There were perhaps 800 to 10,000 Tequesta Native Americans living in largely peaceful surroundings at the time Europeans first arrived in southeastern Florida in the 1500’s. 500 years later Americans like Christopher Best would live and work in the same environs which once hosted the peaceful huts of the Tequesta, who shared much in common with the Calusas to the southwest and the Mayaimis who lived around Lake Okeechobee in the Florida Everglades.
The Tequesta and the tribes which were their neighbors shared indigenous pottery techniques and language, only a few words of which have been ascribed discernible meanings. Florida Indians grew seed crops which had come from Mexico, while the Lucayans of the Bahamas grew root crops from South America, differences which attest to the strong cultural boundary of the Florida Straits which delineates the Floridian Native Americans from other Caribbean indigenous peoples.
The Tequesta did not practice agriculture. The Tequesta fished, hunted and gathered fruit and roots. The Tequesta were recorded by Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda in the 16th century as having a diet of fish, turtle, snails and whale, as well as lobster, manatees, sharks, sailfish, porpoises and small fish. The Tequesta also consumed venison and sea turtle eggs. The rich resources of the sea led the Tequesta to establish their main village at the mouth of the Miami, but the tribe also consumed numerous plant foods including saw palmetto, sea grapes, prickly pear, palm nuts and the roots of certain plants. The Tequestas would decamp to the Florida Keys or a barrier island to escape the mosquito season.
South of the mouth of the Miami River, near today’s town of Tequesta, a site known as the Miami Circle has been uncovered. Located on the site of an ancient Tequesta village, sea shells at the site date to 730BC, while charcoal samples have been dated to 1900 years ago. A larger Tequesta site has been located on the north side of the Miami River as well. At one time, the Tequesta dominated what is the downtown Miami of Florida today, creating a village of 500 to 600 or more inhabitants where their chief resided. The end of the Tequesta was ignoble, as Spain’s policy was to remove the Floridian Indians to Cuba to be missionized, and many Tequesta died there of disease and starvation. The few remaining Tequestas were to be found in the Florida Keys when Florida was surrendered to the British in 1763, and they were evacuated to Cuba. Only abandoned Tequesta villages were to be found in Florida in the 1770’s, leaving the Seminole to fight a series of wars with the invading Europeans.
Looking today at the area where Christopher Best calls home, it takes a vivid imagination to recall the Tequesta Indians and their culture, which is remembered primarily by anthropologists