Welcome to a guide to Native America in Bradenton. This is one in three of my favorite places to visit along Florida’s Native American Heritage Trail. I chose it in part because I live here, have spent countless hours barefoot on its sandy shores, hiking through its mangroves and exploring its history. I also chose it because it’s one of Florida’s most popular destinations, for its turquoise coast and laid-back vibe. It truly is a great place to visit and everything in this article is in close proximity to downtown Bradenton, which is just 15 minutes from the beach.
In this article I will discuss De Soto National Memorial, Portavant Temple at Emerson Point Preserve and the South Florida Museum. I will also mention some additional references. All of these places are great with or without kids.
For a more academic history on Florida’s Native American Heritage Trail you can download this 40 page PDF from the state. It’s a great guide, which I picked up a couple years ago at a local museum. I’m happy to see it’s online as well.
The First Things to Know About Visiting Bradenton
- It gets very busy from December through May as a second home to our northern part-time residents and seasonal tourists.
- The weather is almost always warm with a couple “cold snaps” here and there over winter (and by winter I mean from January to the end of March).
- I highly recommend you stay somewhere off the beach to save on spending (most of these places are weekly rentals).
- Summer is hot but it’s easy to stay cool when you’re by the beach or the Manatee River. Just remember sunblock, bug spray, sunglasses and light colored clothes.
- There are lots of budget-friendly things to do in the area to add to your adventure.
Where to Stay
I recommend you stay with Palmetto Riverside Bed & Breakfast. It is an absolutely pristine historic place to stay right in the middle of key points of interest and just 15 minutes from Anna Maria Island. It’s located on the Manatee River with a front seat to where Native Americans would have sailed in their canoes hundreds of years ago. It’s across from the Regatta Pointe Marina where there is a fabulous restaurant, the River House Reef & Grill, where you can enjoy dinner, brunch or just drinks with a water view. Catch a Florida sunset or take a sunset sail; it’s truly amazing.
Understanding the Native Americans of the Bradenton Area: The Calusa Indians
As I mentioned in Exploring Florida’s Ancient Myths on the Native American Heritage Trail, the footprint of Native America in Bradenton is very blurry. There are few written remnants of tribal culture. What we mainly have are tools, pottery, jewelry and a few archaeological sites. The same applies for Bradenton. Since I’m no scholar of ancient anything, I enlisted the help of Ranger Daniel Stephens at De Soto Memorial National Park to help me understand more about the Calusa and their myths and legends. Here are some things Stephens shared with me:
- They died out in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s from tribal conflicts and European disease.
- They are known as the “shell Indians” and did not make pottery but used shells for tools, jewelry and mounds even building entire cities on the shells.
- They were sailors and traveled by dugout canoes along the many waterways in southwest Florida. In Bradenton they plied the Manatee River.
- They were not a “friendly” tribe; they were fighters believed to be responsible for the death of Ponce de Leon.
Mythology and Beliefs of the Calusa Indians
- They believed three supernatural people ruled the world.
- The most powerful ruler governed the physical world, the moon, stars, sun and weather.
- The second-most powerful ruled human governments, chiefdom.
- The last ruled over wars.
Three Souls of Man
- The three souls were the pupil of a person’s eye, his shadow and his reflection.
- The soul in the eye stayed with the body after death to consult with others in the tribe at their grave.
- The other two souls left the body and went into an animal. (If the Calusa killed this animal, the soul would go to a smaller, less powerful animal until it was nothing).
- Processions of priests with carved masks and singing women.
- Very strong beliefs, resisted conversions to Catholicism.
- Ceremonial tea was was consumed to reach alternate states of consciousness. Known as “the black drink” it was made from the leaves of Yupon Holly. It made whoever drank it vomit, to cleanse, then hallucinate.
Check out this interesting trailer on De Soto National Memorial and Bradenton’s Village of the Arts:
Places to Explore Native America in Bradenton
De Soto National Memorial – Hike, Kayak
I love visiting the De Soto National Memorial. It’s pet friendly, breezy and has winding sandy trails for you to explore the shores of the Manatee River. It’s the site of an ancient Calusa village and would have been the scene of a large society of Natives who spent their days going from this shore to the Portavant Temple at what is now Emerson Point Preserve in their intricate canoes.
Tip: If you ask a ranger you can get a guided tour and they will point out the archaeological sites to you.
This is a free park open to the public. It has a living history exhibit, which goes from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (4 p.m. on busier days). The park itself is open 7 days / week from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Junior Rangers and Kayaking at De Soto National Memorial
Portavant Temple at Emerson Point Park – Hike
A key point on the trail of Native America in Bradenton, Emerson Point is a stunning and serene part of Florida’s native landscape. It’s a front seat to the brackish waters of the Manatee River and the Gulf of Mexico, and from its tower on a clear day you can see the massive Skyway Bridge, which connects this region to south St. Petersburg. Its winding boardwalk trail will lead you through sweeping moss and palm trails along inlets, immersing you into the wild side of Florida nature.
Photo by Ebyabe – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
The South Florida Museum – Educate
Located just a few minutes from De Soto National Memorial, the South Florida Museum is home to a large collection of Native Florida Indian artifacts including shells, pottery, jewelry and depictions of their early life. The museum is also home to the local celebrity manatee “Snooty.” You’ll also find early marine and mammal fossils and archaeological material on archaic and pre-contact cultures.
There’s a planetarium and an aquarium as well, so plan to spend at least 2-3 hours here. For up-to-date info on events and hours go here.
Additional Points of Interest a Little Further South
These are both very much worth the drive. Plan to spend an entire day to do both, half a day for one. Bring water and good shoes.
- Historic Spanish Point link here – about 30 minutes south into South Sarasota.
- Indian Mound Park link here – about 45 minutes south into Englewood.
Undoubtedly if you’re planning a trip to Bradenton you’re going to have a great time. If you’ve landed on this page then there’s a good chance you’re already inspired by Native America in Bradenton. I can’t stress to you enough that Florida is more than just sun tanning and theme parks. There’s a whole layer of history here, which so few really know about. I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad you’re one more person who cares about our great Florida heritage.
Sources: USF, Native American Heritage Trail feature photo by Jim Mullhaupt under the Creative Commons license
This article was made possible by Visit Florida. For more information on exploring this state, please go to their website
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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.