As a Florida resident, I must say I have spent much less time in our state’s capital than I’m proud to admit. So, when I went on assignment to explore Native American heritage in Tallahassee, I didn’t know what I would find. What I didn’t expect was to be immediately charmed and intrigued.
Visit Tallahassee and you’ll quickly see why. With its mild hills and adjacent Apalachicola National Forest, there’s a beauty that seems to hold this city into place. And in its downtown historic district, even more charm awaits on streets lined with 19th-Century homes and trendy restaurants within walking distance. But there’s a much deeper history here than what meets the eye.
In this article I will discuss the Apalachicola National Forest, Mission San Luis, the Museum of Florida History and the Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park. I will also share my recommendations on where to stay and eat.
First Things to Know About Visiting Tallahassee
- The temperature is cooler in the winter months than popular coastal destinations.
- The busy season is November through May, but keep in mind it is the state capital and legislative sessions can bring crowds so plan ahead.
- Bring comfortable hiking shoes and bug spray if you want to explore the forest.
- Allow yourself three days for this trip.
Where to Stay and Dine in Tallahassee
I thoroughly enjoyed staying at a historic bed & breakfast in town called the Park Avenue Inn. The property was perfectly detailed with historic charm. Our room was big and very comfortable. The innkeeper is very nice and recommended an awesome restaurant just two blocks walking distance away called The Southern Public House. The menu selection was very contemporary with flaires from all over the globe. The food was delicious, the staff very friendly and the restaurant welcomes pets. I highly recommend this venue. If you’re up for something a bit quicker than a sit-down, they are opening a noodle bar next door, or there is a sushi restaurant just down the street.
Understanding the Native Americans of Tallahassee – The Apalachee
You may not know this but the Apalachee are different than the Apalache and are actually once were the Alachua.
Apalachee is the name that the Spaniards gave to the Muskogeans of the Florida Panhandle. According to Charles Rochefort, these people called themselves the Alachua. They traded regularly with the real Apalache (from the north), but had a different language, government and religion. –PeopleonFire.com
Northern Florida was home to one of the most powerful and advanced indigenous chiefdoms in the North American southeast. Before European contact they were vast, up to 60,000 according to the University of South Florida. They lived in widespread villages and like other Florida tribes, their leaders assigned work. Everyone had a role. They were fierce warriors, and protecting their tribe was their most important objective.
The Apalachee tribe was reduced greatly in size due to disease and encroachment after the Spanish settled in what is now Tallahassee. Here are some key points about the Apalachee:
- They grew corn, beans and squash.
- Like the Timucua, men prepared the fields and women tended to crops.
- Men also hunted while women gathered.
- Men wore deerskin loincloths while women wore Spanish moss skirts. At battle men painted their bodies with red ochre and wore feathers in their hair.
- They used bows and arrows for hunting and fighting and made dugout canoes for traveling on water.
- Like many other Native Americans in Florida, they played a sacred ball game. They played during the spring and summer in dedication to the gods of rain and thunder to ensure rain for their crops.
- They had massive ceremonial mounds. Some had structures on top. It is believed the largest mound with a structure was the chief’s house.
- They were great storytellers, farmers, hunters and fishers.
- Dance and prayer were very important to them.
The state-issued publication on Florida’s Native American Heritage Trail is a great guide if you’re looking for a deeper understanding of the Apalachee.
Muskogean Myths and Legends
There is no shortage of legends coming from the Muskogeans, many of them passed along from the Creeks. Storytelling was very important to them and continued as they transitioned to the Apalachee tribe. For the sake of keeping this post short, I’ll share some interesting characters that come from these myths.
- Lodge Boy and Bad Boy – Mythical twins born while a monster killed their mother. They are portrayed as advantageous slayers of monsters who wreak havoc in the wake of their slayings.
- Chufi – A trickster rabbit.
- Kolowa – A giant, hairy man-eating ogre.
- Tie-Snakes – Water spirits with immense strength. They were thought to live beneath the surface and were feared by man for drowning people.
- Insti Papa (Man-Eater) – A massive cannibalistic monster.
Things to do in Tallahassee to Explore Native American Heritage
The Apalachicola National Forest is a pristine echo of life during the time of the Apalachee, and a step into the city and a little further north yields even more of their heritage.
Apalachicola National Forest – Hike
At Florida’s largest National Forest you can bet there’s plenty to do. From kayaking, canoeing and hiking to scenic drives and camping, there’s plenty of eco adventure to be had in over half a million acres of forest. We chose Leon Sinks Geological Area to explore its sinkholes, a geological phenomenon many don’t even know exists in Florida.
Mission San Luis – Educational Heritage Park
Mission San Luis is a beautiful heritage park dating back to the 17th-Century. It was the western capital of Spanish Florida from 1656 to 1704. This reconstructed mission tells the story, through costumed guides, colonial buildings, exhibits and archaeology, of the Spanish converting the Apalachee to Christians.
Here you can explore a museum with Native American and European artifacts found at this site as well as an Apalachee council house, a Franciscan church, a military complex and multiple displays of heritage on its 60 acres.
The park is located in town and very close to the city center. Please note, do not mistaken Mission San Luis for San Luis Mission.
The Museum of Florida History- Educate
The Museum of Florida History is known for its preservation and interpretation of heritage. The permanent exhibit, “Forever Changed La Florida 1513-1821.” makes learning about Florida history and heritage a great experience for any age. Through the use of text panels, murals, scenes, artifacts and hands-on activities, visitors will leave with a deep understanding of the ages of Native Americans northwest Florida.
The museum is located downtown, just blocks from the Park Avenue Inn.
Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park – Hike and Educate
One of Florida’s most important archaeological sites, the Lake Jackson Mounds is home to four temple mounds. Two of these mounds are open to the public. There are two trails for visitors to explore the site, an interpretive trail and a nature trail. The park is a great place to explore local wildlife as well.
The mounds are located just north of the city.
Explore more of Tallahassee’s History and Heritage here:
When I began my journey to discover Native American Heritage in Florida I had no idea there was so much to explore in an around Tallahassee. Knowing now what a lovely city it is, I’m looking forward to another visit. And, I look forward to uncovering more about Florida’s Native American Heritage in this great Sunshine State.
For more information on trip planning to Florida, please visit the Florida Tourism site.
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