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The Apalachee are an Indian tribe that historically lived in Apalachee Province, Floridamarker, until the tribe was largely destroyed and dispersed in the 18th century. They lived between the Aucilla Rivermarker and Ochlockonee Rivermarker, at the head of Apalachee Bay. They first encountered Spanish explorers in the 16th century, when the de Soto expedition arrived. The Apalachee spoke a Muskogean language which became extinct. It was documented by Spanish settlers in letters written in the Spanish Colonial period. A small remnant of the tribe lives in Louisianamarker.

The "Appalachian" place-name is derived from the Narvaez Expedition's naming a village Apalachen (near present-day Tallahassee, Floridamarker.) The Spanish further adapted the Native American name as Apalachee and applied it to the region, as well as to the tribe which lived inland to the north. Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition first entered Apalachee territory on June 15, 1528. "Appalachian" is the fourth-oldest surviving European place-name in the U.S.

Culture

Around 1100, indigenous peoples began to cultivate crops. Agriculture became important in the area that became the Apalachee domain. It was part of the Fort Walton Culture, a Florida culture influenced by the Mississippian culture. With agriculture, the people could grow surplus crops, which enabled them to settle in larger groups, increase their trading and specialize in production of artisan goods.

At the time of Hernando de Soto's visit in 1539-1540, the Apalachee capital was Anhaica (present-day Tallahassee, Floridamarker). The Apalachee lived in villages of various size, or on individual farmsteads of 1/2 acre or so. Smaller settlements might have a single earthwork mound and a few houses. Larger towns (50 to 100 houses) were chiefdoms, where the people would build several mounds over the decades for ceremonial, religious and burial purposes. Villages and towns were often situated by lakes, as the natives hunted fish and used the water for transport. The largest Apalachee community was at Lake Jacksonmarker on the north side of present-day Tallahasseemarker. This regional center had several mounds and 200 or more houses. Some of the surviving mounds are protected in Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Parkmarker,

The Apalachee grew corn, beans, squash, pumpkins and sunflowers. They gathered wild strawberries, the roots and shoots of the greenbrier vine, greens such as lambsquarters, the roots of one or more unidentified aquatic plants used to make flour, hickory nuts, acorns, saw palmetto berries and persimmons. They caught fish and turtles in the lakes and rivers, and oysters and fish on the Gulf Coast. They hunted deer, black bear, rabbits and ducks.

The Apalachee were part of an expansive trade network that extended from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakesmarker, and westward to what is now Oklahomamarker. The Apalachee acquired copper artifacts, sheets of mica, greenstone and galena from distant locations through this trade. The Apalachee probably paid for such imports with shells, pearls, shark teeth, preserved fish and sea turtle meat, salt and cassina leaves and twigs (used to make the black drink).

The Apalachee made tools from stone, bone and shell. They made pottery, wove cloth and cured buckskin. They built houses covered with palm leaves or the bark of cypress or poplar trees. They stored food in pits in the ground lined with matting, and smoked or dried food on racks over fires. (When Hernando de Sotò seized the Apalachee town of Anhaico in 1539, he found enough stored food to feed his 600 men and 220 horses for five months.)

The Apalachee men wore a deerskin loincloth. The women wore a skirt made of Spanish moss or other plant fibers. The men painted their bodies with red ochre and placed feathers in their hair when they prepared for battle. The men smoked tobacco.

The Apalachee scalped opponents whom they killed and exhibited the scalps as a sign of their ability. Taking a scalp was a means of entering the warrior class, and was celebrated with a scalp dance, where the warriors wore headdresses made of bird beaks and animal fur. The village or clan of a slain warrior was expected to avenge his death.

The Apalachee played a ball game described in detail by Spaniards in the 17th century. Two teams kicked and hit a small ball, made by wrapping buckskin around dried mud, trying to hit a goal post. There was only one goal, with an eagle's nest set on top. Players scored one point if they hit the post with the ball, and two points if the ball landed in the nest. Eleven points won the game. Spectators gambled heavily on the games.

Up to 50 men played on a team. The best players were highly prized, and villages gave them houses, planted their fields for them, and overlooked their misdeeds in an effort to keep such players on their teams. The giving of challenges for a game and the erection of goalposts involved rituals and ceremonies. The game had few rules and could be quite violent. Serious injuries and even deaths occurred in the games.

Spanish encounters

.Two Spanish expeditions encountered the Apalachee in the first half of the 16th century. The expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez entered the Apalachee domain in 1528. Spanish cruelty towards the Apalachee was met with resistance. The Narváez expedition turned to the coast on Apalachee Bay, where it built five boats and attempted to sail to Mexicomarker.

In 1539, Hernando de Sotò landed on the west coast of the peninsula of Florida, with a large contingent of men and horses, to search for gold. The natives told him that gold could be found in Apalachee. Historians have not determined if this referred to the mountains of northern Georgiamarker, a source of gold, or to the copper artifacts which the Apalachee had acquired through trade. In any case, de Sotò and his men went off in pursuit of the precious metal.

Because of their prior experience with the Narváez expedition and the reports of fighting between the de Sotò expedition and tribes, the Apalachee feared and hated the Spanish. When the de Sotò expedition entered the Apalachee domain, the Spanish soldiers were described as "lancing every Indian encountered on both sides of the road." De Sotò and his men seized the Apalachee town of Anhaica, where they spent the winter of 1539-1540.

Apalachee fought back with small raids and ambushes. Their arrows could penetrate two layers of chain mail. They quickly learned to target the horses, which otherwise gave the Spanish an advantage against the unmounted Apalachee. The Apalachee were described as "being more pleased in killing one of these animals than they were in killing four Christians." In the spring of 1540, de Sotò and his men left the Apalachee domain and headed north into what is now the state of Georgia.

Spanish missions

Flag of the Apalachee Nation
About 1600 the Spanishmarker Franciscans founded a successful mission among them, but in 1704 (during Queen Anne's War) forces from the Province of Carolina in North America, made up mostly of Creek and Yamasee Indians, traveled southwards to Florida and attacked the Apalachee and the Spanish missionaries who lived amongst them, in what became known as the Apalachee Massacre. Some of the Apalachee were killed, others who were captured and sold into slavery kept their tribal identity for some time. Others were taken as slaves by the Creek and Yamasee Indians to be sold in the British Indian slave trade, and others fled westward accepting an offer to live in French-controlled Mobilemarker. In 1763, most of these Apalachees relocated to Rapides Parishmarker in Louisianamarker. The tribe's descendants are still in Rapides Parish Louisiana under the guidance of Chief Gilmer Bennett.

Present tribe

As of 2009, Gilmer Bennett is Chief of the Apalachees
Today the tribal office located in Libuse, Louisianamarker, serves approximately 300 members. The tribe has been featured in The Wall Street Journal along with other news publications. The Public Broadcasting Service show "History Detectives" aired a special about the tribe in 2006. Mission San Luis, a living history museum in Tallahassee, Florida, that re-creates one of the Spanish missions to the Apalachee, received the Preserve America Presidential Award in 2006.

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