Timucua Indians Clothing

Ribault describes the Timucua as “of good stature, well shaped of body as any people in the world; very gentle, courteous, and good-natured, of tawny color, hawked nose, and of pleasant countenance.” 1 They were good swimmers and could climb trees with agility. The only invariable article of apparel worn by males was the breechclout, which we are informed consisted of a painted deerskin. Le Moyne represents this as if it were in one piece, passed about the privates, and carried round and tied at the back. If his representation might be relied upon the Florida Indians would be set off in this particular from all Indian tribes known to us, but there is every reason to believe he is wrong. As worn elsewhere, the breechclout consisted of a belt about the waist and a skin or piece of cloth passed between the legs and between the belt and the body, the ends being allowed to fall down in front and behind. That the natives did have belts is proved by Ribault’s narrative, for he says that when he was at the mouth of the St. Johns River a chief sent him a girdle of red leather in token of friendship. 1 The warm climate of Florida rendered additional garments less necessary than with other southern tribes, but it is quite certain that they were worn. So far as men are concerned, the only direct evidence of this which we have, however, is contained in one of Le Moyne’s drawings in which the chief Saturiwa is represented wearing a long garment, 2 and in a statement by Spark, who says:

In their apparell the men only vse deer skinnes, wherewith some onely couer their priuy members, other some vse the same as garments to couer them before and behind; which skins are painted, some yellow and red, some blacke and russet, and euery man according to his owne fancy. 3

He adds that the color with which these skins were adorned “neither fadeth away nor altereth color” when washed. 4 The one figured by Le Moyne is apparently a painted deerskin, but it appears to be intended rather to add to the gorgeous appearance of the chief who wears it than to protect him from the cold. Women wore a kind of short skirt made of Spanish moss. 5 If La Moyne may be trusted, instead of being fastened around the waist, this was sometimes carried up over one shoulder. 6 An anonymous writer who accompanied Laudonnière says:

The women have around them a certain very long white moss, covering their breasts and their private parts. 7

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Sometimes this was of skin, for Le Challeux remarks:

The woman girds herself with a little covering of the skin of a deer or other animal, the knot saddling the left side above the thigh, in order to cover the most private parts. 8

And Hawkins’s chronicler confirms this:

The women also for their apparell vse painted skinnes, but most of them gownes of mosse, somewhat longer than our mosse, which they sowe together artificially, and make the same surplesse wise. 3

Dickenson testifies to the same effect:

The women natives of these towns clothe themselves with the moss of trees, making gowns and petticoats thereof, which at a distance, or in the night, looks very neat. 9

Most of the people of whom he speaks were, however, refugees from Guale. In his narrative Le Moyne also mentions “many pieces of a stuff made of feathers, and most skilfully ornamented with rushes of different colors,” sent in from the western Timucua by a French officer. They may have been those feather cloaks so common throughout the south. The women wore their hair long, but certainly not in the disheveled fashion represented by Le Moyne. 10 From a remark of Ribault it is evident that the men were in the habit of pulling out the hair on all parts of their bodies except the head. 11 They do not seem to have roached their heads like the Creeks. Ribault says, in describing those Indians whom he saw, “Their hair was long and trussed up, with a lace made of herbs, to the top of their heads,” and this remark is confirmed by Laudonnière and in the pictures of Le Moyne. 12 In another place, where he describes the leading men who accompanied Saturiwa, Ribault states that their hair was “trussed up, gathered and worked together with great cunning, and fastened after the form of a diadem.” 13 Le Challeux says:

They keep their hair long, and they truss it up neatly all around their heads, and this truss of hair serves them as a quiver in which to carry their arrows when they are at war. 8

He also says, regarding feathers:

They esteem nothing richer or more beautiful than bird feathers of different colors. 14

These are represented by Le Moyne on several of his subjects, used in a great variety of ways. One has a single sheaf of feathers coming straight out from the knot of hair at the back of his head. Another has a number of long, curving feathers in the same place, suggesting a fountain. Another has a kind of feather tassel tied to the topknot by a cord or small withe. Many have feathers around the edges of the hair lower down, either alone or in addition to some of the central clumps of feathers just mentioned. Saturiwa and some of his leading men are represented on various occasions with small tufts of feathers of exceptional height over the middle of the forehead in front, with the tail of an animal hanging from the topknot, or again with what appears to be a metallic diadem encircling the forehead. As is well known, circlets of this last kind made of silver were in common use among our southern Indians. There must also be mentioned skins of animals with the head on, one of which appears with a kind of tassel hanging out of the mouth. The persons who wear these are evidently doctors or other principal functionaries. 15 Laudonnière says that feathers were worn particularly when they went to war. 16 Perhaps the most interesting headdress is what appears to be a basket hat. 17 We should have to go as far as the great plateaus to find anything comparable. Pareja, however, speaks of a palm-leaf hat worn by the women, 18 and this is what Le Moyne may have intended.

Turning to ornaments, we find it worthy of note that there is no evidence that these people pierced the nose or the ears except in one place, the soft lobe, where nearly all of Le Moyne’s figures, both male and female, are represented with a kind of dumb-bell shaped ornament. 19 Le Moyne says of this:

All the men and women have the ends of their ears pierced, and pass through them small oblong fish-bladders, which when inflated shine like pearls, and which, being dyed red, look like a light-colored carbuncle. 20

In two cases men are represented with staple-shaped earrings, in one with a ring, and in another with the claws of some bird thrust through this member. The person wearing these last was probably a doctor. Says Le Challeux:

They prize highly little beads, which they make of the bones of fishes and other animals and of green and red stones. 21

Ornaments were also worn about the neck, wrists, and ankles, just above the elbows and biceps, just below the knees, and hanging from the breechclout. One woman is represented with a double row of pearls or beads about her waist. 22 Ribault says that the French obtained from the Indians of Florida, gold, silver, copper, lead, turquoises, “and a great abundance of pearls, which they told us they took out of oysters along the riverside; and as fair pearls as are found in any country of the world.” 23 By oysters I suppose we are to understand fresh-water mussels. At least the greater part of the pearls among the southern Indians were extracted from these. Says Spark:

The Frenchmen obteined pearles of them of great bignesse, but they were blacke, be meanes of rosting of them, for they do not fish for them as the Spanyards doe, but for their meat. 24

Shells, and beads worked out of shells, were also employed, and Le Moyne mentions “bracelets of fishes’ teeth.” 25 The gold and silver, as Laudonnière expressly states – and in this he is confirmed by Fontaneda – were obtained from wrecked Spanish vessels bound from Mexico and other parts of the “Indies” to Spain; 26 and the quantity among them speaks volumes for the number of disasters of this kind which must have taken place.

Hawkins’s chronicler describes the gold and silver found in Florida at considerable length, but to much the same purport:

Golde and siluer they want, not: for at the Frenchmens first comming thither they had the same offered them for little or nothing, for they receiued for a hatchet two pound weight of golde, because they knew not the estimation thereof: but the souldiers being greedy of the same, did take it from them, giuing them nothing for it: the which they perceiuing, that both the Frenchmen did greatly esteeme it, and also did rigorously deale with them, by taking the same away from them, at last would not be knowen they had any more, neither durst they weare the same for feare of being taken away: so that sauing at their first comming, they could get none of them: and how they came of this gold and siluer the Frenchmen know not as yet, but by gesse, who hauing trauelled to the Southwest of the cape, hauing found the same dangerous, by means of sundry banks, as we also haue found the same: and there finding masts which were wracks of Spanyards comming from Mexico, iudged that they had gotten treasure by them. For it is most true that diuers wracks haue boone made of Spanyards, hauing much treasure: for the Frenchmen hauing trauelled to the capeward an hundred and fiftie miles, did finde two Spanyards with the Floridians, which they brought afterward to their fort, whereof one was in a carauel comming from the Indies, which was cast away fourteene yeeres ago, the other twelue yeeres; of whose fellowes some eecaped, othersome were slain by the inhabitants. It seemeth thay had estimation of their golde & siluer, for it is wrought flat and grauen, which they weare about their neckes; othersome made round like a pancake, with a hole in the midst, to boulster vp their breasts withall, because they thinke it a deformity to haue great breasts. As for mines either of gold or siluer, the Frenchmen can heare of none they haue vpon the Island, but of copper, whereof as yet also they haue not made the proofe, because they were but few men: but it is not unlike, but that in the maine where are high hilles, may be golde and siluer as well as in Mexico, because it is all one maine. 27

To the same origin must be attributed the “gold alloyed with brass, and silver not thoroughly smelted” which one of Laudonnière’s lieutenants sent him from the western Timucua districts. 28 The articles made of these, however, were without doubt worked over into objects such as had been manufactured out of copper already in pre-Columbian times. I have made mention of the metal diadems. La Moyne figures round and oval metal plates strung together into bands below the knee and above the biceps. Numbers of them also appear fastened to the breechclouts by separate cords in the manner of a fringe, and larger circular pieces are hung about the necks of several of the principal men. 15 We are told that the plates fastened to the breechclouts were placed there so as to produce a tinkling sound when the wearer moved, and they were particularly used in dances. 20 How they were made fast to the strings is not evident, but the large neck pieces were secured to a cord about the neck of the wearer by means of a hole in the center of the plate, through which the cord was passed and knotted on the outside so that the knot would not pull through. 15 The later southern Indian method of fastening silver ornaments to clothing was similar. All of the gorgets which Le Moyne depicts are circular, while the other plates are oval. 15 In his text he enumerates among the things sent by La Roche Ferriere from the western Timucua country “circular plates of gold and silver as large as a moderate-sized platter, such as they are accustomed to wear to protect the back and breast in war.” 28 This passage suggests another use for these plates; and no doubt they actually did furnish a certain amount of protection to the wearer; but if they were consciously worn with this object in view the idea must have been secondary, for most of the warriors are represented without them, and the largest that Le Moyne figures furnish but very partial protection. Ribault mentions one Indian who had hanging about his neck “a round plate of red copper, well polished, with a small one of silver hung in the middle of it; and on his ears a small plate of copper, with which they wipe the sweat from their bodies.” 13 This last was rather utilitarian than ornamental, but seems to have served both purposes. It is the only mention of a sweat scraper in America that has come to my attention. Another man had “a pearl hanging to a collar of gold about his neck, as great as an acorn.” 23 If we could trust the expression used here we would have to suppose another kind of neck ornament which fitted closer than the ornaments already described, but this is the only Florida reference upon which such a conclusion can be based, and nothing of the kind is figured by Le Moyne. Nevertheless Le Moyne speaks of “girdles of silver-colored balls, some round and some oblong.” 29 If the translation is correct we seem to have an ornament somewhat more difficult to manufacture than the plates elsewhere described, but here again there is no certain evidence with which to back up the inference. Silver chains mentioned as worn by the chiefs 30 were probably of Spanish origin. The beads and pearls were arranged in separate strings or mixed together in all the places in which metal plates could be worn, except as tinklers on the breechclout. Spark says:

The Floridians haue pieces of vnicomes hornes which they weare about their necks, whereof the Frenchmen obteined many pieces. 24

The absolute silence of French writers on this subject is ground for suspicion that Spark misunderstood the origin of the shell gorgets, though it is quite possible that bison horns or portions of them were worn in this manner.

In one picture Le Moyne represents feather fans on the ends of poles borne by two companions of the chief and again by companions of a woman being brought to the chief as his wife. 31 A Florida chief presented Ribault with a “plume, a fan of hamshau (heron) feathers, dyed red.” 32

Like their neighbors to the north, the Timucua resorted to tattooing very extensively. Ribault says:

The forepart of their bodies and arms they also paint with pretty devices in azure, red, and black, so well and properly, that the best painters of Europe could not improve upon it. 33

This is not given as tattooing, but Laudonnière is evidently speaking of the same designs when he remarks:

The most part of them have their bodies, arms, and thighs painted with very fair devices, the painting whereof can never be taken away, because the same is pricked into their flesh. 34

Says Le Moyne:

The reader should be informed that all these chiefe and their wives ornament their skin with punctures arranged so as to make certain designs, as the following pictures show. Doing this sometimes makes them sick for seven or eight days. They rub the punctured places with a certain herb, which leaves an indelible color. 35

Le Challeux also says that “for ornament they have their skin checkered (marqueté) in a strange fashion,” 36 and John Spark, chronicler of Hawkins’s second voyage, adds the following testimony:

They do not omit to paint their bodies also with curious knots, or antike worke, as every man in his own fancy deuiseth, which painting, to make it continue the better, they se with a thorne to pricke their flesh, and dent in the same, whereby the painting may have better hold. 3

They supplemented this with temporary face paintings, particularly upon state occasions or when they went to war.

In their warres [says the writer last quoted] they vse a sleighter colour of painting their faces, thereby to make themselves shew the more fierce; which after their warres ended, they wash away againe. 3

Farther on he states that the colors employed were “red, blacke, yellow, and russet, very perfect.” 4 When Ribault and his companions crossed the St. Johns after having met the Indians on one side, he says that he found them “waiting for us quietly, and in good order, with new paintings upon their faces, and feathers upon their heads.” 37 And Laudonnière states that when they went to war they painted their faces much, “and stick their hair full of feathers, or down, that they may seem more terrible.” 38 Le Moyne notes that they were “in the habit of painting the skin around their mouths of a blue color.” 39 Like the Creeks, their neighbors, they kept their bodies covered with bear grease, for some ceremonial reason, Laudonnière declares, and also to protect them from the sun’s heat. 40

The chiefs Onatheaqua and Houstaqua living near the Apalachee painted their faces black, while the other Timucua chiefs painted theirs red. 41 The Indians first seen by De Soto and his men at Tampa Bay were painted red. 42

Another peculiar custom is thus described by Le Moyne:

They let their nails grow long both on fingers and toes, cutting (or scraping) the former away, however, at the sides (with a certain shell), so as to leave them very sharp, the men especially; and when they take one of the enemy they sink their nails deep in his forehead, and tear down the skin, so as to wound and blind him. 39


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

  1. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 170.[][]
  2. Le Moyne, Narrative, pl. 39.[]
  3. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 613.[][][][]
  4. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 615.[][]
  5. Le Moyne, Narrative, plates and p. 14; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p.172.[]
  6. Le Moyne, Narrative, plates and p. 14.[]
  7. Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 405.[]
  8. Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 461.[][]
  9. Dickenson, Narrative, p. 93.[]
  10. Cf. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 613. “Wearing theire haire downe to their shoulders, like the [Eas.] Indians.”[]
  11. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 172.[]
  12. La Moyne, Narrative, plates and p. 14; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 173.[]
  13. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 178.[][]
  14. Gaffarel, Hist. Floride française, p. 462.[]
  15. Le Moyne, Narrative, plates.[][][][]
  16. Laudonnière, Hist. Nat. de la Floride, p. 9; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 172.[]
  17. Le Moyne, Narrative, pl. 11.[]
  18. See p. 387.[]
  19. Le Moyne, Narrative, ills.[]
  20. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 14.[][]
  21. Gafferel, Hist. Floride française, p. 462.[]
  22. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 37.[]
  23. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 177.[][]
  24. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, p. 616.[][]
  25. Le Moyne, Nsrrntlve, p. 2.[]
  26. Laudonnière, Hist. Not. de la Floride,p. 6; French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 170; Mem. Fontaneda, ed. Smith, pp. 21-24.[]
  27. Hakluyt, Voyages, III, pp. 615-616.[]
  28. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 8.[][]
  29. Le Moyne, Narrative, pp. 2, 14 (Ill.).[]
  30. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 350.[]
  31. Le Moyne, Narrative, pls. 37, 39.[]
  32. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 180.[]
  33. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1875, p. 171.[]
  34. Laudonnière, Hist. Not. de la Floride, p. 6.[]
  35. Le Moyne, Narrative, p. 15 (ill.).[]
  36. Gaflarel, Hist. Floride Française, p. 461.[]
  37. French, Hist. Colls. La., 1869, p. 178.[]
  38. Laudonnière, Hist. Not. de la Floride, p. 9.[]
  39. Le Moyne, Narrative, pp. 8, 15.[][]
  40. Laudonnière, Hist. Not. de la Floride, p. 12.[]
  41. Laudonnière, Hist. Not. de la Floride, p. 91.[]
  42. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, p. 56.[]

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