A Fas­ci­nat­ing His­tory

Focus of SWFL - - Thwart That Throat Tickle -

While so many have come to re­gard mod­ern Es­tero as a South­west Florida par­adise, the fact re­mains that rep­u­ta­tion be­gan cen­turies ago, or even mil­len­nia when con­sid­er­ing th­ese very lands were once sa­cred to the Calusa In­di­ans, among Florida’s ear­li­est and most enig­matic of in­hab­i­tants. Given the abun­dance of nat­u­ral re­sources in flora and fauna on which the Calusa so thor­oughly thrived, they were able to de­velop a highly com­plex civ­i­liza­tion that flour­ished while other abo­rig­i­nals strug­gled to sur­vive. The Calusa ad­vanced in the cre­ation of a two-tier caste sys­tem with la­bor­ers and no­bles, en­acted elab­o­rate rit­ual cer­e­monies, en­gi­neered the build­ing of canals and shell mounds, but also took time to pro­duce cre­ative works of art, and pro­duce a highly for­mi­da­ble army, in fact, the word “Calusa" equiv­o­cates to “Fierce Peo­ple.” The Calusa were so feared that other in­dian tribes brought trib­utes to their king in hope that they would be left to live in peace. The tribe’s hos­til­ity was par­tic­u­larly hyped after in­ter­ac­tion with early Span­ish ex­plor­ers who of­ten had to be re­minded that their vis­i­ta­tions were nei­ther wanted nor wel­comed. In one such in­stance, Ponce De Leon’s fa­bled quest for the Foun­tain of Youth abruptly ended after he died from an in­fec­tion prompted from meet­ing the business-end of a poi­son ar­row. There were oc­ca­sional pe­ri­ods of peace. His­tory ac­cords that Cap­tain Pe­dro Me­nen­dez forged a ten­ta­tive peace with King Car­los. The meet­ing took place in a mas­sive earthen & thatched struc­ture with walls bedecked in cer­e­mo­nial masks. The build­ing hosted thou­sands who at­tended, and King Car­los ap­par­ently took a lik­ing to Me­nen­dez, al­low­ing sev­eral Span­ish pris­on­ers to be re­leased and he even of­fered his own sis­ter to be­come the Cap­tain’s bride. Menedez would play her like a pawn in fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions. That prac­tice, along with his forg­ing of al­liances with com­pet­ing tribes led to a sev­er­ing of the re­la­tion­ship with King Car­los, then again, the Span­ish or­der to have King Car­los killed didn’t help mend any fences ei­ther.

Though the man­groves along the Es­tero River of­fer ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to see a va­ri­ety of avian species that make a home here, there’s

po­ten­tial for other en­coun­ters too.

Calusa In­dian cer­e­mo­nial mask.

Both McGreevy and Comisar are sup­port­ive of Es­tero’s in­cor­po­ra­tion, as Comisar says, “Es­tero has a ca­chet of its own, very dif­fer­ent from Naples or Fort My­ers. It makes sense that res­i­dents would want to pro­tect and pre­serve its brand.” Artis­tic con­cep­tion of Calusa en­counter with Ponce de León in 1513. Art­work of Mer­ald Clark,

cour­tesy of the Florida Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory

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