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Calusa Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Calusas for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Calusa website for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Calusa pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Calusa Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Calusa"? What does it mean?
Calusa is pronounced "kah-LOO-sah." Sometimes you will see it spelled Caloosa instead. It comes from the name of one of their tribal towns, Calos. Some people have claimed that this name meant "the fierce ones" in their own language, but there isn't actually any historical record suggesting this and that definition may have been made up after the fact.

Where do the Calusas live?
The Calusas are original people of southwest Florida.

Is there still a Calusa Indian nation today?
No. The Calusa tribe was destroyed by a combination of European diseases and warfare with the Spanish, English, and Creeks. The last Calusa king died in the early 1700's.

But are there any Calusa Indian people left?
There are probably people of Calusa descent still alive today. Some Calusas were sent to Cuba as slaves by the Spanish in the 1500's, and others traveled there voluntarily during the epidemics and turmoil of the late 1600's and early 1700's. Their descendents may still be living in Cuba today. Other Calusas survived the epidemics and ultimately joined the Seminole tribe. The Calusa language and culture have been lost, though.

How was the Calusa Indian nation organized?
The Calusas were one of the few North American Indian tribes who were ruled by a hereditary king. The Calusa king, or head chief, was an absolute ruler. All his subjects had to obey his commands. In reality, though, Calusa kings probably had to listen to the opinions of the village chiefs, who held local authority.

What language did the Calusas speak?
They spoke their native Calusa language, but nobody speaks this language anymore. In fact, no one ever wrote down the Calusa language before it disappeared. Except for some place names in Florida, the language will remain a mystery.

What was Calusa culture like in the past?
Here is a link to an interesting archaeological website, showing some of the artifacts of the Calusas and discussing their lifestyle.

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How did Calusa Indian children live?
They did the same things all children do--play with each other, learn their lessons, and help around the house. The Calusas didn't have formal schools, so Calusa children learned lessons from their grandparents or other elders. Calusa children also learned to swim and sail at an early age.

What were Calusa homes like in the past?
Calusa houses didn't have any walls. They were more like canopies--roofs of palm leaves supported by wooden poles. Here is a picture of Native American shelters like the ones Calusa Indians used. Calusa villages, on the other hand, were very complicated to build. The Calusas engineered artificial islands, seawalls, piers, and temple foundations out of shells, and planted rows of trees as windbreaks to protect against hurricanes.

What was Calusa clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
The Calusas didn't wear much clothing. Just like today, the weather in southwestern Florida was always warm. Calusa men wore only a breechcloth, and Calusa women wore short skirts made of palm leaves. Shirts were not necessary in Calusa culture, and people usually went barefoot. Here are some photographs and links about Native American costume in general.

The Calusas didn't wear war bonnets like the Sioux. Calusa men wore their hair in topknots, sometimes with feathers attached. Women sometimes decorated their long hair with flowers. Here is a website with pictures of these Indian hair styles. Calusa warriors often painted their faces and bodies bright colors during battles and dances.

What was Calusa transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Calusas were well-known for their canoes, which were larger and heavier than the birchbark canoes of other eastern tribes. The largest Calusa canoes could hold fifty people and were equipped with sails as well as oars. The Calusas used these seafaring canoes to travel to islands as far away as Cuba. The Calusas also built canals to make it easier for them to travel across southern Florida by canoe. Here is an article with pictures of different canoe types.

What was Calusa food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Calusa Indians were coastal people who ate mostly fish, oysters, and other seafood. Hunters also shot birds and small game. Here is a website with more information about traditional Indian food.

What were Calusa weapons and tools like in the past?
Calusa warriors and hunters used bows and arrows or blowguns. Fishermen used nets, weirs, and wooden traps. Here are some pictures of Indian weapons.

What were Calusa arts and crafts like?
The Calusas were known for their elaborate wood carvings. You can see some drawings of Calusa carvings at this site

What other Native Americans did the Calusa tribe interact with?
The Calusas were warlike people. They dominated many of the less-powerful tribes of Florida Indians, such as the Tequestas, Jaegas, and Ais, and fought frequently with the Timucuas to the north. When the Creek Indians moved south into Florida, at first the Calusas fought with them as well. But later, after smallpox and other diseases killed most of their people, some of the surviving Calusas joined together with the Creeks, Miccosukees, and other Indians into the Seminole tribe.

What about Calusa religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Calusa life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Native American people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Calusa rituals or this site about Indian religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
The best book for kids is probably The Calusa And Their Legacy, which tells the history of the Calusa tribe in clear language with many pictures. A more complex book on Calusa society is The Evolution of the Calusa, which I recommend to older students. Journeys with Florida's Indians is a great kids' book about Florida tribes in general, with a good section on the Calusas. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended books about Native American history in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Calusa Indian people and their language!

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Calusa Indian Tribe
An overview of the Calusa people, their language and history.

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