It is estimated that people first arrived on the Florida peninsula approximately 15,000 years ago. The first group to arrive were the Paleo-Indiansand more than likely followed large game such as giant sloths, saber-toothed cats, and spectacled bears. When they first arrived, they found an arid landscape. Adapting to the arid conditions, the landscape supported plants and animals. The large animals became extinct about 6,500 years ago when climate changes brought a wetter landscape.
Adapting slowly, the Paleo-Indians became the Archaic peoples. They created many tools with what they had once they conformed to the environmental changes. In the Late Archaic period, again, the environment became wetter. With the rise of the of the water tables, allowed an increase in population and cultural activity, and occurred around 3,000 BCE. At this point, the Florida Indians developed into three distinct but similar cultures and were named for the bodies of waters they lived nearby:
Two major nations emerged from the Glades peoples, the Calusa and the Tequesta. The most powerful and largest nation was the Calusa. At its largest, they controlled fifty villages all located on the west coast of Florida around Lake Okeechobee. Some were down on the Florida Keys. In either location, their villages were located at the mouths of rivers or on key islands. Since they were hunters-gathers, their diet consisted of small game, fish, turtles, alligators, shellfish and various plants. The tools they used were made of bone or teeth. Also effective for hunting or war were sharpened reeds. Weapons were bows and arrows, atlatls, and spears. For transportation, they used canoes, and trips to Cuba were common.
At the beginning of the Spanish occupation, the estimated number of Calusa ranged from 4,000 to 7,000. By 1697 it is estimated there were only about 1,000 due to social decline in power and population. The Yamasee to the north in the early 18th century attack the Calusa, and they asked the Spanish for refuge. Almost 200 died from illness in Cuba and soon they relocated back to the Florida Keys.
The Tequesta were second in power and number to the Calusa in South Florida. They dominated in what is today Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Like the Calusa, their societies were centered on the mouths of rivers. It is suspected that the main village was on the Miami River or Little River. From the Spanish, it was learned that the Tequesta state was greatly feared by sailors as they suspected them of torturing and killing survivors of shipwrecks. Due to the increased European presence in South Florida, Native Americans from the Keys and other areas began increasing their trips to Cuba. In 1704, Cubans granted official permission for Native Americans from the Keys to immigrate.
In 1743, Spanish priest attempted to set up a mission but noted that the Tequesta were under attack from the neighboring tribe. They were removed to Havana when there were only 30 members left.
In the region where the Tequesta lived, a British surveyor in 1770 described multiple villages that were deserted. By 1820, the only term used for Native Americans was “Seminoles.”