4) European Influence on Leadership and Family Units

Another aspect to take into account is how the Calusa and Iroquois leaders reacted to the “invasion” of the Europeans. Was one tribe more accepting of the European ways than another? Or were both tribes equally repulsed by the ways of these European intruders? These are the questions that will be considered throughout this portion of the research.

It is suggested that the Calusa were aware of Europeans long before their arrival because the Calusa had allowed refugees from Cuba to take up residence in South Florida (pg. 115). It is believed that they the Calusa were not willing to open communication lines with Juan Ponce de Leon upon his arrival in spring of 1513 (MacMahon, pg. 115). According to an account of Darcie MacMahon, the Calusa approached the ships of Ponce de Leon supposedly willing to trade, they had even brought a translator to help with communication. This appearance of hospitality quickly turned to a skirmish that lasted ‘till dusk and was, in fact, initiated by the Calusa Indians (pg. 115). The Spaniards soon left, however in the years to come there would be other Spaniards that would encounter similar experiences (MacMahon, pg. 116).

Throughout the years the Calusa had somewhat frequent contact with the Spaniards due to ship wrecks. They would gather, “goods and captives” who would live among the Calusa for many years (MacMahon, pg. 17). Despite attempts by Spanish missionaries to settle and convert the Calusa, they remained greatly feared, and largely still in control up until the 1680s (MacMahon, pg. 117). Once the wars between the European powers were in full-swing, things began to look grim for the Calusa. There was an influx of Indians who were pushed out of their lands swarming to the “abandoned lands” (MacMahon, pg. 118). The Indians who were allied with the Europeans—such as the Creek with the English—began to press further south and capture Southern Indians to trade as slaves with their English counterparts (MacMahon, pg. 118). This is where the Calusa finally met their demise. Because they had been able to have such little real contact with the Europeans, they were no match for the advanced weaponry they were faced with, nor were they prepared to deal with the diseases that would soon overpower them (MacMahon, pg. 120). Many of the Calusa would die due to disease and warfare, those that didn’t were either captured as slaves and sold or were able to flee to Cuba with their cacique (MacMahon, pg. 120).

The Iroquois, likewise, faced detrimental effects with the coming of the Europeans. However their demise came about quite differently than that of the Calusa Indians. The Iroquois Nation was made up of five tribes (a sixth was added later).  Because the Iroquois Nation was one with many differing tribes it would be easy to assume that with the onset of Europeans their alliances with each other would be easily broken. However this is not the case. In fact, they remained in a tight alliance well into the 1700s (Crawford, pg. 348).

The Iroquois first had contact with the Europeans through the Mohawks encounter with Jacques Cartier in 1534-35 on what would later become known as the St. Lawrence River (Crawford, pg. 354). The presence of Europeans ushered in new reasons for war among the Iroquois Indians (Crawford, pg. 362). Disease and epidemics began to ripple through villages significantly depopulating their people (Crawford, pg. 351). The leaders would often resort to war in order to increase their numbers through the adoption of captives (Crawford, pg. 363). This was one way in which the Iroquois Nation was able to remain resilient to the advances of the Europeans; however it would not last forever. According to the accounts retrieved by Eid, the demise of the Iroquois ultimately ends with their final war against Ojibwa Indians during the seventeenth century due to a history of disputes between the tribes (pg. 299).

Once again we see major differences between the Calusa and Iroquois Indians. The Calusa remained strong under the leadership of their cacique as he determined not to have much to do with the Europeans. However once war among European powers broke out they no longer could remain distant from the Europeans. Some were swiftly outdone due to disease, warfare, or being captured for slave trades. Those that avoided these deaths fled to Cuba with their cacique. There they either met their death (due to disease), or were the fortunate enough to survive and live among the Cubans. On the other hand the Iroquois sachems were willing to keep open communication lines with European powers. Their main skirmishes were among fellow Indian tribes. This is what led to their eventual demise. While they were able to wage war and adopt captives into their tribe for a while, their way of life eventually came to an end in the war they could not win against the Ojibwa Indians. While the way in which the Calusa cacique and Iroquois sachems lead their people were different, in the end both groups saw the end of their reign due to disease and at the hands of enemy Indian tribes.


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