De Soto National Memorial



The "Tocobaga" tribe was comprised of several small chiefdoms such as Ucita, Pohoy, and Mococo, that ranged from today’s Pinellas County to Sarasota County. They maintained a fishing and hunting culture for approximately 600-800 years before being encountered by the Spanish explorers in the early 1500s. De Soto found his Spanish interpreter, Juan Ortiz, in Mocoso, where he had taken refuge after being separated from the doomed Narvaez expedition. Some evidence suggests that, while Mocoso was in the Safety Harbor Culture area together with Ucita and Tocobaga, the Mocoso people spoke a different language, possibly "Timucua" in origin.

The name "Tocobaga" first appears in Spanish documents in 1567, when Pedro Menendez de Aviles visited the Safety Harbor site with a party of Calusa he had brought with him from the south. Neither the Narvaez nor the De Soto expeditions mentioned the name Tocobaga, so perhaps it was a later created identification, or a Spanish alteration of a word, like the term "Timucua."

They lived in over twenty temple villages in the Tampa Bay area. Archaeological evidence shows that the autonomous villages of the Tocobaga shared many features. Typically, each town had a single, large, flat-topped temple mound, from which a ramp extended down toward a plaza. Each of the villages also had a mound with one or more houses on top. The chief and his family usually occupied a structure on the temple mound, thus conferring his status as the highest authority.


A midden is a dump for domestic waste. The word is used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. Middens may be convenient, single-use pits created by nomadic groups or long-term, designated dumps used by sedentary communities that accumulate over several generations. In the latter case, a midden’s stratigraphy can become apparent. Midden deposits can contain a variety of archaeological material, including animal bone, shell, botanical material, potsherds, debitage (the leftover pieces from making stone flake points) and other artifacts associated with past human occupation. These features provide a useful resource for archaeologists who wish to study the diet and habits of past societies. Middens with damp, anaerobic [low to no oxygen] conditions can even preserve organic remains which can then be analyzed to obtain information regarding climate and seasonal use.


Atop some temple mounds was a wooden, thatched structure adorned with wooden bird carvings; this was the temple, or charnel house, a place to keep the defleshed bones of the dead until burial. At certain intervals, perhaps when the charnel house was full, or perhaps when a significant individual had died, the bones – some wrapped in painted deer hide, were buried in the subfloor of the charnel house. The charnel house was then removed, a new layer of sand was placed over the old burial area, and new charnel house was built.


Florida tribes' tools and weapons were not of a style that you normally associate with Indians. In Florida, there was no metal, and little to no suitable hard stone such as basalt of flint. These had to be obtained by trading with other tribes to the north. Substitutes were found, fossilized Miocene coral was used for arrowheads and sharpened reeds served as arrows. Even conch shells tied to a wood handle could make a primitive axe. 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.

They 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.


A dugout canoe or simply dugout is a boat made from a hollowed tree trunk. Dugouts are the oldest boats archaeologists have found, dating back about 8,000 years to the Neolithic Stone Age. Construction of a dugout begins with the selection of a log of suitable dimensions. Florida's prehistoric people used shell tools, and fire to fell these large trees. In the Tampa Bay area, the wood was most likely pine. More fire was used to remove the center of the log to make the boat lighter in weight and more buoyant. The finished dugout would still need to be strong enough to support the crew and cargo. The shape of the boat is designed to minimize drag, with sharp ends at the bow and stern, and often a platform at the bow.

"Prehistoric canoes are important and fragile artifacts, and more have been found in Florida than in any other state. There are currently over 200 recorded sites in Florida that have canoes or log boats. Some are single canoes, others are groups of canoes, and a few sites have large numbers of canoes in close proximity. These canoes are a part of the archaeological record and provide information about Florida's past." [Florida Division of Historical Resources]


The entirely missionary expedition of Father Luis de Cancer visited Tampa Bay natives in 1549 in an attempt to convert the locals peacefully and repair the damage done in previous years by conquistadors. Despite being cautioned to avoid the dangerous Gulf Coast, the expedition landed south of Bahia Espiritu Santo (a.k.a. Tampa Bay) in May 1549. There they encountered apparently peaceful and receptive Indians who told them of the many populous villages around Tampa Bay, and de Cancer decided to go north. Upon reaching the Bay area, members of the expedition were killed or captured, and de Cancer was clubbed to death soon after reaching shore. [Gene Burnett, Florida's Past, Volume 1] 

Although these chiefdoms observed the coming of the Spanish explorers Narvaez and De Soto, the Spanish never placed missions among them. However, the results of contact were still devastating; a once thriving population was decimated by diseases. So weakened were the Tocobaga that in 1567 when Pedro Menendez de Aviles descended on the Tocobaga, they were only able to call on 1500 men to defend their main settlement. By the early 1700s, Spanish missionaries had managed to convert most of the remaining Indian people from St. Augustine to Tampa Bay, although some tribal practices were carried out in secret. Massacres and disease had effectively destroyed most Indigenous Florida Native Peoples, and by the 1760s the Tocobaga were amongst the very small number of Indians remaining. In 1763, Spain finally agreed to give up its claim to Florida and evacuate all Spaniards to Cuba, the last of the Tocobaga went with them.