After being closed since the late 1570s, in 1699 Spain reopens “legal” trade between Cuba and Florida and contemporary historical records rather casually observe that “Glades Indians” in dugout canoes were commuting between Key West and Havana, travelling in a 24 hour crossing to conduct trade. They brought furs, plants and fish, and quite interestingly, willow cages containing live song birds such as cardinals and mockingbirds which were sold to the cigar factories and wealthy homeowners to provide musical entertainment.
Paddling at least 90 miles across the Gulf of Mexico in a dugout canoe is an amazing feat by any modern measure, that this was something done on a regular basis to conduct trade is an indicator of remarkable physical endurance and navigational skills. Of course, as a means of transportation, the canoes of the Calusa were a vital component of their culture, providing transportation and a means to conduct trade throughout south Florida and the Caribbean.
The dugout canoes utilized by the indigenous people of South Florida were long and narrow shallow draft boats, crafted from the trunks of pine or cypress in which fire was used to burn into the trunk, sculpting out the hollow interior of the canoe which would then be finished to a smooth surface with hand tools.
As a sophisticated maritime culture with a network of over fifty villages up and down the coast of southwest Florida, the ability to travel and fish the rivers, creeks and estuaries meant life itself.
Known by their neighbors as the “fierce people”, the Calusa maintained a large and powerful warrior class that employed war canoes, enabling them to reign over a vast area and collect tribute from numerous other tribes while effectively defending their realm for over 2,000 years.
When Ponce de Leon encountered the Calusa for the first time in 1513, he and his men were attacked in force by hundreds of warriors in large canoes which were lashed together and protected by interlocking shields. As one can easily imagine, the ability to assemble and deploy large numbers of warriors in canoes gave the Calusa a significant tactical advantage.
Here in 2012, we can’t offer you a hand carved canoe ride through the back country creeks and bays of Matanzas Pass and we don’t deploy large numbers of warriors at a moment’s notice, but we do offer specially scheduled kayak tours and educational events as part of our program curriculum here at Mound House. Our next scheduled kayaking event will be held December 8th from 9:00-12:00. This trip will include a tour of the creeks connecting Hell Peckney Bay to Matanzas Pass and the Dog Key Calusa Mound site. This event is free of charge, but is limited to volunteers and those interested in becoming a Mound House volunteer. Call 239-765-0865 for details.
Town of Fort Myers Beach