Summer 2014: Amid the theme parks and interstates, beachfront hotels and strip malls, remnants of ancient Florida remain. Native Americans lived in Florida as far back as 12,000 to 15,000 years ago, millennia before the first Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s. By following a stretch of the Trail of Florida’s Indian Heritage, you’ll get a sense of what life was like along the Gulf Coast centuries ago. You can begin your 200-mile journey in Tampa, the largest city on Florida’s west coast. The first known white settlers arrived in the early 1820s, and the U.S. Army established Fort Brooke to protect the strategic harbor of Tampa Bay. That area now is the heart of a thriving city of nearly 350,000 residents. Located near the site of that long-ago fort is the Tampa Bay History Center, which is perched along Garrison Channel, providing a stunning view of downtown Tampa. As you enter the museum, you’ll find artifacts and reproductions of tools, weapons, and pottery from the Tocobaga and Calusa Indians. The Tocobaga lived in small villages at the northern end of Tampa Bay from the A.D. 900s to 1500s,while the Calusa dominated southwest Florida for centuries. The film “The Winds of Change” recounts the Tocobagas’ initial encounter with Spanish explorers, led by Pánfilo de Narváez, in 1528, and the violence that erupted. Following their clashes with the Spanish, the Tocobaga captured four explorers, and their chief, Hirrihigua, ordered them put to death. His daughter, Ulele, begged her father to spare the life of one of them, an 18-year-old named Juan Ortiz.Ortiz was spared as a result, and he lived among the Indians before being rescued by Hernando de Soto, who landed near Tampa in 1539. Ortiz then served as de Soto’s guide and interpreter.
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