The History of the Florida Everglades: Early Peoples

airboat tour of the Florida Everglades, The History of the Florida Everglades: Early Peoples

Whether you sign up for our two-hour airboat tour of the Florida Everglades, our 90-minute narrated airboat tour of the Everglades or the one-hour Everglades airboat ride, you might get too caught up in the moment to think much about the history of the Everglades. Like just about everything having to do with the River of Grass, however, the history is fascinating.

The Early Beginnings

There were people living in the area we now call the Everglades, thousands of years ago. “Native Americans inhabited south Florida even before wetter climatic conditions set into motion the beginning of the Everglades 5,000 or so years ago,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says.

By the time the first Europeans arrived in the 1500s, “Native American cultures were well established, and people lived by hunting, fishing and gathering wild foods. Villages around Lake Okeechobee may have grown corn, at least for a time,” the experts at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission explain.

According to the National Park Service, there were at least five different tribes living in the region. The Calusa lived primarily in the southwest. Living on the southeast coast of Florida were the Tequesta. North of them were two more tribes – the Jeaga and the Ais. Yet another tribe, the Mayaimi, were based near Lake Okeechobee.

“At the time of Spanish contact the Calusa maintained political dominance over these groups,” the NPS experts report. “It has been estimated that there were approximately 20,000 Indians in south Florida when the Spanish arrived. By 1763 when the English gained control of Florida, that population had been reduced to several hundred.”

Most of the people lived in villages that were located on high ground or near estuaries, but they regularly ventured into the swamps, marshes and uplands of the Everglades to hunt and fish. Because they traveled into the Everglades so often, the built camps where they could comfortably stay while providing for their families and villages.

Now, when you head out with family or friends on an airboat ride through the Florida Everglades, you can imagine what it must have been like for these peoples living in what we would consider such harsh conditions!