Florida Native Americans: The Tocobaga Tribe of Tampa Bay
The Tocobaga Tribe of Tampa Bay
The Tocobaga tribe was a large tribe of Native Americans who lived in the Tampa Bay, FL area from approximately the 6th century AD until the 17th century AD. It has been speculated that the Tocobaga tribe was really a nation of Natives and consisted of smaller tribes to make the whole. The Tocobaga tribe was ruled under a chiefdom, with the chief's home and what is known as the "Tocobaga capital" being at the site of present-day Safety Harbor, FL...specifically in what is now called Phillippe Park.
The Tocobaga tribe were quite proud yet happy people, from what we can imagine. If you've ever been to Safety Harbor, FL, you would understand immediately why we could imagine the Tocobaga tribe to be a content bunch. Safety Harbor is simply gorgeous, and as I said to my husband while we visited the Tocobaga Indian Mound at Phillippe Park, this would have been a perfect place for the Natives to live. Right beside the waters, and shaded by enormous oak and palm trees, with wildlife all around for miles...what could be better for the Tocobaga tribe?
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A Look Into the Life of a Tocobaga Tribe Member
The Tocobaga tribe was visited by Spanish explorers in the early sixteenth century with many of the Spanish writing about the Tocobaga being "giants". The Tocobaga tribe held some members who were between six and a half to seven feet tall, and so looked like giants compared to some of the shorter Spanish men. The Tocobaga tribe giant status could be due to their natural and healthy ways of living - living off the land and sea, marrying outside of the inner-tribes to reduce chances of inbreeding, and decreased instances of war with other tribes in the area. Not to mention the Tocobaga tribe consisted of very active people, just as any other Native tribe in the US.
The diet of the Tocobaga tribe was said to have entailed many forms of wildlife that roamed the region of Safety Harbor including squirrels, whitedail dear, rabbit, and much sealife. The Tocobaga tribe was found to have eaten TONS of shellfish...literally tons. They ate so much shellfish that they formed little hills of wasted shells known as "shell middens". Usually these shell middens were located right outside of the cooking area or what might have been the Tocobaga Tribe's ladies' kitchens of the time. There were supposedly two large shell middens at Phillippe Park at one point, though I am not sure of where they're located now. In addition to shellfish, the Tocobaga tribe most likely ate a lot of other types of fish that are rampant in the Tampa Bay waters including grouper, mackerel, kingfish, flounder, and more. Manatees were in large supply back in their time, and so the Tocobaga tribe was known to also have eaten a large amount of manatee.
What did the Tocobaga tribe look like? Well, we've already learned that the Tocobaga tribe were generally tall people but another interesting fact to note about their appearances is that they were also a tattoo-ing tribe. Both the men and the women of the Tocobaga tribe are speculated to have had tattoos. The men wore their hair long and would put it up in a ponytail or a high bun on top of their heads. It was said that the women of the Tocobaga tribe were dressed rather conservatively and the men wore either cloths around their waists or robe-like garments that were wrapped around their necks in the cooler weather.
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Where Did the Tocobaga Tribe Go?
Certain Spanish explorers came in contact with the Tocobaga tribe, specifically Hernando de Soto (after whom the Fort De Soto park is named after) and Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Documentation of the Tocobaga tribe first appeared in the sixteenth century when de Aviles aided a nearby native tribe's king to make peace with the Tocobaga tribe. Historians believe that de Aviles landed right at the Safety Harbor site, where the Tocobaga tribe had their capital (also what is pictured in the video above).
Because of first contact with the Spanish, the Tocobaga tribe came to an end in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century due to European diseases that they lacked immunity to. They didn't die off because of war or slavery, but they did die off because of the Europeans' foreign illnesses, which is such a shame. I have a feeling that the Tocobaga tribe was a tribe of people that could have taught us a tremendous amount of things about the Tampa Bay area including marine life and how to hunt. Even their religious ceremonies could have been a marvelous site to behold. We can only imagine how the Tocobaga tribe worshiped their gods on top of the Tocobaga Indian mound in what is now present-day Safety Harbor, FL.
Location of the Tocobaga Tribe's Capital
© 2012 Nicole Canfield