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The Apalachee

People have been living throughout what we know of as the North and South American continents for thousands of years, dating back to the Paleoindians in approximately 10,000 BCE. Environmental changes with the end of the last Ice Age brought on the next era, known as the Archaic period circa 5,000 BCE. The landmass and environment that we are familiar with came about circa 3,000 BCE when water levels reached those of today.

As these groups of people responded to the changes to their environment around them, they moved from mobile hunter-gatherers to permanent communities with large-scale farms. As Europe saw Charlemagne crowned as king of the Holy Roman Empire, peoples on this side of the Atlantic formed what we call the Mississippian Culture. This civilization was connected by the Mississippi River Valley. While containing a large variety of cultures and languages, these different peoples shared common traits. They constructed large mounds to build their important buildings atop, relied upon maize as their main food supply, and shared a common pottery making technique. As these peoples had no written language, much of their history is unknown, including what they called themselves.

The indigenous peoples of Florida were connected to this wider world. They traded ocean shells for copper, red ochre, and other materials found only in the north. Sites such as the Lake Jackson Mounds and Letchworth come from this era. With the collapse of the Mississippian Culture around the late 16th century, it is these people who came to form the Apalachee, Timucua, and other indigenous tribes whose names we know.

The Apalachee lived in a gendered matriarchal society, with certain tasks expected of its people. Men would hunt, fight, and construct buildings. Women oversaw childrearing, farming, and food preparation. Since the Apalachee were polyamorous, chiefdom passed through the mother’s family. These large family units, known as clans, took the names of local animals and natural forces – such as the Panther or Wind clan. A similar practice is seen in other groups of the time and still today.

The Apalachee organized their government through a hierarchy of chiefs. The principal chief, the holata, held the most authority. An Apalachee word, it was used by the Apalachee to also describe the Spanish King. Beneath the holata, each village had their own chief known as a cacique, a term used by the Spanish. These chiefs served as the head of government as well as religious figureheads.

Apalachee Territory has been defined as being the area between the Ochlockonee and Aucilla Rivers. At its height the total population was estimated around 8,000, with 1,400 of those living in and around San Luis. Their predominant neighbors were the Chacato and Chine to the west, the Apalachicola to the north, and the Timucua the east.