South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 15, 2004

'Fierce ones' turn up in 1711 Cuba

Birth records indicate path of Florida Calusa after move

The Associated Press

PINELAND -- Researchers have discovered the first birth records of Calusa Indians outside Florida, providing evidence that the once-mighty South Florida tribe might not have been wiped out, as previously thought.

Anthropologist John Worth said new information from his search of records shows several dozen members of the tribe, which lived in southwest Florida from A.D. 100 to the early 1700s, escaped to Cuba after invading tribes, Spanish soldiers and foreign diseases overran their region.

Though most of the band of Calusa who escaped to Cuba died from typhus or smallpox within three months of arriving, records show at least one Calusa woman survived and gave birth, said Worth, director of the Randell Research Center, which is at the site of one of the Calusas' largest Florida settlements.

The woman, who arrived in Cuba in 1711 as an infant, was baptized in the Catholic Church and gave birth to two daughters in 1729 and 1731, Worth said.

No records have been found to show what happened to the girls, though Worth said he is now trying to trace their paths to determine whether Calusa descendants may still be alive.

"The chances are probably fairly slim, but hope springs eternal," Worth said.

Calusa Indians, nicknamed "The Fierce Ones," were the most powerful people in South Florida when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.

They built large shell-mound settlements, most of which were torn down in the 20th century to be used as road fill, or removed to make room for development.

Lost manuscripts from the 1890s recently turned up at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, providing a new picture of the tribe's life on Pine Island.

The manuscripts are from archaeologist and ethnographer Frank Hamilton Cushing, who explored the region in the late 1800s.

Including maps and sketches, the papers describe a much larger complex than researchers thought existed.

Researchers said Cushing's notes show where other mounds existed, and where workers will now concentrate excavations.

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press