Native American History in Florida: Must-See Museums & Parks
Florida owes much of its history to the Native American tribes that settled here. To learn more about these first Floridians or the Miccosukee and Seminole people today, visit one of these museums or parks.
Florida has set the stage for prehistoric drama since the dawning of man, who came as far back as 10,000 years ago and left remnants of nomadic, and later hunting and agricultural, civilizations. Great shell mounds remain as windows into their ways of life. Spanish missions that while were not as well-known as those in California are considerably older. Here are a few places to learn more about the first Floridians and today's tribes. The standard history has been that most of the original American Indian tribes became extinct by the 18th century and that the ancestors of the modern Miccosukee and Seminole people were Creek Indians and others who moved into the state in the mid-18th century. The Native American history in Florida has been re-examined over the past 20 years, especially in light of the existence of the Apalachee tribe, which now reside in Louisiana and the histories advanced by the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes that indicate they have been in Florida for a long, long time.
Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, Tallahassee. The park encompasses four earthen temple mounds. Two are available to the public, where visitors witness evidence of a 13th century Native American settlement.
Mission San Luis, Tallahassee. This was the western religious, military and administrative capital of Spanish Florida in the 17th century. Settled from 1656 to 1704, it is the only reconstructed Spanish mission in the Southeast and was rebuilt based on archaeological and historical research.
Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Crystal River. This awesome site served as a vital religious and political center for regional tribes from earlier than 200 B.C. to 1400 A.D. Visitors can climb stairs to the top of a 30-foot temple mound, circle five other mounds and examine rare ceremonial stones and other age-old artifacts.
Philippe Park, Safety Harbor. On the shores of Old Tampa Bay, Safety Harbor Mound resides behind shelter #2 at Philippe Park, where you can climb to the top of the ancient structure. Nearby Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History, located on the site of a Tocobaga Indian mound, displays artifacts that were found in it, dating back to the Safety Harbor culture, 1500 to 1700 A.D.
Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, St. Petersburg. The "Weeden Island culture," dated from A.D. 200 to 900, was first identified at Weedon Island Preserve, leaving sherds of pottery and other proof of existence in shell mounds excavated by the Smithsonian Institution in the 1920s.
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, west of Fort Lauderdale, is home to this modern museum whose name loosely translates in the Seminole Mikasuki language as "a place to learn." A five-screen theater, sophisticated vignettes and audio interpretation dwell on the Seminole Wars and Green Corn festivities and their significance to Native American history in Florida. A boardwalk nature trail leads through a 60-acre cypress dome to a living village where a boardwalk nature trail leads through a 60-acre cypress dome to a living village where demonstrators engage in traditional craftmaking.
Billie Swamp Safari. Learn about the Florida Everglades, plants, animals and Native American culture on the airboat rides or swamp buggy tours. Visit the museum, which provides an in-depth introduction to Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. There are also two shows: the Swamp Critter show at Fort Critter and the Venomous Snake Show inside the Herpetarium Theater. Swamp Water Café serves Native American and American cuisine.
Miccosukee Indian Village, west of Miami. Just 30 minutes west of the Florida Turnpike, in the Everglades, enter a world unlike any other at Miccosukee Indian Village. Witness daring alligator demonstrations, enjoy the historic Miccosukee Museum and a breathtaking stroll on the boardwalk. Explore the gift shop for genuine Native American arts and crafts, patchwork, beadwork and jewelry. Glide the 'Glades with Miccosukee Airboat Rides and stop at an Indian Camp that’s over 100 years old. Taste local cuisine including gator bites and frog legs at the Miccosukee Restaurant.
Mound Key Archeological State Park, Estero. The capital of Calusa civilization, this un-bridged island is accessible by boat. Visitors can explore this island along the trails that travel up and down two of the larger mounds, one with an impressive view of the bay.
Randell Research Center, Pineland. On the site of an important Calusa settlement, the Calusa Heritage Trail crosses an ancient canal dug by the tribe. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there are interpretative tours of this archaeological site and its mounds.