the Florida coastline extended roughly 60 miles further into the Gulf of Mexico.
By the mid-18th century, through a combination of war, disease, and dissemination, the Calusa were lost to history. A culture went extinct. The Calusa Indians, believed by many to be descendants of the Mayans, lived on the sandy shores of the southwest coast of Florida.
Calusa Indian Language (Caloosa) Calusa is an extinct Amerindian language of Florida. No records of the language remain other than a few place names in Florida, so it is unknown which language family Calusa might have belonged to.
The Calusa (/kəˈluːsə/ kə-LOO-sə) were a Native American people of Florida’s southwest coast. Calusa society developed from that of archaic peoples of the Everglades region. Previous indigenous cultures had lived in the area for thousands of years.
Known as the “Shell Indians”, the Calusa are considered to be the first shell collectors. Unlike other tribes, the Calusa did not make any items from pottery. Shells were used to make items like jewelry, utensils, and tools. The Calusa travelled by dugout canoes, which were made from hollowed-out cypress logs.
Calusa beliefs included a trinity of governing spirits. Rituals were believed to link the Calusa to their spirit world (Art by Merald Clark.) Artist’s conception of town chief at the Calusa town of Tampa (present day Pineland) (Art by Merald Clark.)
Mound Key Archaeological State Park is a shell midden mound in Estero Bay that is estimated to have been inhabited over 2,000 years ago. The first people to live on the island were the Calusa Native Americans, who were known as a fierce people.
Little is known about Calusa religion. They believed in three superior beings, one controlled the weather, the others ruled the welfare of the tribe and warfare. Each human had three souls, present in his shadow, his reflection in water and in the pupil of his eye.
They didn’t wear much clothing due to Florida’s warm weather, however Calusa men wore tanned deerskin breechcloths and belts that indicated their position in society, while Calusa women wore woven skirts made from palmetto leaves and spanish moss. The Calusa were one of the few tribes known to be shell collectors.
And, rather than the traditional tent-like shelters many Native American tribes adopted, the Calusa chose to live in stilted huts with no walls and a roof made of Palmetto leaves on the coast along the inner waterways.
The Tocobaga Indians built mounds within their villages. A mound is a large pile of earth, shells, or stones. The chief’s home and the tribe’s temple were each built on a mound. The Tocobaga also built burial mounds outside the main village area as a place for burying the dead.
Definition of Calusa 1: a people of southern Florida of uncertain, perhaps Muskogean, relationship. 2: a member of the Calusa people.
The Calusa used the mounds for protection from weather and high tides during storms, as well as for worship, rituals and burying their deceased. Lodgings were built atop the mounds to prevent flooding. Some of these lodgings grew so large that they developed into actual cities.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida are two of three federally recognized Seminole nations, along with the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.