A Fascinating History
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