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Tocobaga: Wikis


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Tocobaga was the name of a chiefdom, of its chief and of its principal town during the 16th century in the area of Tampa Bay. The town was at the northern end of what is now called Old Tampa Bay, an arm of Tampa Bay that extends northward between the city of Tampa and Pinellas County. The town is believed to have been at the Safety Harbor Site. The Tocobaga had a few brief contacts with Spanish explorers with little obvious effect. However, the Europeans brought diseases for which the Florida tribes had no natural defenses. Due to illness and other factors, the Tocobaga culture declined severely in the 17th century and disappeared early in the 18th century. The Tocobaga area coincided with that of the Safety Harbor culture, which developed in place from the earlier (500 BC - AD 700) Manasota culture.[1]



The Tocobaga lived primarily in villages next to the shore. The chiefdoms consisted of about 15 miles (24 km) of shoreline, and extended about 20 miles (32 km) inland. Each chiefdom had a principal town or "capital" with a temple mound and central plaza. Fifteen such towns have been identified along the Florida Gulf coast from southern Pasco County to northern Sarasota County, an area that includes all of Tampa Bay. Only one principal town has been found inland. Descriptions of the villages by Spanish visitors mostly agree with archaeological reconstructions. "Capitals" had a central rectangular plaza. A truncated pyramidal mound up to 20 feet (6.1 m) high and up to 130 feet (40 m) long on each side at the base stood on one side of the plaza . One or more buildings stood on top of the mound, and a ramp ran from the top of the mound to the plaza. A burial mound would be located off to the side. A shell mound, or midden ran along the shore, and other middens were sometimes located on other sides of the plaza. The plaza itself was kept clear of debris. The more important residents of the town had their houses around the plaza, while the lower class lived in huts further from the plaza. The Spanish reported that the chief and his family lived on the main mound, and that a "temple" (probably a charnel house) stood on the opposite side of the plaza. Archaeological excavations suggest that the charnel houses were on the mounds. Village sites without mounds and isolated burial mounds are also known.[2]

The Spanish reported four social classes among the Tocobagans: chiefs, headmen, warriors and ordinary people, and slaves. Europeans and members of other tribes who had been captured were slaves. A chief who visited de Soto in his camp was carried there on the back of another man. Chiefs were often married to the sisters of other chiefs.[3]

The Tocobagans ate fish, shellfish, deer, turtles and dogs, as well as watercress, pumpkins, "cabbage" from palmettos or cabbage palms, and beans. Maize may have been a minor part of the diet, but the southern limit of maize agriculture prior to the arrival of the Europeans was just to the north of Tocobaga territory. They used bows and arrows, equipped with stone arrowheads or stingray stingers. Houses were built with wooden posts and covered with palm leaves. "Temples" (or charnel houses) and other buildings were decorated with wood carvings. Pottery used in daily life was largely undecorated, but ceremonial vessels (found in burials) were distinctively decorated (the defining characteristic of the Safety Harbor culture).[4]

The Tocobaga kept the bodies of recently dead people in their temples or charnel houses until the bones had been cleaned. The Spanish visitors described the bodies as being wrapped in painted deer hides and stored in wooden boxes with shells on top of them, sitting on the ground. One of the Spanish captives of the Tocobaga reported that he had been assigned to guard a temple at night to keep wolves from carrying off the bodies. Garcilosa reported that lions (cougars) would carry away bodies. After the bones had been cleaned they would be buried. A Spanish account of a chief's funeral states that his body was "broken up" and placed in large jars, and the flesh was removed from the bones over two days. The skeleton was then reassembled and left in the temple for four days while the people fasted. At the end of the four days all the people of the town would take the bones and place them in a burial mound. In some cases bodies were cremated and then buried in the mound on which the charnel house sat.[5]

European contact

The Tampa Bay area was visited by Spanish explorers during the Spanish Florida period in Florida. In 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez likely landed in Safety Harbor territory on the south side of Tampa Bay, and passed through the eastern part of the territory on his journey north. The Hernando de Soto Expedition also likely landed on the south side of Tampa Bay in 1539,[6] and passed through the eastern part of Safety Harbor territory after occupying the village of Ucita. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega in his history of de Soto's expedition relates that Narváez had ordered that the nose of the chief of Ucita be cut off, indicating that the two explorers had passed through the same area. Another town near Ucita encountered by de Soto was Mocoço, but evidence suggests this village was part of the neighboring Timucua tribe. Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, a shipwreck survivor who lived with the Indians of southern Florida from 1549-1566 and was rescued from the Calusa by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, described Tocobaga, Abalachi (Apalachee) and Mogoso (Mocoço) as "separate kingdoms" from the Calusa. Ucita and Mocoço at the time of de Soto's visit were subject to a chief named Paracoxi (also given as Urribarracuxi). De Soto marched to the town of Paracoxi, which appears to have been inland from Tampa Bay, where he found maize in cultivation (the Safety Harbor people made little or no use of maize).[7]

In 1567 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés visited Tocobaga. Evidence from the accounts of his visit make it likely that Tocobaga was the type site for the Safety Harbor culture. Menéndez had contacted the Calusa and reached an accommodation with Carlos, the Calusa 'king', including a 'marriage' with Carlos's sister. Carlos was anxious to gain an advantage over his enemy Tocobaga, and Menéndez took Carlos and twenty of his warriors to Tocobaga by ship. Menéndez persuaded Tocobaga and Carlos to make peace. He also recovered several Europeans and a dozen Calusa being held as slaves by Tocobaga. Menéndez left a garrison of 30 men at Tocobaga to encourage the people of the town to convert to Christianity and took Carlos and the other Calusas back to their town.[8]

The Tocobagans had little contact with Europeans after Menéndez's visit (the garrison did not stay at Tocobaga for very long). Their numbers declined in the 17th century, due at least in part to diseases brought by the Europeans, to which they had little resistance. All of the Florida tribes were severely impacted by the raids of Creeks and Yamasees around the end of the 17th century. Remnants of the Calusa, to the south of the Tocobaga, were forced into extreme southern Florida, and eventually taken to Cuba by the Spanish when Florida came under British rule in 1763. In any case, the Tocobaga culture disappeared from history in the 18th century.[9]


  1. ^ Bullen:50-1
    Milanich 1994:221-2
  2. ^ Bullen. 50-1, 53-4.
    Milanich 1998. 103, 105.
  3. ^ Bullen. 56.
  4. ^ Bullen. 53, 56.
    Milanich 1994. 390.
    Milanich 1998. 103.
  5. ^ Bullen. 53, 54, 56.
    Milanich 1998. 104, 109.
  6. ^ The exact place(s) at which Narváez and de Soto landed is disputed. The De Soto National Memorial marking de Soto's landing is on the south side of Tampa Bay. Bullen:51-3 and Milanich 1998:107-8 argue that the descriptions of de Soto's initial travels fit that location better than proposed alternatives, such as Charlotte Harbor or the Caloosahatchee River. Hahn:105 simply states that the landing was on the south side of Tampa Bay.
  7. ^ Bullen. 51-2.
    Milanich 1994. 388-9.
  8. ^ Bullen. 54-5.
  9. ^ Bullen. 57.
    Sturtevant. 147.


  • Bullen, Ripley P. (1978). "Tocobaga Indians and the Safety Harbor Culture". In Milanich and Procter.
  • Hann, John H. (2003). Indians of Central and South Florida: 1513-1763. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-2645-8
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (1994). Archaeology of Precolumbian Florida. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1273-2.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (1998). Florida's Indians from Ancient Times to the Present. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1599-5
  • Milanich, Jerald T. and Samuel Procter, Eds. (1978). Tacachale: Essays on the Indians of Florida and Southeastern Georgia during the Historic Period. The University Presses of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-0535-3.
  • Sturtevant, William C. (1978). "The Last of the South Florida Aborigines". In Milanich and Procter.

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