Image: Artwork by Merald Clark, Courtesy Florida Museum of Natural History around 10m and 6m above sea level. The imposing chief’s house on the summit of what archaeologists call Mound 1 dominated the Key when Menéndez arrived. This large structure, rebuilt and reused over five centuries, eventually became the centre of a major chiefly dynasty, headed by a chief named Caalus, who presided over the powerful Calusa kingdom about five centuries old. Games of thrones The first contacts between Caalus and Menéndez were inconclusive. Caalus, aged about 25, appeared with 300 archers, apparently planning to rout the visitors. The back-and-forth ended with the governor visiting Mound Key to dine with the chief. He brought 200 men armed with long guns, also gifts, and a small musical band. Its instruments included a vihuela de mano — perhaps the earliest mention of a guitar during the 16th century. There was an expert singer and dancer, who was 'a very small dwarf.' Menéndez entered the great hall with about 20 men, where he was seated with Caalus on a raised platform surrounded by about 1,000 men and women. There was singing and dancing, apparently a ceremony of allegiance. He soon discovered that Caalus was giving him his sister as his wife. To refuse her would have been disastrous, so he reluctantly arranged for her to be baptised and married her. There were political considerations.
“To refuse her would have been disastrous, so he reluctantly arranged for her to be baptised and married her.”
Artist’s reconstruction of the chiefly house, which dominated Mound Key when Menéndez arrived.
The Past | April/May 2021