ManatakaAmerican Indian Council











Timucua Indians of the Southeast


Pre-contact distribution of TimucuaThe Timucua were an American Indian people who lived in Northeast and North Central Florida and southeast Georgia.


The various groups of Timucua spoke dialects of the Timucua language. At the time of European first contact, the territory occupied by speakers of Timucuan dialects stretched from the Altamaha River and Cumberland Island in present-day Georgia as far south as Orlando in the interior of Florida, and from the Atlantic coast to the Aucilla River, yet never reaching the Gulf of Mexico.


"Timucua" (from "Thimogna") was originally the term used by the Saturiwa (of the area near present-day Jacksonville) to refer to the related people living north of the Santa Fe River between the St. Johns River and the Suwannee River. The Timucua Province of the Spanish mission system originally was this area. This was also the area of the Timucua proper dialect of the Timucuan language. During the 17th century the Spanish mission Province of Timucua was extended to include the area between the Suwannee River and the Aucilla River. The population of the Timucuan people at the time of European contact was around 50,000 people by one estimate, around 200,000 by another. The Timucua were organized into at least 35 chiefdoms at the time. While alliances and confederacies arose between the chiefdoms from time to time, the Timucua were  never organized into a single political unit. The various groups of Timucua speakers practiced several different cultural traditions.


One of the engravings based on Le Moyne's drawings, depicting Athore, son of the Timucuan chief Saturiwa, showing René Laudonničre a monument placed by Jean Ribault.The pre-Columbian era was marked by regular, routine, and probably small tribal wars with neighbors. The Timucua may have been the first American Indians to see the landing of Juan Ponce de León near St. Augustine in 1513. Later, in 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition passed along the western fringes of the Timucua territory.

A proposed route for the first leg of the de Soto Expedition, based on Charles M. Hudson map of 1997In 1539, Hernando de Soto led an army of more than 500 men through the western parts of Timucua territory, stopping in a series of villages of the Ocale, Potano, Northern Utino, Uzachile and Yustaga branches of the Timucua on his way to the Apalachee domain.  His army seized the food stored in the villages, took women for consorts and forced men and boys to serve as guides and bearers. The army fought two battles with the Timucua, resulting in heavy Timucua casualties. De Soto was in a hurry to reach the Apalachee domain, where he expected to find gold and sufficient food to support his army through the winter, and did not linger in Timucua territory.]


One of the engravings based on Le Moyne's drawings, depicting Athore, son of the Timucuan chief Saturiwa, showing René Laudonničre a monument placed by Jean Ribault.

In 1564, French Huguenots led by René Goulaine de Laudonničre founded Fort Caroline in present-day Jacksonville and attempted to establish further settlements along the St. John's River. After initial conflict, the Huguenots established friendly relations with the local natives in the area, primarily the Timucuans under the cacique Saturiwa. Sketches of the Timucua drawn by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, one of the French settlers, have proven valuable resources for modern ethnographers in understanding these people. The next year the Spanish under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés surprised the Huguenots and ransacked Fort Caroline, killing everyone but 50 women and children and 26 escapees. The rest of the French had been shipwrecked off the coast and picked up by the Spanish, who executed all but 20 of them; this brought French settlement in Florida nearly to an end. These events caused somewhat of a rift between the natives and Spanish, though Spanish missionaries were soon out in force. The Timucua's history changed after the establishment of St. Augustine in 1565 as the Spanish capital of their province of Florida. From here, Spanish missionaries established missions in each main town of the Timucuan chiefdoms, including the Santa Isabel de Utinahica mission in southern Georgia, for the Utinahica. By 1595, the Timucuan population had shrunk by 75%, primarily from disease and war.

By 1700, the Timucuan population had been reduced to just 1000. In 1703 the British with the Creek, Catawba, and Yuchi began killing and enslaving hundreds of the Timucua. Seventeen years later their number had dropped to just 250. In 1726 there were 176, and by 1752 only 26 remained. By the time the United States acquired Florida in 1821, there were only a little bit like 5 or less of Timucua were left. They are now an extinct tribe.


The Timucuan-speaking people have been divided into a dozen tribes (that were not political entities) speaking seven dialects. (Almost nothing is known of the speakers of two other dialects, Oconi and Tucururu.) The tribes can be placed into eastern and western groups. The Eastern Timucua were located along the Atlantic coast of northern Florida and on Cumberland Island in Georgia, along the St. Johns River and its tributaries and among the rivers, swamps and associated inland forests in southeastern Georgia, possibly including the Okefenokee Swamp (if that is where the Oconi speakers lived). They usually lived in villages close to waterways, participated in the St. Johns culture or in unnamed cultures related to the Wilmington-Savannah culture and were relatively more focused on exploiting the resources of marine and wetland environments. The Western Timucua lived in the interior of the upper Florida peninsula, extending to the Aucilla River on the west and into Georgia to the north. They usually lived in villages in forests, participated in the Alachua, Suwannee Valley or Leon-Jefferson cultures and were relatively more oriented to exploiting the resources of those forests.

Aside from a possible transitory contact with Timucuas when Juan Ponce de León landed on the northern Atlantic coast of Florida in 1513, the first Timucua tribes encountered by the Spanish, in the first half of the 16th century, were in the western group. The Ocale, in what is now Marion County, and the Potano, in what is now Alachua County, participated in the Alachua culture. Little else is known of the Ocale. The Potano spoke the Potano dialect of the Timucuan language. The Utino or Northern Utino tribe was located north of the Santa Fe River and east of the Suwannee River, participated in the Suwannee Valley culture, and spoke the Utina or "Timucua proper" dialect of the Timucuan language. The Yustaga were located between the Suwannee River and the Aucilla River, participated in the Leon-Jefferson culture, and may have spoken the Potano dialect. De Soto encountered a tribe called Uzachile between the Suwannee River and the Yustaga, but they are not otherwise known. The Potano, Northern Utina and Yustaga were eventually incorporated into the Spanish mission system that stretched across northern Florida during the 17th century.  European contact with the Eastern Timucua began in 1564 when the French established Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River. The French were soon displaced by the Spanish, who maintained close contact with the Timucua until they died out in the 18th century. The Acuera tribe occupied the watershed of the Oklawaha River, participated in the St. Johns culture, and spoke the Acuera dialect of Timucua. The Aqua Dulce (Freshwater) tribe occupied the St. Johns River from present-day Palatka to Lake Harney, and the Atlantic coast south of St. Augustine to Cape Canaveral. The tribe participated in the St. Johns culture and spoke the Agua Dulce (Freshwater) dialect. North of the Agua Dulce along the St. Johns River to its mouth and on the adjacent coast was the Saturiwa tribe, which also participated in the St. Johns culture, but spoke the Mocama dialect.

The Tacatacuru tribe lived on Cumberland Island, participated in a un-named culture derived from the Wilmington-Savannah culture, and spoke the Mocama dialect of Timucua. The Cascange and Icafui tribes occupied the Georgia mainland north of the Saltilla River, adjacent to the Guale. They participated in a culture that was intermediate between the St. Johns and Wilmington-Savannah cultures, and spoke the Icafui dialect of Timucua. The Yufera tribe lived on the
coast opposite to Cumberland Island, participated in the same intermediate culture as the Cascange and Icafui, and spoke the Yufera dialect. The Yui tribe occupied an area inland from the Yufera, participated in the same intermediate culture as the Cascange, Icafui and Yufera, and spoke the Icafui dialect. All of the known Eastern Timucua tribes were incorporated into the Spanish mission system.


The Timucua were not a unified political unit. Rather, they were made up of at least 35 chiefdoms, each consisting of about two to ten villages, with one being primary.  In 1601 the Spanish noted more than 50 caciques (chiefs) subject to the head caciques of Santa Elena (Yustaga), San Pedro (Tacatacuru, on Cumberland Island), Timucua (Northern Utina) and Potano. The Tacatacuru, Saturiwa and Cascange were subject to San Pedro, while the Yufera and Yui, neighbors of the Tacatacuru and Cascange, were independent. Villages were divided into family clans, usually bearing animal names. Children
were always in their mother's clan.

The Timucua had many ceremonies. The chief gods were the Sun and the Moon, the Deer and other animals. There were numerous ceremonies and festivals for the harvesting season, planting season, marriages, funerals, wars, and fishing and hunting expeditions. Every ceremony had its own special rite, such as fasting, feasting, praying or dancing. An act of supernatural power, such as a sacrifice or prayer can actually generate a kapemni. The double helices that we see in the Micmac petroglyph and at Gottschall are nothing more nor less than a series of connected kapemni. The kapemni certainly appears to have evolved out of what is called a "power line". This term is found in the literature on plains pictography, of which there are numerous Lakhota examples. Sometimes, though less frequently, it is represented by several straight lines emanating from the head of a supernaturally powerful person, such as a medicine man.


More usually, however, the rays take on the form of sine waves, as we see in the Lakhota pictographic symbol meaning "medicine man". The term "rays" is appropriate, since such depictions attempt to capture an invisible power, a supernatural force, that radiates outwards from a sacred nodal point. It is a person's or object's holiness expressed as an invisible field of supernatural potency. The sine wave is the two-dimensional representation of a twisting motion, since it is of the nature of radiating supernatural power to configure itself in this circular form, the circle being an exemplar of perfection. We see such a "power line" emanating from a star in the Micmac pictograph above. More importantly, we have relatively modern pictorial evidence of both the power line and the kapemni double helix that are reified in the form of concrete ritual artifacts. A rather late survivor of the Mississippian culture, the Timucua tribe of Florida, was visited in 1564 by a French expedition under Laudonničre that had the foresight  to bring an artist with them, Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues.


He painted numerous scenes of Timucuan life which found themselves published in engravings done by the Flemish artist Theodor De Bry in 1591. The inset shows part of De Bry's engraving of Le Moyne's "Trophies and Ceremonies after a Victory". Illustrated are three of the poles upon which "trophies" were suspended. Flanking a pole with a scalp at its top is a pole with an arm tied to it and another with a leg fastened to it in the same way. Of particular interest are rigid strands (vines?) that spiral down the poles, connecting the top of the trophy to the ground. The "trophies" are meant to be the surviving physical attachments to which the souls of the slain warriors remain fixed. The arm, scalp, and leg probably represent respectively, executive power, spirit, and motion. The two poles with limbs attached have single helices or power lines that send down the spiritual power possessed by the slain warrior in these appendages to the sacred earth of the victorious tribe. The scalp, which is a kind of synecdoche for the head as a whole, may be taken to represent the spirit of the departed warrior, whose powers now redound to the victors. Being the chief artifact of the slain warrior's soul-stuff, his hair's spiritual power is transmitted in entwined power lines in the form of a double helix kapemni. The top knot, as can be seen, has been untied, and the long strands of hair have been allowed to spread out like wings. The result is strikingly like a caduceus (see below for the caduceus). This double helix looks very similar indeed to that portrayed in the Gottschall pictographs. The discharge of power is also in the same direction, from above to below. In the case of the Gottschall Twins pictures, the discharge of the force isn't a deposit of supernatural power into the earth, but a violent expression of its power to destructive ends. This kind of kapemni power is hinted at in rituals from the Mississippian cultures in the context of war: "... they strike with fury and vengeance the spiral-striped war pole -- a symbolic axial conduit between the Sun and the sacred fire." There the spiral strips are a surface counterpart to the strands seen in the 1564 painting. The painting illustrates the ideal representation, which is three-dimensional. This three-dimensionality can only be suggested in the two-dimensional medium used at Gottschall.


Nevertheless, among the Timucua we have a clear example of the spiritual power of the sun expressing itself through the rotating vortex of the kapemni, which appears to be what is happening in an equally warlike context with the Children of the Sun at Gottschall.


The Timucua played a version of the game called chunkey. In this game a concave shaped disc was rolled while a spear was thrown at it. The point was to throw the spear to the point where the disc would stop.

The chief had a council that met every morning, when they would discuss the problems of the chiefdom and smoke. To initiate the meeting, the White Drink ceremony would be carried out (see "Diet" below). The council members were among the more highly respected members of the tribe.



One of the sketches by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues showing a Timucua village.  The Timucua of northeast Florida (the Saturiwa and Agua Dulce tribes) at the time of first contact with Europeans lived in villages that typically contained about 30 houses, and 200 to 300 people. The houses were small, made of upright poles and circular in shape. Palm leaf thatching covered the pole frame, with a hole at the top for ventilation and smoke escape. The houses were 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 m) across and were used primarily for sleeping. A village would also have a council house which would usually hold all of the villagers. Europeans described some council houses as being large enough to hold 3,000 people. If a village grew too large, some of the families would start a new village nearby, so that clusters of related villages formed. Each village or small cluster of related villages had its own chief. Temporary alliances between villages for warfare were also formed. Ceremonial mounds might be in or associated with a village, but the mounds belonged to clans rather than villages.


The Timucua were a semi-agricultural people and ate many foods native to North Central Florida. They planted corn, beans, squash and various vegetables as part of their diet. Archaeologists' findings suggest that they may have employed crop rotation. In order to plant, the fields would be cleared with fire at first and then the soil would be prepared using various tools, such as the hoe. Later the women would plant the seeds using two sticks known as coa. They also cultivated tobacco. Their crops were stored in granaries to protect them from the insects and weather. Corn was ground into flour and used to make corn fritters.

In addition to these farming techniques, the Timucua would hunt game (including alligators, manatees, and maybe even whales); fish in the many streams and lakes in the area; collect freshwater and marine shellfish; gather wild fruits, palm berries, acorns, and nuts; and bake bread made from the root koonti. Meat would be cooked by boiling or over an open fire known as the barbacoa, the origin of the word "barbecue". Fish were filleted and dried or boiled. Broths were made from meat and nuts.

After the establishment of many Spanish mission between 1595-1620, the Timucua were introduced to foods from European culture including barley, cabbage, chickens, cucumbers, figs, garbanzo beans, garlic, European grapes, European greens, hazelnuts, various herbs, lettuce, melons, oranges, peas, peaches, pigs, pomegranates, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, watermelons, and wheat. Corn became a traded item and was exported to other Spanish colonies.

A black tea (ironically called "White Drink") served a ceremonial purpose, and was a highly caffinated Cassina tea, brewed from the leaves of the Yaupon Holly tree. The tea was only consumed by males in good status with the tribe. The drink was posited to have an effect of purification, and those who consumed it often vomited immediately. This drink was integral in most Timucua rituals and hunts.

Physical appearance

Spanish explorers were shocked at the size of the Timucua, who could stand four inches or more above them (though it should be noted that Spaniards of the 16th century were commonly under 5 feet in height).  Perhaps adding to their perceived height was the fact that Timucuan men would wear their hair in a bun on top of their heads. Measurement of skeletons exhumed from beneath the floor of a presumed Northern Utina mission church (tentatively identified as San Martín de Timucua) at the Fig Springs mission site yielded a mean height of 64 inches (163 cm) for nine adult males and 62 inches (158 cm) for five adult women. The conditions of the bones and teeth indicated that the population of the mission had been chronically stressed.  Everyone was heavily tattooed, and such tattoos were gained by deeds. Children would begin to get their tattoos when assuming responsibility. The people of higher social class had more elaborate decorations on themselves, which were made by poking holes in the skin and rubbing ashes into the holes. The Timucua had dark skin, usually brown, and black hair. They wore clothes made from moss and cloth created from various animals.


Clark, Jessica (June 2, 2006). "Dig Proves Historically Significant". First Coast News. References Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Deagan, Kathleen A. (1978) "Cultures in Transition: Fusion and Assimilation among the Eastern Timucua." In Milanich and Procter.

Hann, John. (1996) A History of the Timucua Indians and Missions. University Press of Florida.

Hoshower, Lisa M. and Jerald T. Milanich. (1993) "Excavations in the Fig Springs Mission Burial Area." In Bonnie G. McEwan, ed. (1993) The Spanish Missions of "La Florida". University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1232-5.

Hudson, C. M. (1976). The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee Press ISBN 0-87049-248-9.

Milanich, Jerald T. (1978) "The Western Timucua: Patterns of Acculturation and Change." In Milanich and Procter.

Milanich, Jerald T. (1996) The Timucua. Blackwell Publications, Oxford, UK.

Milanich, Jerald T. (1998a) Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe. The University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1636-3. Milanich, Jerald T. (1998b) Florida Indians from Ancient Times to the Present. The University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1599-5.

Milanich, Jerald T. (2004). "Timucua." In R. D. Fogelson (Ed.), Southeast (p. 219-228). Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 17) (W. C. Sturtevant, Gen. Ed.). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-072300-0.

Milanich, Jerald and Samuel Procter, Eds. (1978) Tacachale: Essays on the Indians of Florida and Southeastern Georgia during the Historic Period. The University Presses of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-0535-3

 Milanich, Jerald T. (2000). "The Timucua Indians of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia". in Bonnie G. McEwan (ed.). Indians of the Greater Southeast: Historical Archaeology and Ethnohistory. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1778-5.

Mooney, James. (1910). Timucua. Bureau of American Ethnology, bulletin (No. 30.2, p. 752).

Swanton, John R. (1946). The Indians of the southeastern United States. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology bulletin (No. 137). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Worth, John. (1998) The Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida: Volume I: Assimilation, Volume II: Resistance and Destruction. University of Florida Press.
Weisman, Brent R. (1993) "Archaeology of Fig Springs Mission, Ichetucknee Springs State Park", in Bonnie G. McEwan. ed. The Spanish Missions of La Florida. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1232-5
"Timucua Indians". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.


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