There are not many special descriptions of Timucua houses. Ribault says, in speaking of the dwellings of those Indians whom he met at the mouth of the river which he called the Seine and which was probably what is now known as the St. Marys:
Their houses are made of wood, fitly and closely set up, and covered with reeds, the most part after the fashion of a pavilion. But there was one house among the rest very long and wide, with seats around about made of reeds nicely put together, which serve both for beds and seats, two feet high from the ground, set upon round pillars painted red, yellow, and blue, and neatly polished. 1
Le Challeux describes them thus:
Their dwellings are of a round shape and in style almost like the pigeon houses of this country, the foundation and main structure being of great trees, covered over with palmetto leaves, and not fearing either wind or tempest. 2
Says Le Moyne:
The chief’s dwelling stands in the middle of the town, and is partly underground in consequence of the sun’s heat. Around this are the houses of the principal men, all lightly roofed with palm branches, as they are occupied only nine months in the year; the other three, as has been related, being spent in the woods. When they come back they occupy their houses again; and if they find that the enemy has burnt them down, they build others of similar materials. Thus magnificent are the palaces of the Indians. 3
The description of Timucua houses given by Spark contains details not noted by the others:
Their houses are not many together, for in one house an hundred of them do lodge; they being made much like a great barne, and in strength not inferiour to ours, for they haue stanchions and rafters of whole trees, and are covered with palmito-leaues, hauing no place diuided, but one small roome for their king and queene. 4
It is to be noticed that the houses at the mouth of the St. Marys were covered with reeds, while on those which were farther south palmetto was employed. It is probable that the frames and the rest of the construction were practically identical. The greater part of the common houses figured by Le Moyne are circular, but there is another type square or squarish in ground plan and with a pronounced gable, although the gable ends are sloping, not perpendicular. Besides these, two houses are figured square or oblong in outline, with a dome-shaped roof, and the door in one end very similar to some of the houses on the North Carolina coast. 5 The town house, the one described at most length by Ribault, is also figured by Le Moyne in one place. 6 It is represented as a long, quadrilateral building with a regular gable and perpendicular ends. This specimen appears to be thatched with palmetto like the rest. In 1699 Dickenson described the town houses in three mission stations in this region, but these were mainly occupied by Indians from the former province of Guale, and the architecture can not be set down as certainly Timucua, What he has to say regarding them will be found on pages 92-93. Cabeza de Vaca must mean one of the town houses when he speaks of a house “so large that it could hold more than 300 people.” 7
The following description of the village of Ucita on Tampa Bay may be given by way of contrast, showing as it does either a somewhat different method of arrangement on the west coast of Florida or greater variety in method than the French narratives indicate:
The town [of Ucita] was of seven or eight houses, built of timber, and covered with palm leaves. The chief’s house stood near the beach, upon a very high mount, made by hand for defense; at the other end of the town was a temple, on the roof of which perched a wooden fowl with gilded eyes. 8
In the center of the town of Uriutina was “a very large open court,” 9 and in Napetaca a “town yard” is mentioned. 10 It appears that the beds of those Indians were made on a raised platform about the sides of the houses precisely like those of the other southern tribes. The seats illustrated by Le Moyne were probably made in an identical manner and were in fact the same thing. 11 Their openwork construction offered certain advantages, thus explained by a writer quoted by Gaffarel:
They are often bothered by little flies, which they call in their language maringous and it in usually necessary for them to make fires in their houses, absolutely under their beds, in order to be freed from these vermin; and they say that they bite severely, and the part of the skin affected by their bite becomes like that of a leper. 12
Spark seems to have seen a more solidly constructed bed, provided with a wooden pillow:
In the middest of this house is a hearth, where they make great fires all night, and they sleepe vpon certeine pieces of wood hewin in for the bowing of their backs, and another place made high for their heads, which they put one by another all along the walles on both sides. 4
The narrative of De Gourgues records that Saturiwa seated him upon “a seat of wood of lentisque, covered with moss, made of purpose like unto his own,” 13 the rest sitting upon the ground. Perhaps these seats were of the three-legged variety used in the West Indies and throughout the Southern States generally.
They made their fires in the usual Indian fashion, by means of two sticks. 4
Le Moyne figures several different kinds of pots and baskets. Some of the former are of a size and shape suggestive of Creek sofki pots. In one picture a large pot with a round bottom is seen placed over a fire. There are also two or three earthen pots, some with short handles, a few flat dishes or pans, and in one place are two large gourds or earthen jugs which seem to be provided with strap handles and to be closed by means of small earthen jars placed over them, mouth down. 14 Laudonnière saw in the house of one of the chiefs “a great vessel of earth made after a strange fashion, full of fountain water, clear, and very excellent.” 15 A little vessel of wood, “used as a cup, is spoken of in the same connection, 16 and Le Moyne mentions round bottles or wooden vessels in which they carried cassine. 3
Among baskets we find the common southern carrying basket with a strap passing over the forehead of the bearer. Le Moyne figures sieves and fanners. In addition, however, there is a basket with two handles very much like our bushel basket, and several baskets with one handle like European baskets. 17 These last I believe to have been based on the imagination of the illustrator. In 1562 one of the Florida chiefs presented Ribault with “a basket made of palm boughs, after the Indian fashion, and wrought very artificially.” 18 Three years later one of his lieutenants received “little panniers skillfully made of palm leaves, full of gourds, red and blue.” 19 Woven mats are also spoken of. 20 It appears from Pareja that shells were ordinarily used as drinking cups. 21
Regarding skin dressing Le Moyne says:
They know how to prepare deerskin, not with iron instruments, but with shells, in a surprisingly excellent manner; indeed I do not believe that any European could do it as well. 15
Skins, painted and unpainted, were presented to the French; and one of those given to Ribault was “painted and drawn throughout with pictures of divers wild beasts; so lively drawn and portrayed that nothing lacked but life.” 18
Le Moyne mentions “green and blue stones, which some thought to be emeralds and sapphires, in the form of wedges, which they used, instead of axes, for cutting wood.” 15 From this it appears that they probably felled trees, cleared their land, and manufactured canoes in the same manner as the other southern Indians, using stone axes and fire. At any rate they made their canoes out of single trunks of trees. Ribault says that these would hold 15 or 20 men, and he adds that they rowed, or rather paddled, standing up. 22 The canoes illustrated by Le Moyne all have blunt bows, but those at present employed by the Florida Seminole are pointed, and the canoes recovered from time to time from the marshes also have pointed bows. The use of additional pieces for the bow and stem does not seem to have been known. Le Moyne represents their paddles with rather short, wide blades. 17 That they had means of cutting very hard substances is shown by the statement in Elvas that the Indians captured by De Soto’s army would file through the irons at night with a splinter of stone. 23 As elsewhere in the Southeast, cane knives were extensively employed.
The dog was the only domestic animal, and there is no evidence that it was used to assist in transportation; therefore land transportation was all on foot, berdaches being employed to carry very heavy burdens. 24 The chiefs, chiefs’ wives, and other principal persons were, on occasions of state, carried in litters, borne on the shoulders of several men. All early Spanish travelers among the southern Indians speak of these, and Le Moyne illustrates one in which a woman is being borne on the shoulders of four men. 25 She is placed on a raised seat covered with a decorated skin, and protected from the sun by a structure of green boughs. Each of the bearers carries a crotched stick in one hand. The opposite end of each of these was stuck into the ground when they made a halt and the handles of the litter were allowed to rest in the crotches. Before march two men blowing on flutes, and at the sides are two others with large feather fans on the ends of long poles. Some of these features, especially the last, seem suspiciously European, but the use of flutes before such personages is well attested. Feather fans were also employed throughout the southern area; it is rather the type of fan shown here that is doubtful.
Other animals besides the dog were perhaps reared from time to time, as one of Laudonnière’s lieutenants was presented with two young eagles by a chief who had bred them in his house. 26 The statement in De Soto’s letter regarding domestication of turkeys and deer is evidently a mistake. 27 Ribault says that the tools with which they made their “spades and mattocks,” their bows and arrows, and short lances, and with which they “cut and polished all sorts of wood that they employed about their buildings,” were “certain stones, oyster shells, and mussels.” 28
- French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 180.
- Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 461.
- Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 12 (ill.).
- Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 613.
- Le Moyne, Narrative, pls. 30-33.
- Le Moyne, Narrative, pl. 30.
- Bandelier, Jour. Cabeza de Vaca, p. 10.
- Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, I, p. 23.
- Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, p. 72.
- Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, p. 44.
- Le Moyne, Narrative, pls. 29, 38.
- Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, pp. 461-462.
- Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 209.
- Le Moyne, Narrative, pl. 20.
- Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 8.
- Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 74; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, pp. 228-229.
- Le Moyne, Narrative, plates.
- Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 17; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 180.
- Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 75; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 230.
- Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 168; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 315.
- See p. 384.
- French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 178.
- Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, I, p. 46.
- See p. 373.
- Le Moyne, Narrative, pl. 37.
- Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 75; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 230.
- Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, p. 162.
- French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 174.