Welcome to my guide to Native Americans in Bradenton. This is one of 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!
A Guide to Native Americans in Bradenton, Florida
In this article, I discuss the 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 of years ago at a local museum. I’m happy to see it’s online as well.
Things to Know About Visiting Bradenton, Florida
It gets very busy from December through May as a second home to our northern part-time residents and seasonal tourists (affectionately dubbed, “snowbirds”). The weather is almost always warm with a couple of “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
It’s located on the Manatee River with a front seat to where the Native Americans in Bradenton 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.
The Calusa Indians
As I mentioned in Exploring Florida’s Ancient Myths on the Native American Heritage Trail, the footprint of Native Americans 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 to Bradenton, Florida.
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 are known as the “Shell People” and died out in the late 1700s/early 1800s from tribal conflicts and European disease. They 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
- These Native Americans in Bradenton 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 government, 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 and thus resisted conversions to Catholicism.
- Ceremonial tea 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 in order to cleanse, then hallucinate.
Places to Explore the Heritage of Native Americans 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. Be sure to inquire about the Native Americans in Bradenton.
This is a free park open to the public. It has a living history exhibit, which goes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (4 p.m. on busier days). The park itself is open 7 days/week from 9 a.m. to 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 Americans 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.
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 then you’re going to have a great time. 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 to explore 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.
If you’ve landed on this page then there’s a good chance you’re ready for an educational and fun adventure and I promise you will be inspired by Native Americans in Bradenton. So get out of the house, if you have kids they will enjoy the trip as well, and learn about the rich culture of these ancient people as you step back in time to walk where they walked, see the tools they used, and be immersed in the history of the area.
Check out this interesting trailer on De Soto National Memorial and Bradenton’s Village of the Arts:
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