There have been remains of ancient Floridians found in the Charlotte Harbor area dating back 8000 years. After 700 B.C., the ancient Floridians even had created a shellfish farm in Turtle Bay.
Cash Mound in Turtle Bay shows that the area was a major tool manufacturing site. Weather and erosion in recent years destroyed the mound.
The Calusa Indians built several mounds in the Charlotte Harbor area. There was also a complex series of mound cities at Big Mound Key with canals connecting the different villages.
The Charlotte County area has a sad history of wholesale destruction of Calusa sites. Looters destroyed Mound Key by bulldozers in 1980. There are no treasure stashes in these mounds; only bones, shells, and bits of charcoal. What the looters are looking for do not actually exist in the mounds, and what they destroy makes us lose a lot of knowledge about the Calusa. Development has also destroyed mounds in the area.
Unfortunately there are no Calusa sites in this county open to the public that you can visit these days.
Juan Ponce de Leon landed in the area of Charlotte harbor on May 24, 1513. Over the next several years he tried to establish a colony here. But after trading with the Calusa went sour, de Leon received a fatal wound in a battle with the local Indians. After the Spanish defeat, the colony was abandoned.
Miccosukees and Seminoles moved into Charlotte Harbor area and worked with Cuban fisherman by 1813. They became very friendly with the fishermen that they worked with, and sometimes intermarried. These Indians became known as the Spanish Indians. Many Indians and Black Seminoles lived near Negro Point in Sarasota Bay. It is known that the Cuban Fishermen traded with the Seminoles as late as 1834, but after the Second Seminole War started, it is doubtful that this trade continued. The Spanish government was having a lot of trouble holding onto Cuba in the 1830's, and would not have wanted anything to give the United States an excuse for removing one of the last Spanish holdings in the Western Hemisphere.
Fort Casey at Charlotte Harbor was established during the panic of 1850.
Fort Center was a minor Seminole War fort on Fisheating Creek. Even more interesting is the Calusa Indian ruins that the fort was built upon. There are several mounds and the remains of a village here. Everything is out in the swamp, and there is no road access.
At the Fort Center site in ancient times was a charnel platform, or a platform where the dead were carefully wrapped and placed upon. Since it was over a pond, many of the remains eventually fell down into the pond and were preserved in an environment with little oxygen. All around the platform was placed animal effigies of all sorts of animals that are found in Florida: Herons, cats, otters, wolves, eagles, ect. 150 bodies were identified from the former platform.
This site was inhabited from 800-1000 B.C. until the Spanish contact period. There are fragments of copper objects found, probably from trade in South America. Some ceremony objects point to influence from Mexico. Gold and Silver objects found were made out of metal brought in by the Spanish. These were probably made from gold and silver gained from shipwrecks, since the Spanish did not freely give gold and silver to the Calusa.
Billy Bowlegs III (1862-1865), also known by the Seminole name of Cofehapkee, was a long time resident of the county. He was a famous patriarch of the Seminoles, and a great friend to red and white alike.
Ortona Indian Mound Park
The Ortona mounds are remains of ancient mounds, ramps, and circular earthworks. There are many of these sites in the Everglades, especially around Lake Okeechobee. The reason for these man-made earthworks is a mystery. It was first thought that they were raised platforms for agriculture, but they are built on a high sand ridge; high enough that local agriculture doesn't need any mounds.
Ancient Floridians started building in the area as early as 500 B.C. The busiest activity was probably from 200-1000 A.D., and there is even indication that people lived here as late as 1700. Canals built by the ancient Floridians suggest that this was another trade center linked with other ancient sites in the Okeechobee area. The east-west orientations of the mounds suggest that they could have religious or astronomical significance. Whatever the reason, this area will be studied for years to come.
This is a county park that is well maintained by people who are seeking to preserve and restore the site. Not all the original earthworks have survived the mining and building in the area, but with the help of maps dating back to the Second Seminole War, an approximate reconstruction has been determined. An interpretive display tells about the ancient Floridians. Look for it on state road 78 between Moore Haven and LaBelle.
Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation
Located on the northwest side of Lake Okeechobee. The Seminoles who live here are the Muskogee-speaking Seminoles. After the wars ended, these Seminoles could be found living on the north and west side of Lake Okeechobee, and the Kissimmee River all the way up to the present city of Kissimmee. The Muskogee language is considered the official trade and political language of the old Creek Confederacy, and most political and religious terms are from Muskogee. There is not much to see here apart from the homes and farms; no museums. Over the years, a very successful cattle and agricultural industry has been developed here. This is a quiet area and way off the beaten path to the big cities like Tampa, Orlando, and Miami. There have been plans to build a resort, but that it in the future.