Tocobaga Indians of Tampa Bay
Tocobaga Indians, visiting in the 1500s, found healing springs along with an abundance of sustaining fish and wildlife.
Where and How They Lived
The Tocobaga Indians lived in small villages at the northern end of Tampa Bay from 900 to the 1500s.
Each village was situated around a public area that was used as a meeting place. The houses were generally round and built with wooden poles holding up a roof of palm thatches.
The Tocobaga Indians built mounds within their villages. A mound is a large pile of earth, shells, or stones. The chief’s home and the tribe’s temple were each built on a mound. The Tocobaga also built burial mounds outside the main village area as a place for burying the dead.
The women of the Tocobaga tribes had a garbage heap called a midden, which was located next to their kitchen. Middens were created by the Tocoboga’s use of shellfish for food. The midden consisted of a mound of shells that had grown and packed together throughout the years as shells were discarded after every meal.
What They Ate
Because of their proximity to both the bay and freshwater streams, the Tocobaga fished and gathered shellfish as their primary source of food. They also ate manatees, which were abundant in the nearby waters.
During this time, the Tampa Bay area was rich with animals such as deer, rabbits, armadillo, and squirrels. As a result, the Tocobaga became great hunters. They also gathered a variety of berries, nuts, and fruit to supplement their diet. Interestingly, the Tocobaga Indians had corn, an unusual find in the Tampa Bay area. It is not clear how they got the corn, but it is speculated that they may have traded with a northern tribe for it.
The Tools They Made
The Tocobaga developed many tools for hunting, cooking, and eating. One such tool was the adz. The adz was made of a shell or pointed stone tied to the end of a curved branch. It was used for digging.
The Tocobaga also constructed a tool by placing a living tree branch through a shell with a hole in it. Over a period of time the branch would grow into the shell. The branch would then be cut off the tree. This produced a sturdy tool used for digging clams.
For hunting, the Tocobaga Indians used a throwing stick called an atlatl. It looked and functioned much like a spear. It was used to kill animals for food and clothing. While hunting, the Tocobaga would wear deerskin, or sometimes deer heads over themselves, to get close enough to the animals to kill them.
What Happened to Them?
In approximately 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez, a Spanish explorer, arrived in the Tampa Bay area. He and his men found the Tocobaga and brought disease and violence to the tribe’s peaceful existence. As a result, the Tocobaga Indians became extinct within the next 100 years.
Archaeological digs in the Safety Harbor area of Florida have uncovered many artifacts, or man-made objects from the Tocobaga. Items such as plates and pots have been found indicating that the Tocobaga Indians were expert potters.
Visiting the Tocobaga Indians Mounds
One of the most magnificent sights in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area is the view of Old Tampa Bay from the top of the Safety Harbor Mound.
Located on the waterfront in Philippi Park, just a few blocks from downtown Safety Harbor, the huge mound is a remnant of what some believe was once the capital of the Tocobaga chiefdom.
In 1567, the Tocobaga decided they had seen enough of the Spanish and wiped them out. A priest who arrived a short time later with supplies for the settlement blamed the soldiers for their own deaths, accusing them of cruelty toward the Indians.
The Tocobaga themselves did not long survive either. By the mid-1700s they were all gone, leaving behind only their mounds, shell middens and village sites to tell their story.
When first described by archaeologists, the Safety Harbor site consisted of the large 20 foot high temple mound, a smaller burial mound and at least two large shell middens. Today the site is part of a charming park area and the temple mound is a major area land- mark.
Philippi Park is located at 2525 Philippi Parkway in Safety Harbor, Florida, just north of St. Petersburg. The park is open daily during daylight hours and also features walking paths, picnic areas, a boat ramp, fishing, a boat ramp and spectacular views of the bay. The oak trees in the park and the canopy road leading through it are absolutely stunning.
Europeans Discover Indian Works Beach
In 1883, four men sailed southward from Cedar Key, exploring the gulf coast in search of the ideal spot to settle. Arriving in the Narrows where the old bridge was eventually built, they proclaimed, “This is it.” Of the party, J. H. Hendrick and L. W. Hamlin would homestead their chosen place, now known as Indian Rocks Beach.
The barrier island became “Tampa’s playground” when the Tampa & Gulf Coast Railroad built a spur from the big city to the beach in 1914. Tampans flocked to their newly discovered paradise, seeking relief from the summer heat and the pressures of boom era city life.
The shoreline retreats they built, ranging from cottages to grand beach homes, offered a slice of heaven to the vacationers.
Following World War II, a new generation of ex-G.I.’s and their baby boom families discovered the wonders of Indian Rocks Beach. The 1950s and ’60s saw creation of the longest fishing pier in Florida, and the biggest attraction of all: Tiki Gardens. The multi-acre Polynesian paradise drew 300,000 visitors a year during its prime years.
The dream of owning a waterfront home became possible when dredge and fill operations created fingers of suitable land from a mangrove swamp.
A cooperative community spirit gave Indian Rocks Beach an enduring cohesiveness that is so attractive to residents even today. Churches, civic organizations, social groups, and government entities combined to sponsor events and offer activities and services that brought residents and visitors into community with the city and each other.
New winter residents, the snowbirds, arrived in the 1970s, filling the condominiums along the shore. Their presence bolstered the local economy, and brought an influx of new ideas and tastes from around the country and the world.
A diverse, colorful blend of people from all age groups, and places old and new, gives Indian Rocks Beach its unique, eclectic “cottage” character. It is a mix that residents prize and visitors seek out year after year.