By Keith Morelli
Members of that thriving Calusa civilization fished, hunted, traded and even had a natural remedy to keep mosquitoes from biting. They ran an empire stretching to the East Coast and south into the Keys. Charlotte Harbor was their Rome.
Today in Port Charlotte, history came to life with more than a dozen Calusa-crazy volunteers intent on showing how the lost tribe of Florida lived before Europeans consigned the indigenous people to the dust of history.
Braving a chilly breeze off Charlotte Harbor, the re-enactors hunted for fish with spears, cooked fake seafood and snakes on an open pit with imaginary fire, and even greeted emissaries from neighboring tribes in a living, interactive exhibit.
"This is as authentic as possible, of Florida's pre-history," said April Watson, an archaeological doctoral student at Florida Atlantic University. She is consulting on the exhibit, which is one of more than 100 such events planned throughout the state to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Florida's recorded history.
None of the 130 commemorative events, collectively known as Florida 500, takes place in Tampa. Other than the Florida State Fair, which this year has adopted a Spanish conquistador theme, and an exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center, the region has been bypassed by organizers of the events.
Still, there is Fort De Soto State Park and DeSoto County; there is the Hernando De Soto Trial that marks the Spanish conquistador's overland trek from Manatee County north to the Mississippi River; there is Hernando County, the city of Hernando and various schools named in honor of the explorers.
But no local historical group has organized an event marking the 500th anniversary.
It would be better if Indians portrayed the Calusa, of course. But if the re-enactments are historically accurate, I guess non-Native participants are acceptable.
For more on Native reenactors, see War of 1812 Reenactment Omits Natives and Why Wannabes Wanna Be.