Floridian Nature

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Florida Tribes: Tequesta Indians
The Tequesta  were a small, peaceful, Native American tribe. They were one of the first tribes in South Florida and they settled near Biscayne Bay in the present-day Miami area. They also occupied the Florida Keys at times, and may have had a village on Cape Sable, at the southern end of the Florida peninsula, in the 16th Century. The central town (also called Tequesta) was probably at the mouth of the Miami River. They built many villages at the mouth of the Miami River and along the coastal islands. A village had been at that site at least since 1200. The tribal chief was also called Tequesta. The chief lived in the main village at the mouth of the Miami River. The Tequesta language may have been closely related to the language of the Calusas of the southwest Florida coast and the Mayaimis who lived around Lake Okeechobee in the middle of the lower Florida peninsula. There are only ten words from the languages of those tribes for which meanings were recorded.

Like the other tribes in South Florida, the Tequesta were hunters and gatherers. They relied mainly on fish, shellfish, nuts, and berries for food. The men caught sharks, sailfish, sea cows, and porpoises in the waters of Biscayne Bay and the Miami River, while the women and children collected clams, conchs, oysters, and turtle eggs in the shallow waters. The sea cow (manatee) was considered a delicacy and served mainly to the chiefs and other prominent leaders.

The Tequesta also gathered palmetto berries, coco plums, sea grapes, and palm nuts to eat. In the Everglades, they hunted bear, deer, wild boar, and small mammals. The Tequesta made flour by grinding up the roots of certain plants. Unfortunately, these food sources were not very plentiful along the southern coast, so the Tequesta never became a large or powerful tribe compared to their western neighbors, the Calusa. The Tequestas changed their habitation during the year. In particular, most of the inhabitants of the main village relocated to barrier islands or to the Florida Keys during the worst of the mosquito season, which lasted about three months.

The Tequesta used shells and sharks' teeth for a variety of tools. These included hammers, chisels, fishhooks, drinking cups, and spearheads. Sharks' teeth were used to carve out logs to make canoes. By one account, when the Tequestas buried their chiefs, they buried the small bones with the body, and put the large bones in a box for the village people to adore and hold as their gods. Another account says that the Tequesta stripped the flesh from the bones, burning the flesh, and then distributed the cleaned bones to the dead chief's relatives, with the larger bones going to the closest relations.

During the 1500s, Europeans began arriving in Florida. At first, the Tequesta did not welcome these new visitors. But before long, the Europeans won their friendship by bringing gifts of colored cloth, knives, and rum. The Tequesta numbered about 800, but they started to die out as a result of settlement battles, slavery, and disease. By the 1800s, the Tequesta tribe had only a few survivors.

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