Timicua Indians Food

The Florida Indians lived partly upon the natural products of the earth, but depended principally upon the chase, fishing, and agriculture, Laudonnière says:

They make the string of their bow of the gut of the stag, or of a stag’s skin, which they know how to dress as well as any man in France, and with as different sorts of colors. They head their arrows with the teeth of fishes, which they work very finely and handsomely. 1

Ribault states that the shafts of their arrows were of reed. 2 Spark is considerably more detailed:

In their warres they vse bowes and arrowes, whereof their bowes are made of a kind of Yew, but blacker than ours, and for the most part passing the strength of the Negros or Indians, for it is not greatly inferior to ours: their arrowes are also of a great length, but yet of reeds like other Indians, but varying in two points, both in length and also for nocks and feathers, which the other lacke, whereby they shoot very stedy: the heads of the same are vipers teeth, bones of fishes, flint stones, piked points of knives, which they hauing gotten of the French men, broke the same, & put the points of them in their arrowes heads: some of them haue their heads of siluer, othersome that haue want of these, put in a kind of hard wood, notched, which pierceth as farre as any of the rest. In their fight, being in the woods, they vse a maruellous pollicie for their owne safegard, which is by clasping a tree in their armes, and yet shooting notwithstanding: this policy they vsed with the French men in their fight, whereby it appeareth that they are people of some policy. 3

Commenting on the weapons of the Timucua farther west, Elvas says:

Their bows are very perfect; the arrows are made of certain canes, like reeds, very heavy, and so stiff that one of them, when sharpened, will pass through a target. Some are pointed with the bone of a fish, sharp, and like a chisel; others with some stone like a point of diamond; of such the greater number, when they strike upon armor, break at the place the parts are put together; those of cane split, and will enter a shirt of mail, doing more injury than when armed. 4

Le Moyne speaks of arrows with gold heads sent in by one of the Frenchmen from the western Timucua, but these were probably copper. 5 Their arrows were not poisoned. 6 Quivers were made of skins, but from Le Challeux it appears that their hair was impressed into service as a natural receptacle for arrows (see p. 347). He adds:

It is wonderful how suddenly they take them in their hands in order to shoot to a distance and as straight as possible. 7

A wrist guard made from bark is described and figured by Le Moyne. 8

Hunting Among the Florida Indians

Deer were stalked, as we know from a picture of Le Moyne’s and the following description accompanying it:

The Indians have a way of hunting deer which we never saw before. They manage to put on the skins of the largest which have been taken, in such a manner, with the heads on their own heads, so that they can see out through the eyes as through a mask. Thus accoutered they can approach close to the deer without frightening them. They take advantage of the time when the animals come to drink at the river, and, having their bow and arrows all ready, easily shoot them, as they are very plentiful in those regions. 9

The only difference to be noticed between the method illustrated here and that known to have been used north and west is the use of the entire deerskin instead of the head only. The spears spoken of and illustrated by Le Moyne were probably used in killing fish; probably fishhooks were also in use. The only method of fishing about which we have direct information, however, was by means of fish traps or weirs. Some are figured by Le Moyne, 10 and Ribault says that they were “built in the water with great reeds, so well and cunningly set together after the fashion of a labyrinth, with many turns and crooks, which it was impossible to construct without much skill and industry.” 11 Among the fish given to the French were “trout, great mullets, plaice, turbots, and marvelous store of other sorts of fishes, altogether different from ours.” 12 Ribault mentions crabs, lobsters [?], and crawfish among the articles of diet. 13 Laudonnière received presents of “fish, deer, turkey cocks, leopards [panthers], and little brown bears.” 14 An early Spanish writer says that the natives of San Pedro (Cumberland Island) “sustained themselves the greater part of the year on shellfish (marisco), acorns, and roots.” 15 Alligators formed quite an item in the Floridian bill of fare, and Le Moyne thus describes how they were hunted:

They put up, near a river, a little hut full of cracks and holes, and in this they station a watchman, so that they can see the crocodiles [or alligators] and hear them a good way off; for, when driven by hunger, they come out of the rivers and crawl about on the islands after prey, and, if they find none, they make such a Rightful noise that it can be heard for half a mile. Then the watchman calls the rest of the watch, who are in readiness; and taking a portion, ten or twelve feet long, of the stem of a tree, they go out to find the monster, who is crawling along with his mouth wide open, all ready to catch one of them if he can; and with the greatest quickness they push the pole, small end first, as deep as possible down his throat, so that the roughness and irregularity of the bark may hold it from being got out again. Then they turn the crocodile over on his back, and with clubs and arrows pound and pierce his belly, which is softer; for his back, especially if he is an old one, is impenetrable, being protected by hard scales. 16

We must, of course, discount the man-eating proclivities attributed to this animal, but the description of the hunt may nevertheless be perfectly correct. We are also indebted to this author for the only extant account of the methods pursued in preserving game and fish:

In order to keep these animals longer they are in the habit of preparing them as follows: They set up in the earth four stout forked stakes; and on these they lay others, so as to form a sort of grating. On this they lay their game, and then build a fire underneath, so as to harden them in the smoke. In this process they use a great deal of care to have the drying perfectly performed, to prevent the meat from spoiling, as the picture shows. I suppose this stock to be laid in for their winter’s supply in the woods, as at that time we could never obtain the least provision from them. 17

The picture to which reference is made shows such a frame surmounted by several fish, a deer, an alligator, a snake, and some quadruped about the size of a fox. This, and a statement by Le Challeux, are the only references to snake eating which the various narratives contain, although the last author speaks of the eating of lizards. 18 It may be suspected that this picture is drawn from the imagination of the illustrator rather than from direct observation, for it is improbable that such animals were dried without being dressed. The description of the general drying process agrees very well, however, with what we know of this process elsewhere in the South.

Farming of the Florida Indians

Le Challeux says that they used fish grease in place of butter “or any other sauce.” 19 The same observer thus speaks of corn: “They do not have wheat, but they have corn in abundance, and it grows to the height of 7 feet; its stem is as big as that of a cane and its grain is as large as a pea, the ear a foot in length; its color is like that of fresh wax.” 19 The following statement by Laudonnière gives the best account of the method of cultivation and along with it an insight into the native economic life:

They sow their maize twice a year – to wit in March and in June – and all in one and the same soil. The said maize, from the time that it is sowed until the time that it be ready to be gathered, is but three months on the ground; the other six months, they let the earth rest. They have also fine pumpkins, and very good beans. They never dung their land, only when they would sow they set weeds on fire, which grow up the six months, and burn them all. They dig their ground with an instrument of wood, which is fashioned like a broad mattock, wherewith they dig their vines in France; they put two grains of maize together. When the land is to be sowed, the king commandeth one of his men to assemble his subjects every day to labor, during which labor the king causeth store of that drink [cassine] to be made for them whereof we have spoken. At the time when the maize is gathered, it is all carried into a common house, where it is distributed to every man, according to his quality. They sow no more but that which they think will serve their turn for six months, and that very scarcely. For, during the winter, they retire themselves for three or four months in the year, into the woods, where they make little cottages of palm boughs for their retreat, and live there of maste, of fish which they take, of disters [oysters], of stags, of turkey cocks, and other beasts which they take. 20

Le Moyne, however, asserts that they planted toward the end of the year, allowing their seed to lie in the ground nearly all winter. –

The Indians cultivate the earth diligently; and the men know how to make a kind of hoe from fish bones, which they fit to wooden handles, and with these they prepare the land well enough, as the soil is light. When the ground is sufficiently broken up and levelled, the women come with beans and millet, or maize. Some go first with a stick, and make holes, in which the others place the beans, or grains of maize. After planting they leave the fields alone, as the winter in that country, situated between the west and the north, is pretty cold for about three months, being from the 24th of December to the 15th of March; and during that time, as they go naked, they shelter themselves in the woods. 21 When the winter is over, they return to their homes to wait for their crops to ripen. After gathering in their harvest, they store the whole of it for the year’s use, not employing any part of it in trade, unless, perhaps some barter is made for some little household article. 22

As with the more northern tribes, small outhouses were built near the fields and watchers posted in each to drive away crows. 23 Ribault mentions among the things planted by the Floridians “beans, gourds, citrons, cucumbers, peas, and many other fruits and roots unknown to us.” 2 For “citrons” and “cucumbers” we should probably understand pumpkins and squashes. Later Spanish writers tell us, however, that the Indians of the Fresh Water district lived only on fish and roots. 15 The same was true of all the Indians on the coast to the southward. 24 In later times a change may have taken place for Dickenson encountered cultivated fields north of Cape Canaveral in which pumpkins were growing. 25 Their food was broiled on the coals, roasted, or boiled. There is every reason to believe that corn was cooked in all the numerous ways known to other southern Indians. Le Moyne enumerates “grains of maize roasted, or ground into flour, or whole ears of if among the things which the natives brought to Laudonnière’s people, 18 and at one time they were presented with “little cakes.” 26 Laudonnière mentions among the articles of food carried along by the Indians when they were away from home “victuals . . . of bread, of honey, and of meal, made of maize, parched in the fire, which they keep without being marred a long while. They carry also sometimes fish, which they cause to be dressed in the smoke.” 27 Le Challeux says:

The method of using it [corn] is first to rub it and resolve it into flour; afterward they dissolve it [in water] and make of it their porridge [migan], which resembles the rice used in this country; it must be eaten as soon as it is made, because it spoils quickly and can not be kept at all. 19

Spark gives the following naive account of the use of tobacco:

The Floridians when they trauell, haue a kinde of herbe dried, who with a cane and an earthen cup in the end, with fire, and the dried herbs put together doe sucke thorow the cane the smoke thereof, which smoke satisfieth their hunger, and therewith they liue foure or fiue dayes without meat or drinke, and this all the Frenchmen vsed for this purpose; yet do they hold opinion withall, that it causeth water & fleame to void from their stomacks. 28

While we do not find it stated specifically that the Timucua cultivated tobacco, the fact may probably be assumed. The granary or storehouse has been mentioned, but the various accounts leave us in the dark as to whether all of these granaries were public or whether there were private granaries also. The reference in Le Moyne’s account of the disposition of the corn crop would lead one to suppose that he is speaking of family granaries, 29 and the same seems to be in some measure implied in the section in which he tells of the way in which native wild fruits were stored. He says:

There are in that region a great many islands, producing abundance of various kinds of fruits, which they gather twice a year, and carry home in canoes, and store up in roomy low granaries built of stones and earth, and roofed thickly with palm-branches and a kind of soft earth fit for the purpose. These granaries are usually erected near some mountain, or on the bank of some river, so as to be out of the sun’s rays, in order that the contents may keep better. Here they also store up any other provisions which they may wish to preserve, and the remainder of their stores; and they go and get them as need may require, without any apprehensions of being defrauded. Indeed it is to be wished that, among the Christians, avarice prevailed no more than among them, and tormented no more the minds of men. 30

This use of “stones and earth” for granaries is confined, so far as we now know, to Florida; elsewhere they were of poles. The mutual regard which they observed with reference to their stores did not prevent them from pilfering small articles from the French colonists. An anonymous writer says:

They are, however, the greatest thieves in the world, for they take as well with the foot as with the hand. 31

But he exonerates the women from this charge. Le Challeux, however, confirms the main accusation: They steal without conscience and claim all that they can carry away secretly. 32 In the following section, where Le Moyne speaks of the storage of animal food, he is certainly referring to a public storehouse:

At a set time every year they gather in all sorts of wild animals, fish, and even crocodiles; these are then put in baskets, and loaded upon a sufficient number of the curly-haired hermaphrodites above mentioned, who carry them on their shoulders to the storehouse. This supply, however, they do not resort to unless in case of the last necessity. In such event, in order to preclude any dissension, full notice is given to all interested; for they live in the utmost harmony among themselves. The chief, however, is at liberty to take whatever of this supply he may choose. 33

It does not seem very likely that all of the animal food was put into public storehouses and all of the corn and wild fruits into private ones. Evidently both kinds of granary were in existence, but our authorities are not clear regarding the relative functions of the two. The number of natural products drawn upon in addition to the cultivated plants and animal foods must have been very large, but we have only the reference just given, and one or two others. Ribault makes a statement to the effect that the natives gave them “mulberries, raspberries, and other fruits they found in their way,” 34 and there is a reference to the use of chinquapins in one of the De Soto narratives. 35 Laudonnifere speaks of “mulberries, both red and white,” also of grapes. 36 The last are also mentioned by Le Challeux 19 and Spark. 3 From Utina the French received upon one occasion two baskets of “pinocks, which are a kind of little green fruit, which grow among the weeds, in the river, and are as big as cherries.” 37 It is evident from the context that the berries to which Ribault refers were plucked and eaten fresh. Among the roots mentioned the kunti of the Florida Seminole is perhaps to be included, though the latitude is rather high for it, or they might have had the original kunti of the Creeks, the China brier. Acorns are referred to by one writer, 38 and Spark states that the French resorted to them in their extremity, washing them several times in order to remove the bitter taste, 39 from which it may be assumed that they prepared them in the same manner as the Indians to the north. A marginal extension of the native dietary is indicated by Laudonnière and Pareja. The former says:

In necessity they eat a thousand rifraffs, even to the swallowing down of coal, and putting sand into the pottage that they make with the meal. 40

And from Pareja’s catechism it appears that on occasion they ate coal, dirt, broken pottery, fleas, and lice, though some of those may have been taken rather as remedies than as food. 41 Citations:

  1. Laudonnière, op. cit., p. 7; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1860, pp. 170-171.[]
  2. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 174.[][]
  3. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 613.[][]
  4. Bourne, Narr. of Do Soto, I, p. 26.[]
  5. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 8.[]
  6. Bourne, Narr. of Do Soto, II, p. 69.[]
  7. Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 461.[]
  8. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 10 (ill.), pl. 14[]
  9. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 10 (ill.).[]
  10. Le Moyne, Narrative, pl. 8.[]
  11. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1876, p. 172.[]
  12. Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 18; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 180.[]
  13. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 178. Perhaps the “lobster” was the “langosta” mentioned by Fontaneda, p. 387.[]
  14. Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 130; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 279.[]
  15. Lowery, MSS.[][]
  16. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 10 (ill.) and pl. 26.[]
  17. Ibid., pp. 9-10 (Ill.).[]
  18. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 2.[][]
  19. Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 462.[][][][]
  20. Laudonnière, La Floride, pp. 11-12; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 174.[]
  21. In small huts; Laudonnière, La Floride, pp. 12, 144; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, pp. 174, 294.[]
  22. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 9 (Ill.).[]
  23. Laudonnière, in French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 227.[]
  24. Brooks, MSS.[]
  25. Dickenson, Narrative, p. 60.[]
  26. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 177.[]
  27. Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 9; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 172. The mention of honey is curious and seems to be unique so far as Florida is concerned. But see p. 202.[]
  28. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 615; see also p. 386.[]
  29. See p. 360.[]
  30. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 9 (ill.).[]
  31. Gaffarel, op. cit., p. 405.[]
  32. Ibid., p. 461.[]
  33. Le Moyne, Narative, p. 9 (ill.).[]
  34. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 173.[]
  35. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, pp. 70-71.[]
  36. French, op. cit., 1869, pp. 181, 182, 257.[]
  37. Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 149; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 298.[]
  38. See p. 358; also cf . pp. 359 and 383.[]
  39. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 614.[]
  40. Laudonnière, La Floride, p. 9; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 172.[]
  41. Proc. Am. Philos. Soc., XVI, p. 683.[]


Swanton, John Reed. Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors. US Government Printing Office. 1902.

1 thought on “Timicua Indians Food”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top