The Calusa were native Florida Indians who dominated south Florida from their homeland on the southwest Gulf coast. They were formidable warriors, accomplished artists, and expert boaters. The Calusa did not farm, but instead prospered by fishing in the rich estuaries using nets, traps, and weirs, and by gathering shellfish and wild plant foods. They resisted Spanish domination for over two hundred years.
In the early 1700s other Indians from Georgia and Alabama raided into the Florida peninsula, forcing the Calusa from their traditional lands. Creek Indians, loosely allied with the British, and Yamassee Indians bent on enslaving south Florida Indians for sale in the Carolinas, gradually overran south Florida. By 1750, the Calusa had succumbed to diseases, slavery, and warfare.
By that same time Seminole and Miccosukee peoples, Creek-related groups from the north, began to live year-round in northern Florida. In 1823 the treaty of Moultrie Creek gave them perpetual rights to a reservation that extended from Fort King near Ocala south to Lake Okeechobee. But in the 1830s the United States sought to force removal of the Florida Indians to west of the Mississippi River. Resistance to removal led to conflict and the 1836-1842 Second Seminole War. Many of the native peoples were ultimately removed to Oklahoma, but several hundred people resisted and retreated into the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp.
In 1855 a band of surveyors operating deep in Big Cypress Swamp intentionally destroyed agricultural fields belonging to Chief Billy Bowlegs, ridiculing his protestations. Conflict again arose, and the Third Seminole War, 1855-1858, followed. Despite a massive effort by the U.S. Army, the Seminole successfully resisted. Just over 120 Seminoles agreed to move to Oklahoma, but many more remained in Florida where their descendants continue to live today.