The Calusa was a tribe of North American Indians which is now extinct. The Calusas were relatively unknown to historians for a period until 1895 when Capt. W.D. Collier of Marco found some wooden objects while digging to plant fruit trees. The wooden objects were found to be of an early American Indian origin, and the settlements and other artifacts in that area were soon unearthed. They lived on the southwest coast of Florida from Tampa Bay to Cape Florida, along with the nearby keys. (Some historians say that their territory may have extended inland as far as Lake Okeechobee.) The name of the Calusa tribe stemmed from the title they were given for their war tactics. They were called "Calos" which means "Fierce People”. They descended from the Paleo-Indians who inhabited that area in about 10,000 B.C. In the mid 1600s they had approximately 3,000 tribe members living in anywhere from 30-50 settlements.
Their homes consisted of wood and thatch and were built on piles of shells. Remnants of their settlements are still able to be seen today on a few small islands off the coast of Southwest Florida. Their largest village was Mound Key, which is located near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. The Calusa had a lack of domestic animals and major tools, but they still managed to build huge shell mounds and moats to protect their settlements of raised huts. Settlements were often surrounded by mounds for burials and temples.
They were also able to survive without the benefit of agriculture. They were hunters and gatherers which harvested their food from the rivers, lakes, and ocean nearby. The settlements were run by a hereditary chief or priest and they had sacrificial worship and a strict demand for the obedience of all villagers. They were also fierce fighters and there is evidence that (in the early period, at least) that they would sacrifice captives and commit cannibalism. They would take heads as trophies, often using bow and arrows, clubs, and spear throwers against the enemy. The Spaniards who tried to conquer the area would call them the "Horse Gods" in battle. They managed to hold of the Spanish from planting settlements for nearly two centuries.
The tribe also migrated to the Caribbean and Cuba to trade fish, amber, and animal skins. It is most likely that the tribe died out because of the new diseases brought by European settlers in the area. The tribe would have had no natural immunity to the diseases and probably died out as a result. Another theory of their disappearance is that they ended up in Cuba during the 18th century to escape from invasions by the Creek Indians and British. The Seminole Indians who moved to Florida in the 1800s said that the Calusa probably moved to Oklahoma when many Indian tribes fled west.