The Calusa Indians were a formidable Florida tribe who formerly held the southwest coast from about Tampa Bay to Cape Sable and Cape Florida, together with all the outlying keys, and extending inland to Lake Okeechobee. They also claimed authority over the tribes of the east coast, north to about Cape Canaveral.
The city of Tampa, Florida is named after and on the site of one of their principle villages.
First Contact with Europeans
The Calusa first encountered Europeans in 1513 when they boldly attacked Ponce de León, who was about to land on their coast, with a fleet of 80 canoes and after an all-day fight compelled their enemy to withdraw.
Even at this early date they were already noted among the tribes for the golden wealth which they had accumulated from the numerous Spanish wrecks cast away upon the Keys in passage from the south. Two centuries later they were regarded as veritable pirates, plundering and killing without mercy the crews of all vessels, except the Spanish.
They practiced human sacrifice of captives, scalped and dismembered their slain enemies, and were repeatedly accused of being cannibals.
How the Calusa Indians lived
They were farmers to a limited extent, but were better noted as expert fishermen, daring seamen, and fierce and determined fighters, keeping up their resistance to the Spanish arms and missionary advances after all the rest of Florida had submitted.
In 1567 the Spaniards established a mission and fortified post among them, but both seem to have been discontinued soon after, although the tribe came later under Spanish influence. About this time, they numbered nearly 50 villages.
By the year 1600, they were carrying on regular trade with Havana, Cuba.
What happened to the Calusa Indians?
Constant invasions of the Creek and other Indian allies of the English eventually drove the Calusa from the mainland and forced them to take refuge on the Florida Keys. Some were evacuated to Cuba, where many of them died.
When Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain in 1763, the last remnants of the tribes of south Florida were sent to Cuba. Those few that remained on the mainland were absorbed into the Seminole tribe; however, their language and culture survived up to the close of the second Seminole war.