The Native American group known today as the Apalachee, was a large chiefdom living between the Aucilla and Ochlocknee rivers. One of the largest early Apalachee settlements is represented by the Lake Jackson Mounds located in northwestern Leon County, Florida. It once served as the capital of the Apalachee territory, which spread across Leon and Jefferson counties and included the coastal lowlands southward to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. The Apalachee shared religious and trade cultural practices with other mound building people in what is now the southeastern United States. Around A.D. 1450-1500, there was disruption to mound building societies in the Southeastern United States, resulting in the abandonment of the Lake Jackson Mounds and smaller Apalachee mound sites.
The new capital of the Apalachee region became Anhaica Apalache. Its location is thought to be in Tallahassee just southeast of the downtown. While archaeologists are working to document the changes in Apalachee society through time, it is difficult because little remains of their culture. One type of artifact that has survived is pottery. The most common types of pottery are Fort Walton Incised, Lake Jackson Incised and Lake Jackson Plain along with Carrabelle Punctated, late variety. The Apalachee survived contact with Spanish explorers and subsequent missionization until 1704 when the Spanish missions were attacked and destroyed in the region forcing the Apalchee to move elsewhere when the Spanish left.
The sixteenth century Spaniard, Hernando de Soto, is remembered by historians for his exploration of the southeastern United States, which began in Florida. A former mercenary soldier in the conquest of Central and South America, he hoped to increase his notoriety and fortune by leading an expedition through parts of North America. In 1539 de Soto departed Cuba for la Florida (the general southeastern US), eventually reaching its southwestern coast in the vicinity of Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay. His party was comprised of several hundred men- soldiers, slaves, artisans, priests, and some women, as well as horses and herds of pigs. His party proceeded northward. The expedition passed through various Indian territories before reaching the Apalachee Provence.
The Apalachee Indians fought hard to defend themselves against the Spanish, but they were finally defeated. Rather than allowing the Spanish to pillage their villages and fields, they set fire to them and fled. The Spanish continued westward, ultimately occupying the large, abandoned village of Anhaica Apalache in what is now the City of Tallahassee. De Soto decided to spend the winter there to rest his army, repair equipment, gather food, and wait for the arrival of supplies.
The village of Anhaica was unfortified, so de Soto ordered that a makeshift fortification be erected. The Spanish also may have built enclosures for the livestock that they brought with them. A pig herd was part of the expedition's food supply. It had the advantage of transporting itself, living off the land, and reproducing along the way. Pigs were not indigenous to North American prior to de Soto's arrival. Many of the wild pigs found in the Southeast have probably descended from pigs escaped from the de Soto expedition.
To compel the Spanish to leave, the Apalachee set fire to Anhaica. The wind spread the fire from building to building. After five months the Spanish ultimately departed Tallahassee, heading north to continue their mission. De Soto's army spent over four years and traveled over 4,000 miles of the Southeast in its quest for gold and new territory to colonize. In the end, no gold was found and de Soto was stricken by illness and died. Very few men survived and made it back to Mexico. Despite the failure of the expedition and the negative effect it had on the Southeastern Native Americans, de Soto's expedition should be acknowledged as the first European effort to explore the interior of North America.
In 1987, B. Calvin Jones, an archaeologist working for the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, conducted major salvage excavations at the site. Over 400 m2 of the site was excavated and 192 cultural features were recorded. These archaeological investigations revealed many insights into the occupation of Anhaica Apalache. Evidence of post holes and associated building material indicated that the Apalachee village was made up of some 250 native dwellings in addition to buildings constructed by the Spanish. Native dwellings were circular or oval shaped with thatched roofs and clay plastered walls, while the Spanish shelters were square or rectangular and incorporated metal fastenings. The site became known as the Martin/de Soto Site, since it was also on the location of a historic home built by Governor John Martin in the 1930's.
Field research at the Martin/de Soto Site has provided archaeologists with an understanding of the sequence of cultural levels and events that occurred there. The shallowest level reflects activities associated with the Governor Martin house dating to the 1930s and the later residents. The next level reveals eighteenth century Creek/Seminole presence. A third level produced seventeenth century Apalachee and Spanish mission related material. And, the deepest cultural level generated artifacts corresponding to a sixteenth century occupation of both Apalachee and Spanish.
Artifacts have provided further information about the Apalachee and the Spanish occupations at the site. Various fragments of Ft. Walton pottery were recovered, a ceramic style made and used by the Apalachee at the time of Spanish contact. Organic remains further document the occupation of the Apalachee and Spanish at Anhaica. Maize or corn, a staple of Native American diet, was recovered from the site. Many small cobs were preserved as a result of burning. The first evidence of domesticated horse and pig, as well as European dog, brought by the Spanish to the New World, were found at the site.
Artifacts associated with the Spanish occupation were identified as well. For example, archaeologists recovered wrought iron nails that were used to build structures and shoe horses. Archaeologists excavated fragments of Spanish glazed and unglazed pottery. These ceramics are datable based on records of when and where each style was made. Likewise, sixteenth century Spanish glass beads were excavated at the Martin/de Soto Site. One was a Nueva Cadiz bead, which dates to the early sixteenth century. A crossbow quarrel (dart tip) was among the principle weapons of the de Soto expedition but was not in general use when the Spanish missions returned to the Apalachee Province in the seventeenth century. Chain mail (seen to left) was worn by many of de Soto's soldiers, though it proved to be ineffective protection against Apalachee arrows. Five sixteenth century copper coins were additionally recovered.
The Martin/de Soto site is a rare look at a native culture prior to exposure to European disease, lifeways, and material culture. Even though the de Soto expedition only spent six months at the site, the effects would ripple through the Southeast for decades to come.
Some of this information was provided courtesy of Louis Tesar largely based on accounts of the Spanish Chroniclers and collaborative work with B. Calvin Jones.