The Calusa, sometimes spelled Caloosa, Calos, Carlos or Caalus [MacMahon and Marquardt. P. 79] , were a Native American group that lived on the coast and along the inner waterways of Florida's southwest coast. At the time of European contact, the Calusa were the people of the Caloosahatchee culture. Calusa territory reached from Charlotte Harbor to Cape Sable, and may have included the Florida Keys at times. Calusa influence and control also extended over other tribes in southern Florida, including the Mayaimis around Lake Mayaimi (now Lake Okeechobee), and the Tequestas and Jaegas on the southeast coast of the peninsula. Calusa influence may have also extended to the Ais tribe on the central east coast of Florida. "Calusa" is pronounced "ka LOOS a". The name was reported to mean "fierce people". [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 1-2, 79]


A culture dependent on fishing existed on the lower Gulf coast of Florida from approximately 500 years ago. Artifacts related to fishing changed slowly over this period, with no obvious breaks in tradition that might indicate a replacement of the population. Between 500 and 1000 the undecorated sand-tempered pottery that had been common in the area was replaced by "Belle Glade Plain" pottery, which was made with clay containing spicules from fresh water sponges, and which first appeared inland in sites around Lake Okeechobee. This change may have resulted from migration from the interior to the coastal region, or may reflect trade and cultural influence. There was little change in the pottery tradition after this. The Calusa were descended from people who had lived in the area for at least 1000 years prior to European contact, and possibly for much longer than that. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 63, 77-8]

Calusa society

The Calusa had a stratified society, consisting of "commoners" and "nobles" in Spanish terms. A few leaders governed the tribe, and were supported by the labor of the majority of the Calusa. The leaders included the tribal chief, or "king", a military leader, and a chief priest. In 1564, according to a Spanish source, the priest was the chief's father, and the military leader was his cousin. The chief was usually succeeded by his son. The Spanish reported that the chief was expected to marry his sister, although MacMahon and Marquardt suggest this may have been a misunderstanding of a requirement to marry a "clan-sister". The chief also married women from subject towns and allied tribes. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 78-9, 86]


The Calusa diet consisted primarily of seafood from the coastal estuaries and plants. They did not cultivate maize, but did grow or raise Cucurbita pepo|squash, gourds, chili peppers and papayas in small gardens (squash gourds and the bottle gourd were also used for net floats and containers). No evidence exists of staple crops and large-scale agriculture.


The Calusa caught most of their fish with nets. Nets were woven with a standard mesh size; nets with different mesh sizes were used seasonally to catch the most abundant and useful fish available. The Calusa made bone and shell gauges used in net weaving. The Calusa also used spears, hooks, and [ throat gorges] to catch fish. Well-preserved nets, net floats and hooks were found at Key Marco, in the territory of the neighboring Muspa tribe. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 69-70]

The Calusa wove nets from palm-fiber cord. Cord was also made from cabbage-palm leaves, saw-palmetto trunks, Spanish moss, false sisal ("Agave decipiens") and the bark of cypress and willow trees. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 69-71] Net sinkers have been found in archeological sites. Projectile points of stone have been found, as well as tools of bone, shell, and turtle shell. The Calusa built their homes on stilts without any walls and used woven palmetto leaves for the roofs. A number of wooden objects have been found in Calusa archaeological sites, mainly of cypress and pine. Artifacts of wood that have been found include dugout canoes, bowls, both plain and adorned with carvings of animals, masks, plaques, "ornamental standards," and a finely carved deer head. The plaques were often painted. plus the eat some bufalo such as meat


The Calusa believed that three supernatural persons ruled the world, that people had three souls, and that souls migrated to animals after death. The most powerful ruler governed the physical world, the second most powerful ruled human governments, and the last helped in wars, choosing which side would win. The Calusa believed that the three souls were the pupil of a person's eye, his shadow, and his reflection. The soul in the eye's pupil stayed with the body after death, and the Calusa would consult with that soul at the graveside. The other two souls left the body after death and entered into an animal. If a Calusa killed such an animal, the soul would then migrate to a lesser animal, and eventually be reduced to nothing.

Calusa ceremonies included processions of priests and singing women. The priests wore carved masks, which were at other times hung on the walls inside a temple. Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, an early chronicler of the Calusa, described "sorcerers in the shape of the devil, with some horns on their heads" who ran through the town yelling like animals for four months at a time.

The Calusa remained committed to their belief system in the face of Spanish attempts to convert them to Catholicism. The "nobles" resisted conversion in part because their power and position were locked into the belief system; conversion would have destroyed the source of their authority and legitimacy. The Calusa were able to resist the Spanish and their missionaries for almost 200 years, until the tribe was destroyed by Creek and Yemassee raiders early in the 18th century. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 82-85, 87]

European contact

The first recorded contact between the Calusa and Europeans was in 1513, when Juan Ponce de León landed on the west coast of Florida in May, probably at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, after his earlier "discovery" of Florida in April. The Calusa knew of the Spanish before this landing, however, as they had taken in refugees from the Spanish subjugation of Cuba. The Spanish careened one of their ships, and Calusas offered to trade with them. After ten days a man who spoke Spanish approached Ponce de León's ships with a request to wait for the arrival of the Calusa chief. Shortly thereafter twenty canoes attacked the Spanish, who drove off the Calusa, killing or capturing several of them. The next day 80 "shielded" canoes attacked the Spanish ships, but the battle was inconclusive. The Spanish then returned to Puerto Rico. In 1517 Francisco Hernández de Córdoba landed in southwest Florida on his return voyage from discovering the Yucatán, and was attacked by the Calusa. In 1521 Ponce de León returned to southwest Florida to plant a colony, but the Calusas drove the Spanish out, mortally wounding Ponce de León. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 115-6]

The Pánfilo de Narváez expedition of 1528 and the Hernando de Soto expedition of 1539 both landed in the vicinity of Tampa Bay, north of the Calusa domain. Dominican missionaries reached the Calusa domain in 1549, but withdrew due to the hostility of the tribe. Salvaged goods and survivors from wrecked Spanish ships reached the Calusas during the 1540s and 1550s. The best information about the Calusas comes from the "Memoir" of one of these survivors, Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda. Fontaneda was shipwrecked on the east coast of Florida, likely in the Keys, about 1550, when he was thirteen years old. Although many others survived the shipwreck, only Fontaneda was spared by the tribe in whose territory he had been shipwrecked. He lived with various tribes in southern Florida for the next seventeen years before being found by the Menendez de Avilés expedition. [Bullen.
MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 116-7

In 1566 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, founder of St. Augustine, made contact with the Calusa and struck an uneasy peace with their leader, Carlos or Caluus. Menéndez married Carlos' sister, who took the baptismal name Doña Antonia. Menendez left a garrison of soldiers and a Jesuit mission, San Antón de Carlos, at the Calusa capitol. The Spanish soldiers killed two Calusa chiefs and several of the "nobles" before the fort and mission were abandoned in 1569. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 86, 117]

There was little contact between the Spanish and Calusa for more than a century after the Avilés adventure. Spanish forces attacked the Calusa in 1614 as part of a war between the Calusa and Spanish-allied tribes around Tampa Bay. A Spanish expedition to ransom some captives held by the Calusa in 1680 was forced to turn back when neighboring tribes refused to guide the Spanish for fear of retaliation from the Calusa. In 1697 Franciscan missionaries established a mission to the Calusa, but left after a few months. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 117-8] After the outbreak of open war between Spain and England in 1702, slaving raids by Uchise Creek and Yamasee Indians allied with the Province of Carolina began reaching far down the Florida peninsula. The Creeks and Yemasees were supplied with firearms by their English allies, while the Calusa, who had isolated themselves from Europeans, had none. Ravaged by diseases introduced to the Americas by Europeans and by the slaving raids, the surviving Calusa retreated south and east. In 1711 270 Indians, including many Calusa, were evacuated from the Florida Keys to Cuba (where almost 200 soon died), but another 1700 were left behind. A mission on Biscayne Bay was established in 1743 to serve survivors from several tribes, including the Calusa, who had gathered there and in the Florida Keys, but the mission was closed after only a few months. The last remnants of the tribes of south Florida were evacuated to Cuba in 1760 to 1763, when Florida was transferred to Great Britain. While a few Calusa individuals may have stayed behind and been absorbed into the Seminoles, there is no hard evidence for it. [MacMahon and Marquardt. Pp. 118-21] plus they suck dick



*Bullen, Adelaide K. 1965. "Florida Indians of Past and Present", in Carson, Ruby Leach and Tebeau, Charlton. "Florida from Indian trail to space age: a history". (Vol. I, pp. 317-350). Southern Publishing Company.
*Goggin, John M., and William C. Sturtevant. "The Calusa: A Stratified, Nonagricultural Society (With Notes on Sibling Marriage)." In "Explorations in Cultural Anthropology: Essays Presented to George Peter Murdock". Ed. Ward H. Goodenough. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964, 179-219.
*Hann, John, ed. & trans. "Missions to the Calusa". University of Florida Press, 1991.
*MacMahon, Darcie A. and William H. Marquardt. "The Calusa and Their Legacy: South Florida People and Their Environments." University Press of Florida, 2004. ISBN 0-8130-2773-X
* Marquardt, William H. ed. "Culture and Environment in the Domain of the Calusa." Institute of Archaeology and Paleoenvironmental Studies Monograph #1. University of Florida, 1992.
* Marquardt, William H. (2004). Calusa. In R. D. Fogelson (Ed.), "Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast" (Vol. 14, pp. 204-212). Washington: Smithsonian Institute.
* Widmer, Randolph J. "The Evolution of the Calusa: A Nonagricultural Chiefdom on the Southwest Florida Coast." Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988.

ee also

*Caloosahatchee culture

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