The Natives Who Called Miami Home Before the Railroad

While much has been written regarding the extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to the shores of Biscayne Bay, with too much of it being either totally false or complete fol-de-rol (the “orange blossom myth,” a total and absolute fable being the most glaring of those, with that myth and its origins and debunking discussed at lengthy in our previous column) it is important that, with this year (2023) being the 127th anniversary of the City of Miami and the railroad which built and brought the city to national prominence celebrating its 128th year under the same name, it is now important that we begin to investigate the conditions in and of the region and what life must have been—and likely was—like prior to the railroad’s arrival.

That story begins in the Paleo-Indian era, the period before recorded time, during which several groups of Native Americans roamed freely through the area, if not the region.

Before we proceed with that discussion, however, we ask that the reader finally begin to realize and understand that the names of the groups of Native Americans, which may or may not have been formal “tribes,” are, like the names of the planets and celestial bodies, totally artificial monikers. Simply put, it is doubtful that those groups even thought of themselves as named entities, simply living their day to day lives in what, even then, was, for the most part, a tropical paradise other than being burdened with such uncomfortable and distasteful encumbrances as the mosquitos, scorpions and poisonous snakes which ranged throughout the area.

Think of it this way: if we were ever able to land on a planet in this solar system with a manned (or womaned) space vehicle, or, for that matter, on any celestial body anywhere in the Milky Way galaxy (let’s start with one of the planets of Alpha Centurion, supposedly the closest star to us in said galaxy), do you really think or believe that there would be a sign reading welcome to Horsefeathers or Chaimyonkleville or any other name?

Of course not!

And why? Because, like the original Native American groups, the names given to every star and every heavenly body in the universe, are artificial names, given by the astronomers and scientists on earth, simply as an identification mechanism, but, truly, with no real clue—none at all—as to whether or not that place or spatial entity has life, what the inhabitants—if sentient—call themselves. The point, obviously, is to get our readers to understand that, in Florida, with the exception of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes of Indians, all of the names of the previous groups of Native Americans are made up and were given by researchers and/or historians simply as a method of identifying which group or groups existed during a particular era or period in time.

Once that fact is established, we can move on to stating which groups preceded today’s two named tribes, those noted in the preceding paragraph.

While there were no few other groups in what was to become north Florida, our focus, of necessity, must be related to Southeast Florida in order to avoid attempting to name other groups which, it appears, did not venture this far south (referring to the area from approximately today’s Martin County, the seat of which is Stuart, to the Florida Keys, with Monroe County’s seat being Key West)

Before noting the names of the three main groups, a fourth should be mentioned because the Caribe Indians apparently ventured into East Florida beginning in the 14th century, and they or their descendants continued to do so until, approximately, the late 1600s or very early 1700s. That group never settled here, but, rather, would, as flesh eaters (yes, seriously, also known as “cannibals”) on occasion, canoe (or whatever the type of vessel they used) across from someplace in the group of islands today known as the Bahamas, the most likely spot for embarkation probably being today’s Bimini, given its relative proximity to the South Florida mainland, coming across to wherever it would be that they would come ashore.

They would come across, stealthily “invade,” pick out, pick off and pick up a young buck or squaw or maiden or whatever the proper terms are (heaven forbid we be politically incorrect!), bind them securely and immediately return to the island from whence they came, that young individual becoming lunch and or dinner over the next several days.

Preceding, or, possibly, concurrently with the Caribe were the Timucuan, about whom, as with the Caribe, very little is known, other than that they appear to have existed prior to the coming of the next two pre-current day tribes or groups, the Calusa and the Tequesta.

Several years ago, maybe a bit more, a letter appeared in the Miami Herald, written by my friend, Annette, claiming that Tequesta were the first inhabitants, which was completely and totally incorrect and a few days later that paper printed my lengthy letter of correction, which explained that, indeed, Tequesta came after several other groups had held the stage. Both Calusa and Tequesta, unlike the previous tribes or groups, did leave their marks, not in writings but in drawings which have been preserved by archaeologists, hence their existence was factual and has been documented.
Before closing, one fact must be noted: none of those groups, just as with the humanoids known as cro-magnon man or neanderthal, simply disappeared, with another group suddenly “popping up” and taking the earlier or previous entities place, rather, as science has now proven, one group—the weaker—would be subsumed into the stronger—would emerge, and that is what occurred with the Florida groups.

This, then, brings us to the conclusion of this “episode,” for next time we will examine the two main areas of pre- and early colonial years, with the importance of what would later become Arch Creek as well as the Miami River being the focus of that discussion.

Be—and stay—well, all, and remember that facts and truth will always trump fables, fairy tales, made up nonsense, or, as we would say in French, bubbemissehs and we will delve into that thought as we proceed with upcoming submissions.

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Seth H. Bramson

Seth H. Bramson is America’s single most published Florida history book author. 24 of his 33 books deal directly with the villages, towns, cities, counties, people and businesses of the Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade County “gold coast.”