Over the expanse of time, the sea brought life to Sanibel Island in the form of hundreds of species of birds and plant life. The sea also brought the Spanish, who left an unfortunate record of destruction of a culture for material wealth and social power. When the first Europeans landed in the New World, the inhabitants called them Awaunageesuck: the strangers (Cleary, Foreward).
Florida: Claimed by Spanish Government
Drawn during Amerigo Vespucci’s voyage, the Cantino
map of 1502 gave evidence of both coasts of Florida and in 1510 the
Spanish government claimed Florida through the rights of discovery.
With few exceptions secular priests and missionaries accompanied every
Spanish expedition of discovery.
Spanish Conquistadors: León,
Narvaez and DeSoto
Unquestionably, Sanibel’s geographical position pointed it out as a landmark to passing discovery ships. Twelve years after the discovery of Haiti and Puerto Rico, the Spanish Conquistodors had killed over one million Indians on the two islands. Forewarned by the fleeing souls of the cruelties of the Spanish, the Calusa killed every Conquistador traveling northward in search of enriching their personal wealth and finance for future expedition.
The Spanish called the Calusa pescadores grandes, referring to their superb skills as fisherman. The waters in Spring and Fall were filled with the thundering sound of hundreds of thousands of kingfish, mackeral and mullet in the midst of their seasonal migration (Fritz, 162).
Juan Ponce de León
Although records vary greatly, Juan
Ponce de León was born in Spain around 1460 and
is said to have served as a squire as a young man. In 1493 he joined Christopher
Columbus on his second voyage to America. He became a military commander
and deputy Governer. He discovered Puerto
Rico and then persuaded the king to grant him ships View
Source and men in another discovery voyage in search of the fountain
of youth. Ponce's list also included gold, spices and rare wood.
He was sent by the governor of Cuba to arrest Hernán
Cortés, but failed and in doing so, he lost one of his eyes
Source). In the next devastating blow to the Calusa in 1529, de Narváez
brought four hundred men in a storm of bloody violence. Losing 396 men
on his expedition, it is said he cut off noses, ears and threw the chief’s
wife to his dogs (Scherman, 168). After failing in his attempts to conquer
the Calusa, he escaped alive with the only four remaining men, one of
them was Cabeza de Vaca, who later became a famous explorer in his own
He failed to make friends with the chief and ordered their thatch houses burned and forced a few Calusa into guides. After being led into the swamps and finding “neither gold nor silver nor anything of value,” he asked the King permission to enslave or exterminate the natives (Scherman, 169).
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the last Spanish
conqueror, arrived in 1565 with the blessing of the Spanish Crown after
establishing the first permanent settlement on the North American continent,
St. Augustine. He stated his mission was “to pacify the southern
coast, to protect shipwrecks of treasure ships and galleons.”
In failing to win control of the people and the beautiful shore, in 1573 he wrote to King Philip II, that “the Indians of South Florida are blood thirsty…a menace to the Spanish,” and asked permission to “exterminate or enslave them" (Scherman, 170).
Sailing on A Spanish Galleon
Spanish Galleons were large ships with at least three masts, multiple sails and were faster than earlier warships that had been rowed. Galleons were made from oak, a strong, hard wood that lasted a long time. It took more than 2,000 trees to make some of the larger galleons. The average weight of a galleon was 400 tons, the weight of two jumbo jets. Being so heavy, the galleon traveled at around 4 to 8 knots, or 41/2 to 9 miles per hour View Source.
Effects of Acculturation
No inhabitants on the island since the Calusa utilized
the abundance of resources nature had provided with such efficiency.
Despite any good intentions, missionaries had become dismayed after discovering
that they could not easily convert the Indians to the Catholic religion,
although a number of them eventually did adopt the lifestyle of Europeans,
including their religion. The cultural influences the Spanish impinged
upon the Calusa and their neighboring tribes in years prior had been spreading
through the Calusa culture like a terminal disease.
The natives were united by such common bonds as their
respect for nature and kinship and had highly developed skills as hunters,
farmers, gatherers, fishermen and artisans.